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Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

APA Citations: The Method to the Madness

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Brittany Kallman Arneson
By Brittany Kallman Arneson, Writing Consultant

Does it ever feel as though the American Psychological Association made its formatting rules especially complex, just to frustrate poor students like you? Often, it’s hard to understand why italicizing this line or capitalizing that word is so important. Shouldn’t you be spending more time and energy on the content of your writing—your ideas?

Believe it or not, there are clear reasons for these guidelines that are directly related to the content of your work. APA rules are actually designed to help you communicate your ideas more clearly. In this blog post, I’ll walk you through a Q & A based on a reference in APA style, highlighting how APA formatting rules are designed to help social scientists communicate.

First, take a look at this sample article reference. (This source is made up, so don’t go looking for it in the library!)

Kallman Arneson, B. (2012). Chocolate as a critical component of effective paper-writing. Journal of Writing and Dessert, 5(2), 12-16. doi:10.1027/0269-8803.20.4.253

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Catering to the Short Attention Span in Syntax

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Rachel Grammer
By Rachel Grammer, Writing Consultant

I'll be the first to admit that I have a short attention span; on certain days, it’s incredibly difficult for me to sit quietly at my desk and focus on the appointment in front of me because my mind craves variety. When I finally get myself settled down with my cup of tea and a paper on the computer, though, my condition is only exacerbated by what I often read:

The researchers chose adult participants between the ages of 35 and 60. The participants worked as engineers, chemists, and biologists. The researchers completed the study within 3 days. The researchers found that 33% of the participants still slept with their teddy bears. The researchers also found that 13% of the participants admitted to needing the bears in order to fall asleep.

Okay, so I haven’t read any studies on adults and teddy bears (though that would be a fun topic to explore!), but you can see how this paragraph might intensify my desire for variety; all the sentences sound the same: The researchers chose, the participants worked, the researchers completed, the researchers found.

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Colloquialisms Part I: Clichés

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Nathan Sacks
By Nathan Sacks, Writing Consultant

A couple weeks ago, I received an email from a student who was curious about a series of comments I left in his paper, warning against colloquialisms, slang, and informal language. The student wanted to know if there was an online resource that would comprehensively list all forms of slang not allowed in APA-style papers. Unfortunately, like the English language itself, the nature of what is considered formal and informal language is constantly changing, and sometimes correct word choices in an APA paper come down to little more than your instructor’s individual preferences. Ultimately, it is impossible to compile a list of every single article of slang because once a list is started, it would probably never stop.

This blog post will be the first in a series that will tackle the many ways colloquialisms and slang can creep into your paper. And creep is right—a lot of the word choices we make in papers are done imperceptibly, so it is normal for even the best writers to not give much thought to worn-out phrases like on the other hand when comparing one source’s argument to another.

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Act As If

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Tobias Ball
By Tobias Ball, Dissertation Editor

Cliché advice can get people into trouble, but I have decided to apply at least one such overused idiom to my own writing practices: Act as if…

I am not a published novelist. Not yet. But when I sit down at my desk to write, I act as if I am that novelist. I scratch in my notebook or type on my computer as if I am composing the next great American novel. I act as if what I am writing will be a candidate for the National Book Award, will win the Pulitzer Prize, and will finally give this country its next Nobel Laureate. I act as if there are a host of readers lined up outside of their local bookstore, waiting to get the first printing of this book because, clearly, there will be later editions and this is the one that the collectors will want. When I write, I act as if.

Although there is probably a novel in all doctoral students (I see a mystery set in the dark halls of a library or a romance that blossoms at an academic residency or a horror story where the committee members are actually vampires, werewolves, or more likely zombies who have trouble returning e-mails), most are spending more time writing their dissertation. Students often ask for advice about writing their manuscript. My advice is act as if.

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Presenting With Prezi

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Anne Torkelson
By Anne Torkelson, Writing Consultant

One of the most impressive presentations I’ve ever seen involved a PowerPoint with only one image per slide, and often no text. The presenter chose one visually stimulating photograph to represent each main point, and he let his message rather than his slides drive the presentation. No one in that audience fell asleep.

The presentation was successful because it combined image and discussion in an effective way, but also because the new approach—so different than the “death by PowerPoint” we are often subjected to—caught and kept the audience’s attention.

Many Walden students use PowerPoint, and use it well, for class projects and work presentations. Trying a new style or approach can sometimes bring new life and new ideas to your work, however. For today’s Tech Tip, I’d like to introduce you to a tool for jazzing up your presentations: Prezi.

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Is Your Short Attention Span Showing?: Using a Reverse Outline (Writer's Workshop #5)

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Amber Cook
By Amber Cook, Senior Writing Specialist and Faculty Liaison

I’m going to date myself here. When I was pursuing my degrees, there was no Facebook. My computer did not have Internet access; in fact, I used my university’s computer lab because I didn’t have my own machine. As you can imagine (and many of you may know from your own experience), this scenario made research much more difficult and tedious, but it came with an upside: my ability to concentrate was first-class. The only thing on my screen was my document. There were no accessible means of procrastination, so I just wrote, and my writing had a cohesion that reflected my focus.

