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Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Technical Tips for Longer Writing Projects

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I admit, I definitely have a love-hate relationship with MS Word; while there are so many options for making the word processing simpler and ensuring the finished document looks slick, there always seems to be some quirk or default in the system that makes me feel more like I’m wrestling with the document rather than revising it.

Once I started to dig into the various functions available in MS Word and got over some of my fear and anxiety about the software, my relationship with MS Word improved a lot. Now I recommend many of the functions I used to nervously avoid, and there are several options I could not do without when working with longer documents.

Tech Tips for Longer Writing Projects

Word Support
Remember, there are people out there whose job it is to help. Playing around with software or new functions you aren’t used to using can feel intimidating, and sometimes you don’t even know what you don’t know or what to ask. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the different MS Word resources available through the Academic Skills Center, and you will be surprised at what you could learn that will help you later on.

If you scan down the menu to the left of the page and review the resources available at some of those links, you may even recognize solutions to problems you have encountered before. (I did not even know what a dot leader was until I had to learn how to fix them.) Plus, you will have a better idea what Word can do and how you can use it to compose your manuscript.

The Academic Skills Center offers one-on-one support, and you can either make an appointment or send your questions to WordSupport@waldenu.edu.

Moving Swiftly yet Carefully in Longer Documents
Beyond the formatting tools are the specific editing functions in MS Word. While you are not required to use it in your own revision practice, all Walden students should be well-versed in how to use Track Changes and the different options for viewing those changes in your document. Your faculty (such as your chairperson and doctoral committee) will use these functions to give you feedback on your drafts, and if you do not know how to view their feedback or incorporate their changes, this can cause frustration on all sides.

I cannot overstate the usefulness of the editing functions of Find and Replace. You may want to use the Replace function less frequently (the “Replace all” option can lead to some confusing and ungrammatical results if you do not read over everything carefully first), but Find will be your friend every time.

Scrolling through a document can get tedious, not to mention hard on the eyes, and printing out your work and reviewing a hard copy will not guarantee you catch every instance of a word or phrase. The Find function (which you can access with the keyboard shortcut “Ctrl+F” on a PC or “Command+F” on a Mac) lets you navigate through your document with the greatest of ease and ensures you locate everything you are looking for (provided you spelled it correctly…).

You can use the Find function to update verb tenses, check for acronym or abbreviation use, and locate the first time you cite a specific source so you know when to use the abbreviation et al. Best of all, you can quickly confirm whether or not your citations have corresponding reference entries listed at the end of the document and whether you have only included reference entries for those sources you directly cited. (Trying to check for this without the Find function could take hours when you are dealing with something the size of a dissertation or doctoral study.)

The Limits of Software’s Magic
You still want to avoid relying too heavily on software options to generate your draft. Some students use citation management software, for example, to help keep track of their reference and citation information. None of these systems is perfect, unfortunately, and their adherence to APA can range from the merely imperfect to the terrible, so make sure you know APA well enough to proofread for errors, and try to avoid using a system that does not let you add your own changes easily.

Do not be afraid to experiment with technical options for revising and organizing your document. If you label files clearly and save often, there is nearly no mistake you cannot undo, so be brave. If, for example, you replace the wrong thing or delete something you meant to keep, you can always undo it and move on. The more practice you have working with the different technical options available to you, the more you can revise like a professional.

Lydia Lunning is a Dissertation Editor and the Writing Center's Coordinator for Capstone Services. She earned degrees from Oberlin College and the University of Minnesota, and served on the editorial staff of Cricket Magazine Group.

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Prompted to Write: A Guide for Using Walden Assignment Prompts to Your Advantage

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As a student at Walden, you’re often likely provided with lengthy and descriptive prompts for your discussion board, application, and capstone assignments. These prompts are there to guide you to think and write about specific and complex topics. However, since the prompts are complex, it’s not uncommon for students to write papers that don’t fully adhere to the prompt. So, in this blog post, I’m going to offer some tips for how to ensure that your assignments adhere to the prompt as you prewrite and also as you revise.

Prompted to Write: A Guide for Using Walden Assignment Prompts to Your Advantage

Adhering to the Prompt as you Prewrite
The best way to ensure that your paper adheres to the prompt is to start off strong with prewriting. Prewriting includes brainstorming, taking notes, and outlining to prepare as you write your paper. Here are some strategies you can use as you prewrite to prepare yourself to write a paper that adheres to the prompt:

1. Identify the main questions or topics that the prompt is asking you to address. Many Walden assignment prompts come in 3 parts: (1) Introductory information, (2) Steps to accomplish as you prepare to write, and (3) Directives for the paper. The first two parts are helpful and let you know what to do to prepare, but it’s this third part that tells you what to do in your paper. The questions or requests posed there are the directives of the prompt that tell you what to do in your paper.

