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Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Dog-Tired of Hyphenation Rules

Jeff Zuckerman

By Jeff Zuckerman, Writing Center Director

It was the dog days of August. I sat my dog Toby down to discuss hyphens. Again.

Hyphens! he barked. Quit dogging the real problems!

Toby said he was dog-tired of the dog food that he said I buy dog-cheap. Even those doggy bones, he whined, that I had brought home in the doggy bag from the fast-food joint had a crummy hot-dog taste.

Well, that’s a dog’s life for you, I said.

Just a doggone minute, Toby said. I’m dog-sick of those invisible dog fences. And don’t tell me it’s a dog-eat-dog world. It’s a dog-eat-squirrel world.

Yes, I said, the world has sure gone to the dogs. Now can we talk about hyphens?

Bow-wow, Toby replied, and retired to his doghouse for a dognap.

Well, here’s the lesson we would have discussed.

Toby Principle 1: Look it up in a good dictionary, especially Merriam-Webster’s. The phrase dog days is two words. A doghouse is one word. Dog-tired is listed as hyphenated, despite Principle 3 below.

APA Style Principle 2: Use a hyphen if a compound adjective expresses a single thought. A hot dog taste could be read as a very warm taste of fresh dog. A hot-dog taste would be the taste of a hot dog.
So be careful: An invisible-dog fence would enclose an invisible dog. An invisible dog fence is a fence you can’t see.

APA Style Principle 3: Most compound adjectives are hyphenated only before the noun they modify. A short-legged corgi, but the corgi was short legged. A hyphen-challenged fox terrier, but the fox terrier was hyphen challenged. A canine-cleaning brush, but a brush made for canine cleaning. A dog-eat-dog world, but a world in which it’s every man or woman for himself or herself.

APA Style Principle 4: Most words formed with prefixes are one word: antihero, bipolar, codependent, megalomania, metacognition, pretest, unreliable.

Toby Principle 5: Adverbs ending in –ly plus a participle or adjective are generally not hyphenated: doggedly tired Scottie, utterly useless cat.

Toby Principle 6: Hyphenate a number combined with an adjective before a noun. A 9-year-old cockapoo, but a cockapoo that is 9 years old. A 300-page APA manual, but the manual is 300 pages long.

Questions about hyphenation or APA style? Visit Walden’s online writing center for APA style tutorials.

Questions about prairie dog grammar? Check out the work of Dr. Constantine Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University.


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Caution: Self-Editor at Work

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Jeff Zuckerman

By Jeff Zuckerman, Writing Center Director

I have always said that even experienced editors need editors.
I know that’s true because I’ve been editing for about 25 years and somehow still manage at least once a day to goof up a spelling in an email message. I do my best to model good writing habits but I know somewhere out there is a student who read a Word document of mine with a balloon comment reading, “Be carful with your spelling.”
* * *
It’s true, you know. Even good editors need editors.
I’ve been editing for 25 years and still manage at least once a day to goof up a spelling. I do my best to model good writing habits, but somewhere out there is a student who read a Word document with a balloon comment reading, “Carful with your spelling.”
* * *
Even good editors need editors.
I’ve been editing for 25 years, and at least once a day I screw up a spelling in an email message. I try to model good writing habits, but somewhere out there an author has read a balloon comment of mine reading, “Carful with your spelling.”
* * *
Even editors need editors.
I’ve been editing for 25 years. Writing and revising even a simple paragraph can be painful. Yesterday I sent off a manuscript with this balloon comment: “See how cutting 10 needless words improved readability? Also, use your spelchecker.”

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Bad Grammar is Bad for Business

Amber Cook
By Amber Cook, Senior Writing Specialist

There’s a gym not far from my house. The gym’s marquee last week read like this:


Now, it’s certainly possible that this gym has run out of contract memberships: Perhaps they had memberships that require a contract, and there are no more available. If you’ve ever been to a gym, though, you probably know that contracts are pretty much always available. Just TRY to join a gym without signing one.

It’s probably safe to assume, then, that this gym intended to advertise no-contract memberships (memberships that do not require a contract). Here, that teeny-tiny missing hyphen means the difference between turning customers away and inviting them to try a new type of membership.

