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Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Student Spotlight: Dr. Olawunmi Obisesan on Strategies for Multilingual Speakers, Finishing Her Dissertation, and Advice for New Students

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This month: Approaching Writing From Different Languages and Traditions | Walden University Writing Center Blog
This month on the podcast and blog, we're featuring topics related to approaching writing from different languages and traditions. While anyone can enjoy these topics, we hope they'll be of particular interest to international students and students who speak multiple languages. Need to catch up on what you missed? Check out our other posts in the series: WriteCast episode #21: Writing Expectations at U.S. Colleges and UniversitiesLearning the Rules of the Game, Part I: English Academic Writing; and Learning the Rules of the Game, Part II: Meeting Your Readers' Expectations

Olawunmi (Ola) Obisesan, one of our former Administrative Writing Assistants, is graduating this May with a PhD in Public Health (Epidemiology). (Congrats, Ola!) We caught up with Ola during her last days with us at the Writing Center:

You hold a bachelor’s degree in English language and literacy studies, a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and a master’s degree in public health. What motivated you to pursue your PhD?

I decided to pursue my PhD because I wanted to be an expert in my field, being able to make significant but original contributions to public health, when and where it mattered, especially with issues that concern the health of immigrant populations.  Getting a PhD is not as cool as it looks or sound; it is a lifelong commitment to critical thinking and learning. I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for it, especially because I knew I would enjoy the intellectual freedom that comes with working on research studies that interested me.

Tell us a little about your language background and your experience learning American academic English.

I speak two languages: English and Yoruba. Though English is my country’s (Nigeria) official language, it is the British English, which is very different from the American English. Many words are not pronounced the same way and there are other words which do not even mean the same thing—for example, car trunk (boot), car hood (bonnet), pants (underwear). It was hard, and I had my dictionary on me always so that I could look up certain words. By listening to people speak and not being afraid to ask questions when I was confused, I was able to learn fast. I also watched a lot of TV just to understand the context in which to use certain unfamiliar words.

We know you are passionate about helping other writers navigate language and grammar. What resources, activities, or strategies do you think are particularly helpful for multilingual speakers and writers?

Because multilingual speakers have a tendency to communicate more in their native language, especially when they are with friends and family members who speak the same language, one thing that will help is to consciously communicate in English as this will help enhance your mastery of the English language. It helps to set the language on your computer to English (U.S.) as this will make writing your papers easier for you. Grammarly, though not perfect, is a very useful tool as it helps in picking out minor mistakes in your papers. I found that watching television, whether my favorite TV shows or the news, also helps because it helps you pick up the use of certain words and the right grammar. I also found it helpful to read storybooks that were written in American English and at a lower reading level (5th-7the grade level) because it is a fun and engaging tool for learning the English language; this will also strengthen one’s understanding of the English language structure. One of the problem areas of international students is the use of verbs and prepositions. The Writing Center has helpful resources on Preposition Basics and Verb Tenses. 
Editor's note: We're always looking for ways to improve our resources. If you're a current international and/or multilingual Walden student, please take our brief survey to help us improve our services for you. The survey link will remain posted here as long as the survey is active. Thank you!

Tell us a little about your dissertation experience.

My dissertation process was stressful, but I went overboard. The truth is that if you want to finish, and on time, too, you have to put in the work. I set aside two to three hours every day to write! People say I make it sound easy but the truth is that it was not! What helped me was to inform my family and friends that I needed to devote one year to my dissertation and to excuse me from many miscellaneous activities. I am so glad they listened, because with their help and support, I was done in four semesters!

Also, the dissertation process is such that you have to be your own advocate and on top of your case. If you don’t hear back from your chairperson or committee member, you need to reach out to them. I heard of people who didn’t hear back from their chair for a month and did nothing about it. It was even harder for me because my chairperson was based in Taiwan working for an international NGO and communication was hard because there was a 12-hour time difference. When I was sleeping, he was awake and vice versa. Guess what? I learned not to sleep and also wake up at odd hours, just to make it work! You have got to do what you have got to do (legally of course) to make it work.

My advice for students approaching or working on their capstones is this: WRITE every day. If you write one page a day, you’ll have seven pages in a week and 30-31 pages within a month! Don’t look at the total number of chapters you have to write, just take it one page at a time!

What are your plans for after graduation?

Right now, I work in general public health but I made the decision to focus on infectious diseases epidemiology. I interviewed for three positions as an Infection Control/Prevention Practitioner, and just officially got an offer that would mean having to relocate to another state. I just want to encourage everyone not to stop at your degree; if having certain certifications in your field gives you an advantage, go for it. I became a Certified Health Education Specialist (C.H.E.S.) and a Certified Asthma Educator (AE-C), and I have to sit for my Certification in Infection Control (CIC) in a few weeks; these are all national certifications, which over the years, have alerted prospective employers that I know my stuff!

