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Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Writing With Authority, Even if Your Mama Taught You Not To


By Amber Cook, Senior Writing Specialist and Faculty Liaison

Where I grew up, in East Tennessee, most people I knew spoke indirectly. If they wanted something, they’d say “Do you mind to hand me that pen?” They apologized for everything (“I’m sorry; do you mind to repeat that?”). I learned to read between the lines, easily translating “Well, isn’t that different?” to “That dress is horrifying” or “Can I get you anything else?” to “Please leave now.”

After moving to a different region, I learned that this language of roundabout cordiality is not universal. I blushed with embarrassment when a friend ordered her (unsweet) tea by simply asking (no “when you have a minute” or “could I please have a?”). I wore myself out trying to read between lines that contained no subtexts and breaking the long-held habits of apologetic communication. I had to learn the dialect of straightforward.


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Why Are Abstracts So Abstract?


By Jessica Barron, Writing Consultant

APA loves it when writers use citations. As other Writing Center bloggers have noted, all statements based on another author’s information, even if paraphrased, should include a citation to tell your reader the source. That usually means you will be citing a lot. In abstracts, though, APA has a few different requirements than the citation usage and formatting in the body of your paper.


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Hello. I'm Your Cyber Reader.


By Hillary Wentworth, Writing Consultant

I bet an instructor or tutor has told you at some point to read your writing aloud. It’s true that this is a good practice during revision. By reading aloud, you can hear the rhythm and flow of the language and determine if the narrative progresses logically. I am taking this advice one step further, though: Have someone else read your paper to you. By becoming the audience instead of the writer, you can assess your writing—its strengths and weaknesses—more objectively. The words might still be your own, but they are now in someone else’s voice. This process allows you to step back and remove your emotional ownership of the material. Therefore, you should be able to listen for wordy phrases, awkward syntax, and repetitive ideas—things you don’t normally spot when you are in the groove of writing at your desk.


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The Final Mile: Taking the Last Steps to a Finished Dissertation

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Jen Johnson
By Jen Johnson, Dissertation Editor

In the Writing Center, one of an editor’s primary responsibilities is reviewing dissertations and doctoral studies for form and style. This review is more than just a last stop for students on their way to earning a doctoral degree; it is also a prepublication review, meaning that one of our tasks as editors is to guide students toward creating a final document ready for publication. Let me pause here for a moment while we consider, again, the conclusion of that last sentence. A final document ready for publication. Dear reader, do those words give you a bit of a shiver? I hope they do, because they do me.

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Don't Lip-Synch Your Way Through College

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By Tim McIndoo, Dissertation Editor

Here’s a riddle:

What do Milli Vanilli and scholarly writing have in common?

You remember Milli Vanilli, the German pop group that appeared in the late 80s and won a Grammy in 1990? It turned out that the lead vocals were not sung by the band’s members. As a result, the group was stripped of its Grammy award and faced numerous lawsuits. Millions of album buyers were eligible for refunds. So why offer refunds? Because what the album purported to represent was not the case: band members Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan were merely lip-synching; therefore, buyers were defrauded.

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And so, in Conclusion, I Will Now End My Paper and This Relationship

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by Jeff Zuckerman, Dissertation Specialist, CSS Faculty Member, and Dating Advisor

Dear Jeff: How do I end a paper? Sometimes I just keep going on and on and on and on and on. And on.
Signed, Confused

PS: Also, can you help me end my relationship with my boyfriend?

Dear Confused: Luckily, ending a paper is much like ending a relationship. You have several choices, depending on your purpose, audience, and context—whether it’s an undergraduate or graduate paper.  Let’s start by ending things at the undergraduate level (with apologies to Lunsford [2008, pp. 134-135]):

• Move from specific to general.

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A Source Within a Source

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By Nikolas Nadeau, Writing Consultant

Here is one of the most common questions we receive at the Writing Center: How do you cite a source within a source?

To show what I mean, imagine that you are reading Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang and D.J. Kool Herc. (I highly recommend this book as personal reading, by the way!) Let's say that within this book, Chang and Herc cite the following newspaper article:

Lee, D. (1997, April 22). 5 years later: A mixed legacy of rebuilding. Los Angeles Times, p. A1.

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You’re the Navigator! On Introductory Paragraphs and Topic Sentences


By Tim McIndoo, Dissertation Editor

Readers can follow your argument much better when they know in advance what you will be discussing in a paper, chapter, or paragraph. Here’s an analogy that may bring home the point.

Chances are, you’ve driven your car with a navigator in the seat next to you. You’re driving along and suddenly you hear her say, “Take a left.” It takes a second to realize what the instruction is, but then you slam on the brakes, signal a left turn, and then squeal through the intersection. (OK, I exaggerate a little.)


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New View, New Perspective

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By Beth Oyler, Writing Consultant
I recently had to write a literature review for one of my own classes. While I work with literary texts versus scientific studies, the lit review that we complete as English majors is quite similar to the ones that I review as a tutor. Because I’m usually the one reviewing another student’s completed lit review, being on the other side of the situation was enlightening. No wonder we get so many questions about lit reviews—they are tough!

While I didn’t find any quick fixes or miracle ways to make this type of assignment easier, I did discover a handy Microsoft Word feature: the Outline view.

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Find Your Voice Type

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Kevin Schwandt
By Kevin Schwandt, Dissertation Editor

In opera, people tend to categorize singers’ voices based on the Fach system. The broadest categories in this framework are familiar to many people: soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass. But for opera fans, there’s more to it. The Fach system is based on range, but also on tone, power, and dramatic effect. Two sopranos can sing the same pitch, but they sing it quite differently; a dramatic soprano might shatter your glass, while a lyric soprano might lull you to sleep. Further, the music written for individual characters requires different voice types. Puccini’s Cavaradossi sings of love lost in tragedy with desperate bombast, while Gluck’s version of Orpheus is subdued and poised when singing about precisely the same kind of emotion.

Regardless of the context, however, most opera composers rely on a combination of various voice types to create musical continuity and fullness.

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I Hope This Doesn’t Affect Our Friendship

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By Amy Kubista, Writing Specialist

When I was a junior in high school, there were two boys that I really liked. The first, Michael Hanson,* was intelligent, cute, and sweet. He played football, basketball, and the trumpet and had dreams of attending Harvard; he was the type of boy all parents hope and dream their daughter will date. Then there was Carter Denim.* He listened to punk rock, wore baggy clothes, and smoked cigarettes. He had a bad reputation. Both Michael and Carter made it known that they were crushing on me (yes, I just used crush as a verb). I was rather torn between the two; Michael seemed like the obvious choice, but there is something so appealing about the bad boy. After much deliberation, I chose Carter, but I felt awful about not choosing Michael, so I wrote him a note (because teenagers cannot be expected to actually talk to each other!) to let him down easy before he heard it from someone else.

I sat down to write the note, something like “I hope this doesn’t affect our friendship.” I’m sure we have all heard or used that phrase before, right? To me, it did not seem nearly as cliché at the time. Anyway, I got stuck on the word affect. I couldn’t figure out if it should be affect or effect, so I just wrote ffect and reminded myself to look it up and fill in the missing vowel later. I was really concerned that I would look stupid for not knowing the difference (everyone pays attention to spelling when writing notes as teenagers, right? This was the inner grammar nerd in me beginning to emerge).

