Walden University Writing Center -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Recent Posts

Start Before You're Ready: An Exercise in Generative Writing

No comments
Would you like to produce better writing in less time? The key is to start writing before you feel like you are ready or certain of what to say.Image of stopwatches and the post's title


American fiction writer Flannery O’Connor famously said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” O’Connor’s quotation points to a writing process in which writers don’t wait until they know exactly what to say before writing, but rather use writing to think through ideas in different ways, helping to solve problems and clarify ideas.

Give this method a try in your writing session today by following the generative writing exercise outlined below. This exercise is similar to freewriting in that you turn off your inner editor and write for a predetermined period of time. In it, we use the process of writing to create an outline for a draft instead of outlining before writing. Here’s how it works:

-First, choose a writing project to work on. The first time you try this exercise, it may be useful to choose a brand new writing project that you’re just beginning to work on. However, this exercise also works well for projects at other stages of the writing process, including planning out parts of a project that’s already underway or rethinking a section that needs revision.

-Consider how much time you have to work on your writing project right now, and set a target length of time for your generative writing session. A great goal would be 10 minutes.

-Before you start writing, take a minute or two to pause and think about this writing project. What do you intend to write? What problems do you need to tackle?

-Then, start writing about your project, keeping it up until you reach your target. If you’ve gained some good momentum and are generating on-topic ideas, feel free to keep writing for up to an hour.

There’s no pressure to write at breakneck speed—in fact, a moderate pace is ideal—but you should keep writing until you have reached your target. Here are some prompts you might use to get started:
  • What I really want to say is…
  • I’m interested in…
  • What I mean is…
  • A problem I’m having is…
  • My faculty told me to…
  • My reader needs to understand…
  • The goal of this writing project is…

-Once you’ve hit your target writing time or, if you continued past your target, found a logical stopping point, take a break to step away from your writing.

-You might be able to return to your writing after a short break, or you may need to come back another day. The second part of this exercise can be completed whenever you have the chance to work on your writing again. Now, go back and read what you’ve written. As you do, look for main points or patterns that emerge in your writing.

-Visually organize these main points into a cluster, mindmap, or web to determine how they relate to one another. 

-Arrange the main points you’ve discovered into a linear outline. Don’t limit your outline to only topics: follow each point in your outline with a brief description to remind yourself what the section is supposed to discuss.

-Remember, outlines are supposed to be useful, which means you may need to revise your outline as you continue to work on your writing project. Move items around. Add additional ideas. Delete topics that turn out to be irrelevant.

-Once you have worked on your outline for a little while, you should have a pretty good sense of what you’re going to write! Now, consider what you need to do next. Depending upon where you are in your writing project, you may need to conduct further research, or you may be ready to start drafting your paper.

I recently found this exercise useful in helping me incorporate challenging feedback from my dissertation chair. After feeling frustrated and a bit lost, I devoted some time to generative writing, and I was astonished at how it helped me re-frame my chapter in light of my chair’s feedback. After two or three sessions of generative writing, I had a whole new sense of how the chapter fit into my larger dissertation, and I reworked my existing outline for the chapter to be much more effective. Had I not tried this exercise, I might still be trying to work through my chair’s feedback.

Even if this exercise doesn’t initially sound like it will work for you, give it a try—you may surprise yourself! We would love to hear how it went for you in the comments or on social media.

Today’s generative writing exercise was adapted from writing by Robert Boice. If you’re interested in learning more about strategies like this one, we recommend checking out Boice’s Advice for New Faculty Members.

Cheryl Read Author Image

Cheryl Read is a Writing Instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She loves finding strategies for writing to be a less painful--and even enjoyable--process. When she’s not helping student writers at Walden, Cheryl stays busy playing with her son and working on her dissertation.

Send me new posts by e-mail!
Never miss a new post; Opt-out at any time

Thursday Thoughts: Old Hat

No comments
Happy Thursday from the Walden University Writing Center.  This week, our Thursday Thoughts post will focus on your writing habits and how your writing process is impacted by your creativity.

We have all heard that creativity is a muscle. You can stretch it and flex it to improve your creativity, just like bulking up at the gym. Since you use your creativity to brainstorm for, outline, and begin writing your papers, consider flexing your creativity before, during, and after the writing process. This will be your creativity workout. A writing assignment presents a problem that you can answer with creative problem solving. You do this every week with your discussion posts, and you can do it, too, with your longer assignments.

This is an image of a firework exploding over a mountain range. Text reads: Thursday Thoughts, Walden University Writing Center
Flex your creativity for your next writing assignment. 
When I am given a writing assignment, I tend to think about my writing process as a mathematical equation. My main topic is A. My subtopics are B., C., D., and my conclusion is E. If I correctly add up A through D, my paper will be successful, and E., my concluding paragraph, will wrap everything up neatly.

