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Paraphrasing Statistics

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One of the toughest academic writing skills is paraphrasing. Students ask me about paraphrasing at every residency, webinar, and course I teach, and for good reason. Paraphrasing is difficult!

Recently, I’ve fielded a few questions from students worried specifically about paraphrasing statistics. Using statistics in your writing is often a smart idea because they can provide specific evidence to support your ideas, but paraphrasing statistics comes with its own challenges. Here are my tips for successfully paraphrasing statistics!

Paraphrasing Statistics Title Slide


Use Your Own Sentence Structure
Students often ask me (sometimes incredulously) how in the world they can paraphrase a statistic like “57%.” This seems tricky, but it’s actually pretty simple. Paraphrasing is about the combination of your own sentence structure and vocabulary. If paraphrasing was just about using your own vocabulary, you couldn’t use “and” if the original source did, let alone “57%”. However, as long as you use your own sentence structure and avoid using the same unique phrasing as the original source, you can use the statistic without needing to reword it.

For example, take this quote: “In fall 2013, there were 5,522,194 students enrolled in any distance education courses at degree-granting postsecondary institutions.” (NCES, 2016, para. 2)

I could paraphrase it like this: U.S. universities reported that 5,522,194 students were taking online courses (NCES, 2016).

Or, depending on how important the exact statistic of student enrollment is, I could even say something like this: U.S. universities reported over 5 million students were taking online courses (NCES, 2016).

In these paraphrases I use my own sentence structure and vocabulary, but I don’t shy away from the statistics in the original quote.

Present the Statistic in a New Format
You can also try reformatting the statistic. This won’t work in all cases, but take this quote: “Only 1,000 students responded to our survey, but of those respondents, 60 indicated they expect instructors of online courses to communicate frequently throughout the week.” (Ya Ni, 2016, p. 13)

Instead of incorporating this statistic exactly as the quote does, I could rephrase it like this: Ya Ni (2016) found that 6% of students want frequent interaction with online faculty.

This paraphrase rephrases the quote’s statistic as a percentage that’s still accurate, but framed differently than the original. Of course, this approach won’t work for all statistics because sometimes you don’t have enough information to rephrase a statistic or doing so wouldn’t be accurate, so make sure you use this approach judiciously.

Focus on Just the Statistic That’s Relevant
Paraphrasing multiple statistics can seem more daunting, especially when the statistics are throughout an entire sentence like this one: “Of the 40 students surveyed, 11 strongly favored online learning, 20 were neutral, and 9 preferred not to learn online.” (Means, Murphy, & Bakia, 2015, p. 75)

Whenever there are multiple statistics in one sentence, think about which statistic is really important: What main idea or topic are you trying to support with the statistic? It might be possible to focus on just one statistic, ignoring the others that are irrelevant, allowing you to incorporate it into your writing more easily.

For example, if I am writing about students who dislike learning online in my paper, I can focus just on that statistic: Means, Murphy, and Bakia (2015) found that 9 of the 40 students they surveyed dislike online learning.

Partially Quote the Statistic
Finally, if all else fails, you might partially quote the statistic. I usually recommend students try the other approaches outlined above first (more on this paraphrase topic in next week’s post), but there might be times when quoting a statistic ensures your writing is clear and accurate.

Let’s try this out with the following quote: “There is a 5:1 ratio by which learners differ, which means that the slowest student takes 5 times as long to learn as the fastest.” (University of Potomac, 2016, para. 6)

Using this quote, I might incorporate it into my own sentence like this: There can be a wide difference in the time it takes students to learn a concept, as much as “a 5:1 ratio by which learners differ” (University of Potomac, 2016, para. 6).

This partial quote works well because it accurately presents this statistic, but the quote is still integrated into my own sentence. 


And that’s it! Try these tips the next time you use statistics in your writing, and let us know how it goes. You can always e-mail or chat live with us, sending us your sentence and asking how you’re doing. We’d be happy to take a look!

Have you seen the other posts in this Paraphrasing blog series? If not, click the links to learn more.
Paraphrasing, an Introduction
Paraphrasing More Than Quoting
Paraphrasing to Avoid Plagiarism



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Beth Nastachowski is the Manager of Multimedia Writing Instruction in the Writing Center. She joined the Writing Center in 2010, and enjoys helping students develop their own voice as writers through webinars, residencies, and multimedia resources. She is also Contributing Faculty for Walden's Academic Skills Center (ASC). 


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A Little Something to Remember: The Importance of Academic Integrity

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Recently, a BBC Brasil reporter revealed that a news photographer had been plagiarizing his photographs. Instead of taking his own photos of war zones, he took existing photos and altered them just enough to avoid being recognized. This isn't the first time a plagiarism scandal has been exposed in the media, but it helps to remind us that plagiarism isn't an issue confined to college-level writing.