I brought the note to school the next day, folded and shoved into the back pocket of my jeans. Carter came up and leaned on the locker next to mine, talked to me, and then walked me to my class. That was enough to let everyone know that Carter and I were “officially going out,” so after class I frantically searched for Michael in the hallway. When I found him, I slipped him the note, and as I was walking away, I realized I had never added the final vowel. I had just told Michael Hanson “I hope this doesn’t ffect our friendship.” I felt like such an idiot! If only I had taken the time to proofread.

This word confusion is common in writing. It is important to use the correct word, especially within academic writing (or breaking boys’ hearts) because it can change the intended meaning of the writer. In this case, affect is a verb that refers to the influence that something has on something else. Effect is a noun that refers to a result. For example, I hope this does not affect our friendship. The effect of my note was Michael would no longer talk to me.

For more examples of commonly confused words, such as accept/except or elude/allude, check out the Diction page on the Writing Center website. That way, whether you are writing an academic paper or rejecting a suitor, you will know the difference!


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In Regards to Utilizing Formal-Sounding Words Within the Capstone Project

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By Tim McIndoo, Dissertation Editor

It’s true. The dissertation, doctoral study, and project study are all very serious, highly formal pieces of writing. It makes sense that they sound no less serious and formal than the thousands of pages of articles and books out of which they grow.

But the gravity of a piece of writing—as perceived by a given reader—comes not from mere formal-sounding words or phrases, but from the writer’s analytical insight, research skills, and mastery of the subject matter.

Here are three words and one phrase that many writers tend to utilize incorrectly: utilize, within, upon, and relative to/in regards to. Don’t get me wrong: There is nothing inherently incorrect with any of them. But their utilization needs to be based upon the audience and the meaning within a given sentence. One style does not fit all.

* * * *

Now, have another look at the previous paragraph. Can you see (and hear) the problematic words? (I have underlined them.)

Here are three words (and one phrase) that writers tend to utilize incorrectly: utilize, within, upon, and relative to/in regards to. Don’t get me wrong: There is nothing inherently incorrect with any of them. But their utilization needs to be based upon the audience and the meaning within a given sentence. One style does not fit all.

The same problems appear in the title too:

In Regards to Utilizing Formal-Sounding Words Within the Capstone Project

The problem is this: misunderstanding scholarly style or tone and presuming that gravity or seriousness is the result of seemingly formal-sounding words (or the number of letters used). The result tends to be overblown or verbose prose. Readers quickly sense this—even if they can't pinpoint it or name it—and may feel put off by the writing. The words don’t sound right and readers may lose confidence in the content.

Here’s an explanation of these four problems along with recommended changes:

utilize vs. use
The meaning of utilize typically shades into “make use of”; the simple word use is preferred. Short and simple words do not diminish your work or writing; in fact, their clarity tends to elevate.

within vs. in
The meaning of within is more specific than in; it generally means a specific location or "inside of." Thus, in is often sufficient.

upon vs. on
The meaning of upon and on is essentially the same. However, upon has a poetic sense to it that just doesn’t fit with social science research. Hence, the simple on is often the better choice.

relative to/in regard(s) to/concerning vs. on/about
The language of business often has a bureaucratic tone, whereas the tone of social science research is generally neutral. That way, the language doesn’t get in the way of meaning. So rather than use phrases whose tone doesn’t fit the audience (and may yield to indirect, long, or wordy sentences), use the simple about or on. They do the same work with neutrality—and with a fraction of the letters.

With those differences in mind, look at this revised version of the problem paragraph above:

Here are three words (and one phrase) that writers tend to use incorrectly: utilize, within, upon, and relative to/in regards to. Don’t get me wrong: There is nothing inherently incorrect with any of them. But their use needs to be based on the audience and the meaning in a given sentence. One style does not fit all.

And a revised title would read

On Using Formal-Sounding Words in the Capstone Project

Notice that these revisions are smoother, simpler, and easier to read. While tone does not generally affect a study’s data or conclusions, it can show that you know your audience and that you're a member of the same club.

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To Thine Own Style Be True


By Kayla Skarbakka, Writing Tutor

When I was a sophomore in college, I took an expository writing class from one of the star professors in my school’s English department. He was one of those grizzled men with bushy beards and patched suitcoats who live on coffee and cynicism. I was desperate to impress him.

When he assigned the course’s first major paper, he told my class that he wanted us to draw an outline. Not write it—draw it. I had no idea what he meant, and the outline I presented to him was a mess of random thoughts, arrows, and geometric shapes.

“Kayla, I don’t understand where you’re going,” he said.

“Well, I do,” I lied. I figured the tangles of thought in my outline would work their way out in the actual draft. They didn’t. The paper was a disaster. And if I had had just a bit more perspective, just a bit more confidence, I might have understood why.

That professor, to his credit, was trying to get us to free our minds and think outside the scope of the traditional outline: Roman numeral point I, subpoint A, subpoint B. How linear. How boring.

The only problem? That’s how I think—at least in a scholarly setting. That’s how I plan my academic writing. Without a clear, preplanned structure, my mind is a mess of—well, of random thoughts, arrows, and geometric shapes. Once I develop my paper’s argument and understand the basic progression of ideas, I don’t need to start with the introduction; in fact, rarely do I start writing on page 1. But I certainly need to plan that way. My paper failed not because my ideas were poor, but because I surrendered my instincts under the assumption that surely my professor knew best.

It may seem like a cop-out, but nobody—not I, not your instructor, not that mean old middle school English teacher who still haunts you—nobody but you can prescribe your own personal writing process. Maybe, like me, you like to write from ordered lists, engineering your ideas into a logical progression before you type your first word. Maybe you’re one of those freewheeling types who just write and write and write, composing a large body of text that you can then chip away at and sculpt into a cohesive paper. Maybe you prefer a combination approach. Maybe you even like to draw your outlines. The point is, there is a process that works for you. You just have to find it.

If you’ve already established a preferred writing strategy, fantastic! Go with it! If you haven’t, now is the time to experiment. Try writing a linear outline. Too constricting? Try some freewriting. What most interests you about your topic? What troubles you about it? What themes do you see emerging in your writing, and how can you organize them in a logical way?

There’s no best practice when it comes to writing, but there is, most likely, a best practice for you. And it’s up to you to find it.


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10 Tips for Tweaking Your Reference List

Sarah Prince
By Sarah Prince

Let me propose a brief scenario that might sound familiar to many of you. Although you had initially planned to give yourself ample time to write your paper and format your reference list, you find yourself just hours before your paper is due in a frenzied rush to finish your writing assignment. After finally crafting a paper that you are proud of (or at least think is acceptable), you spend a few hurried minutes creating your reference list. Quickly glancing over your references, you decide that everything looks okay (or at least good enough). You save your paper one last time and get ready to submit your work.