Granted, not every driver passing that sign last week was a grammar nerd like me. Maybe most readers made the same assumption I did, mentally supplying the needed hyphen. In communicating, though, one goal is to reach as many people as possible with the clearest possible message. Even if only 20% of the readers were confused by the missing hyphen, that’s still a significant loss of potential customers.

The next time you’re passing by the marquee in front of your workplace (or any other public written work that represents your company), try to see it from the perspective of your potential consumer. Perhaps you can catch an error that will lead to more business. Who knew good grammar could be so profitable?


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Accessible Grammar

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Jamie Patterson
By Jamie Patterson, Writing Specialist

One of my favorite residency sessions is a 90 minute grammar class that includes a lot of references to pop culture. At the end of the session we include a picture quiz where we ask students to identify the incorrect grammar on a store sign, on a billboard, or in a song. Sometimes we even use celebrity messages to their fans. Is it completely fair to apply grammar and APA rules outside of the classroom? Maybe not. But there are advantages to recognizing the dissonance between the writing standards expected here at Walden and what you are exposed to in your life outside of the university.

Many of the points we go over in this grammar class are meant to be friendly reminders of rules we’ve been learning since our grade school years. In fact, many EdD students leave this grammar class and comment that they’d like to use the same presentation in their own elementary school classrooms. Should it be alarming to you, as graduate students, that material we’re teaching at the graduate level is relevant at your local grade school? I hope not.

Grammar rules are much like APA rules: Many of them should be accessible to the earliest level of learners. After all, including a serial comma was never meant to be rocket science. It was, however, meant to ensure clarity and accessibility to thought. This becomes increasingly more important as you take on multidimensional and complicated research to affect social change.

Considering the accessibility of grammar rules, why is it that even your local grocery store has signs that say “10 items or less” when less should be replaced with fewer? Why are there signs posted that say “no pets, shirts & shoes required” (Better: No pets. Shirts & shoes required)? Why would Christina Aguilera tell fans “Today is a joyful and special day for Jordan and I” (should be Jordan and me)?

We might have been exposed to many of these grammar rules at an early age but there are as many grammar rules as there are words. Pop culture and our everyday environment certainly don’t help us in our struggle to understand the nuances of language rules. For those of us who have dedicated our professional, academic, and personal lives to the craft of writing there is still something new to learn every day. Take advantage of our expertise and drop in on one of our classes at an upcoming residency or email us with questions: writingsupport@waldenu.edu. I’ll tell you now what we tell the students at the end of our residency session on grammar: Being a grammarian is being aware of the details that surround us on a daily basis. Being aware of details is bound to make you a better student, a better researcher, and (our hope) a better writer.

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Thoughts From a Writing Specialist: Prewriting

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Brian Timmerman
by Brian Timmerman, Senior Writing Specialist

For me, writing is really all about prep work. In fact, I’m guessing that I’ve spent more time preparing to write than I actually have writing. Have a look at my prewriting rituals below and give ‘em a shot. I think they’ll save you some time and anguish.

Take Careful Notes

While reading, make sure that you’re taking copious notes on what interests you. I find it helpful to group these notes by subject as well. This way, I’ll be able to physically see the connections I’m making between the materials I’ve read.
I’d also suggest that you provide a citation (author, year, page number) for every note that you take. This way, returning to the text won’t entirely interrupt the writing process.


Next, you’ll want to synthesize all the literature you’ve read. If you grouped your notes together, this should be easy. What does each individual grouping suggest? Write down a sentence for each. You’ll then want to synthesize again. What is the collective suggestion once you’ve combined all the grouped sentences? Remember too that you don’t have to include everything you’ve learned during this process. There’s nothing wrong with abandoning some of your reading if you find that it doesn’t contribute to a collective whole.

Construct a Thesis

Once you have a good idea of what the literature says (you should have discovered this during the synthesis process), you should be able to construct a thesis, essentially an argument that’s grounded in literature.

Organize the Paper

You’re almost there. To ensure that you’ll have a tightly focused paper, go ahead and outline it before you begin writing it. Start with the thesis in the first paragraph (Point A), the conclusion (Point B) in the last, and then organize your grouped notes to most logically get from Point A to Point B.

