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Walden University Writing Center

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Thesis Sentences vs. Blueprint Sentences

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“Dear, Kacy. This is a blueprint sentence, not a thesis.” 
This succinct comment stands out in my memory because it’s one of the first true pieces of constructive criticism I ever received on my writing.

building schematic with ruler and title text overlaid

The sentence was written in the margin of the first page of my first real research paper. As an end-of-year project, each student in my sixth-grade class selected a country to write a report on, and then we created poster boards and made traditional food from the country to share at an international day at my school. I picked Bermuda because at the time I was a little obsessed with the Bermuda Triangle. I remember cutting out pictures of business people wearing shorts with their suit jackets, and baking some really good cookies that seemed like sugar cookies to me but were also apparently very Bermudan.

For the first two weeks, I received every possible point for the project. I’d come to school with six (beyond the requirement of five!) books on the day our sources were required. I’d diligently written out the assigned number of index cards with individual facts. After turning in the outline I’d crafted using my index cards, I was fully prepared to collect another perfect score.

“What?? What’s a blueprint sentence?” Probably I should have asked what a thesis sentence was, because I had an example of a blueprint sentence right in front of me: Bermuda is located on a small island in the Atlantic Ocean and this paper is about its history, economy, and culture. Like the blueprint of a building, I’d provided a layout of the contents of my paper, but I hadn’t produced an argument or put forth any idea. My reader would know to expect a paragraph on Bermuda’s history, a paragraph about its economy, and a paragraph about the culture. But what did I want to say about the country?

I think my thesis statement ended up being something about the Bermuda Triangle, but I can’t say for sure. And I had to double-check that Bermuda is indeed in the Atlantic Ocean while drafting this post. So, the actual information I obtained during the project clearly hasn’t stayed with me too well. But I still think about this experience when teaching, tutoring, or writing myself. It’s great to give your reader an idea about the general format of your paper, but the most important part isn’t a list of the different topics you’ll cover. 

The advantage of hindsight (and a few additional decades of writing experience) tells me I should have realized this from the beginning. After all, I had picked Bermuda because of its mysterious Triangle, so why shouldn’t I use what peaked my own interest to grab my reader’s? And why is it that I can so vividly remember the picture I copied from a book, of a group of men holding briefcases and wearing shorts under their suit coats, but I can’t remember Bermuda’s capital? Or where I left my phone? 

Hmmm. Can someone try calling it?

Kacy Walz Author picture - Walden University Writing Center Instructor

Kacy Walz is a Minnesota native currently living in St. Louis, MO. She has been a Writing Instructor at Walden since 2016 and spends most of her free time trying to complete her PhD, seeking out adventure, and playing with her puppy dog.

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Set a Writing Goal (and Stick To It!) With This New Writing Center Service

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In the Writing Center, we know that improving your scholarly writing skills can be a big challenge. What can make this especially difficult is that developing your writing process can seem so big and complicated that you may not know where to begin. Should you focus on grammar? APA? What about organization and paraphrasing? Should you try to do it all at once? Setting writing goals for yourself (which we’ve discussed previously on this blog) can help you chart a path through this work, letting you focus on your priorities and identify concrete, positive steps you can take.

To further support you and encourage you to set writing goals, we’re offering a pilot program—which we’re calling a Goal Plan—that includes four guaranteed paper-review appointments with the same writing instructor focused on your writing goals. Each Goal Plan is kind of like a cross between our standard paper reviews and a miniature writing course: you’ll set the goals that you want to work towards, and we’ll give you feedback to help you make meaningful progress over time. As with all of our paper reviews, our aim is to help you develop skills that you can then apply to all of your future writing.

If you would like to participate in a Goal Plan, you can get started by completing our Writing Goals and Planning Module. If you have any questions, feel free to email us. We look forward to working with you!

Walden University Writing Center

The Walden University Writing Center
creates innovative writing instructional services to enhance writers' understanding of the complexities of scholarly writing. The Writing Center's staff encourages writers to take control of their scholarly writing development with resources, instruction, and multi-media & on-demand learning opportunities.  

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Live Webinar Events for October 2019

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Here's the schedule for another month of exciting and enlightening Live Webinar Events designed specifically for Walden University writers. Also, we're excited to present a brand new webinar session. Check it out below. To view each of our recorded session, check out our archive page here.

Title:NEW Webinar: Before You Write: Critical Reading Strategies for Academic Writers
Date:Tuesday, September 24, 2019
Time (Eastern):2:00PM - 3:00PM
Audience:All Students
Title:Welcome to the Writing Center
Date:Thursday, October 10, 2019
Time (Eastern):1:00PM - 2:00PM
Audience:All Students
Title:Prewriting Techniques: Taking the First Steps
Date:Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Time (Eastern):12:00PM - 1:00PM
Audience:All Students
Title:APA Citations Part 2: Nontraditional Sources
Date:Monday, October 21, 2019
Time (Eastern):7:00PM - 8:00PM
Audience:All Students
Title:Introduce, Conclude, and Write the Abstract of Your Study
Date:Tuesday, October 29, 2019
Time (Eastern):2:00PM - 3:00PM
Audience:Doctoral Students Working on Final Capstone Draft

Walden University Writing Center

The Walden University Writing Center is home to a staff of trained, professional Writing Instructors and Dissertation Editors. The Writing Center's staff works with Walden University students' writing in one on one sessions, but also creates resources that can be used by students to enhance their own scholarly writing skills. As students come to the Writing Center with a variety of learning styles and preferences, the Writing Center's staff supports these students with a resources that appeal to the diversity of Walden U's body of students. 