I’m here to tell you to WAIT, PAUSE, HALT, STOP! Before your pointer finger hits send, upload, or submit, I’m suggesting you use these 10 simple tips to make sure your references meet 6th edition APA standards. Taking a little time to clean up some common errors in your reference list could make a big difference in your compliance with APA guidelines and even prevent you from losing unnecessary points on your paper.

1. Insert a page break: You should always insert a formal page break between the body of your text and your reference list. This formal page break will begin your reference list on a new page and keep your text from sliding down the page as you make changes and revisions to your document.

2. Format your reference title correctly: After you have inserted a formal page break, you want the word “References” (“Reference” if you only have used one source) to be centered in plain text (not bolded) at the top of your page. You should not have a colon (“:”) after your reference title.

3. Remove hyperlinks: Make sure to remove all hyperlinks from your reference list by right clicking on the link and selecting “Remove hyperlink.” After doing so, your link should no longer be bright blue and underlined; instead, it will appear in black (like the rest of your draft).

4. Format your references using a hanging indent: Instead of trying to manually create a hanging indent for each reference, you want MS Word to do the work for you! If you change your formatting settings (which I promise is really easy), your citations will remain perfectly indented no matter what revisions you make to your references. For quick help with formatting an automatic hanging indent, check out these tutorials.

5. Capitalize titles correctly: Per APA guidelines, the title’s first word, its first word after a colon (or the first word of a subtitle), and its proper nouns should be the only words capitalized (whether your title is from a book, a journal article, or a website). For example, let’s say I wrote a book. In my reference list, the title would read Sarah Prince: The woman, the hero, the legend. Notice that here, the first word, Sarah, is capitalized, the proper noun Sarah Prince is capitalized, and the first word after the colon, The, is capitalized. All other words remain in lower case.

6. Format titles correctly: Although APA style does not have different rules for the capitalization of titles in books, websites, and journals, it does have different rules for their formatting. Shorter works, such as journal articles and websites, are written in plain text in your reference list. However, longer works, such as books (I recommend the brilliant read above) and entire journals are italicized.

7. Find the DOI or URL: Per 6th edition APA guidelines, you should actually include a DOI (instead of database retrieval information) when citing journal articles found online. If no DOI can be found, you should then use the URL of the journal’s home page. In other words, if you are glancing at your reference page, and you see “Retrieved from Ebscohost,” chances are you need to take a look at our resource on reference entries for electronic sources.

8. Include publication information: If you are citing a print resource such as a book (like the brilliant one I’ve suggested above), you will want to include the city and the state postal code abbreviation in addition to the publisher. For instance, your publication information will look something like this: Atlanta, GA: Home Publishing Press. A common misstep is to leave off the state abbreviation or to fail to abbreviate it. If you are unsure, check out this list of state postal code abbreviations.

9. Use correct punctuation: When in a rush, it is very easy to look over missing or misplaced periods in your reference list. For most citations, you’ll just need to follow the simple rules below; however make sure to check out this APA Style Blog post for trickier sources.
• Periods should be inserted after the author name(s), date (which goes inside parentheses), title, and source.
• Periods should NOT be inserted after DOIs or URLs in reference list entries.

10. Double space your reference list: Your reference list should be double spaced, and it should not have any extra spaces between individual citations. Just like formatting your hanging indent, automatically double spacing your paper (including your reference list) can save you a lot of time and work. For more help on formatting double spacing, see these tutorials

So, before you click submit, go through this checklist to see if your reference list is up to code. And, if you still have questions, see the reference list in our course paper template or check out these common reference examples.


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Tracking the Elusive DOI: Crossref.org


By Melanie Brown, Dissertation Editor and Writing Faculty Member

Note: This post has been updated per APA 7.

If you have written even one APA reference list—and if you have been a Walden student for more than a few weeks, chances are good that you have—then you have probably read about the DOI. What is this mysterious DOI? Some people say the letters individually (dee-oh-eye); others say doy (rhymes with joy or poi or “APA style leaves me an-noy-ed”).

DOI: What Is It?
A DOI is a digital object identifier—a fancy way of describing the unique number assigned to an electronic source. This number helps researchers locate a particular journal article quickly and efficiently. If a DOI has been assigned to a journal article you are citing, then you must include that number in your reference list.

I can hear your questions now:

Savvy Student: “Wait a minute. I have 50 sources in my reference list. Do I have to include DOIs for all of them?”

Gentle Editor: “Only for electronic sources, such as journal articles you read in full-text or .pdf form.”

Savvy Student: “Wait another minute. Most of my sources are journal articles that I read in full-text or.pdf form. How do I know whether those 50 or 100 sources have DOIs?”

Gentle Editor: “Yes, all journal articles accessed online with a DOI number must include a DOI in your references”

Savvy Student: “Most of my sources are journal articles accessed online. How do I know whether those 50 or 100 sources have DOIs?”

Gentle Editor: “The DOI may already be listed wherever you find your source, so look through the source listing and try the auto-cite feature (if there is one) to see if a DOI comes up. If you're still unable to find one, check Crossref.org.”

Savvy Student: "Look, Editor. I know you're trying to help,  but I don't have much time to tinker with my reference list. Is Crossref.org easy to use?"

Gentle Editor: "You beth it is. Follow the simple steps below!"

DOI: How Do I Find It?
At Crossref.org, researchers can look up DOI numbers for online journal articles. Here’s how to use it:

1. Go to the Guest Query form (free DOI lookup) on Crossref.org.

2. Scroll down to "Search on Article Title." Type the first author's name and the article title in the appropriate boxes and then click search. If your article has a DOI, it will appear. Voila! Thank you, Crossref.org.

Note: If you need to locate many DOIs at the same time, it might be easier for you to use Crossref.org's Simple Text Query, which Anne outlines in her Tech Tip post.

DOI: How Do I Put It Into My Reference List?
Now that you have found a DOI for one of your journal articles, you have to include it in your reference list.

If Crossref.org showed the DOI as http://dx.doi.org/10.mlb/34.75329xp, it would look like this in a (fictional) reference:

Brown, M. (2011). Finding a DOI is not so hard after all. Journal for DOI Studies, 11, 9-14. https://doi.org/10.mlb/34.75329xp

Note that if you found your doi via the Walden University Library's "cite" feature, it will look something like this: https://doi-org.ezp.waldenlibrary.org/10.mlb... You need to eliminate the extra Walden Library information and have a simple doi.org/10, otherwise your reader will have to be a Walden student to gain access to the article.

What if there is no DOI when I search?

In that case, you will follow some slightly different steps to include retrieval information for your reader. Review our Citing Electronic Sources webpage for more guidance. You can also find help with reference list formatting in APA style (Reference List Examples)! Happy DOI hunting!


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There Is an "I" in Academic Writing

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By Annie Pezalla, Dissertation Editor

Many students who see us in the Writing Center worry about using first person in their writing. They’ve been trained into “I-less-ness” through their previous classes or in their work with other instructors who have told them that using "I" will make their paper sound weak or subjective. Instead of writing, for example, that “I conducted interviews with participants,” students are told to write, “interviews were conducted with participants”—thereby removing the "I" from the phrase. And they’ve had good reason to practice this stance. Scholarly writing is generally about emphasizing the findings from empirical research, not the person (or people) who conducted the analyses or discovered those findings. Less emphasis, then, has traditionally been given to the "I" in scholarly writing.

