October 2011 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Find Your Voice Type

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Kevin Schwandt
By Kevin Schwandt, Dissertation Editor

In opera, people tend to categorize singers’ voices based on the Fach system. The broadest categories in this framework are familiar to many people: soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass. But for opera fans, there’s more to it. The Fach system is based on range, but also on tone, power, and dramatic effect. Two sopranos can sing the same pitch, but they sing it quite differently; a dramatic soprano might shatter your glass, while a lyric soprano might lull you to sleep. Further, the music written for individual characters requires different voice types. Puccini’s Cavaradossi sings of love lost in tragedy with desperate bombast, while Gluck’s version of Orpheus is subdued and poised when singing about precisely the same kind of emotion.

Regardless of the context, however, most opera composers rely on a combination of various voice types to create musical continuity and fullness.

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I Hope This Doesn’t Affect Our Friendship

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By Amy Kubista, Writing Specialist

When I was a junior in high school, there were two boys that I really liked. The first, Michael Hanson,* was intelligent, cute, and sweet. He played football, basketball, and the trumpet and had dreams of attending Harvard; he was the type of boy all parents hope and dream their daughter will date. Then there was Carter Denim.* He listened to punk rock, wore baggy clothes, and smoked cigarettes. He had a bad reputation. Both Michael and Carter made it known that they were crushing on me (yes, I just used crush as a verb). I was rather torn between the two; Michael seemed like the obvious choice, but there is something so appealing about the bad boy. After much deliberation, I chose Carter, but I felt awful about not choosing Michael, so I wrote him a note (because teenagers cannot be expected to actually talk to each other!) to let him down easy before he heard it from someone else.

I sat down to write the note, something like “I hope this doesn’t affect our friendship.” I’m sure we have all heard or used that phrase before, right? To me, it did not seem nearly as cliché at the time. Anyway, I got stuck on the word affect. I couldn’t figure out if it should be affect or effect, so I just wrote ffect and reminded myself to look it up and fill in the missing vowel later. I was really concerned that I would look stupid for not knowing the difference (everyone pays attention to spelling when writing notes as teenagers, right? This was the inner grammar nerd in me beginning to emerge).

I brought the note to school the next day, folded and shoved into the back pocket of my jeans. Carter came up and leaned on the locker next to mine, talked to me, and then walked me to my class. That was enough to let everyone know that Carter and I were “officially going out,” so after class I frantically searched for Michael in the hallway. When I found him, I slipped him the note, and as I was walking away, I realized I had never added the final vowel. I had just told Michael Hanson “I hope this doesn’t ffect our friendship.” I felt like such an idiot! If only I had taken the time to proofread.

This word confusion is common in writing. It is important to use the correct word, especially within academic writing (or breaking boys’ hearts) because it can change the intended meaning of the writer. In this case, affect is a verb that refers to the influence that something has on something else. Effect is a noun that refers to a result. For example, I hope this does not affect our friendship. The effect of my note was Michael would no longer talk to me.

For more examples of commonly confused words, such as accept/except or elude/allude, check out the Diction page on the Writing Center website. That way, whether you are writing an academic paper or rejecting a suitor, you will know the difference!


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In Regards to Utilizing Formal-Sounding Words Within the Capstone Project

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By Tim McIndoo, Dissertation Editor

It’s true. The dissertation, doctoral study, and project study are all very serious, highly formal pieces of writing. It makes sense that they sound no less serious and formal than the thousands of pages of articles and books out of which they grow.

But the gravity of a piece of writing—as perceived by a given reader—comes not from mere formal-sounding words or phrases, but from the writer’s analytical insight, research skills, and mastery of the subject matter.

Here are three words and one phrase that many writers tend to utilize incorrectly: utilize, within, upon, and relative to/in regards to. Don’t get me wrong: There is nothing inherently incorrect with any of them. But their utilization needs to be based upon the audience and the meaning within a given sentence. One style does not fit all.

* * * *

Now, have another look at the previous paragraph. Can you see (and hear) the problematic words? (I have underlined them.)

Here are three words (and one phrase) that writers tend to utilize incorrectly: utilize, within, upon, and relative to/in regards to. Don’t get me wrong: There is nothing inherently incorrect with any of them. But their utilization needs to be based upon the audience and the meaning within a given sentence. One style does not fit all.

The same problems appear in the title too:

In Regards to Utilizing Formal-Sounding Words Within the Capstone Project

The problem is this: misunderstanding scholarly style or tone and presuming that gravity or seriousness is the result of seemingly formal-sounding words (or the number of letters used). The result tends to be overblown or verbose prose. Readers quickly sense this—even if they can't pinpoint it or name it—and may feel put off by the writing. The words don’t sound right and readers may lose confidence in the content.