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Thoughts From a Writing Specialist: Writer’s Block

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By Brian Timmerman, Senior Writing Specialist

Finding yourself stuck, staring at a blank page? I’ve been there. Really. I shed tears on a paper once, an essay about Robert Bage’s novel, Hermsprong: Or Man as He is Not. Real tears. And I was 25. A 25-year-old man shedding tears over a 200-year-old book. No joke.

What I learned from that experience, though, was invaluable. It wasn’t so much that I had forgotten how to write, but I simply hadn’t thought about what I was writing. I was too focused on the blank page knowing that this thing, this paper, was supposed to grow to at least 25 pages plus. What I needed to do was to step away from the computer and just think about the material. What was my argument? What was the purpose of my paper? Why was I writing it (you know, aside from the fact that it was assigned to me)? How was I interacting with the text? Instead, I had jumped in foolishly focusing on the logistics (I need to have a 25-page paper completed by next Tuesday), as opposed to the real task at hand: taking the time to think about what I was going to say about the material I had read. I had put the cart before the horse.

Below are a few things I learned about writing over the years, most of which have helped me overcome writer’s block at some point in time or another.

1. A blank page does not mean that you’re searching for the right word or words to begin your essay. It means you literally have no idea what to say or why you’re saying it (aside from the fact that it’s been assigned). Take the 20-minutes of prep time and construct a thesis. The rest of the paper is then written with that thesis in mind, giving it direction. Trust me. Spend 20 minutes doing the prep work or spend an hour and a half staring at a flashing cursor wondering why nothing’s coming out.

2. If you find yourself stuck midway through your paper (or literally saying, “What the heck am I doing?”), go back to your introduction and make sure that you’re not confusing a thesis with a subject. A thesis is an argument; you can structure a paper around that. A subject on the other hand is a topic, something that has no beginning, no opportunity for narrative, and no way of getting to a reasonable conclusion (thus causing the block). If you find that you have a subject, there’s a good chance you’ll have to go back to the drawing board (which still should be less time consuming than trying to make what you have “fits” into a coherent paper).

3. If you’re stuck, there’s also a chance that you haven’t taken the time to think about what your research means to your essay. In this instance, remove yourself from the paper and return to the literature. As you reread, think of what this information means in the context of your essay’s purpose as well as in the context of the other material you’ve read. You may find that you’ve been trying to write about something that isn’t necessary. You may also discover something new that will jump start the writing process for you.

4. Don’t get caught up in the way your paper sounds. If you find yourself reading and rereading what you do have, listening for the ways that the words dance on page, stop, take a breath, and move on. If you don’t, you’re going to lose sight of the bigger picture (the essay as a whole). You can always address issues of precision during the revision process.

5. If after three or four paragraphs you find yourself stuck, take inventory of what you do have by jotting down a one-sentence purpose statement for each paragraph. This way, by getting a brief synopsis of what you’ve written so far, you’ll know where you are in the argument and what’s needed next.

6. Remember that you’re not working with stone tablets. You can commit anything to paper and delete it later. Go ahead and write something, anything, even if you know it’s a placeholder. You can always go back and change, delete, or revise what you’ve written. At the very least, this’ll keep the process moving. It might even help in just getting a few ideas on the page.

7. It sounds silly, but you might even want to consider using a voice recorder. Some writers are simply more comfortable expressing thoughts orally than through the written word. Once you’ve recorded those ideas, you should be able to fine tune them on the page.

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Do Not Come Lightly to the Page

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by Jamie Patterson, Writing Specialist

One book that rests on most of the desks in the Walden Writing Center is Stephen King’s On Writing. Even though it isn’t a book about academic writing what King has to say about writing in general is better than just about any how-to guide you can find.

In this part-memoir, part-writing guide King begs of his reader “do not come lightly to the blank page.” As a writer and a writing teacher I read these words for the first time and felt what sports fans feel when their favorite team wins. I embraced these words and repeated them, probably to many of you.

Do not come lightly to the blank page.

But now I’ve changed my mind.