But times they are a-changin’. There’s been a growing movement in social science research for greater transparency in our actions as researchers. This movement has been tied to a thing called the “observer effect,” which speaks to the power of our actions on the research findings we generate. This movement has also been linked to the importance of owning our actions for ethical reasons. This stance makes a lot of sense. I mean, is it really honest to act like “interviews were conducted” by some invisible being? Are we being ethical if we fail to disclose our actions in recruiting, interacting with, and compensating participants? Not really.

To present your research in the most transparent way, Walden University and the 6th edition of the APA manual (p. 69) recommend the use of first person in scholarly writing: I collected the data, I conducted analyses, I sought Institutional Review Board approval, and so on. First person voice usually provides the most concise and precise way of describing research processes, findings, and implications. It’s a lot more precise, for example, to write that “I scheduled a meeting with each consenting participant to discuss the study,” rather than “Meetings were scheduled with each consenting participant to discuss the study.” The latter phrase is convoluted, and leaves the reader wondering, “Who scheduled the meetings?” and “Who discussed the study?” The use of first person can limit those questions.

Of course, it should be said that first person should be used wisely. "I" should not appear in every sentence of your manuscript. “I did this” and “I did that” can sound forced and narcissistic. “I” should also not be used to express an opinion about the worth of other scholars' findings (e.g., “I thought this study was boring”). Instead, “I” should only appear in places where anthropomorphic writing might appear (e.g., instead of writing, “This chapter will explain…” write “In this chapter, I will explain…”) and where your presence is as equally important as is the content you are presenting (e.g., when describing the potential impact of your presence on the collection and interpretation of your findings). In any other context of your paper—such as when you are presenting the findings from past literature—“I-less-ness” should generally be practiced.

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Six APA Manual Musts


By Jamie Patterson, Dissertation Editor

There are fewer and fewer of us in the world who carried, loved, and knew the APA Manual fifth edition. You might recognize it on your shelf: red, black, and neglected. When the APA publication committee shifted to the sixth edition (blue, bright, and lovely), it made several changes. In addition to saying adios to the student section (the section that provided the loophole for single-spaced block quotes and reference lists), mention of how to format with a typewriter, and all-caps headings, the sixth edition is really quite readable.


Although it is absolutely possible to sit down and read the sixth edition cover to cover—particularly the early chapters—I realize that most writers sure don’t do this. So as someone who spends at least 8 hours a day with the book in hand, let me point you toward some of the more often visited pages. Even if you just read these few pages, you’ll start to understand the manual a bit more and it might actually be useful to you.

First, let me start by suggesting using the Internet for reference list entries. They’re all in the book (pp. 198-224), but you can also Google an entry or check out our website. Rely on the manual for these issues:

1. Heading levels: p. 62
2. When to use past tense: p. 78
3. Comma use: pp. 88-89
4. How to use hyphens: pp. 99-100
5. When to use a numeral and when to spell out a number: pp. 111-114
6. In-text citations: p. 177

So pull out your book and mark these six little spots. If you can master these elements, your writing will be polished and that much more ready for final review and publication.

One last piece of advice is to pay extremely close attention to APA p. 191 on DOIs. This might not be the most intuitive portion of the manual, so check out our webpage on the topic and let me loosely interpret: If you retrieve an article from a database, you must (absolutely must) show how you accessed the article by including a DOI or the URL for the journal or database. As a dissertation editor, I’ve seen documents at form and style that were in need of this access information for all entries. If you can collect the DOI for each article as you write, this will be the single most important time-saving step you make.

That, and becoming familiar with sixth edition, of course.


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Tools to Streamline Revision

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By Matt Smith, Writing Consultant

In my previous blog post, I focused on software that can help you generate, record, and organize your ideas during the prewriting phase of a writing project, whether you’re working on a short personal essay or a massive scholarly paper. Those programs can be incredibly helpful as you create your early drafts, but using them when you’re tweaking your final drafts—refining your language to make it more concise, for example, or making sure that each topic or subtopic in your paper has its own paragraph—is a bit like swinging an ax instead of tapping a chisel: Some tools are meant for felling and chopping, while some are meant for shaping and sculpting. In this post, I’ll focus on some tools that can help you polish your text in the final stages of the writing process.

The most indispensable of these finishing tools is also probably the least exciting—Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar checker (discussed more in-depth here). Grammar and spelling (often simply called mechanics), while minor compared to big-picture concerns like organization and tone, have a powerful effect on your readers overall, and correcting mechanical issues is usually one of the easiest and most noticeable improvements you can make in revision. (Think of them as the fasteners that hold your paper together: One or two loose nails or missing screws won’t do much harm, but if too many are misused or absent, you’ll have a pile of assorted lumber instead of a wall, a bookshelf, or a cabinet.) Be careful, however, not to rely on this function too heavily—the exact meaning, after all, is tricky for even the smartest program to discern, and Word will occasionally misread your writing.

Speaking of built-in Word features, you can also use the Find/Replace function (press Control + F to open it) during revision to make your writing more concise. In early drafts, many writers—myself included, shamefully—tend to use two or even three words, usually adjectives, when they only need one to convey their meaning. While searching for all of these redundant words manually would test the patience of a monk, they’re most often connected by the conjunction and, so you can usually find a phrase with redundant words, such as examine and inspect the theories of Vygotsky, by searching for and and eliminating the extra words (in this case, by deleting and inspect).

Concision, of course, operates alongside diction (also called word choice), another important element of writing style, and diction’s effect on your readers is subtle but significant. While always and often may seem to have similar enough meanings for casual conversation (the grocery store is always out of my favorite peanut butter isn’t too far off from the grocery store is often out of my favorite peanut butter), in scholarly writing the difference between always and often can determine whether your research findings are lauded as revolutionary in your field or dismissed as misleading hyperbole. Luckily, you can use Wordle to eliminate overused words that could be easily misinterpreted (such as always). When you upload your text to Wordle, it creates a word cloud, or an arrangement of the words that appear most often in your writing scaled according to their frequency—that is, the most-used words are larger, while the less-used ones are smaller. If any of the larger words have especially strong or broad meanings, you can use the Find/Replace feature in Word to find them and replace them with more descriptive, nuanced words. Wordle can also help you vary your use of phrases that are repetitive but otherwise harmless. For example, you might not realize, during the drafting of your paper, that you’ve used the phrase Department of Health and Human Services 27 times in your seven-page paper until you see it in a Wordle cloud in a 64-point font.

While the issues I’ve covered so far are all vital qualities of writing that you need to consider when you revise your work, occasionally you’ll want to make major structural readjustments to your paper’s organization instead of focusing on these comparatively minor issues of style. Even if you begin your paper with a detailed outline built on crystalline logic, some measure of chaos inevitably creeps in as you write. For example, it may have taken you three paragraphs to adequately address a topic when you thought it would take only two, or you might have had far less material to include in a section than you initially planned. The result is often a paper full of interesting, thoughtful, yet disorganized ideas. At the Writing Center, we often recommend that students use a technique called reverse outlining to address their papers’ organization as they revise. As the name implies, reverse outlining consists of going through your paper and noting the topic of each paragraph, usually on a note card or Post-it; reorganizing these topics into an outline that makes clear, logical sense; and applying this new structure to your paper.