Now flash to the present. As I wrote the first paragraph of this blog post, I wandered away from my Word document three times: to check e-mail, respond to an IM, and find the Lumineers station on Spotify. I also fought against my now-innate urge to write in the short, pithy form of a status update or a text. In short, writing longer-form work is harder than it used to be, as it likely is for many of you. For adults returning to school after writing primarily in chunks of 50 words or less, the task of writing a cohesive multi-page paper can be a challenge. The strategies for this type of composition are different, and the longer attention span it requires is often a little-exercised muscle. 

Unsure whether cohesion is a problem in your writing? I have a test for you. Grab your most recent, completed piece of writing. Go ahead. I’ll send a quick text while I wait. You’re back? OK, here goes.

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Becoming Your Own Grammarly

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Matt Smith
By Matt Smith, Writing Consultant

In my last post, I discussed the benefits of incorporating Grammarly into your writing process. Grammarly is a great resource, but it can’t do everything; its core function is only to quickly analyze your writing and provide details about the grammar issues it identifies. Unfortunately, it has no speedy, high-tech way of ensuring that you learn and retain this information.

You can best internalize these grammar rules—to know them so well you use them as automatically as you walk, without having to think about putting one foot in front of the other—by using them over and over again. The most natural way to do this is simply to write, which you already do in your coursework and capstone projects. Just like critical reading, however, you’ll learn more from this experience by engaging your writing critically, actively learning from your mistakes and improving over time as a result. In other words, you can more fluently understand grammar by, essentially, becoming your own Grammarly.

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Remembering Your Reader (Even in the Methods Section)

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Jeff Zuckerman
By Jeff Zuckerman
Dissertation Editor and CSS Faculty Member

One of the most challenging and important sections that capstone researchers need to write is the methods section. In your proposal it’s critical to describe what you plan to do and why, or once the research is completed, what you did and why you did it.

In Walden doctoral studies, that’s Section 2. In dissertations, it’s Chapter 3. Your task is twofold: You must show enough details of the research method so that the study can be replicated, and you need to show that what you did made sense and that your work was conducted ethically and soundly.

Too often, though, students forget they are writing for a reader rather than crafting a textbook. As Booth, Columb, and Williams (2003) advised, put yourself in the shoes of a reader who pleads, “Just tell me something that I don’t know so that I can better understand the topic of our common interest” (p. 25).

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D-O-I & Y-O-U

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Tim McIndoo discusses using a DOI for an electronic journal article.
By Tim McIndoo, Dissertation Editor

A reference tells us who wrote what–when–where (author, year, title of article, journal, volume, issue, page range). If we take those data to a large scholarly library and attack the journal stacks, chances are good we’ll find it. But how slow and cumbersome!

In the 21st century, filing and retrieving scholarly articles (including abstracts) has become much simpler and much faster. That’s because all the standard data (author, year, title, etc.) are now commonly encoded into a unique, permanent, alphanumeric string called a digital object identifier or DOI. Here’s what a reference looks like with the DOI in position after the period that follows the page range: 

Nance, M. A. (2007). Comprehensive care in Huntington’s disease: A physician's perspective. Brain Research Bulletin, 72(2-3), 175-178. doi:10.1016/j.brainresbull.2006.10.027

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Weathering the Storm . . . of Problem Statements

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Nik Nadeau provides tips for writing the dissertation Problem Statement section.
by Nik Nadeau, Writing Consultant

Just as Superstorm Sandy has wreaked havoc on the U.S. East Coast, complicated problem statements can leave your readers feeling flustered, confused, and unsure about how to proceed.

To write a clear problem statement, start by identifying a single, unique problem. To do so, follow these rules:

1.  Rely only on your own words (rather than on quotations or paraphrases).
Your readers expect you to identify a problem no one else has identified before, at least in the way that you spin it. For example, if you are researching the health effects of alcoholism, make sure you identify a problem that other health scholars have not already addressed.

2.  Be as specific as possible.
Your readers need a specific image of the problem and who it affects.

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Writer’s Workshop #4: Know Your Stuff

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Beth Oyler
By Beth Oyler, Writing Consultant

At the Writing Center we talk about writing with students all the time. It’s what we do for (at least) 40 hours a week. When students approach us, though, I sometimes wonder if they might be asking the wrong questions. Becoming a proficient writer is, of course, an important skill you’ll learn in higher education. But before you can write a phenomenal paper, you have to—simply put—know your stuff, which starts with strong critical reading skills. How we approach reading as scholars matters; if you are able to become adept at critically reading, your writing will improve. Trust me!

Think about the last article or piece of research you read. How did you approach that text? If you’re like me, you probably have a stack of reading material you need to get through when you find a little time after work or between other commitments. Time crunches like this can cause us to rush through research, reading just to get through it. Instead, we need to be aware of what type of reading we should be tapping into.

To get technical for a minute, there are two different types of reading, as discussed by Rosenblatt (1982):
Aesthetic reading: Reading to gain the feeling of a text, often referred to as reading for pleasure.
Efferent reading: Reading to use and apply information from a text, like reading for academics.

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Correlative Conjunctions: Words in Pairs

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Jonah Charney-Sirott
By Jonah Charney-Sirott, Writing Consultant


Some words travel as pairs. Where we use one, we must use the other. Take the word both, for example.

When two subjects are considered together, most of us use the word both to discuss the items as a group. Though we all think we know how to use this easy four-letter word, there are a whole lot of rules governing its usage, and a whole lot of us don’t always follow them. Let’s start with a little background:

Both is a correlative conjunction, a fancy way of saying that it’s part of a select group of words in the English language that must always go in a pair. In the case of both, our sister word is and. Think of these two words as a team. If you use both, you have to play her teammate and as well, or else you’ve got a problem.