A little something to remember from the Walden U Writing Center


While this specific case is an example of overt plagiarism, many academic writers struggle with passive or accidental plagiarism. One missed citation, one unclear citation, or even a series of pieced together paraphrases can create an issue related to academic integrity. To avoid such a situation, it can be helpful to review ways to avoid passive plagiarism.

The Walden University Writing Center has several resources to help writers understand why academic integrity is important and how to stay out of situations that might lead to unintentional plagiarism:

Avoiding unintentional plagiarism blog post
Patchwork paraphrasing blog post
Plagiarism prevention resource kit
Plagiarism prevention modules
The three components to avoiding plagiarism webinar


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The Walden University Writing Center
 is committed to helping students develop as writers. Resources include a blog, live webinars, modules, a podcast, and one-on-one paper reviews.


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Paraphrasing: An Introduction

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When I talk about literature reviews with dissertation students, I often tell them that, when they write about other authors’ ideas—as they report on dozens of sources and present their analysis of the scholarship in their field—they’re actually telling a story. This sometimes prompts a few puzzled looks from the students, so I add that they’re obviously not telling a made-up story, nor are they using figurative language or creating dramatic tension. They’re telling a story, though, in that their readers expect the contents of a scholarly text to make logical and sequential sense (it needs to clearly proceed from beginning to middle to end, just like a story), and—just as importantly—they expect that information to be delivered in a single, authoritative voice. The skill through which they can create this singular voice, I tell them, is paraphrasing.

The title image for this post with letters superimposed over a butterfly sitting on a leaf.


You might be skeptical about this idea. Etymologically, paraphrasing means “to modify the telling,” which can seem counter-intuitive: after all, as a scholar, isn’t it your job to faithfully represent an author’s original words? Don’t you have a responsibility to not modify the telling of someone else’s ideas?

Those are understandable concerns, but they’re a bit misplaced, because when you paraphrase, you modify the telling but not the essential meaning of another author’s ideas. In other words, you tell your own story of that evidence. It’s not a fictional story; you must remain as objective and truthful as possible. But that evidence doesn’t exist in isolation: to be comprehensible, it needs to be given context and woven into an overall argument about your topic. Other aspects of academic writing are involved in your storytelling (namely, analysis and synthesis), but paraphrasing is the unsung hero of this process, quietly doing the bulk of the work. When you paraphrase well, you’re telling a good story about the literature in your field.

Paraphrasing is a huge topic, far more nuanced than we can fully address in just one blog post. The enormity, and importance, of this topic is part of the reason why we will dedicate the next weeks on this blog to exploring paraphrasing’s role in scholarly writing. That said, if you’d like to learn more about paraphrasing now, we have several additional resources available for you. You could:



As you work through those resources, please keep in mind that, for the sake of simplicity and clarity, we in the Writing Center often focus on individual sentences or passages when we talk about paraphrasing. This makes sense—fundamentally, each paraphrase has to represent a single idea, so it’s often easier to tackle them one by one—but I strongly encourage you to also consider how your paraphrases contribute to the narratives you construct in your papers. Ask yourself: how does this paraphrase fit into the overall body of evidence? Does it follow logically from the text that comes before it? Am I telling my reader a clear and engaging story?


And join us in this blog space over the next weeks as we look at paraphrasing in a variety of different ways. These posts will hopefully give you a clear set of tools with which to develop these skills and master the art of telling the story of your scholarly research. Enjoy!

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Matt Sharkey-Smith is a senior writing instructor in the Walden Writing Center. He also serves as contributing faculty in the Walden Academic Skills Center.  Matt joined the Writing Center in 2010 with a BA in English from Saint John's University in Minnesota. He earned an MFA in Writing from Hamline University in St. Paul in 2011 and has worked outside of Walden as a technical writer, fact-checker, copy editor, tutor, and writing instructor.


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WriteCast Episode 43: How and Why to Revise with a Reverse Outline

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Revision is a process all writers encounter at some point. It doesn't matter if you breezed through your first draft or had to drag it out of yourself one sentence at a time. Once that first, second, or third draft is on the page, it has to be revised. Revision is a difficult step in the writing process, but the feeling of completing the next version of a draft is so rewarding! Revision isn't about finding what is wrong with your writing - it is about finding what can be made even better.

In this episode of the WriteCast podcast, learn about the revision strategy called reverse outlining. This is an important skill for academic writers as it is a way to make sure the entire piece of writing aligns and focuses on developing the all-important thesis or central idea.


Reverse outlining appears in several other Walden University Writing Center resources:
Access all of our podcasts on this page or press play below to listen to this episode.





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The WriteCast podcast is produced by Anne Shiell and the staff of the Walden University Writing Center and delves into a different writing issue in each episode. With new episodes each month, join Walden writing instructors to learn more about writing in an academic setting. 