2. Read through the prompt closely and highlight important information. This likely means that you’ll read the prompt a few times and take notes. Highlight important information such as page length requirements, sources you need to use, directives (like analyze, explore, argue, describe, summarize), and the questions you should address. You can make a checklist for yourself with this important information.

3. Reframe the directives in the prompt as topic sentences for paragraphs. For example, if the prompt states the following, “Explain which Writing Center resources you used,” you could reframe this directive as a topic sentence in this way: “In the pursuit of improving my writing skills, I used Writing Center resources including webinars, paper reviews, and website content.”

4. Outline your paper using language from the writing prompt. Once you have identified all of the directives in the assignment prompt and composed topic sentences for paragraphs, you can craft an outline. Organize these topics in a way that makes sense to you, and then plan for an introduction paragraph with a thesis statement, a conclusion paragraph, and any section headings that might be relevant. From there, start writing the essay. Using the outline which was crafted from the prompt will help keep you in line with the prompt.

Adhering to the Prompt as you Revise
Another way to ensure that your paper adheres to the prompt is through revision. Revision means re-seeing the paper and it requires looking back at ideas to make sure that everything fits the purpose of the paper. Here are some revision strategies which you can employ to ensure your paper adheres to the assignment prompt.

5. Create a reverse outline of your paper and compare the outline to the prompt. Take notes and ask yourself with each paragraph: What is this paragraph doing, and how does it relate to the prompt and advance my ideas? If you see discrepancy between your reverse outline and the prompt, then revise your content to more clearly address the prompt. This might include creating a new outline, revising a topic sentence, cutting length, or adding content.

6. Use the prompt as a checklist and compare highlighted important information in the prompt with the content of your draft. If you see a discrepancy between the important information in the prompt and your content, revise to adhere to that important information. This might include expanding a whole section of your paper, cutting content or adding content to meet length requirements, integrating more sources, or developing some ideas.

7. Re-read the prompt and remind yourself of the audience and purpose for the assignment. Then, re-read your paper draft and ask yourself: Does this meet the needs of the audience and adhere to the purpose for the assignment? If you find places where your content does not meet the needs of the assignment and adhere to the purpose, then go back to pre-writing and do some outlining and planning to revise your content to meet the needs of the audience and purpose.

8. Talk to your faculty. If you’ve gone through these steps and still aren’t sure if your paper addresses the prompt, ask your faculty!

One thing you’ll notice in all of these tips is that the prompt is part of every step. It’s easiest to write a paper that adheres to the prompt if referring to the prompt is an integral part of your writing process. I hope that these tips provide you with some strategies to approach your next assignment. 

If you’d like to learn more strategies for interpreting and addressing Walden assignment prompts, you can watch our Strategies for Demystifying Walden Assignment Prompts webinar recording or listen to our WriteCast Episode 11: "Doesn’t Meet Requirements"—Strategies for Following Your Assignment Instructions podcast.

Jes Philbrook is a Writing Instructor and the Coordinator of Doctoral Writing Assessment in the Walden University Writing Center. Jes has been a writing tutor for over a decade, and in all those years of tutoring, one of her favorite things to do with students is to help them decipher their writing assignments and then plan or revise their paper to address the prompt. This post has been percolating in her brain all those years. In her free time, you can find Jes walking her neighbor’s dogs, tending to her basil garden, or playing games with her family and friends.

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Writecast Episodes 39 & 40: Positive Affirmations

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Hello, writers! In this month’s two-part podcast episode we’re presenting how to put a positive spin on your writing process with affirmations. In Part I, Brittany and Beth discuss positive affirmations and how they can impact your writing in a beneficial way. Brittany also makes a special announcement in this episode, so turn up the volume. In Part II, listen to some affirmations and repeat them aloud to practice mindfulness and positivity when getting into your writing head space. 

As a preview, here are some of the positive writing affirmations that our hosts will introduce to you during these episodes:
  • I am always learning.
  • My goal is progress, not perfection.
  • I will be kind to myself as I write. 
  • I am going to put away distractions and focus on my writing.
  • My hard work today will pay off. 
  • And many others!!!