As a writer my number one source of writer’s block is the feeling that I need to get just the right words down the first time and the frustration that follows when the sentence just isn’t quite right squashes my writing spirit.
As a writing teacher, though, I promote the rough first draft; that it doesn’t matter what you get down on paper as long as you get something down. And oh, by the way, don’t come lightly to the blank page. I’ve just recently realized what a difficult mixed message this is to navigate.

I still remember the exercise we did in grade school where the teacher asked us all to name the most effective weapon and once guns, bombs, and the like were exhausted without the right answer she stood before us and held up a pen.

Do not come lightly to the page, indeed.

It’s time to negotiate between the need for the rough first draft and the acknowledged power of the written word. The sixth edition APA Publication Manual has a section on revision that includes the statement that “Most manuscripts need to be revised, and some manuscripts need to be revised more than once” (APA, 2009, p. 227).

Words are powerful. Your words are powerful. The work you’re doing here at Walden is powerful and meaningful to communities within and outside of our university. The end product of this work will be your thesis or dissertation. We start, though, with one word, one page at a time.

The process here at Walden focuses on slowly building to this powerful final document. A series of documents from KAMs to proposals are designed to help you embrace the rough first draft. Our services here in the Writing Center are aimed at guiding you through the revision process: a process even the APA manual took time to point out is simply part of the writer’s work.

Next time writer’s block hits remember this and maybe, just maybe, try coming lightly to the blank page.

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APA: The Secret Knock to Academia

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By Jamie Patterson, Writing Specialist

Even though it’s our job to know APA style like the back of our hand, we still appreciate the struggle students have becoming acquainted with the nuances of APA. With the advent of a new edition we experts thought it would be good to remind ourselves, and you, the student, just why adhering to a particular publication style is so important.

Let’s start with the book itself, shall we? The foreword in your sixth edition publication manual points out that elements of writing “are codified in rules we follow for clear communication, allowing us to focus our intellectual energy on the substance of our research” (APA, 2009, xiii).

Your research and subject matter are yours to master, whereas mastering a publication style is simply learning the rules of the game. We’re passionate about being guides to the rules so that your biggest concerns are related to the information you’re presenting to the broader academic community and the social change this information will affect instead of the nuts and bolts of how this information is presented.

Even though your content is the ultimate contribution to your field, adhering to APA style is the way you indicate to your readers that you are part of the academic community. This makes APA a secret knock of sorts to a very prestigious group. Improper formatting, or failure to talk about someone else’s research in the past tense, tells your reader that you aren’t quite a member yet. A paper that is APA adherent in form and style, however, is the calling card of an academic.

We believe in what Walden students do and want each of you, and your research, to contribute to positive social change. Learning the secret knock of APA, with our help, will help you achieve this.

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Writing Center Summer Break!

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This is an exciting time for the Writing Center. Because of such a steady increase in our services since we launched the Walden Interactive Reservation E-System (the WIRE) it is time we make some updates to continue to serve you to the best of our abilities. And what better time than over summer break! Don’t worry, though, we aren’t going anywhere. Rather, over the next 2 weeks, we will be offering some new services in lieu of our traditional reservation system. This will allow us to make some much needed updates to the reservation system, launch our new website, and create new resources and update our current resources to comply with the sixth edition of the APA Publication Manual. During this time, you can still send us any writing-related questions to writingsupport@waldenu.edu. In addition, we will honor all reservations in the consultant schedule through August 31 and in the editor schedule through the end of September. We will open up for new September reservations the first day of the semester/term (September 8). During this time, you might also want to participate in one of our webinars about common writing issues. Contact wcwebinar@waldenu.edu for more information on the webinars.

Thank you for your continued use of the Writing Center and for your patience while we make these changes to our services!

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Minneapolis Summer Session Residency Reflection

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The Writing Center staff has been enjoying leading sessions and advising students one on one during the first few days of the Minneapolis residency. If you are attending the residency come say hello to us in Ferguson room 85 on the West Bank campus!