To flex my creativity as I approach a new assignment, I might ask myself new questions inspired by thinking critically about my topic. These questions might include:


  • What information can I present to my readers that they will not have known before reading my paper? How can I captivate my readers while still maintaining academic tone?
  • What ideas do I want to end my paper with? Is a standard "A. B. C. outline" the best way for me to get there? Is there a way I might outline my text differently to lead to this conclusion?
  • What ideas do I want to discuss in depth in my paper? How will these areas of depth impact other areas of my text, and how can I balance this depth?

As I ask myself some questions to spark my creative muscles, I will likely find new outlets and ideas that do not follow my usual writing process, and this is good. It is good because it will allow me to enliven my writing and approach topics from different perspectives. And what's even better is that the more I stretch my creative muscles, the more accustomed I'll become to adjusting my writing process versus sticking to the same old hat. 

What other ideas do you have to stretch your creative muscles and improve your writing process?


  

Walden University Writing Center: A higher degree. A higher purpose.

The Walden University Writing Center
 provides information and assistance to students with services like live chat, webinars, course visits, paper reviews, podcasts, modules, and the Writing Center's webpages. The Writing Center supports students through all stages of their writing process and develops the writer as well as the writing.


Never miss a new post; Opt-out at any time

Foundational Concepts for Transitioning Writers: Establishing Context

No comments
After several years working in your field, you become an expert. You have specialized knowledge and information about your work environment, the people you serve, the functions of your team, and your team’s goals, initiatives, and desired outcomes. Newcomers to your workplace will look to you for answers to tough questions. Superiors will lean on your insight to develop practices and procedures within your workplace. When you make the decision to return to school again after these years in the workforce, it can sometimes be difficult to convey this expertise in your writing assignments.

As you transition into scholarly writing, often you will understand the topic of your paper in a way that many of your readers will not. One of the most challenging roles as the writer is ensuring that your readers develop an appropriate understanding of your topic. To do so, you must establish the context surrounding your topic in your introduction so your reader can best understand your position. This is one of the keys to success in your new workplace, your virtual classroom at Walden University.

Post Title: Establishing Context

In this post, I will discuss the importance of establishing context in your introductory paragraph. In the coming weeks, look for additional posts in this series on Scholarly Writing for the Transitioning Writer: one on using evidence effectively and one on point of view in scholarly writing.

Establishing context requires that you present your main topic and your subtopics, and illustrate the connections between your main and subtopics. This is an important part of creating an effective introductory paragraph, and there is a fine balance between providing enough information and too much information.

Consider the introductory paragraph template below.

Sentence 1: Provide your readers with a little contextual information about your main topic. In what context is your main topic important? Is it important in the healthcare industry? Is it important if an organizational leader is working to create more streamlined work practices? Sentence 2: Provide your readers with a short definition of your main topic so that your readers can establish their knowledge of this idea that’s likely new to them. For example, if your main topic is electronic health records, you might say, Electronic health records are BLANK. Sentences 3-5: Present your subtopics to your readers so that they have some idea about what you’ll be discussing in your paper. Final sentence: Introduce your thesis statement. In this statement, you will likely reiterate the main topic of your paper as well as the subtopics you intend to discuss. For example, you might say, In this text, I present MAIN TOPIC, with a focus on how MAIN TOPIC is related to and influenced by SUBTOPIC 1, SUBTOPIC 2, and SUBTOPIC 3.

In this template, you will notice that I do not go into detail about my main topic, nor do I describe in depth subtopics 1, 2, or 3. Still, I have prepared my readers for the information that I’ll present later in my text, as I have told them that the main topic is related to and influenced by subtopics 1, 2, and 3. This introduction “sets the stage” for my paper and has prepared you, my readers, for the information I’ll present later in my text.

As you write your introduction, it is important to remember that your audience may not have the understanding of your topic that you have. They don’t have your experience or expertise! Guiding them into the body of your paper with an introductory paragraph that establishes contextual information is important. This paragraph will help your readers develop their understanding of your topic and prepare them for the ideas that will follow in the body of your text.


Also, please check out the other blog posts in this series (Using Evidence and Point of View). If you’re a writer starting, returning, or transitioning into their scholarly writing journey, we have more topics that will help you engage with scholarly writing. 

Nicole Townsend Author Image

Nicole Townsend is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She has worked in writing centers for ten years, with an interest in individualizing support for diverse student populations. While Nicole also enjoys editorial work and teaching English as an adjunct professor, her passion is for the foundation of collaboration embedded in writing center best practices.

Subscribe via email!
Never miss a new post; Opt-out at any time

WriteCast Episode 47: Resolutions to Reflect and Revise

No comments
It's the first month of the year for many of us, which means there's a whole new year of possibilities spread out before us. Here at the Walden University Writing Center, we'd like to encourage you to try out some new practices for your writing in the new year. This month's WriteCast podcast episode provides one set of strategies for doing just that. 