Take, for example, this sentence: Both a dog as well as a cat would make a great pet for my grandmother.

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Expert Advice: On Motivation

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Walden Writing Center staff
By Writing Center Staff

By this point in the fall, perhaps you are feeling a bit weary. Am I right? The excitement of the new term has begun to fizzle, and you’re not sure if you can sustain the long hours of work, school, and family time. In this week’s blog post, Writing Center staff lift your dragging feet. Pat you on the back. Say in unison, “I think you can. I think you can.” That’s right; the tutors and editors are musing about motivation—how to get it and how to keep it. For a pick-me-up, check out their answers below.


How do you stay motivated to write?

    • Beth and Amber recommend “chunking” to see progress:
      • Beth Oyler: When I have a large project to complete, I split it up into chunks, which helps it feel more manageable. For example, if I’m writing a research paper, I think about the different steps I need to complete (research, notes, organization, drafting, revision) and focus on each step in order. That way, I have the satisfaction of feeling like I accomplished something if I’m able to check off even one step.

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To AutoRecovery, With Love

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Julia Cox
By Julia Cox, Writing Consultant

On August 21, 2009, tragedy struck.  My MacBook crashed, exactly 11 hours before I was to begin a fresh term of graduate classes.

The next day, I stood petrified in the Apple Store, ready to pen a “dear Steve” letter (to late Apple founder Steve Jobs) bemoaning that my overpriced, allegedly immortal MacBook had come undone, my personal history interrupted, my Alexandria burned.

Indeed, the digital age has conjured new forms of personal crisis, where a frayed motherboard wire can extinguish vacation memories, silence a music collection, and destroy a canon of professional and academic documents in the space of a few seconds.

For students, technological catastrophe can be especially traumatizing, as it always strikes with an impending deadline. Microsoft users will recognize the blue screen of death. For Mac patrons like me, disaster starts with the rainbow wheel of pain. Regardless of which team you click for, the feeling of loss, pain, and nausea is the same.

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AutoCorrect: The New Shorthand

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Tim McIndoo
By Tim McIndoo, Dissertation Editor

If you want to speed up your work and improve the accuracy of your typing, you might try using Word’s AutoCorrect feature. It can store and paste up to 255 characters.

Using AutoCorrect in Word 2007


To access this function,
1. Click on the Office button in the upper left corner of the screen. A screen pops up.
2. Click on Word Options at the bottom right.
3. From the menu bar on the left, click on Proofing (third option from the top). Then look for the first heading on the page and click on the box labeled "AutoCorrect Options." The AutoCorrect dialog box then appears. Here is a screen shot of the AutoCorrect dialog box, ready for entry of a new item:

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Argue Is Not a Dirty Word: Taking a Stand in Your Thesis Statement

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Kayla Skarbakka
By Kayla Skarbakka, Writing Consultant

Like many high schoolers across the country, I was assigned in my junior year to write a paper for the National Peace Essay Contest, a fantastic program that promotes education and conversation about peace and conflict resolution. My year, the contest’s theme was reconstruction. I chose my topic (the Croatian War of Independence), conducted my research (involving a bit too much Wikipedia—hey, I was 16!), drafted my essay, and submitted to my teacher, feeling pretty darn confident.

I got the essay back the next week with a middling grade and a big red X in my introduction, next to my thesis statement, which was something like “Reconstruction is a complicated process that can take years to complete.”

“But it’s true,” I complained after class.

“It also doesn’t say anything,” my teacher told me. “Where do you stand? What do you have to say?”

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On Choosing Your Words Carefully

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Tim McIndoo
By Tim McIndoo, Dissertation Editor

In scholarly or research writing, evidence is presented to substantiate an argument. To make an argument cogent requires precision. Precision means choosing the right words and then properly assembling them into a sentence. Throughout your paper or study, you are offering your readers characterizations, descriptions, explanations, interpretations, and analyses. If they are inaccurate or imprecise, you will misrepresent and perhaps fail to make your case. Here are seven common word-choice issues, in alphabetical order.

ability / capability
Some words look similar and have the same root but have different meanings: ability refers to people and means a natural skill, talent, or expertise; capability suggests qualifications or credentials and points to a maximum. While John’s ability to read is below grade level, his capability of succeeding in school remains good.

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Writer’s Workshop #3: Cut It Out!

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Hillary Wentworth
By Hillary Wentworth, Writing Consultant

I admit it. I’m one of those people who delays cleaning just to see the great pile of dust I can sweep up with my broom. I also compile long to-do lists just to strike things off. It’s that satisfying swipe of getting things done. Are you with me?

I approach my own writing with the same philosophy: write it all out in glorious, long sentences, and then rip it to shreds. Some of us write with such delicacy and heart that we become too close to the material. We write a paragraph and it becomes our baby, our friend; we cannot see it any other way. My suggestion, though, is to view the paper analytically, like a scientist. In fact, pretend it’s someone else’s writing entirely.

To achieve this sense of detachment you might need to write a paper and then forget about it for a day or two. Then, when you have your scientist cap on, sit down at your desk and read. If you have access to a printer, flip through the physical pages and grab a pen to cross out words. If you don’t own a printer, read on the computer with the Track Changes button engaged. When you delete a word, a strikethrough line will appear. See how many extra words you can remove.