We know how hard it can be to coordinate attending a residency, but we have found that students and staff alike find the experience incredibly worthwhile and rewarding (not to mention it fulfills your degree requirements!). The past few weeks have been hectic for our staff as we prepared for the largest residency yet. Without a doubt, though, the feelings we have when we attend residencies and have the chance to meet our students face to face is well worth all of the preparation. As Kari Wold put it, "I love the opportunity to see students at various stages in their educations/motivational levels. I love seeing them collaborate and motivate each other, and I'm always excited for the opportunity to meet/visit with staff, students, and faculty. It's encouraging to me in my own work here at Walden and in my private studies." Kari is not alone in her sentiments. As our Senior Consultant Amber Cook said, "Residencies offer me the opportunity to learn about all the great work Walden students are doing in their programs and their practice. I always come back feeling inspired and excited to continue my support of Walden student work!" Brian Timmerman, Senior Writing Consultant, added, "Hearing people explain their work. Many times their impromptu, informal presentation is clearer than what they have on the page."

We all know that frustration can come hand in hand with the learning experience. When asked how she responds to students who might be frustrated, Erica Schatzlein said, "I love being able to hear, in more detail, what students are going through and see what I can do to make their writing life a little easier. Being able to offer presentations with helpful, easy to access information and seeing the student response renews my dedication to helping all of our Walden scholars achieve." Sometimes, as Editor Annie Pezalla said, the chance to meet face to face with students, whether they have attended one of our sessions or not, is satisfaction enough: "The aspect of residencies that I like most is the face-to-face contact I have with students who I've been working with online. Seeing them helps to strengthen to bond I feel with those students and makes me want to work even harder to help them reach their goals."

The Dissertation Editors work with our students at several stages in their academic career, including the stressful dissertation process. As Editor Tim McIndoo said, "getting to teach, getting to help students directly and immediately, and seeing the enthusiasm on students' faces" reminds the Editors that it is all worth it in the end.

We know you all as students, and residencies also give us the opportunity to know the more personal side of your lives. As Martha King, Senior Dissertation Editor, said, "What I like most about attending residencies is the chance to meet and connect with students and learn more about what their life and work experiences are and how we can best help support them in the dissertation process."

Jeff Zuckerman, the Director of Writing Services, summed up how we all feel after a Walden residency when he said, "After attending more than 100 residencies, I can still say that meeting with students and faculty face-to-face reminds me of the high caliber of working professionals and caring educators at the heart of Walden. I'm always inspired by our students' stories, by their motivation, and by their commitment to social change. That, plus they still laugh at my jokes after all these years."

We hope to see you at a residency soon!

-The Walden University Writing Staff

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"Grammar Queen" on the Grammar Scene

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By Erica Schatzlein, Writing Consultant.

I wish I knew everything about English grammar. In grad school, I loved my grammar classes. Making sentence diagrams feels like a game to me! (It’s OK, I call myself a nerd, too.) But there are times when I’ve forgotten the rules of a certain form. Or a student comes up with a question that just plain stumps me. Since I often work different hours than the other writing tutors, this always seems to happen when my colleagues aren’t around. (Yes, I’m the girl that answers your email at 8:30pm on a Friday night…)

So what do I do? For serious grammar questions, the APA manual provides little help. As the writing tutor, it’s not acceptable for me to respond, “Well, I really don’t remember. Can you come back tomorrow so Amber can tell you?” The truth is, we all need a little grammar help some days. I find typos in magazines and the newspaper. I’ve found typos in textbooks. I’ll bet you can even find a typo or two in this blog; they’re incredibly common. However, when you have a professor who is picky about grammar and APA, you don’t want them to be incredibly common in your paper, do you?

Here are some of the resources that I rely on for grammar questions. If you know what your problem is, there are numerous well-maintained resources on the web. For example, should you use insure or ensure in that sentence? Were your participants affected or effected? Sometimes I just go to Google and type in “affect v. effect.” Often, this will lead to university writing center pages that have examples and rules for proper usage. If you’re really lucky, you might even run across a quiz where you can practice the usage, like this one at the OWL at Purdue: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/interact/g_affecteffect.html. That might not help you get your KAM finished quicker, but it can be fun! (Fun for people like me, at least…)

In fact, the OWL at Purdue (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/) is one of my favorite writing sites. They not only have information on spelling and grammar but they also have APA information, help with transitions, hints for annotated bibliographies, and all sorts of sage advice.