Reverse outlining can be a bit time-consuming, but there are a few software tools to make it faster and simpler. The word-processing and project-management program Scrivener has the most innovative implementation of this feature currently available. Scrivener’s Corkboard allows you to rearrange note cards on a virtual corkboard, and each note card represents a particular portion of your text. For example, if you move the note card titled “Impact of Piaget’s theories on contemporary psychology” so that it comes after the card titled “Introduction of Piaget,” Scrivener will actually move the text of the “Impact of Piaget’s theories…” section so that it comes after the text of the “Introduction…” section. Of course, you’ll still need to make minor adjustments to your text, such as tweaking your transitions, but this can save you a great deal of time overall in revision. (Note: Scrivener is currently only available on Macs, though there is a Windows version in development.) You can also use programs like PNotes or Word’s Outline View feature to reverse-outline your paper, though you’ll need to rearrange the text in your document manually.

Though these tools are by no means exhaustive—they can only supplement good writing practices and skills, not replace them—they can be a huge help as you enter the final stages of producing a finished discussion post, reflection paper, KAM, or dissertation. Revision is, quite literally, the process of seeing your writing again, and if nothing else these tools can help you to see, and refine, aspects of your work that weren’t yet apparent in your earlier drafts.

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An Active Reader Is a Better Writer

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By Tobias Ball, Dissertation Editor

I too am guilty of publicly making the promise that after I complete this or that degree, I am finally going to sit down and do some personal reading. The transgression of denying one's self the pleasure of a good novel or a couple of hours browsing the articles in a favorite magazine or reading aloud some poetry to the dog is one that many students feel is necessary. This is not true. The more one reads the better writer he or she will likely become.

Reading, even something that is not from a peer-reviewed, scholarly journal, can be a reminder of what good writing looks and sounds like. An active reader is one who will also become intimate with the process of writing and be able to recognize when something is good, regardless of the topic or venue. Although fiction writers are considering a different audience, just like academic writers, they want to maintain their readers’ attention and convey a particular message.

Active readers serve as an audience and thereby become aware of the needs of an audience. This awareness makes them better writers. People writing in diaries write for themselves. When composing something as intimate as a letter, writers are acutely aware of their singular audience. Bloggers can track the reading patterns and waxing and waning interests of their audience. Academic writers too know their audience. At first, it is a committee, then the longer list of university approvers, and finally the academic community and future researchers. If meticulous writers are also meticulous readers, they will have an improved awareness and concern for their audience.

Active readers know what has already been written, what was written well, and what requires additional attention. One edition of the APA Publication Manual has a section on the repository that is the scientific journal. This section includes the caveat that a familiarity with the literature allows not only for insight and an ability to avoid repetition, but also an opportunity to contribute something new. The same joy that is felt when a reader discovers a new writer or a new piece by an already favorite writer can be felt by a reader who also contributes something new to the body of academic literature.

Reading can be a source of inspiration, even when reading something that has not been assigned in a class, something that was not retrieved from a library database, or something that is outside of the prescribed social science reading list. A fiction writer may use an old word in a new way or imagine some bit of science fiction that later becomes a tool in the classroom. The ability of someone to capture a feeling in prose or perfectly describe a feeling on the page is proof that words can captivate and motivate. There is no reason to believe that an academic paper cannot be a page turner in the same way as a mystery novel.

Too many things are already sacrificed in the name of school. Time becomes a premium. Leisure is lost. Vacations are postponed. Money is spent. The pleasure of reading has no place on that list. Pick up a book. Buy one or go to the library. Before sitting down to compose a single word of a single draft, read a page or two of fiction. Look at the girth of a hefty novel and know that this writer too, just like the academic writer, conducted research, wrote multiple drafts, shed tears when an editor shredded it, bounced back to create an even better draft, and one day finished the work.

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One! One Blog Post!

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By Jessica Barron, Writing Consultant

I never much cared for The Count on Sesame Street. He was not as furry as Snuffleupagus, and his dark lair was a bit frightening for me to comfortably learn numbers. I chose a career path that would lead me into words and writing, and never did I think that the lessons of The Count would be needed in that field. That was, of course, until I learned of count and noncount nouns.

The quick definition of a count noun is a word that can be divided into or counted in units, like one apple or seven puppies. These nouns have both singular and plural forms, and these two forms make it relatively easy for a writer to spot any noun/pronoun agreement or subject/verb agreement issues. However, where a writer can easily change a plural pronoun to a singular one to align with a subject, it can be more difficult to spot any noncount nouns that are used improperly.

Noncount nouns are not categorized as singular or plural; instead, they exist in the singular form. An example of a noncount noun that Walden students often use is evidence. Rather than make this subject plural, like The Count yelling “Two! Two evidences!” during his segment, the writer would refer to the singular form or precede the term with a unit of measurement:

Jones collected evidence that was based on previous research.

Smith found two pieces of evidence to use in the study.

Other noncount nouns that you might encounter during scholarship are fields of study, like education, or groups of similar items, like faculty. Review our Grammar page for more examples of noncount nouns and how to use them in context.

Also, if you’re wondering how another Sesame Street character, Cookie Monster, relates to grammar rules, see this previous grammar post.

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Getting Lost

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By Hillary Wentworth, Writing Consultant

My husband and I recently traveled to Venice, Italy, for vacation. Let me tell you some things about Venice: there are no roads, only canals; there are no straight walking paths, only long windy ones with bridges and dead ends. Our first night there, we wanted to go to one specific restaurant that was in our guidebook. We had an address but not much else. Well, an address won’t get you too far. We searched and searched for the restaurant and ended up lost, in a completely different part of town. However, it was the Venice we were looking for: free of tourist crowds and just normal people going about their daily lives. A little boy kicking a soccer ball around an empty church square. An older woman out for an evening stroll with a neighbor, her hand relaxed on the neighbor’s wrist. A small, sleepy canal too narrow for a gondolier to sneak through. We took a moment and forgot about the restaurant, basking in the state of being lost.

In student writing, I often notice that the first half of a paper is about one thing, while the rest is about another. The student is in effect “getting lost” by exploring material unrelated to his/her introduction or thesis. Getting lost is not something to be afraid of; rather, it is something to be embraced. In this discovery is where the real heart of your learning resides. Obviously, you cannot leave your paper as two vastly different ideas. You need to choose one. My advice is to go with the second one. When I see these papers, I see writers who are finding their groove and determining what they really want to write about, and what is important to them. Therefore, if this happens to you, you might decide to revisit the main topic of the paper with the second half in mind. You might even throw out the first half. In that way, the initial writing is just a vehicle to another, more robust and deeper idea.