During the daily grind of coursework writing, it can feel like the best practice is to finish your papers, turn them in, and never think about what you wrote again. However, writing can also be seen as a learning process: one that allows you to engage with the content from your courses in multiple different ways. But in order to be able to write to learn, students must spend some time reflecting on the work they have done. Not only can reflection help writers understand the course content better, but it can also help them develop new and better strategies for revision.

Reflection is an integral stage in the writing process for students to develop and progress. With that in mind, Claire and Max sat down to discuss this very process in the latest episode of WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers. Listen to their discussion by clicking the player below.



You can access our full list of all 47 WriteCast episodes by visiting our podcast webpage. We also have transcripts of every episode posted there as well. Enjoy!

Keep Writing. Keep Inspiring.

WriteCast Logo: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers

The WriteCast Podcast
 is produced by the members of the Walden University Writing Center. Episodes are published each month, with topics and themes decided on by the production team based on feedback received from listeners of WriteCast. If you have comments or ideas for a future episode of WriteCast, please leave a comment in the space below. Thanks for listening! 


Never miss a new post; Opt-out at any time

Foundational Concepts for Transitioning Writers: Point of View

No comments
Whether you are new to APA style and academic writing, or are returning to this type of writing and considering some refresher tips, there are some core aspects of academic writing that are important. Topics such as establishing context for your paper and the use of evidence. Another important aspect for academic writing is establishing a formal point-of-view. 

Point-of-view is important in academic writing as it relates to scholarly voice and tone. Point-of-view refers to ways that information is presented to an audience such as via first-, second-, and third-person pronouns. Thus, one consideration for adhering to appropriate scholarly voice and tone is how pronoun use represents the writers’ point-of-view.

Foundational Concepts for Transitioning Writers: Point of View

First-Person Point-of-View
Writing from a first-person point-of-view means using pronouns such as “I,” “we,” and “our.” Use of first-person “I” is acceptable in some instances. For example, when an assignment calls for a personal reflection on the writer’s own experience the use of “I” is needed as the subject of a sentence to avoid passive voice. As well, the use of “I” would be appropriate in other instances to avoid passive voice, such as when discussing what will be covered in a paper or what research steps will be taken. That said, the use of “I” should not be used when making claims since doing so presents claims from a 

Examples of acceptable uses of “I”:
  • Reflecting upon my classroom practices, I plan to improve my knowledge of multimodal classroom activities 
  • In this paper, I will discuss x, y, and z
  • I will interview 20 writing instructors who teach writing online

Examples of unacceptable uses of “I”:
  • I believe that multimodal classroom practices should xxxx
  • I disagree with Winston’s (2017) argument because xxx
  • Now that I have discussed [x topic], I will now discuss [y topic]

While the use of “I” can be used in certain instances and not in others, the use of other first-person pronouns such as “we” or “our” should be avoided because they assume who the audience is and are too casual in tone. 

Examples of why first-person use of “We” and “Our” should be avoided:
  • As nurses, we should support patients’ concerns
  • As teachers, it is our responsibility to incorporate multimodal learning tools

These examples illustrate not only how the use of “we” and “our” produces a casual tone, but also how the use of these pronouns can alienate members of the writer’s audience. To be clear, when a writer uses “we” as a pronoun to represent a group of people (such as nurses or teachers), some audience members might feel alienated because they are not part of that group. So, use first-person “I” when appropriate and avoid using “we” or “our.”

Second-Person Point-of-View
What about second-person point-of-view? Like first-person use of “we” or “our,” second-person should not be used in academic writing.  Second-person point-of-view includes the pronouns “you” and “your” which, like first-person “we” or “our,” are too casual in tone and assume the audience.

Example of why second-person use should be avoided:
  • You should consider if and how multimodal classroom delivery affects students with disabilities

Like the use of first-person “we” or “our, the tone in this example is too casual as the audience is directly addressed. As well, since the audience is directly addressed, the use of “You” here assumes something about the audience.  

Third-Person Point-of-View
Third-person point-of-view includes pronouns such as “he,” “she,” and “it.” Generally, third-person pronouns such as “he” and “she” are casual in tone; thus, using specific nouns would be more appropriate for scholarly tone and voice.

Example of third-person use:
  • She stated xxxx (Watson, 2017)
  • Revision: Watson (2017) stated xxxx

In the first example, the use of “she” not only produces a casual tone, it also makes it unclear who “she” refers to (does this refer to Watson or someone cited in Watson?). In the second, revised, example, the tone is more formal and the author is clearly attributed. With this in mind, “it” is another pronoun that should be avoided for clarity since using “it” as a pronoun creates a lack of clarity regarding the subject of the sentence and or what “it” refers to.

Adhering to acceptable use of pronouns and point-of-view is an important part of scholarly voice and tone. Have any questions about point-of-view use?  Let us know! 

Veronica Oliver author pic

Veronica Oliver
 is a Writing Instructor in the Walden Writing Center. In her spare time she writes fiction, binge watches Netflix, and occasionally makes it to a 6am Bikram Yoga class.

Subscribe via email button
Never miss a new post; Opt-out at any time