Click on the player below to listen to each episode now! If you'd like a transcript of today's episode, or if you'd like a list of all of our episodes, click over to our WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers homepage. Happy Listening!

  Start with Part 1 of the Positive Writing Affirmations episode: 

And then listen to Part 2 of the episode to try out the affirmations you learned: 

The WriteCast podcast is produced by Anne Shiell and the staff of the Walden University Writing Center and delves into a different writing issue in each episode. In line with the mission of the Writing Center, WriteCast provides multi-modal, on demand writing instruction that enhances students' writing skill and ease. We hope you enjoy this episode and comment in the box below.

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Acknowledgements and Dedication Pages: A Guide for Capstone Writers

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My post today applies specifically to capstone writers – more specifically, to capstone writers who are finishing their dissertations and doctoral studies. Today, I address the Dedication and Acknowledgements pages of the capstone document.

Acknowledgements and Dedication Pages: A Guide for Capstone Writers

The Dedications and Acknowledgements pages are optional pages, which appear in the preliminary section of the capstone document before the text. They are inserted after the title page and before the Table of Contents. They provide a space for capstone writers to personally thank family members, friends, committee members, mentors, and others who have contributed, in some way, to a student’s research and academic development.

Today, I want to offer my editor’s perspective on how students might approach composing these pages should they wish to include them in their studies. As someone who edits capstone studies on a daily basis for form and style, I hope I can offer helpful insight about how to ensure that these pages are correctly formatted and convey appropriate scholarly voice.

To ensure that these pages are correctly formatted, you will want to use the template for your program. It is very important that you work from the most up-to-date template. These can be accessed by clicking on the Programs page of the Doctoral Capstone Form and Style website. Here, you can also watch a quick Template Demonstration Video for a quick overview of how to work with your program template.

The templates include ready-made pages for the Dedication and Acknowledgements, which are correctly formatted per template formatting specifications. You can either copy your text to these pages or compose your text in the space provided. You will notice that the Dedication and Acknowledgements headings are formatted as APA Level 0 (i.e., they are centered, in upper and lowercase, and in regular not bold typeface).

Also, the text is formatted as a paragraph (i.e., the first line of each paragraph is indented five spaces) and should look the same as those in the rest of your document. Lines should be double-spaced, and the font and font size should be consistent with what is used within your document. (APA recommends use of 12 point type in Times New Roman typeface.) These pages are not paginated.

Regarding content, when reviewing these pages, I do line edit them for grammar and APA style. I recognize, however, that these pages are intended to provide a personal space for students to convey very individual information. There are no program guidelines, for instance, for this content.

I do encourage students to be precise, concise, professional, and respectful in writing these pages. While the content is more personal and intimate than that in the text, it should still be in accord with APA values (namely, scholarly voice and economy of expression), in my opinion. I think it is as important to avoid biased language in the Acknowledgements page as it is in the text. Similarly, I encourage students to be as precise as possible and avoid unnecessary words just as they do in the text.

Composing the Dedication and Acknowledgements in this way will help ensure that the overall document has consistency in terms of content and appearance. It will also help to reinforce a polished, professional image for its author. An Acknowledgements section that is rambling or unfocused or which includes what might be seen as personal attacks will likely detract from the desired professional and scholarly image that most students want to cultivate. Remember that these pages will be accessible to anyone who downloads your study, perhaps years from now.

When composing these pages, take care not to compromise the confidentiality of your study site and research participants or violate a signed confidentiality agreement. Walden strongly recommends that students not name their study sites, even if they have written permission to do so, in their capstone studies. This recommendation is rooted in a concern for protecting participants’ privacy. To avoid this issue, consider using a general descriptor if you wish to acknowledge your participants and its personnel – for example, “I wish to thank my interviewees and staff members at my research setting for their participation and assistance.” See the Doctoral Capstone Form and Style website for more information on confidentiality in the capstone document.

Hopefully, my thoughts are helpful to students as they write or revise these pages of their studies. Keep up the good work!

Tara Kachgal is a dissertation editor in the Walden University Writing Center. She has a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and teaches for the School of Government's online MPA@UNC program. She resides in Chapel Hill and, in her spare time, serves as a mentor for her local running store's training program.

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June Webinar Update

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Happy June, Walden students! We hope your summer months are off to a sunny start! This month we have a range of webinars from APA to Capstone writing.

