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Sentences and Socks: Mixing and Matching

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In the past few years, I have noticed a phenomenon sweeping the pre-teen female population: mismatched socks. I must admit that I am a bit disappointed to have missed out on this fad—I love fun socks! Yet there is still something to be said for order in the chaos. While mismatched socks are fun for a while, there is still something satisfying to me about matching up my socks together when they come out of the laundry.

I feel the same way about parts of sentences. Allow me to explain.

socks and post title image

Whether we realize it or not, our speaking and our writing follow certain patterns. For example, in the English language, simple sentences usually have a subject (who or what the sentence is about), a verb (action word), and then an object (the word or phrase receiving the action). Thus we end up with a sentence like this: He threw the ball. Sentences such as Threw he the ball do not sound right, nor does The ball threw he. These sentence patterns may be used in other languages, but they do not exist in English.

There are some sequences of matching patterns that are tricky to differentiate. While there are multiple ways that sentences can be mismatched, this post will cover one of the most commonly mismatched combinations of two different sentence patterns.

Mixed Construction

If someone sneezes, many people respond with “bless you” or “gesundheit.” When someone sneezes, people are expected to respond; it is, to some extent, the expected pattern of behavior. Sentences work in a similar way. When you have certain beginning of a sentence, a specific and aligning ending is expected.

Example of mixed sentence construction: By providing students with more engaging curriculum will motivate students to participate in class.

The problem here is that the underlined phrase is being pulled in two different directions because there are two parts of two patterns, and they do not work together.

Pattern 1:

Usually, sentences that begin with the word by have a certain pattern, like this: By running fast, I won the race.

Notice the pattern. First you have a descriptive phrase, explaining how something happened (by running fast), and next you have the complete sentence that this phrase is modifying or describing. In the example above, the complete sentence after the descriptive phase is a simple one, made up of a subject (I), verb (won), and object (the race). Another grammar term to note is predicate, which means the words or phrases that come after the subject to convey information about that subject.

So any time a sentence starts with by, this is the pattern to follow:

               [Descriptive phrase + Comma] + [Subject + Predicate]

All these sentences are examples of a correct way to use this by phrase:

               By keeping low to the ground, he was able to escape the fire.
               By slowing her pace, she was able to run farther.
               By being a good student, he was accepted into the University of Minnesota.

Here is another way to look at this type of sentence:

[By] + [-ing word + phrase] + [comma] + [independent clause (complete sentence)]

Example: By completing the project, the researchers discovered how to best address the problem.

View the pattern and the sentence in this table to see how they align:
[By][-ing word + the rest of the connected phrase][comma][independent clause (complete sentence)]
Completing the projectallowed the researchers to discover how to best address the problem.
the researchers discovered how to best address the problem.

Let’s take another look at the original mixed construction sentence:

By providing students with more engaging curriculum will motivate students to participate in class.

Now, you can see that the sentence does not follow this pattern. The –ing word and the rest of the phrase should work with only by in this sentence. Instead, that phrase is trying to function in another way, and the sentence starts to go into another pattern.

Pattern 2:

This next pattern begins with –ing words. Instead of using those –ing words to describe the subject, this pattern actually uses those –ing  words as the subject of the sentence. Here’s an example: Knowing how to cook is important for everyone.

What is important for everyone? Knowing how to cook. This is your subject. See how this phrase can work as a subject, and the rest of the sentence works as the predicate?  Notice how the verb (is) comes directly after the full subject, so this is the pattern that this kind of sentence follows:    

               [-ing word (This is the subject of the sentence)] + [no comma] + Verb + Predicate

 Here are a few other examples where the –ing word and phrase work as the subject of the sentence:

Brushing your teeth is something you should do twice a day.
Running was his favorite hobby.
Playing the saxophone makes me happy.

Here is another way to break it down:

[-ing word + phrase] + [predicate (verb and object, etc.)]

Example: Completing the project allowed the researchers to discover how to best address the problem.

Here's another way to view this pattern and the sentence in this table to see how they align:

[-ing word + the rest of the connected phrase][predicate (verb and object, etc.)]
Completing the projectallowed the researchers to discover how to best address the problem.

To allow your readers to best understand your ideas, remember to consider and then follow these required sentence patterns as well as others. As you proofread, look at your sentences carefully. Ask yourself, Does this part of the sentence have a pattern that requires a corresponding part? Go ahead and mismatch your socks, but if you want to communicate clearly, remember to avoid mismatching sentence patterns.  


Rachel Grammer
is a writing instructor and the coordinator of student messaging at the Writing Center. A self-professed grammar nerd, she loves discovering the social interests of Walden students and hearing the stories that shine through their writing.