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Grammar for Academic Writers: Can I Begin a Sentence with "And"?

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During my 7th grade year, my English teacher conducted a multi-month unit on sentence structure. We learned patterns of sentences with acronyms like SV, SSVV, DC, IC, and the list goes on. These acronyms explained the different structures a “correct” sentence could take, with S standing for subject, V standing for verb, DC standing for dependent clause, and IC standing for independent clause. (There were many more acronyms and structures, but I’ll stop there for now.) The approach was a continual drill practice of sentence construction, which at the time seemed terribly tedious, but all these years later these patterns stuck with me.

Grammar for Academic Writers

When I say “correct” sentence construction, I’m referring to more formal, academic writing and what is deemed correct in that context. I clarify because in our day-to-day use of language, whether it is spoken or written, we often don’t follow these formal, academic patterns. Some of us might think we do, but it’s a rare person who speaks with the same grammatical accuracy and formality with which they write. Additionally, in different genres of writing, a broader range of sentence structures are often used and considered appropriate. 

Here are a couple of ways I wrote sentences this week that didn’t follow one of correct structures I learned in my 7th grade English class:

  • I gave my daughter a strawberry. But she said didn’t like it even though she loved them yesterday. So I gave her a peach slice instead. And then she asked for a strawberry.
  • I cleaned our front windows in preparation for the party. But then my toddler woke up from her nap. Needless to say, I cleaned them again. (Can anyone else relate?)

The “problem” in these sentences, from an academic writing perspective, is that some of the sentences begin with the words and, but, or so. These words (and other coordinating conjunctions) should typically be used within sentences to connect ideas rather than used to begin a sentence. Beginning a sentence with a coordinating conjunction can lend an informal tone to the writing, therefore impacting scholarly voice. Additionally, these sentences would be deemed incorrect by my 7th grade English teacher.

The best fix for a sentence beginning with a coordinating conjunction is to either make a compound sentence, using the coordinating conjunction to connect the ideas, or to use a different connecting or transition word that is more suitable to begin a sentence. 

Here’s what each situation might look like:

Using a compound sentence instead of starting with a coordinating conjunction 

I gave my daughter a strawberry, but she said didn’t like it even though she loved them yesterday, so I gave her a peach slice instead. Then, she asked for a strawberry.

Using an alternative connecting word

I cleaned our front windows in preparation for the party. However, my toddler woke up from her nap. Needless to say, I cleaned them again.

While I imagine not all of us can remember back to middle school English class, especially if the teacher didn’t use the drill method, there’s plenty of hope to be had. You’re already on the right track to learn about and be on the lookout for sentences that begin with and, but, or so. For a more comprehensive explanation of sentence structures in scholarly writing, including compound sentences, view our Mastering the Mechanics 2 and 3 webinars.   

Amy Bakke author image

Amy Bakke is a senior writing instructor and multilingual writing specialist at the Walden Writing Center. She enjoys researching cultural differences in education and considering how students with different educational perspectives and histories experience writing at Walden. In her non-work time, she’s outside (as much as possible in the Midwest) with her husband, toddler, and dog.  

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Grammar for Academic Writers: Essential Clauses

Whether you are a native or non-native English speaker, you may come across situations where you are unsure where to place commas in a sentence. Today, I’ll cover those phrases where you should not use a comma to surround supporting information—essential clauses—and discuss the difference between these and nonessential clauses. The decision to add a comma in these cases often depends on the meaning of the sentence, so it can require some reflection and detective work.

Grammar for Academic Writers

Here’s an example of an essential clause (bolded for emphasis):

The students who visited the writing center enhanced their confidence.

Here, we have an essential clause because we are explaining a specific group of students. Which students? The ones who visit the writing center.

You might be tempted in this example to use commas instead for something like this:

The students, who visited the writing center, enhanced their confidence.

Here’s where it gets tricky because both of these sentences are grammatically correct—they just have different meaning depending on if we use commas or not.

In the first example we mean specifically that the students who visited the writing center enhanced their confidence. This implies that there are other students who did not visit the writing center. In the second example, we mean that all the students visited the writing center and therefore their visit is not essential information to understanding our meaning—it’s nonessential, meaning we should surround it with commas.

Another way to think of this is if you are considering surrounding a clause with commas, try writing out the sentence without the information in the commas. If that sentences still conveys the meaning you intended, then you have a nonessential clause. However, if the sentence makes sense but doesn’t convey the meaning you intended, then it’s likely an essential clause and shouldn’t use commas.

An example will be helpful to illustrate this situation.

The assignment due Thursday was very difficult.

Let’s try the comma test:

The assignment, due Thursday, was very difficult à The assignment was very difficult.

So now we have a decision to make: Do we want to emphasize that it’s this specific assignment? In that case, we’ll keep it without commas. But if the date it’s due doesn’t impact the meaning we intend, we’ll add those commas.

Next time you’re wondering about comma placement and essential or nonessential information, consider your meaning and try this simple test!

Note that essential clauses can also be called restrictive clauses, whereas nonessential clauses can be called nonrestrictive clauses. Read more on our grammar page on this topic as well!

Claire Helakoski author image

Claire Helakoski is a writing instructor at the Walden Writing Center. Claire also co-hosts WriteCast, the Writing Center's podcast. Through these multi-modal avenues, Claire delivers innovative and inspiring writing instruction to Walden students around the world.

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