If you could go back in time, what advice (writing or otherwise) would you offer your first-year-at-Walden self?

If I could go back in time, I would advise myself to use the Writing Center. I did not use the Writing Center in my first few months at Walden and so by the time I had to learn APA, I found that there was so much to learn in so little time. That said, the truth is that it is not too late to learn APA. Once you get a handle on how APA works, you will be fine. The Writing Center writing instructors are your friends; please don’t make them your enemy, just because they sent your paper back with lots of feedback. Unless you are a professional editor (an expert in the field of editing and APA), your paper will need some kind of edit, and once you are able to learn from the feedback and edits, you can continue to use them in your future work.   



author

Ola Obisesan
is a former Administrative Writing Assistant at the Writing Center. She graduates this month with a PhD in Public Heath. 



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Learning the Rules of the Game, Part 2: Meeting Your Readers' Expectations

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This month: Approaching Writing From Different Languages and Traditions | Walden University Writing Center Blog

This month on the podcast and blog, we're featuring topics related to approaching writing from different languages and traditions. While anyone can enjoy these topics, we hope they'll be of particular interest to international students and students who speak multiple languages. Need to catch up on what you missed? Check out our latest WriteCast episode: Writing Expectations at U.S. Colleges and Universities and Amy's post Learning the Rules of the Game, Part I: English Academic Writing.


In the Writing Center, we talk a lot about following an academic rhetorical style; we typically call it scholarly writing or academic writing. Basically, scholarly writing includes a number of norms and guidelines, some of which are often not explained as requirements in assignment prompts. In an academic setting, readers expect that the writing will follow the rules of scholarly writing. The reader may be confused or have a hard time reading and understanding a written work if it does not follow what is typical and expected for the genre. Following these rules means you will be more successful at effective communication in an English academic environment. It might also help your grade. Nice perk, right?


Learning the Rules of the Game, Part 2: Meeting Your Readers' Expectations via the Walden University Writing Center Blog

So, if you’re wondering where to start, let me give you a few of the norms and guidelines.  You can find a lot more about how to effectively follow the rules of academic writing in English in our website section on scholarly writing.

Norms and guidelines of scholarly writing

1. Organization

In English academic writing, readers expect to see an introductory paragraph or section in which the writer discusses the main idea of the paper and includes a thesis statement that is concise, specific, and arguable. Academic writing in English is very straightforward. In the introduction, the writer should tell the reader about the main idea of the paper and what she or he is going to discuss in the paper.

Each body paragraph within the paper should have one clear focus that relates back to the purpose of the paper, as stated in the thesis statement. Within each paragraph, there should not be any extra information that does not relate to the purpose/focus of the paragraph.

Finally, it is common to include a conclusion paragraph or section that sums up the ideas from the paper and also may relate the information in the paper to a larger purpose, such as the current research in a field or possible future implications.

2. Tone

Use clear language that will easily be understood by the reader. Using casual wording and contractions may make your draft sound informal. Also, avoid metaphors because they may not be universally understood. 

3. Audience

When writing in an English academic context, as a general rule, do not assume that the reader has the same background knowledge as you do. It is the writer’s role to fully explain ideas so that the reader, who may have little contextual or background information about the topic, can understand the ideas in the paper. Including an introduction that addresses the overall topic of the paper is one important step in providing some background information for the reader. Also, as you mention ideas, theories, or terminology for the first time in a draft, explain what they are or what they mean to the reader. For more discussion about how and why to consider your audience when you write, check out Hillary's blog post

4. Giving credit (aka citing sources)

In English academic writing, readers will expect that you will often use evidence and ideas from other writers, researchers, and organizations to support your arguments. When doing so, you need to always explain where you read about or found the information. Citing sources is a way to acknowledge the hard work of the people who researched a topic before you. Also, it builds your credibility as an author and researcher if you can show that there is evidence to support your arguments. If writers do not accurately cite sources, they commit plagiarism, which can have harsh consequences. You can learn more about effectively citing sources by viewing our archived webinar Using and Crediting Sources in APA.

By making sure that you have clear organization, a scholarly tone, an idea of the audience for your draft, and citations for your sources, you will be on the right track to ensure that you meet the expectations of your readers, effectively communicate your ideas, and be successful throughout your academic career. 
We're always looking for ways to improve our resources. If you're a current international and/or multilingual Walden student, please take our brief survey to help us improve our services for you. The survey link will remain posted here as long as the survey is active. Thank you!


author

Amy Lindquist
is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She enjoys working with students from around the world on academic writing and the English Language. She's a bit of a grammar nerd. When not working, she spends time practicing yoga, sewing, and playing with her new puppy, Bauer. 