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The Argument for Articles

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By Rachel Grammer, Writing Consultant

Rachel Grammar explains articles of speech.As I wandered through tourist traps and tea shops of a foreign city a few years back, I stumbled across this sign. The grammar geek in me had to smile. Would you like to ride on camel? A nice experience, isn’t it? Even as I chuckled, I knew that the omission of the word a in the sign represented one of the greatest challenges of learning the English language: the use of what we writing nerds call articles.

Articles are actually not arbitrary.
Despite the seemingly arbitrary nature of articles, there are grammatical rules that govern their use. The category of articles generally consists of three words: a, an, and the. While these are small words, they can make a world of difference in writing. Articles do have a purpose and can provide clarity. Allow me to explain.

Articles give specificity and number.
Articles fall into two categories: Definite and indefinite.

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Too Weaselly for Academia

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Tim McIndoo
By Tim McIndoo, Dissertation Editor

In everyday conversation, it’s common to be polite. We may not say what we really think. So we pussyfoot: Well, if we don't leave ‘til noon, we probably won't arrive on time. We don't want to seem too positive because we don't want to alienate whomever we are talking to and, well, we could be wrong. So we equivocate: No, I suppose it won't be a problem if you leave later. Politeness is a useful strategy for sustaining conversations and relationships—but not for generating knowledge, which is the business of research. To generate knowledge, you must be straightforward. Thus, it’s important not to dodge, fudge, hedge, waffle, and tergiversate.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a weasel word is “an equivocating or ambiguous word which takes away the force or meaning of the concept being expressed.” But in research, why pull punches? According to The Free Dictionary, it’s “a word used to avoid making an outright assertion.” But how can research be executed without assertions about what is known and not known?

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How RSS Changed My Life . . . or at Least My Reading Habits

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Anne Torkelson
By Anne Torkelson, Writing Consultant

When I worked in public relations, my responsibilities included keeping an eye on the Internet for certain trending topics. I read numerous blogs and news sites every day to stay up to date. Like many Internet users, I had marked the websites that I read regularly as favorites (or “bookmarks,” depending on which browser I was using) so I could access them easily. The trouble was that to see if the websites had updated since I had last checked them, I needed to visit every single one. Doing so often led to wasted time, as many of the websites had not yet updated, meaning I had to spend even more time checking them again later.

Using an RSS feed reader can help you manage the blogs you follow.Then I found RSS.

RSS stands for really simple syndication or rich site summary, and it’s a way to easily access and manage web page content that changes frequently. Many websites, including the Walden Writing Center blog, offer RSS feeds. To find a site’s feed, use the shortcut CTRL+F to search for RSS, or look for the universal RSS symbol (on the right).

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Welcome to the Academic Writing Community!

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Rachel Grammer
By Rachel Grammer, Writing Consultant

Recently, as I sat staring at the blank computer screen, I felt myself shrinking from the keyboard. I knew what I wanted to write in this email to the director of my department, but I also knew that it had to be different than the one-sentence emails with emoticons that I shot off to my colleagues frequently. I struggled to find the words that meant precisely what I wanted to say, and I started to feel that familiar self-talk creep in: I must be incompetent or incapable. I’ll never learn how to navigate this world of corporate language.

It is times like these when I have to remind myself of the truth: It’s not a deficit in me. It’s a new discourse! And I’m not alone.

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You're Engaged?!

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Sarah Prince
By Sarah Prince, Writing Consultant

Recently, my two nieces came to our house for a slumber party. After our very late night and the ridiculously early morning that followed (only 7-year-olds think it is fun to rise before the sun), I was thoroughly exhausted. For close to 48 hours, I had been assaulted with all sorts of hard questions. Why do I only walk the dogs on some days? How come I don’t know how to make pancakes? What is my favorite Disney movie? Who do I think is cuter, Justin Bieber or Joe Jonas?

Watching the girls ride off in my sister’s minivan early Sunday morning, I remember thinking two things: (1) Any day of the week, Joe Jonas is cuter than Justin Bieber, and (2) I wish there was some way I could channel those kids’ enthusiastic curiosity. That curiosity seems to be a special gift only children possess. They want to know why things are the way they are, how things came to be, and what their own place is within the existing order. They ask questions, they categorize, they seek out patterns and connections. In this way, children are always actively engaged with the surrounding world.

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Writer's Workshop #2: Exercises From a Live Tutoring Session

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Amber Cook
By Amber Cook, Senior Writing Specialist and Faculty Liaison

Many of Walden’s writing tutors—myself included—used to work in brick-and-mortar writing centers. We sat next to students at actual desks, looking at documents on printed sheets of paper. The online tutoring we do here at Walden allows us many options that were unavailable to us in that setting: We can instantly pull up useful links, review larger areas of text, and provide students with advice in print that they can study on their own schedule. There are some helpful exercises used in live sessions, however, that online students can replicate on their own. Take a look!

Read your work aloud. This is often the first step in live tutoring sessions. Reading your work aloud can help you identify issues like redundancy, grammar errors, or rough transitions. Most people write more slowly than they speak, so they might not notice those issues during the writing process. Your ear will catch many problems that your eye (or your grammar checker) missed. When reading aloud in consultations at Walden residencies, most writers stop themselves after the first few sentences to say “Wait! That part sounded weird” or “Oh! I see the problem!” Find a quiet room and give it a try!