Sometimes, though, you can’t even tell that you are lost. Or if you do know that you are lost, you are still afraid to ask for directions. To determine whether you are lost and where you should be going, draw a map of your paper. Read through the paper from beginning to end, marking the main idea of each paragraph in the margin. After you finish, look back over what you’ve sketched there. Is there a certain point where you veer off into different territory? Does the end of your paper seem to “match” the beginning? In other words, did you achieve what you proposed in the introduction? If the paper does seem disconnected, consider starting fresh at the fork in the road, the spot where you veered. You can also try to make the current paper work by deconstructing the paragraphs and then rearranging them. This is a fun scissors activity; just cut up the paragraphs and shuffle them around on your desk.

The real aim, though, is to be comfortable with the writing process. It’s going to be messy; you’re going to get lost and desperate. However, with the right tools—the right mentality and the right process—you will always be able to find your way home.

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A Lesson in Time Management --Oh Yeah, and Paraphrasing


By Jeff Zuckerman, Dissertation Specialist

Contributing writers (that would be me) should check the schedule of deadlines so that they do not find out while on vacation they have 2 days to submit a blog post.

Speaking of which: If you’ve taken A Practical Course in APA Style, you know why I used the numeral 2 in that sentence instead of the word two. (Hint: See APA 4.31.)

But would you know how to directly quote or paraphrase that first sentence following all APA style guidelines? In fact, one of the hardest tasks for many of my students in Center for Student Success courses I’ve taught has been quoting a source and paraphrasing in correct APA style. Yet it’s one of the most important skills students need to master.

Here are some basic guidelines:

1. You can’t just copy a phrase from a source without using quotation marks to show it’s a direct quote. That would be plagiarism.
2. When you are directly quoting, you are required to use quotation marks and show the page number or paragraph number from the original source.
3. The APA manual (2010) “encourages” authors to include a page reference when paraphrasing (p. 171).
4. The page number goes inside parentheses (the abbreviation p. or para. followed by a space and then the page number).
5. When you cite an author, all you need is his or her last name followed by the year.

So how would you quote the first sentence in this piece? Here are two ways:

a. Zuckerman (2011) realized that contributors “should check the schedule of deadlines so that they do not find out while on vacation they have 2 days to submit a blog post” (para. 1).
b. Contributors “should check the schedule of deadlines so that they do not find out while on vacation they have 2 days to submit a blog post” (Zuckerman, 2011, para. 1).

As your instructors have probably told you, your writing should be more than a series of direct quotes. Instead, you should try to paraphrase—that is, you should take what you’ve read and put it in your own words. And “your own words” truly means your own words, your own voice, and your own interpretation.

So how would you paraphrase that first sentence?

a. Zuckerman (2011) suggested he should have planned ahead and noticed the due date for his next blog contribution (para. 1).
b. Authors ought to pay attention to their deadlines so they do not spend their vacation in Boulder, Colorado, whipping together a post at the last minute (Zuckerman, 2011, para. 1).

As you progress in your studies, keep these time management tips--and citation rules!--in mind.


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Special Guest Blog: An Excerpt From Recipes for Success

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By Dr. Marilyn K. Simon, with an introduction by Dr. Jim Goes

Faculty member Dr. Marilyn K. Simon outlines a step-by-step plan to help you successfully write your doctoral program dissertation or a full-length book in the third edition of Recipes for Success.

“The research-based dissertation is the hallmark of most doctoral programs and sets doctoral-level study apart from other levels of learning,” explains Walden faculty member Dr. Jim Goes in the introduction to the third edition of Dr. Marilyn Simon’s Recipes for Success (2011). “Dissertation writing is a profound act of original scholarship, involving deep original thought, critical thinking, and creation of new knowledge. Dr. Simon has crafted a process by which anyone can build the pieces of a successful dissertation.”

Recipes for Success is presented in three parts: preparing the menu for your feast; gathering the utensils to collect and analyze data to help you solve the problem you pose; and finally, learning how to put your meal together to ensure a delicious high-quality study to serve at your feast. Here, we’ve excerpted a taste of the book, which teaches you how to knead the critical ingredients together:

The purpose of an introduction is to capture the attention of the reader or set the stage for the courses to follow. It will acquaint the reader with the problem you are studying, the approach that you have chosen to study the problem, and your style of writing. It is the place where you begin to dish out your ideas and whet the appetite of your readers. An introduction gives the reader a peek at your study. It usually:

1. Puts your study in some perspective.
2. Establishes the need for your study.
3. Alerts the reader to what will follow.
4. Catches the attention and interest of the reader.

A literature review is an integrated critical essay that analyzes and synthesizes the most relevant and current published knowledge on the topic under investigation. The review is organized around major ideas and themes. You need to review critically other studies that have tried to answer the questions that you are asking and solve problems similar to the one you framed. You need to summarize these studies, compare them, contrast them, organize them, comment on their validity, and stir similar ones together.

A substantive, thorough, and scholarly literature review is a prerequisite for doing substantive, thorough, and scholarly research. To be useful, scholarly research must be cumulative; it must build on and learn from prior research on the same or related problem under investigation. It must also clarify and resolve inconsistencies and tensions in the literature and thereby make a genuine contribution to the state of knowledge in the field (Boote & Beile, 2005).

You are ready to put together many of the ingredients that you have carefully amassed and create a splendid main course. In chapter three, you will spoon-feed your guests as you elaborate, in great detail, the research design that you selected and how it applies to your study.

Chapter three is where you elaborate on why the paradigm and method you chose are appropriate to solve the problem you posed. If a qualitative design was chosen, an argument about how a quantitative method would not solve the problem should be included, with sources. Make certain to use a germinal book on the method to help justify your selection. Also let your work marinate so all parts come together and tenderize as needed to make your feast palatable to your guests.

Here is where you provide the punch line, or tell the reader what you discovered from your study. Chapter four presents, in sufficient detail, the research findings and data analyses and describes the systematic and careful application of the research methods.

There is no single way to analyze the data; therefore, the organization of this chapter and analysis procedures will relate to the research design and research methods you selected. However, there are general guidelines to follow and components to include. The presentation and analysis chapter of your dissertation usually contains many of the garnishes listed below and provides an affriander (addition to a dish to give it a more appetizing appearance).

Kudos, cheers, and compliments to the chef. It is now time to relax and savor the final moments of your eloquent banquet. Here is the time where you can editorialize about you study and advise future cooks on how to create similar feasts.

Chapter five discusses the findings and expounds on their importance, meaning, and significance. Confirming and contradicting data are thoroughly discussed. Here is your chance to unravel the power and importance of your research.


Dr. Marilyn K. Simon has been actively involved in mathematics and computer education since 1969. She has been part of the Walden community, first as a student and then as a faculty member, for 22 years. She has published numerous books on mathematics education, scholarly research, high stakes test-preparation, and online learning. She is also the president of MathPower, co-founder of Best-Prep, educational consulting firm, and president of the board of directors of Responsibility, a non-profit charity that builds schools for families that live at the Tijuana municipal dump. Dr. Simon joins forces with her esteemed Walden colleague Dr. Jim Goes to provide an open source web page to assist doctoral students and doctoral mentors. The two helped establish many of the social change initiatives that Walden has enacted.