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Student Spotlight: Lilly Abdulrohman Mohamed, College of Management and Technology

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The Walden University Writing Center is privileged to work with talented students. In the Student Spotlight Series, we aim to support incredible work our students do, both in and out of the classroom. The goal of the Student Spotlight Series is to provide the Walden community with a place to build bridges and make connections by developing shared understanding of the diverse and varied student journey. Students share stories about their writing process, their efforts towards social change, and their motivations for pursuing higher education. We ask questions, and students generously answer.

This Student Spotlight features Lilly Abdulrohman Mohamed, student of the College of Management and Technology.



What prompted you to pursue your Doctor of Business Administration degree at Walden?

Pursuing a doctoral degree has always been a dream of mine. However, once I started working after obtaining my master’s degree, it started to seem like a far-fetched goal as a result of the busy work schedule I faced. Luckily, as I was exploring online doctoral study options, I discovered Walden University. The proposed study plan, faculty, and flexibility offered by the program at Walden finally enabled me to leap into my dream of obtaining a doctoral degree.

What are you planning to research and write about for your doctoral study project, and what do you anticipate are the social change impacts of your study for yourself and others?

I am planning to write about the relationship between leadership and innovation. I believe that leadership has the power to introduce positive organizational effects, such as increased innovation. Therefore, through understanding the type of leadership that is conducive to positive organizational factors, it is possible to introduce positive social impacts. Furthermore, I currently find myself in a leadership position as Deputy CEO of at my place of employment. Therefore, I am looking for ways to enhance my ability to positively influence people through my leadership. One of my long term goals is to become an entrepreneur. Therefore, leadership and innovation are highly relevant to me.

This is a photo of Lilly, smiling
Lilly, smiling
How do you hope to apply the work you’ve done as a student to the work you will do after graduating?

I plan to apply the lessons I obtain on leadership to alter my personal management style to result in a positive workplace environment. In addition, I hope to elevate the performance of the company I work for by enhancing the level of innovation through the use of leadership. I am inspired by social initiatives that target wealth creation for low-income communities, and I am interested in initiatives that introduce employment and entrepreneurship opportunities to help communities sustain themselves financially. This connects to the work I do because the company I work for targets job creation and equality of representation of women in the workplace. In addition, my organization train employees to ensure that their employment prospects and earning potential are improved. My education at Walden is enabling me to obtain an in-depth understanding of the importance of introducing a social mission into all of the activities we engage in.

What successes have you had at Walden so far, and how have you overcome challenges you’ve faced?

So far at Walden, I have been able to develop my APA and academic writing skills. In addition, I have been able to perform well in my classes through the guidance and feedback I have received from the faculty at Walden. However, one of the main challenges I have faced is my work and travel schedule. Although it can still be difficult to manage my time efficiently, I have developed this skill a great deal. I am now able to pre-plan and identify how to adjust my schedule to meet my deadlines. Additionally, some of the countries I have visited for work often have internet restrictions, meaning that my access to the student portal and myPASS has been cut off. However, my faculty and the Writing Center have been extremely cooperative, enabling me to continue my program and receive support.

You started using the Writing Center almost immediately when you started your DBA program. What drew you to using the Writing Center, and what Writing Center resources have you found the most beneficial?

I was drawn to the Writing Center initially as I was unfamiliar with APA guidelines and requirements. Once I started booking appointments with a writing instructor through myPASS, the reviews I received revealed the benefits of gathering more information on academic writing. I have benefited from paper reviews by finding my academic voice and focusing on forming my thesis statement. Some of the most useful lessons I have learned are proofreading strategies, building an APA complaint reference section, forming strong thesis and topic sentences, and using the MEAL plan for paragraph formation. The Writing Center has helped me and continues to help me strengthen my academic writing skills. In addition, I continue to learn and expand my knowledge base on APA guidelines.


How do you find the time to make appointments each week, and what additional resources would you recommend to your fellow students?

I have continued to frequent paper review appointments with the Writing Center from the first time I experienced them at Walden. I found that the instructors, through the paper reviews, offered feedback that was immensely beneficial to me. Therefore, that has motivated me to keep making appointments week after week. In addition to paper reviews, I often utilize Grammarly and it helps me to go through the notes provided on the Writing Center’s grammar webpages. I recommend that my fellow students use the Writing Center’s paper review services and Grammarly to receive writing support.


Keep tuning into the blog to read more posts in our Student Spotlight Series, and consider using our paper review services and Grammarly to support your writing, as Lilly kindly suggested here.




The Walden Writing Center provides information and assistance to students with services like live chat, webinars, course visits, paper reviews, podcasts, modules, and the writing center webpages. Through these services they provide students assistance with APA, scholarly writing, and help students gain skills and confidence to enhance their scholarly work.



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