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Using Find and Replace: A Quick MS Word Tip

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Tim McIndoo
By Tim McIndoo, Dissertation Editor

Let's say a writing tutor reviewed your work. One of the tips she mentioned was to italicize the titles of books within your paper. You--the ever-diligent student--want to make sure you catch every instance of those book titles and change them from regular type to italics. Here are the steps to use the Find and Replace function in MS Word.

1. Press Control H. The Find and Replace dialog box will appear with the Replace tab overlined in red.
2. In the Find What box, insert the word or phrase you want to italicize.
3. Leave the Replace With box blank, but be sure the cursor is blinking inside it.
4. Click on Format at the bottom of the dialog box and select Font.
5. Among the three tabs, Font should be overlined in red and there should be a blinking cursor in the Font box.
6. Click on Tab to move from the Font column to the next column, Font Style. Select Italic. At the bottom right of the box, click OK.
7. Now make sure that the Replace With box is still blank, but that below the box, the phrase “Font: Italic” appears.
8. Click on Find Next. When the next instance of the word or phrase appears, it will be highlighted. If it is an instance you want to change, click the Replace button. If you want to skip over it, click on Find Next.
9. Once you’ve changed all the instances you want, close the dialog box at the X in the upper right corner.

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Incorporating Grammarly Into Your Writing Process

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Matt Smith
By Matt Smith, Writing Consultant

You might already be familiar with Grammarly, but if you aren’t: Grammarly is a grammar-checking program that is available to you for free as a Walden student. In the Writing Center, we recommend Grammarly in a number of situations; if a student’s paper contains a great deal of sentence-level interference (i.e., the student’s meaning is obscured by grammar issues), for example, or if a student wants help immediately and we have no openings in our schedule, we’re likely to point him or her toward this software. We also recommend that students use Grammarly as an early step in their revision processes, because it can help them improve their paper in the short term and, more importantly, strengthen their writing skills in the long term.

To get started with Grammarly, click the big green Grammarly button on our home page. Instructions for logging into Grammarly should appear in your browser, and, once you’re in, you should see a screen like this.

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The 20-Minute Lit Review

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Jeff Zuckerman
By Jeff Zuckerman, Dissertation Specialist and CSS Faculty Member        

At a dissertation intensive earlier this summer, a student—let’s call him Daniel—asked me to give his literature review a quick look for APA style and anything else that caught my eye.

“I’ll be glad to go through it,” I said eagerly. I really was happy to read Daniel’s revision. He had already impressed me with his clear writing in an earlier draft. Now, after several days of fine-tuning and hard work, he was ready to show me what he hoped was the final draft.

After skimming the entire literature review in about 20 minutes, I suggested a few places where Daniel could have organized things a little differently, and I explained a few APA style and punctuation corrections I had made.

“So that’s it?” Daniel said, a little sadly.

“It read well!” I said. “Those really were the only problems I saw!”

“In other words,” he said, “I put 3 months into the literature review, and you just read it in about 20 minutes.”

So much hard work, and here I was with a cheap-sounding compliment and a dozen or so corrections. As Peggy Lee sang, “Is that all there is?”

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How to Think (and Write) Like Your Instructor

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Nik Nadeau
By Nik Nadeau, Writing Consultant

Are you confused about how to meet your instructor’s expectations? Here at the Writing Center, we receive lots of questions about assignment prompts and instructor comments, with some simply asking “What do I do?” For the majority of these situations, we like to recommend the following:

For questions relating to the content of your assignment or capstone work, check with your instructor. For example, if you are unsure what your instructor means by holistic learning, send him or her an email and ask! Make sure you read the assignment carefully and express your concerns or confusion—after all, your instructor will be grading you on how well you read and interpret the guidelines as well as on the writing itself. Or, if you are unsure about what to do in the Delimitations section of your dissertation proposal, ask your committee chair and consult the rubric (to find the appropriate rubric for your doctoral program, see the Center for Research Support –Office of Student Research Administration homepage).

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Writer's Workshop #1: A Bird's-Eye View

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Beth Oyler discusses revision.
By Beth Oyler, Writing Consultant

This post is the first in our new monthly Writer’s Workshop series, which provides students with activities to improve their writing.

When I talk about the revision process, some students look at me blankly, wondering What process? Don’t worry if you’re one of those people. If you don’t usually revise your papers (or even if you do), know that revision is just what I say: a process.  You’ll develop your own revision process as you develop your writing, and I hope that the Writer’s Workshop series will help.

The most useful revision strategy for me has to do with organization and getting a bird’s-eye view. Once I’ve completed a first draft of a paper, I take an inventory of the information I’ve included so far. This helps me better understand whether I’ve fully supported my thesis, developed all ideas fully, and organized my information in a logical manner.

To take an inventory, read through the paper paragraph by paragraph, summarizing each paragraph in one sentence (that’s right, just one—or even a phrase if you can swing it!). Don’t let yourself get too wordy. If you can’t summarize the paragraph in a short, simple sentence, star* the summary for that paragraph so you know to come back to it later.