Here’s an explanation of these four problems along with recommended changes:

utilize vs. use
The meaning of utilize typically shades into “make use of”; the simple word use is preferred. Short and simple words do not diminish your work or writing; in fact, their clarity tends to elevate.

within vs. in
The meaning of within is more specific than in; it generally means a specific location or "inside of." Thus, in is often sufficient.

upon vs. on
The meaning of upon and on is essentially the same. However, upon has a poetic sense to it that just doesn’t fit with social science research. Hence, the simple on is often the better choice.

relative to/in regard(s) to/concerning vs. on/about
The language of business often has a bureaucratic tone, whereas the tone of social science research is generally neutral. That way, the language doesn’t get in the way of meaning. So rather than use phrases whose tone doesn’t fit the audience (and may yield to indirect, long, or wordy sentences), use the simple about or on. They do the same work with neutrality—and with a fraction of the letters.

With those differences in mind, look at this revised version of the problem paragraph above:

Here are three words (and one phrase) that writers tend to use incorrectly: utilize, within, upon, and relative to/in regards to. Don’t get me wrong: There is nothing inherently incorrect with any of them. But their use needs to be based on the audience and the meaning in a given sentence. One style does not fit all.

And a revised title would read

On Using Formal-Sounding Words in the Capstone Project

Notice that these revisions are smoother, simpler, and easier to read. While tone does not generally affect a study’s data or conclusions, it can show that you know your audience and that you're a member of the same club.

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To Thine Own Style Be True


By Kayla Skarbakka, Writing Tutor

When I was a sophomore in college, I took an expository writing class from one of the star professors in my school’s English department. He was one of those grizzled men with bushy beards and patched suitcoats who live on coffee and cynicism. I was desperate to impress him.

When he assigned the course’s first major paper, he told my class that he wanted us to draw an outline. Not write it—draw it. I had no idea what he meant, and the outline I presented to him was a mess of random thoughts, arrows, and geometric shapes.

“Kayla, I don’t understand where you’re going,” he said.

“Well, I do,” I lied. I figured the tangles of thought in my outline would work their way out in the actual draft. They didn’t. The paper was a disaster. And if I had had just a bit more perspective, just a bit more confidence, I might have understood why.

That professor, to his credit, was trying to get us to free our minds and think outside the scope of the traditional outline: Roman numeral point I, subpoint A, subpoint B. How linear. How boring.

The only problem? That’s how I think—at least in a scholarly setting. That’s how I plan my academic writing. Without a clear, preplanned structure, my mind is a mess of—well, of random thoughts, arrows, and geometric shapes. Once I develop my paper’s argument and understand the basic progression of ideas, I don’t need to start with the introduction; in fact, rarely do I start writing on page 1. But I certainly need to plan that way. My paper failed not because my ideas were poor, but because I surrendered my instincts under the assumption that surely my professor knew best.

It may seem like a cop-out, but nobody—not I, not your instructor, not that mean old middle school English teacher who still haunts you—nobody but you can prescribe your own personal writing process. Maybe, like me, you like to write from ordered lists, engineering your ideas into a logical progression before you type your first word. Maybe you’re one of those freewheeling types who just write and write and write, composing a large body of text that you can then chip away at and sculpt into a cohesive paper. Maybe you prefer a combination approach. Maybe you even like to draw your outlines. The point is, there is a process that works for you. You just have to find it.

If you’ve already established a preferred writing strategy, fantastic! Go with it! If you haven’t, now is the time to experiment. Try writing a linear outline. Too constricting? Try some freewriting. What most interests you about your topic? What troubles you about it? What themes do you see emerging in your writing, and how can you organize them in a logical way?

There’s no best practice when it comes to writing, but there is, most likely, a best practice for you. And it’s up to you to find it.


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10 Tips for Tweaking Your Reference List

Sarah Prince
By Sarah Prince

Let me propose a brief scenario that might sound familiar to many of you. Although you had initially planned to give yourself ample time to write your paper and format your reference list, you find yourself just hours before your paper is due in a frenzied rush to finish your writing assignment. After finally crafting a paper that you are proud of (or at least think is acceptable), you spend a few hurried minutes creating your reference list. Quickly glancing over your references, you decide that everything looks okay (or at least good enough). You save your paper one last time and get ready to submit your work.

I’m here to tell you to WAIT, PAUSE, HALT, STOP! Before your pointer finger hits send, upload, or submit, I’m suggesting you use these 10 simple tips to make sure your references meet 6th edition APA standards. Taking a little time to clean up some common errors in your reference list could make a big difference in your compliance with APA guidelines and even prevent you from losing unnecessary points on your paper.

1. Insert a page break: You should always insert a formal page break between the body of your text and your reference list. This formal page break will begin your reference list on a new page and keep your text from sliding down the page as you make changes and revisions to your document.

2. Format your reference title correctly: After you have inserted a formal page break, you want the word “References” (“Reference” if you only have used one source) to be centered in plain text (not bolded) at the top of your page. You should not have a colon (“:”) after your reference title.

3. Remove hyperlinks: Make sure to remove all hyperlinks from your reference list by right clicking on the link and selecting “Remove hyperlink.” After doing so, your link should no longer be bright blue and underlined; instead, it will appear in black (like the rest of your draft).

4. Format your references using a hanging indent: Instead of trying to manually create a hanging indent for each reference, you want MS Word to do the work for you! If you change your formatting settings (which I promise is really easy), your citations will remain perfectly indented no matter what revisions you make to your references. For quick help with formatting an automatic hanging indent, check out these tutorials.