Colorful image with Webinar Update text in center

Every webinar presents students with a live, interactive setting where you can ask questions of writing center staff, work on practice exercises and questions, and develop a better understanding of the topic being presented. This month, our topics include APA basics, paper development, the capstone writing transition, and critical thinking.  Check out our schedule below. All times listed in EST.
You can click these links to register for the webinar ahead of time! If you can’t attend live, don’t worry—you can check out our entire Webinar Recording Library here.

If you have any questions about our webinar schedule or appointment scheduling system, e-mail us at writingsupport@waldenu.edu. We hope to see you there!
The Walden Writing Center provides information and assistance to students with services like live chat, webinars, course visits, paper reviews, podcasts, modules, and the writing center webpages. Through these services they provide students assistance with APA, scholarly writing, and help students gain skills and confidence to enhance their scholarly work.

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Instructor’s Notebook: How I Approach Paper Reviews

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One of the pedagogical approaches we use during Paper Review appointments here in the Writing Center is that Instructors don’t comment on every instance of an issue they identify in a student’s writing.  Students sometimes wonder why that is. In today’s post, I am going to discuss why I don’t comment on every instance of an issue in a paper review and how this relates to the revision process, information overload, and helping students with their own revising and proofreading skills.

An open notebook with ivy covering part of the page.

Revision Process
Writing and writing center pedagogy support the idea of writing as a process. Writing as a process means a piece of writing undergoes a series of drafting and revising events. In terms of academic writing, it means that a strong, well-organized argument from the thesis down to the sentence-level and everything in between is the result of multiple steps of a process.  Therefore, I focus my comments on some, not all, patterns of error in a paper review to encourage the idea that writing is a process and requires multiple drafts.

During the drafting process, as students are still developing their points, there might be several different issues that a student should address as they revise. However, as an Instructor, I consider where a student is at and the most pressing writing concerns they might work on for that particular draft. Since not all concerns are equal within any given writing project, Instructors must rank them and decide which ones take priority for a student. The recommendations I make for revising are all part of this drafting and revising process, a process that is often recursive as a student might revise the same section multiple times as they develop their argument and fine-tune their points.

Regardless of my suggestions during a paper review, one of my overarching goals is to help students understand that revising is a process, which is part of the reason I don’t comment on every pattern of error in a paper review.

Information Overload
Another reason I don’t comment on everything in a Paper Review is because information overload can cloud a student’s comprehension. Information overload can simply be understood to be given too much information to effectively process in a given amount of time. Even if it was possible to process all of the information, the results of the effort would be temporary as opposed to long-lasting. If I commented on every issue I notice in a Paper Review, it would lead to information overload because, even if a student was able to revise based on all of my suggestions, those revisions would likely not be internalized and transferred to other assignments. Thus, a student would likely not have gained any lasting writing skills.

Information overload does not lend well to students developing their own ability to recognize patterns of error and revise their papers on their own. To be clear, information overload does not provide a strong basis for recognizing and revising error since it cuts short the revising process which is essential for developing a strong, well-developed argument. Therefore, I don’t want to dissuade students from engaging with the writing process, which can sometimes happen if there is information overload: yet another reason why I don’t comment on every instance of an issue in a paper.

Revising and Proofreading Skills
To become strong, independent writers, students to be able to internalize feedback so they can transfer writing knowledge from one paper to the next. One method we use to achieve this goal is helping students learn to revise and proofread on their own. The more a student is able to work on their papers before and after a paper review, the more seamless the writing process can become. When students feel more confident in their ability to revise and proofread, they can feel more confident in their ability to tackle those longer documents, such as the capstone project. So, in the end, Writing Instructors want students to develop their own writing skills so that that process of writing is more pleasant and seamless for them, and so they are able to express their arguments in ways they feel confident about. Especially for those final capstone documents and any subsequent academic publication goals they might have.  

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

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Thursday Thoughts: Capstone Resources

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The Writing Center works with Walden University writers to provide resources for different points in the academic writing process. Instructors work with students during their coursework and up through the doctoral prospectus, while editors connect with students from the proposal stage through the completion of their doctoral project. In addition to our web resources webinars, and one-to-one services, we provide blog posts, podcasts, and other resources that may help students with capstone development. 

Capstone Resources!

Below is a curated list of resources, by category, that may be helpful to students as they write the capstone.

On Getting Started and Sustaining Productivity:

Research and Resources:

Specific Sections/Documents in the Capstone
The Walden Writing Center provides information and assistance to students with services like live chat, webinars, course visits, paper reviews, podcasts, modules, and Writing Center webpages. Through these services they provide students assistance with APA, scholarly writing, and help students gain skills and confidence to enhance their scholarly work.

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