May 2012 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

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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