5. Capitalize titles correctly: Per APA guidelines, the title’s first word, its first word after a colon (or the first word of a subtitle), and its proper nouns should be the only words capitalized (whether your title is from a book, a journal article, or a website). For example, let’s say I wrote a book. In my reference list, the title would read Sarah Prince: The woman, the hero, the legend. Notice that here, the first word, Sarah, is capitalized, the proper noun Sarah Prince is capitalized, and the first word after the colon, The, is capitalized. All other words remain in lower case.

6. Format titles correctly: Although APA style does not have different rules for the capitalization of titles in books, websites, and journals, it does have different rules for their formatting. Shorter works, such as journal articles and websites, are written in plain text in your reference list. However, longer works, such as books (I recommend the brilliant read above) and entire journals are italicized.

7. Find the DOI or URL: Per 6th edition APA guidelines, you should actually include a DOI (instead of database retrieval information) when citing journal articles found online. If no DOI can be found, you should then use the URL of the journal’s home page. In other words, if you are glancing at your reference page, and you see “Retrieved from Ebscohost,” chances are you need to take a look at our resource on reference entries for electronic sources.

8. Include publication information: If you are citing a print resource such as a book (like the brilliant one I’ve suggested above), you will want to include the city and the state postal code abbreviation in addition to the publisher. For instance, your publication information will look something like this: Atlanta, GA: Home Publishing Press. A common misstep is to leave off the state abbreviation or to fail to abbreviate it. If you are unsure, check out this list of state postal code abbreviations.

9. Use correct punctuation: When in a rush, it is very easy to look over missing or misplaced periods in your reference list. For most citations, you’ll just need to follow the simple rules below; however make sure to check out this APA Style Blog post for trickier sources.
• Periods should be inserted after the author name(s), date (which goes inside parentheses), title, and source.
• Periods should NOT be inserted after DOIs or URLs in reference list entries.

10. Double space your reference list: Your reference list should be double spaced, and it should not have any extra spaces between individual citations. Just like formatting your hanging indent, automatically double spacing your paper (including your reference list) can save you a lot of time and work. For more help on formatting double spacing, see these tutorials

So, before you click submit, go through this checklist to see if your reference list is up to code. And, if you still have questions, see the reference list in our course paper template or check out these common reference examples.


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Tracking the Elusive DOI: Crossref.org


By Melanie Brown, Dissertation Editor and Writing Faculty Member

If you have written even one reference list in APA 6th edition style—and if you have been a Walden student for more than a few weeks, chances are good that you have—then you have probably read about the DOI. What is this mysterious DOI? Some people say the letters individually (dee-oh-eye); others say doy (rhymes with joy or poi or “APA style leaves me an-noy-ed”). Either way, whatever you say, the DOI is here to stay. Savvy researchers like you need to learn what it is and how to use it.

DOI: What Is It?
A DOI is a digital object identifier—a fancy way of describing the unique number assigned to an electronic source. This number helps researchers locate a particular journal article quickly and efficiently. If a DOI has been assigned to a journal article you are citing for your paper, KAM, or proposal, then you must include that number in your reference list.

I can hear your questions now:

Savvy Student: “Wait a minute. I have 50 sources in my reference list. Do I have to include DOIs for all of them?”

Gentle Editor: “Only for electronic sources, such as journal articles you read in full-text or .pdf form.”

Savvy Student: “Wait another minute. Most of my sources are journal articles that I read in full-text or.pdf form. How do I know whether those 50 or 100 sources have DOIs?”

Gentle Editor: “By checking Crossref.org.”

Savvy Student: “Look, Editor. I know you’re trying to help, but I don’t have much time to tinker with my reference list. Is Crossref.org easy to use?”

Gentle Editor: “You bet it is. Follow the simple steps below!”

DOI: How Do I Find It?
At Crossref.org, researchers can look up DOI numbers for online journal articles. Here’s how to use it:

1. Go to the Guest Query form (free DOI lookup) on Crossref.org.

2. Scroll down to "Search on Article Title." Type the first author's name and the article title in the appropriate boxes and then click search. If your article has a DOI, it will appear. Voila! Thank you, Crossref.org.

Note: If you need to locate many DOIs at the same time, it might be easier for you to use Crossref.org's Simple Text Query, which Anne outlines in her Tech Tip post.

DOI: How Do I Put It Into My Reference List?
Now that you have found a DOI for one of your journal articles, you have to include it in your reference list.

If Crossref.org showed the DOI as http://dx.doi.org/10.mlb/34.75329xp, it would look like this in a (fictional) reference:

Brown, M. (2011). Finding a DOI is not so hard after all. Journal for DOI Studies, 11, 9-14. doi:10.mlb/34.75329xp

Notice that doi appears in lowercase letters. Notice also that there is no space between doi:#. Check out p. 191 and p. 198 in the APA Publication Manual for more examples of using the DOI correctly in your reference list.

If you have any questions or comments about Crossref.org or DOIs, post them here. Check out the Writing Center website, too, for more information about electronic sources (Citing Electronic Sources) and reference list formatting in APA style (Reference List Examples). Happy DOI hunting!


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