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Shortcuts: Functionality at Your Fingertips

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By Jessica Barron, Writing Consultant

Using the functions of Microsoft Word makes me happy. Finding the location of these functions, however, does not. Sometimes it just seems easier to manually double space a paper instead of taking the time to search through drop down menus for the line spacing selection. Thankfully, Microsoft has an extensive list of shortcut codes that puts functionality at your fingertips, literally! Check out http://support.microsoft.com/kb/290938 for a complete list, but here are some of my favorites:

CTRL+S – Save a document

I use this shortcut the most, usually after every edit I make to a document. I have had more than one computer crash on me mid-sentence, so learning this shortcut would be beneficial to all writers who want to frequently save their work.

CTRL+Z – Undo the last action

I tend to click on things a lot, even if I don’t know what they do. The shortcut to “undo” helps me reverse something immediately before I click on something else and my actions become irreversible.

CTRL+C – Copy selected text or object
CTRL+X – Cut selected text or object
CTRL+V – Paste cut/copied text or object

These are classic shortcuts, but they are still useful in modern word processing. When revising a document, I often cut and paste sentences from one paragraph into a different one to see how that placement impacts my overall flow and organization.

CTRL+A – Highlight the entire document

This function highlights all of the items in a paper. While it may not be used often, if a global edit needs to be made (e.g., changing the line spacing or font style), this shortcut helps writers avoid dragging their mouse through a whole document in order to highlight their text.

CTRL+2 – Double space a document

Not sure what Word can do for you? This shortcut is fantastic for those new to the functionalities of Word. Because all course papers should be double spaced, this action helps those who may not be tech savvy format their papers per Walden and APA guidelines. No more manual spacing required! And yes, you guessed it—CTRL+1 easily changes double-spaced text to single-spaced text.

CTRL+ENTER – Insert a page break

This shortcut is especially useful for writers who have gotten into the habit of manually entering spaces to start a new page in a document, like for a reference list. Using Word’s page break functionality helps you avoid having to reformat the placement of that new page if you add or delete anything during the revision process.

CTRL+EQUAL SIGN – Create subscript text
CTRL+SHIFT+EQUAL SIGN – Create superscript text

Ever wonder how writers make text incredibly small and off-center, like in H01 or 21st century? These two shortcuts will help you avoid having to search for font options to create these subscript and superscript styles.

CTRL+T – Create a hanging indent

The term hanging indent often appears in discussions of reference list formatting, but finding a document’s ruler is often more time consuming than just using the Tab key to indent lines of a reference citation. However, this shortcut quickly creates a hanging indent, which will help ensure that your reference citations are APA compliant!

There are many more shortcut options available to Word users, so if you often use one that isn’t on this list, let us and your peers know!

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Book Review: Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, by Patricia T. O’Connor

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Jen Johnson
By Jen Johnson, Dissertation Editor

A confession: I like grammar rules. Not because I think they are easy to learn or even always logical (where’s the fun in that, after all?), but because in a world that is frequently confusing and sometimes chaotic, grammar rules offer a comforting source of consistency. Nouns always (or should always) agree with verbs. Pronouns such as everyone and everybody are always singular. The word it’s is always a contraction for it is, never a possessive (that would be its). As both a writer and a reader, I find that kind of linguistic constancy reassuring, lovely, even elegant.

But in spite of my affection for grammar rules, I have to admit that few authors on the subject manage to bring those rules to life in a lively, let alone memorable, way. Patricia O’Connor is one sparkling exception. In her book Woe Is I (first published in 1996 and expanded in 2003), O’Connor infuses chapters on such potentially dry subjects as pronouns and punctuation with humor and charm. In an especially entertaining chapter on clichés, for example, she encourages writers to be discerning about which well-worn phrases they allow to creep into their work; among her list of overused clichés is “agree to disagree,” which she dismisses by saying, “People never really agree to disagree. They just get tired of arguing” (p. 169). And to illustrate the concept of a dangler, O’Connor uses this chuckle-worthy example: “Born at the age of forty-three, the baby was a great comfort to Mrs. Wooster” (p. 160). O’Connor’s use of humor as a literary device, while great fun, also serves a more serious purpose; by first tickling the reader’s brain with these little feathers of wit, she succeeds in making the reader more receptive to the (blessedly clear and concise) grammar lesson that follows. After the Mrs. Wooster dangler, for example, O’Connor explains,

As the sentence is arranged, the baby—not his mother—was forty-three. (The opening phrase, born at the age of forty-three, is attached to the baby, so that’s what it describes.) Here’s one way to rearrange things: The baby, born when Mrs. Wooster was forty-three, was a great comfort to her. (p. 160)

And that, I would say, is about as painless a grammar lesson as one could ever hope for.

Adding to the appeal of Woe Is I is O’Connor’s voice. Her tone is accessible, even conversational, making me feel at times as if we were chatting about the nuances of grammar over a morning cup of coffee and a warm cinnamon roll. About the verb to wake, for example, she writes, “There are lots of ways to greet the morning—maybe more than we need. You can wake, or you can waken, or you can awake, or you can awaken. So rise and shine, already!” (p. 67). And O’Connor’s candor about her own grammatical hang-ups, such as not always using the verbs may and might correctly (p. 59), is refreshing, especially considering that she was once an editor at The New York Times Book Review. (See, even experts can make mistakes.)

Woe Is I is more than a guide to grammar, though. O’Connor winds down the book with chapters on grammar rules that have gone extinct, such as, “It’s wrong to end a sentence with a preposition” (p. 183); how to write more effectively (applicable whether you’re writing a dissertation or a letter to a friend); and e-mail etiquette (including the use of abbreviations, such as LOL, and emoticons), each of which could prove useful to readers wanting to sharpen their command of English grammar in all its many applications.

One caveat for Walden readers: O’Connor and the editors of the APA manual are not always in perfect agreement, and where they differ, the APA manual wins (at least when it comes to writing academic work at Walden). For example, O’Connor instructs the reader to add ‘s “to form the plurals of all numbers” (p. 30), but this rule contradicts APA 4.37, which directs writers not to use an apostrophe in plurals of numbers (e.g., 1950s, not 1950’s). And while O’Connor lists among her dead rules, “Data is a plural noun and always takes a plural verb” (p. 184), any student who submits work to the Writing Center knows (or quickly learns) that this rule is in fact alive and well in APA land. Such distinctions aside, Woe Is I is a smart, witty, and, for the rule-weary, palatable guide to the sometimes quirky world of English grammar. And for the grammar lover, well, this book is pure delight.

O’Connor, P. T. (2003). Woe is I: The grammarphobe’s guide to better English in plain English. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

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Announcement: New Appointment Scheduling System

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On July 7, 2011, Walden University launched a new scheduling system for our student services, including the Writing Center. This new system will replace the Walden Interactive Reservation E-System (WIRE) that students have been using to make appointments with the Writing Center since 2008.

On July 7, students will reserve appointments for July 25 and on through the new Walden scheduling system by clicking on the “Schedule an Appointment” link on their myWalden Portal under the Academics tab. This new system will ensure university-wide access to online scheduling. Our current scheduling system, the WIRE, will not be available for appointments after July 24.