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Transcribing Audio Files From Interviews and Focus Groups

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Tim McIndoo
By Tim McIndoo, Editor

Qualitative studies are common at Walden, but many students publish their transcriptions unedited. While it’s true that most of an interviewee’s words are sacrosanct, some of them can be edited to improve readability and clarity. This blog will suggest what should and should not be done while you are transcribing from the recording and then right after you’ve finished typing the interview.

Introduction

The data in qualitative studies typically comes from interviews or focus groups. Both yield audio files that must be transcribed to make the data accessible and facilitate analysis. Transcribing is a task you’ll need to do or hire someone else to do for you. Either way, you are responsible for its accuracy and clarity.

To transcribe is to make speech readable. But it is not a matter of just recording all of the speaker’s utterances. Some sounds and some words convey little or no meaning, while some wordless gestures—a pause, a smile, or shrugged shoulders—can be evocative. Thus, transcribing requires vigilant listening, careful note taking, and sensitive interpretation.

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Grammar, Style, and Absolute Phrases

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Jonah Charney-Sirott
By Jonah Charney-Sirott, Writing Consultant

When revising your work, it’s important to proofread for grammatical errors, as well as for stylistic concerns. What is the difference between the two, you might be wondering? A grammatical error is one that breaks a rule of the English language, an error that can be definitively noted as right or wrong. Style, on the other hand, is much more subjective. Take passive voice, for example. Rules-wise, there is nothing incorrect when it comes to the phrase “A qualitative approach was utilized to conduct the study.” Government officials, for example, speak this way all the time (“mistakes were made”).  However, APA prefers students write in the active voice instead.

Now that we’ve got the difference between grammar and style out of the way, let’s discuss what are known as absolute phrases. An absolute phrase is an example of a grammatical rule, not a style issue, because if you use an absolute phrase incorrectly, your sentence will likely confuse your reader.

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Community: Your Secret Weapon

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Jamie Patterson
By Jamie Patterson, Dissertation Editor

I don’t want you to be afraid, but only a little over half of all students who enroll in a doctoral program actually complete the program with a degree (Wao & Onwuegbuzie, 2011). Those who do complete the degree tend to take about double to quadruple the amount of time prescribed by most programs, with the delay occurring during the dissertation writing process.

As a dissertation editor I work with student writers who are at all stages of writing the dissertation. They all approach me with the same plea: tell me how to write this monster of a document.

I’m afraid the only advice I can give to them, and now to you, is simply: write. Seek out help and write. The seeking out help part is the key, and here at Walden we’re trying to develop services that will provide relevant help at just the right time. For instance, we have been piloting capstone study writing groups and are hopeful that this will be a service available to all students in the near future. For now, if you are an EdD student in your first course of 8090 we have a pilot writing group beginning July 16 and running for 6 weeks. If you’re interested in learning more, email us at writinggroups@waldenu.edu. If you don’t meet the criteria for this pilot, not to worry, there are options for you too.

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Calling All International and Multilingual Students!

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Kayla Skarbakka
By Kayla Skarbakka, Writing Consultant

Every so often, we tutors receive e-mails from students expressing concerns about writing in English. “Some of my issues are related to translation,” a student recently noted. “My first language is Spanish, so you can imagine how difficult it is to write a paper in English.”

As someone with an embarrassingly limited knowledge of other languages, I certainly can imagine the challenge. There’s no way around it: scholarly writing is tough. The sophisticated vocabulary, tone, and structure needed to write clearly about complex ideas can prove arduous even if you’re writing in your first language. When you’re writing in a second (or third or fourth) language, the challenge is, of course, all the greater.

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Free Yourself in the First Draft

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Julia Cox
By Julia Cox, Writing Consultant

American writer Isaac Singer once lamented, “The wastebasket is a writer’s best friend.” Even though we now have a metaphorical wastebasket via the delete button, Singer’s sentiment remains true. Sometimes the best route to a good piece of writing is a truly horrible and scattered first draft.

There is a grand illusion that writing of any kind is a singular event—that The Great Gatsby was written in one sitting, or that Will Smith composed the lyrics to "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" on a whim.  All forms of writing take time and revision, academic papers included. Setting aside the pressure to produce an immediately perfect piece can actually create a more effective drafting process.  Here are some tips for getting that first draft down—minus the pressure:

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The Northwest Passage, or Why You Should Cite Yourself Only Sparingly

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Matt Smith explains citing yourself.
By Matt Smith, Writing Consultant

To attain a graduate degree, especially a terminal degree, is to specialize in a chosen field. When you begin your study, you move from the general (an interest in teaching, let's say, or psychology) to the specific (enhancing your classroom methods with differentiated instruction, for example, or studying the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy in treating substance abuse).

Developing your capstone project necessarily involves the discovery of new scholarly terrain, and it makes sense that, as an explorer in the wild, you would strive to be as resourceful as possible in these efforts; after all, you have no idea whether there’s water or sand over the horizon. In this spirit, students working on their capstones or other large projects often want to use work they’ve already created (course papers, capstones from prior degrees, etc.) as building blocks for the work they’re really interested in.

For example, rather than rereading Bandura’s writing on social-cognitive theory, which you read two semesters ago and wrote a five-page paper about, you might want to reuse your ideas from that paper and get down to business researching the cutting-edge stuff recently published in major journals. As an intrepid explorer, you must have faith in your powers of deduction and reasoning—after all, that’s how you managed to navigate your way to this new territory in the first place. 