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Learning the Rules of the Game, Part 1: English Academic Writing

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This month: Approaching Writing From Different Languages and Traditions | Walden University Writing Center Blog

This month on the podcast and blog, we're featuring topics related to approaching writing from different languages and traditions. While anyone can enjoy these topics, we hope they'll be of particular interest to international students and students who speak multiple languages. Did you miss our first post in the series? Check out our latest WriteCast episode: Writing Expectations at U.S. Colleges and Universities.

Games have specific rules--rules about taking turns or what you can and cannot do when it is your turn. Sometimes, a game has different rules depending on who you play with. For example, when I play golf with my friends, we’re rather lenient with the rules; however, if I were to ever play in a professional tournament (which is very unlikely), I would need to follow every rule.   


Learning the Rules of the Game, Part 1: English Academic Writing via the Walden University Writing Center Blog

In some games, if you don’t follow the rules, you might get penalized or kicked out of the game. Likewise, by knowing the rules, you have a much better chance of succeeding in the game. You can better strategize and play when you know what you can, cannot, should, or should not do in a game.

The writing game

You might be thinking, well, what does this have to do with writing? Quite a bit, actually. It has to do with rhetorical styles and expectations. If rhetoric is a scary word to you, don’t worry! I’ll explain.

Rhetoric refers to speaking or writing that is typically meant to persuade or influence listeners or readers; it includes things like tone and organization of ideas. Different rhetorical styles and writing contexts have different rules, which are actually more like guidelines or norms. However, these rules are often not explicitly stated. They might be learned with time and experience, or they might be learned through observation or instruction. A lot of writers follow these rules, but some of those writers may not even realize that they are following them or that they exist. When writers do not follow the norms or guidelines for a specific context, it may cause confusion, turmoil, and chaos. Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic, but the reality is that it could cause reader confusion, which may translate into ineffective communication of ideas and a poor grade on an assignment.

Considering your writing context, purpose, and audience

Before we discuss some of these rules, let’s consider two different writing contexts and the possible similarities and differences: an e-mail to my friend and this blog post. In an e-mail to my friend, like the example below, I will probably use rather casual language. I may not use well-organized paragraphs, or even full sentences for that matter. I might refer back to a previous experience without clearly explaining the context. I might joke around and discuss various topics within a short e-mail.
Hey Monica, 
How's it going? I finally finished my final paper. Done! How was Jeff's birthday party? Hannah said she couldn't make it--did you guys all have fun? Oh, and did you two finally plan your trip to San Diego? So wish I could come!

Miss you, Amy
On the other hand, in this blog post, I have one clear purpose. I created a title that captures the overall idea of my post, and I am making sure that all of the content in my post revolves around a main idea. I am intentionally crafting paragraphs with a single focus. I use somewhat casual language, but the language is more formal than in my e-mail to my friend. In the two different contexts, there are differences in my tone, organization, focus, writing purpose, and audience. Also, I give much more explanation and background information in the blog post than in the e-mail.

Now, think about how these two writing contexts might differ from an academic paper or capstone study. Writing in English, and in all other languages, looks different depending on the purpose or the context of the writing. Readers actually expect the writing to be different depending on the context. Imagine if you wrote a paper for one of your courses using the style, language, and organization that you use when writing an e-mail to a close friend: abbreviated words and contractions, short or undefined paragraphs, informal language, and/or humor. It likely wouldn’t seem like an academic paper, because it wouldn’t be following the norms of an academic rhetorical style.

Check in next week for my post with some specific tips to help you meet your readers’ expectations for an academic paper.


We're always looking for ways to improve our resources. If you're a current international and/or multilingual Walden student, please take our brief survey to help us improve our services for you. The survey link will remain posted here as long as the survey is active. Thank you!


author

Amy Lindquist is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She enjoys working with students from around the world on academic writing and the English Language. She's a bit of a grammar nerd. When not working, she spends time practicing yoga, sewing, and playing with her new puppy, Bauer. 


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WriteCast Episode 21: Writing Expectations at U.S. Colleges and Universities

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This month: Approaching Writing From Different Languages and Traditions | Walden University Writing Center Blog

This month on the podcast and blog, we're featuring topics related to approaching writing from different languages and traditions. While anyone can enjoy these topics, we hope they'll be of particular interest to international students and students who speak multiple languages. 

We're starting off the month with our 21st WriteCast episode: Writing Expectations at U.S. Colleges and Universities. Beth and Brittany talk about different styles and expectations within and outside of the U.S. rhetorical tradition (as well as what that means). 

Stream or download the episode below, and don't forget to share your thoughts in the comments! If you're reading this post via email, click the post's title to visit the blog, where you can stream or download the episode. 



Episode transcript
We're always looking for ways to improve our resources. If you're a current international and/or multilingual Walden student, please take our brief survey to help us improve our services for you. The survey link will remain posted here as long as the survey is active. Thank you!


author

Anne Shiell
 is a writing instructor and the coordinator of social media resources at the Walden Writing Center. Anne also produces WriteCast, the Writing Center's podcast.


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