The Guide to Grammar and Writing (http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/index.htm) has drop-down menus for numerous issues, ranging from simple grammar questions to how to combat writer’s block. This site also features more fun quizzes J.

Every writer needs some resources in their back pocket. I’m happy to share a few of mine. Let me know if you find anything wonderful!

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To use or to utilize?

by Amber Cook, Senior Writing Consultant
We've all done it. We look at our paper, worrying that it doesn't sound scholarly or academic enough, so we go through with a thesaurus function, changing the word person to individual or the word discussion to dialogue. We reread the new sentence with pride, patting ourselves on the back for our fancy-sounding sentence. What was just "The teacher asked the students to discuss the topic in groups" is now "The educator facilitated group interaction among the learners." It just sounds smarter, and we walk away feeling pretty macho.

The problem, of course, is that the fancier sentence says the same thing, but it says it with less clarity and more room for confusion. No one would question the meaning in the first sentence above, but the second sentence is a little baffling. What exactly does facilitate mean in this context? What kind of interaction are we talking about, exactly?

This is one of the tricks of learning to write academically. Many writers believe that the more advanced the vocabulary level, the better the paper. There is something to be said for using precise terminology, but that doesn't always mean using a bigger word.

In your field, you'll often use words with refined meanings to clarify a point. In my field of music, for instance, we use the word ethnomusicology to describe the study of music in the context of a culture. If I were writing a paper on the topic, it makes more sense for me to use that term as a shortcut:

I will approach this study of shape-note singing from an ethnomusicological perspective.

works better than

I will approach this study of shape-note singing from the perspective of this music in the context of its culture.

In this case, the bigger, more complex word acts as shorthand, allowing for a more concise and direct sentence.

The problem is learning how to use bigger words judiciously. If the word adds a shade of meaning that you need, go for it! If you say sob bitterly instead of cry, that's OK; the first emphasizes the depth of the sorrow, and there's good reason for the extra length. If you substitute the word utilize when you really mean the word use, however, you're not adding meaning--you're just adding syllables. The key is to know and understand the meaning of each word you are using, always using the fewest and most precise words to express your ideas. Remember that your goal is communication, so anything that acts as a barrier to your reader understanding your meaning does more harm than good.


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Context, Context, Context!

by Brian Timmerman, Senior Writing Consultant

I find myself saying this a lot in paper responses, asking students (undergraduates, graduates, and PHD candidates) to please just give me a bit of info so that I can understand how one sentence (say, a Freud quote) relates to another one (say, some snarky Lacan one). What I get though, is usually something like this:

"The essential point is that one has a painful feeling of shame, and is anxious to hide one's nakedness, usually by means of locomotion, but is absolutely unable to do so" (Freud, 1911/2006, p. 33). Lacan (1944) claimed that "we realize, of course, the importance of these imaginary impregnations (Pragung) in those partializations of the symbolic alternative which give the symbolic chain its appearance" (p. 47).

Now unfortunately, I'm not really sure how those two comments are interrelated. In fact, technically speaking, I'm unaware of who even made that first comment since the author hasn't provided me with any commentary as to how I should read and interpret it. I'm left feeling like Jack Nicholson at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

The point, of course, is that we need some context, some idea as to how you're bridging the gap between these two pieces of dialogue.


The key to transitioning (if you're interested) is to really figure out how the quotation you're providing relates to the previous information. For instance, if I was talking about homelessness in the first sentence, my second sentence (with citation) should include some sort of acknowledgment of that first sentence. Something like this: This problem could be largely attributed to what Johnson (1999) called "a deficient welfare system" (p. 333). Does that make sense? Do you see how I've integrated the quote into my commentary? Do you see how I've provided context here?


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Welcome to the Walden Writing Center blog! Tutors Amber, Brian, Jamie, Heidi, Mo, Sarah, Stacey, Kari, and Erica will post writing tips and thoughts on the writing process for you to use throughout your time at Walden. We welcome your comments!

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