However, your understanding of something—anything—shifts over time and depends greatly on your perspective and circumstances; how you think about a place you’ve never been to is inherently different from how you think of it once you’re there. In other words, you should avoid relying on your previous work because the way you look at a subject now will almost certainly be different from the way you looked at it before.

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On Whose Authority?

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Tobias Ball

By Tobias Ball, Dissertation Editor

While interviewing a candidate for an editor vacancy, I asked about something from his work history, the job of writing instructor. I asked how he taught writing. After a long pause, the candidate offered some of the tips that most writers have heard, such as setting time aside every day specifically for writing, sharing work with others, and one of the most popular bits of advice, writing what you know. Although it is often the case that fiction and academic writers share techniques for getting words on the page, this last method is less applicable.

When faculty are working with students to develop a problem statement, they ask them what it is about their topic that they do not know. One of the functions of a dissertation is to fill a gap in the literature, that gap representing something unknown about a topic. The fact that the topic is something unknown means that writing what you know is not really possible. This may leave the academic writer of a dissertation at a loss for inspiration and with concerns about writing with any sort of authority. There is a solution.

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Muddled Modifiers

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Rachel Grammer explains modifiers.
By Rachel Grammer, Writing Consultant

Confession #1: I am a grammar geek.

Now go ahead—say it. You know you want to, and I know you’re thinking it: Her last name is so appropriate! I mean, with a last name like Grammer, I must have been destined for a career in English, right? Perhaps it was fate, but that’s beside the point.

Confession #2:  I giggle audibly at unusual sentences (sometimes much to the frustration of those coworkers whose cubicles are next to mine).

I can’t help it. I mean, who can avoid laughing at the idea of a duck with pigtails? Well, let me explain. Modifiers are descriptive words or phrases, and they often end up in the wrong spot. Take this example sentence:

The girl ran after the duck with pigtails.

This is a classic example of a misplaced modifier. The phrase with pigtails is really meant to describe the girl. However, the writer separated the modifier from what it was describing, so the sentence seems to be talking about a duck with pigtails.

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How to Become Teacher’s Pet

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Amber Cook provides tips for working with instructors
By Amber Cook, Senior Writing Specialist and Faculty Liaison

So, show of hands: Did you do anything special for your instructors during teacher appreciation week last week? If your hand isn’t raised, I have a list of suggestions that will make up for your oversight. 

As the Writing Center’s faculty liaison, I have frequent conversations with instructors, all of whom are eager to help students refine their scholarly writing skills. Without exception, these faculty members are inspired and impressed by your hard work and passion for contributing to your field, and they care about seeing you succeed. There are some steps you can take to make their job easier, though, and the bonus is that you’ll also see improvement in your own work!
  1. Read all of your instructor’s feedback. I know it’s tempting to just glance at the grade and then move along to your next task, but you might be missing out on some great advice. Many instructors embed resources, comments, and recommendations that will help you with your next paper, so be sure to take the time to read and use them. Nothing makes an instructor (or a writing tutor!) crazier than seeing the same errors from the same student, paper after paper. If you have trouble with the feedback tools themselves, see the MS Editing Tools section of this link for help. Bonus brownie points if you send a message to your instructor thanking him or her for the helpful advice.

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Put What Where? Lost in the Turnitin Vortex

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Hillary explains using Turnitin.
By Hillary Wentworth, Writing Consultant

Many students are scared of Turnitin, others are angry that they have to use the program, while still others are utterly mystified by it all.  Turnitin is an interesting tool—if you know what it really does.  It’s important to remember that a high Turnitin percentage does not necessarily indicate plagiarism.  The software is simply matching your paper—word for word—to other documents in its database.  These documents (literally millions of them) are journal articles, college papers, web pages, and books.  Amongst those millions, there will be matches.  After all, there is no truly original way to refer to differentiated instruction or evidence-based practice, right?  

So, when you are looking at a Turnitin report, don’t scream and run around the room or dissolve in tears.  Instead, take a long, deep breath, sit down on the couch, and read these tips:

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A Letter from the Director

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Brian Timmerman
Greetings, students, faculty, and staff.

We’ve heard your concerns about editor availability, and we’re restructuring our services to better meet demand. Come May 14, if you’re a student working on your capstone, and if you find the editor schedule to be full, go ahead and sign up with a tutor. The tutors, all writing professionals who are already working with students on proposals and prospectuses, are eager to assist you in your capstone endeavors.

A few things to keep in mind as you work with a tutor on your capstone:
  • Unlike the editors’ 1-hour chapter review offering, a tutor’s review is 30 minutes.  Like the chapter review, however, the paper review is an asynchronous session; it does not include a phone call or live communication.

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My Personal Journey With Microsoft Word

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By Julia Cox, Writing Consultant

Amid the emotional maelstrom of my third grade year—which included maddening multiplication tables, a painful introduction to cursive writing, and one truly subpar season of TV’s Friends—I met Microsoft Word.

Greeted by the exuberant paperclip assistant “Clippy” (a 1990s animation retired after Windows 95), I knew my days of handwritten assignments and crayon embellishments were coming to an end.  I had to pick myself up by the fuchsia overall strap and soldier on—into the territory of word processing.

Microsoft Word has been my fair-weather companion for over 15 years now. Even though I grew up with the program, it still manages to throw me a curve ball at the worst of moments.  To possibly lend some support, or maybe just tell a fellow sufferer’s tale, I have enumerated a top 5 list of MS Word annoyances.