We hope that you find this new and improved service helpful in contributing to your student experience and success in your degree program at Walden University. If you have any technical questions about the new system, please contact the Student Support Team. You can reach Student Support by phone at 1-800-WaldenU; by e-mail at support@waldenu.edu; or through chat: Choose "Click Here to Chat" on the Support tab in your portal.

Please continue to direct writing questions for the tutors to writingsupport@waldenu.edu and for the editors to editor@waldenu.edu.

We look forward to working with you!

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Because You Practice It Wrong: Writing as Empowerment and How to Make It Fun

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By Kevin Schwandt, Dissertation Editor

Walden University’s resident writing guru Jeff Zuckerman recently related a wonderful story of music education. As a musicologist—a nutty disciplinary title (not just a Prince album) that essentially means I’m a musician who is trained to be a writer and, equally, a writer who is trained to understand music—I was prompted by Jeff’s tale to think about my own educational path, one steeped in both writing about musical thinking and thinking musically about writing. I’ve always thought that the two disciplines lived, uncomfortably, in different parts of my brain, but Jeff’s tale made me reflect more seriously on how the concept of practice can transcend disciplines.

One recent morning, Jeff—a pianist, as well as Walden’s resident writing sage—asked his talented drummer and music educator son to jam for a bit. Jeff expressed disappointment with his inability to match a particular rhythmic passage, to which his son, an educator at heart, asked what precisely he was struggling with. Jeff asked why he could keep trying to perform one passage over and over again and never get it right.

As a good music teacher, his son replied, “Because you practice it wrong.”

The repetition of ineffective actions is perhaps the most confounding, though common, aspect of skill development. We crave familiarity, even when we know we need something new. The act of writing almost perfectly reflects this fundamental truth of most people’s daily lives. Struggling writers tend to repeat patterns; developing and growing writers change them.

When I reflect upon the long history of my education, I remember one of my first piano teachers. She emphatically told me that my piano ability would be with me forever; no matter how old I grew, I would always have my pianistic skills. The abilities I was fostering would bring joy to my life. Partly because I was a very stubborn child and partly because her tendency to smack my hand with a pencil to indicate my fingering errors was irritating, I didn’t believe her.

The angry child in me wants to say she was wrong. Years later, I must grudgingly admit that she was right.

Now, working to help students improve their writing, I have learned that those piano lessons meant more than I thought. Few things in my life make me as happy as playing the piano. One of them is writing. In both cases, reaching a point where practice became joyful, not tedious, required critically engaging with what I was doing.

Regardless of the task, practice means more than repetition. Indeed, repetition can be detrimental. Practice requires careful examination of one’s actions as well as the results of those actions. That examination, coupled with the bravery to try new approaches, makes practice both fun and productive. In many religious traditions, the concept of practice is considered the essential companion to empowerment. That is not coincidental; self-aware, critically engaged practice is the essential foundation of growth, change, and improvement.

The writing process is a privilege that we as scholars need to recognize. I believe strongly that writing is a gift. Indeed, as I often remind students at residencies, many people do not have this gift; it is precious and should not be taken for granted. Walden students tend to be people who seek to do good in a world that doesn’t always produce good by itself, so this isn’t a new idea for them. Walden students often speak for those who are institutionally voiceless. Nevertheless, facing deadlines and program requirements can make people feel assaulted and exhausted. As scholars, we need to remember that we are among the most privileged of people; we have the time and energy to think big thoughts.

As scholars, we have an obligation to put those big thoughts into words; our privilege comes with the responsibility to share ideas. To that end, the articulation of ideas should be performed with the same passion that led to the ideas in the first place.

To maintain that passion, scholars’ writing needs to be as active as the higher level thinking they engage in daily. When you find yourself in a rut, when the words don’t come as easily as you’d like, do something different. Change your word order; try new verbs; see if you can say the same thing four different ways. When you feel that you can’t write something correctly, focus instead on practicing your writing creatively. Make it fun by not practicing it wrong.

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Citing an Author Throughout a Paragraph: Notes on a Tricky APA Shortcut

Amber Cook explains using the year in in-text citations.
By Amber Cook, Senior Writing Specialist

In both the fifth and sixth editions of the APA manual, there is a shortcut involved in citing the same author multiple times within a paragraph. It’s a rule that was so vexing to understand in the fifth edition that we tutors had a long e-mail thread with the subject line “The Great 208 Debate.” (Page 208 was the location of the rule. And yes, we are that dorky.) In the sixth edition (now on p. 174, or p. 71 in the latest Perrin Pocket Guide), the guideline is explained somewhat more clearly, but it still generates more questions than just about any other APA conundrum.

There are two parts to this rule: One applies to narrative citing (where the author is part of the sentence itself), and the other applies to parenthetical citing (where the author and year appear at the end of the sentence within parentheses).

1. Narrative Citing: 

When presenting the author’s name in the text of a sentence, the year only needs to appear the first time it shows up, and it can be omitted thereafter in other narrative citations in that same paragraph:

a. First time for narrative citation:

Cook (2010) asserted that a shortcut causing this much trouble may not be a shortcut after all.

b. Next narrative citation in the same paragraph:

Cook noted that, in spite of the frustrations it sometimes causes, APA is a pretty handy style guide.

2. Parenthetical Citing: 

Every time the author of a source appears within parentheses, there must also be a year within those parentheses. Unlike in rule # 1, the year will never be dropped from the parenthetical citation:

a. Like this:

APA often confounds writers, especially with citation shortcuts (Cook, 2010).

b. Never like this:

Citation may actually be simpler without such a rule (Cook).

The key here is that these two rules operate independently. The number of times a source is mentioned in parentheses (# 2 above) will not impact the decision to use the year in a narrative citation (# 1 above). See this example:

APA often confounds writers, especially with citation shortcuts (Cook, 2010). Cook (2010) asserted that a shortcut causing this much trouble may not be a shortcut after all. Citation may actually be simpler without such a rule (Cook, 2010). Cook noted that, in spite of the frustrations it sometimes causes, APA is a pretty handy style guide.

If you'd like to see more examples, check out our post on Three Key Points for Knowing When to Use the Year or Date in APA Citations and our website resource.

Some other things to keep in mind:

1. This rule only applies to the same work by the same author. If you have multiple works in that paragraph, the rules here apply to each source separately.

2. This rule only holds true within one paragraph at a time. Once you shift to a new paragraph, you’ll need to start over with the citation pattern described above.

3. If you are using multiple sources by the same author, you must always include the year to differentiate between the sources.

The good news: It doesn’t get much more complicated in the APA manual, so if you can get a handle on this, you’re in great shape for navigating the rest of the guide. We may even let you in on our next geeky e-mail thread about APA minutiae.

Other posts you might like:

Three Key Points for Knowing When to Use the Year or Date in APA Citations

Demystifying In-Text vs. Parenthetical Citations

APA Citations: The Method to the Madness

What's the Citation Frequency, Kenneth?

When to Use an Author Name in the Body of a Sentence and When to Keep It in the Parenthetical Citation


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