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The Easiest Way to Avoid Plagiarism

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As you can tell from this post’s title, this week, I want to share with you the easiest way to avoid plagiarism in your writing. Here it is:

WriteCast Episode 11: "Doesn’t Meet Requirements"—Strategies for Following Your Assignment Instructions

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doesn't meet requirements
"So, you may have had this experience...where you feel really, really strong about something that you turn in into your course. You've spent a lot of time on this assignment, you've put a lot of effort into it, and you're probably feeling really proud of it. And then you get it back with your instructor's comments on it, and you find that you've lost points because your instructor says that the paper doesn't meet the requirements or follow the assignment instructions. Now, if you've ever had an experience like that, I think you'll find this episode really helpful." - Host Brittany
This month, Nik and Brittany talk about strategies for understanding and following your assignment instructions. Stream or download this month's episode below, and share your thoughts in the comments!


is hosted by writing instructors Nikolas Nadeau and Brittany Kallman Arneson and produced by writing instructor Anne Shiell. Check out the podcast archive for more episodes. 

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Dissertation and Scholarly Research: Simon and Goes Provide Recipes for Success (Book Review)

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If you are writing a dissertation, doctoral or project study, or any other doctoral-level capstone research project, chances are it is the first time you have done anything of the kind. While you have years of practice with what it means to participate in the classroom, complete proscribed assignments, and even conduct original research, the doctoral capstone research project is a unique document and a unique task. Why not take advantage of any number of excellent resources available for helping you through the various steps and stages of tackling a project of this size?

Book review: "Dissertation & Scholarly Research" by Marilyn K Simon and Jim Goes
Image (c) www.dissertationrecipes.com
Authors Marilyn K. Simon and Jim Goes have done just that, and they just happen to be Walden faculty to boot. In their resource, Dissertation and Scholarly Research: Recipes for Success—A Practical Guide to Start and Complete Your Dissertation, Thesis,or Formal Research Project, Simon and Goes (2013) have crafted a guidebook that addresses students working outside of traditional brick-and-mortar institutions to complete their degrees. Their use of metaphor (specifically, food) helps make what could otherwise seem like a dense and complex process more, well, digestible.

The mnemonic devices, “cutting board” exercises, and links to outside resources offer practical and accessible advice, and the guide offers help with everything from how to formulate your research questions to what to do when it comes time to format your document for final submission to ProQuest.

While you could certainly sit down and read this book cover to cover, one of the guide’s strengths is in offering a breadth and specificity of information, so you could just refer to the table of contents and read those sections that pertain to your current needs.

One thing that can be frustrating at times when conducting this level of research in a virtual space is how to know where to go for the right information and how to get a hold of who can answer your questions. This guidebook is particularly relevant to Walden student needs in this regard because it addresses content and design as well as APA and scholarly style. Simon and Goes did a particularly thorough job really explaining to the reader how everything fits together and how the way you craft and express an idea can support and inform your research.

As with any comprehensive guide, the sheer amount of information can seem daunting at first, but everything is organized and presented in such a way that a reader will not feel overloaded. Dissertation and Scholarly Research: Recipes for Success should be high on the list of any Walden student looking for that extra bit of guidance and support while beginning this next step as a scholar-practitioner.

Lydia Lunning

Lydia Lunning
 is a dissertation editor and the coordinator for Capstone Resources in the Writing Center. Lydia also helps oversee the Walden Capstone Writing Community, a place where doctoral students working on their proposals and final studies can connect with colleagues and get support through the capstone writing process. Outside of Walden, Lydia enjoys literature for children and young adults, writing pedagogy, contemporary cinema, and cooking.

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Defining a Gap in the Literature: On Proving the Presence of an Absence

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It’s standard in any study to point out the gap in the literature you're seeking to fill. (Else why do the study—unless it’s a replication study?) Like the hole in the donut, the gap is defined by what surrounds it. Yet it’s common to read statements in the literature review such as (a) “I could not find anything on [the issue] in the literature” or (b) “Very few studies, if any, talked about [the issue].”

donut image

The problem with (a) is that it raises a series of questions in the reader’s mind: If you couldn’t find anything, gee, where did you look? What databases did you use? What keywords did you use? What was your time range? What exactly did you find? Reporting your search strategy should cover all but the last question.

It’s not easy to prove a negative: This does not exist. Therefore, to define a gap, a precise and exhaustive search is needed to identify all the studies around—but not touching—your topic. Reporting what you did find, what is known (the donut) implies what is not known (the hole in the donut). The unknown is the gap, your topic.

The problem with (b) is that it leaves readers wondering about what you know; it asks them to just accept your claim with no support. If your search were thorough, you would know whether any or just a few studies talked about your issue. If there were none, then, just as in (a), you’d define the gap by identifying the studies around—but not touching—your precise topic. The number of studies required to make that point could vary. However, if there were some studies, then you'd need to discuss only those studies in order to confirm for your readers that something was indeed missing—your angle on the issue.

If your search was precise—if you named all the databases you used (not just the names of portals, such as ProQuest or EBSCO), if you listed all the keywords (not phrases) you used, and if you specified your time range—then your committee (and future readers) could have confidence that you were in the right ballpark. If you then described what was known—using a broad set of studies or a handful of specific studies—then your readers could have confidence in your claim because they could see your process, and judge the data adduced, to “prove” a negative and reveal the presence of an absence.


Tim McIndoo
, who has been a dissertation editor since 2007, has more than 30 years of editorial experience in the fields of medicine, science and technology, fiction, and education. 

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