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Assumption Junction, What’s Your Function? Making Sense of Assumptions, Limitations, and Delimitations

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Jen discusses sections of the dissertation.
By Jen Johnson, Dissertation Editor

A common area of confusion for students at the proposal stage (or even at the final Form and Style review) is understanding what, exactly, should appear in the Assumptions, Limitations, and Delimitations sections of chapter 1 (or section 1, for EdD and DBA students). As an editor, I’ve seen a wide range of student responses to the challenges of these sections: some that have been spot-on, some that have been perplexing, and many more that have fallen somewhere in between. So how do we begin to make sense of assumptions, limitations, and delimitations?

First, let’s start with some rubric definitions. The DBA rubric defines assumptions as “facts assumed to be true but not actually verified.” Similarly, the PhD qualitative and quantitative checklists describe assumptions as “aspects of the study that are believed but cannot be demonstrated to be true,” with the added injunction to “include only those assumptions that are critical to the meaningfulness of the study.” In the DBA rubric, a limitation is a “potential weakness of the study,” and delimitations are the “bounds of the study.” And the PhD checklists define limitations as those items “related to design and/or methodological weaknesses” and delimitations as “boundaries of the study.”

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Let’s Make a Word

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By Amy Kubista, Writing Consultant

Did you know that every year, new words are added to the dictionary?  I have often thought this ridiculous; it is difficult enough to learn the words that are already there, much less new ones.  What about people who are learning English?  How can they accurately grasp a language that is in constant flux?

In 2011, a slew of words were added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  While some, such as bromance (a close friendship between men that is nonsexual) and cougar (an attractive, middle-aged woman seeking a sexual relationship with a younger man), derive from pop culture, other terms are more indicative of the times and society. 

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How to End a Relationship Part II:The Graduate Paper

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By Jeff Zuckerman, Dissertation Specialist and CSS Faculty Member

In my last blog post for the Writing Center, I offered expert advice on how undergraduates should end an academic paper. I also gave some inexpert advice on how to end a relationship. Most of my advice came from two places: Lunsford (2008) and the participant-observer research I did by way of my lousy romances before I met my wife.

This time let’s stick with finding ways to conclude a graduate paper or research article.

No doubt you’ve read some primary research in your graduate work. Whether studying the relationship between barking dogs and human aggression, bowling performance and mental skills training, or banking laws and consumers’ likelihood to have a checking account, authors of journal articles most often conclude their work with a discussion and interpretation of the work, a commentary on its significance, and the resulting avenues for future research.

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Why You Shouldn’t Wiki

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By Nik Nadeau, Writing Consultant

Close your eyes. Now, imagine a person against whom you would just love to win an argument. Maybe it is your boss, brother-in-law, or that snotty neighbor across the street. Anyway, whoever it is, picture this person, in high definition, standing right in front of you, a malicious grin spread across his or her face, saying, “Go ahead. Try me.”

This person, as your nemesis, is itching to hear your argument.  Then tear it apart.

Now, imagine that you have chosen a topic--say, the health benefits of exercise. Your nemesis declares him or herself the world’s fattest couch potato, takes pride in being less active than even Garfield, and considers extra-greasy potato chips a primary food group. Wouldn’t you just love to blow this person’s socks off with a winning argument?

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The Word on MS Word: Start Learning Now!

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By Beth Oyler, Writing Consultant

Higher education has drastically changed in the last few years: Technology has permeated almost every aspect, from libraries (online text books and databases) to classrooms (Blackboard and online forums). Therefore, most institutions (including Walden) now require students to have some skills with technology.

Students now write papers almost exclusively in a word processor, with Microsoft (MS) Word being one of the most common programs.  Although there are other word processing options out there (including Openoffice.org Writer and a plethora of others), most students will use MS Word at some point in their education or career. MS Word skills have become so important that community colleges now regularly offer continuing education courses in the subject. MS Word savvy has become an asset, helping to make completing a degree easier.

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When the Going Gets Tough

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Kevin Schwandt
By Kevin Schwandt, Dissertation Editor

I recently suffered a personal tragedy; my aunt, who taught me some of my earliest music lessons, passed away.  As a gift to her and to my family generally, I am in the process of writing music for her memorial service.  This may seem an odd way to begin a post about doctoral writing, but the experience does, indeed, resonate with capstone writing in surprising ways.

Not unlike—though for different reasons—my memory of writing my own PhD dissertation, writing this music feels overwhelmingly daunting.  In the case of the memorial composition, my progress is impeded by the intense emotions always accompanying grief; in the case of the dissertation, I remember being periodically rendered utterly unproductive by the burden of producing such a substantial document.

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My Election 2012 Candidate: The Dash

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By Julia Cox, Writing Consultant

Perhaps it’s because my high school English teacher detested them, but I have been in a love affair with the dash for close to a decade now.

Besides being my favorite grammatical character, the dash is the underdog of the punctuation realm. As dashes are appropriate in only a limited number of APA contexts, they are definitely less prevalent than perfunctory marks such as the colon and comma.

According to APA style, writers should use dashes in pairs, to separate extra information that interrupts a complete sentence. Dashes help the detail phrase stand out and prevent the information from getting lost in the sentence.

When used correctly, the dash is nothing but dazzling.

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