August 2010 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Economy of Expression: Being Concise is Nice

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By Laurel Walsh, Associate Director of Writing Services

The first rule of writing at the graduate level is to befriend the delete key. Early iterations of scholarly arguments are cluttered with extra phrases. This is because we use phrases as placeholders on the page. We are waiting for good ideas, but we type things that do not illuminate an issue for our reader while those juicy thoughts marinate. One of the editors on our team would argue that you should find every adjective and adverb and kill it, but I am not quite so ruthless about prose. To compose elegant sentences, you need only promise the reader one thing: to inform and delight.

To inform your readers, you need to do your research. I am not talking about a midnight stroll through Wikipedia or making a few Google searches. To really inform and delight an academic audience, you need to look at the academic material that is available on the topic. The problem is that there is so much information. An essential part of becoming part of the academic community is learning to be a thoughtful consumer of information.

So much of what is available to us online is biased. News sources routinely promote video that was provided to them at no cost from corporate sources (check out this link to read a fascinating story on Video News Release or VNRs), and the stations most often do not disclose a source for this content. With so much misinformation, it is not surprising that student authors have difficulty writing in an unbiased manner. Writing for an academic audience requires clarity, cohesion, and fairness. Authors cannot inform their readers if they do not review many different approaches to a policy, phenomenon, or practice.

Learning to evaluate sources takes time and energy. By carefully reviewing, analyzing, and summarizing a variety of sources, you can begin to create a thesis by integrating several insights into an overarching theme. The trick is that you must not merely look at material that supports your hunch about a topic. To really delight your audience, you must include counterargument. By juxtaposing contradictory findings, student authors establish themselves as thorough scholastic investigators. Make sure that your audience can tell that you are trying to cast light on a topic and do not create essays that make the reader think you are out to prove a point.

I ask students each term to omit all unnecessary words from their drafts. Many students have asked me, “If you want me to omit unnecessary words, why did you assign 10,000 word assignments?” Writing academic essays is not like writing a haiku. In an academic paper, you are exploring and engaging your reader in an investigation. When authors delete clunky extra phrases and empty verbiage, we honor our contract with the reader. Our words are our gift to the world of scholarship and each one is a form of currency. Spend your words wisely and get rid of each phrase that does not carry its weight!

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APA: True or False?

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By Jessica Barron, Writing Tutor
There are a lot of APA rules to remember. A lot. Most students learn these rules through reading the APA manual. Others hear about these publication requirements through the Writing Center. And some people… well, some people just plain make them up. Below, I weed through common APA myths that are taken as fact and a few APA truths that are hard to believe.

True or False: Personal pronouns, like “I” or “we,” should never be used in academic writing. Using the third person, like “the author,” is more appropriate.

FALSE! Per APA section 3.09, the third person can be ambiguous in scholarly writing. Writing “the author found…” can make the reader wonder, “Are you talking about yourself or that theorist you just wrote about?” Personal pronouns are preferred, but be sure to follow up with your instructor if using the first person is appropriate for your assignment.

True or False: Always begin a sentence, title, or heading using words rather than numerals.

TRUE! Fifty-two percent of people begin sentences with numerals while only 12% actively follow the correct format. These statistics have been falsified, but the sentence demonstrates how numbers at the beginning of a sentence should be treated (see section 4.32 of the APA 6th edition manual).

True or False: As long as I put a citation at the end of my sentence, I have not committed plagiarism.

(KIND OF) FALSE! Citations should always be included when you use research to support your argument, but any time that you have taken word for word content directly from a source, your in-text citations need to be more thorough. For direct quotes, quotation marks should surround the cited material, and the citation at the end of your sentence needs to include the page or paragraph number(s) where this material can be found (Author, Date, p. #). Accidently forgetting to include quotation marks could be considered an act of plagiarism. Feel free to brush up on the plagiarism guidelines and the Writing Center tips on how to avoid committing plagiarism in your writing.

True or False: The APA manual is the first place I should look when I have a citation or reference question.

(PRETTY MUCH) TRUE! Your APA manual will be your best resource (and perhaps best friend) when you are writing a scholarly paper. The tips you receive from the writing center or your writing tutor on properly crediting sources are all based on the information housed within your APA manual. For specific Walden assignments or sources, however, the Walden Writing Center website provides information on citing course material, discussion posts, and yourself.

I hope these explanations helped ease a little APA confusion. Learning APA standards can be the most difficult process on your writing journey, so just make sure that you are asking questions of a tutor or your manual when you are unsure of the proper methods for scholarly writing.

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