October 2012 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Weathering the Storm . . . of Problem Statements

Photograph of Nik Nadeau
by Nik Nadeau, Writing Consultant

There are people who prepare for emergencies, large and small, and then there are people who are less prepared. A simple power outage for the day can overturn all their plans. Not knowing what to prepare for when it comes to your problem statement can result in a problem statement that leaves your readers feeling flustered, confused, and unsure about how to proceed.

To write a clear problem statement, start by identifying a single, unique problem. To do so, follow these rules:

1.  Rely only on your own words (rather than on quotations or paraphrases).
Your readers expect you to identify a problem no one else has identified before, at least in the way that you spin it. For example, if you are researching the health effects of alcoholism, make sure you identify a problem that other health scholars have not already addressed.

2.  Be as specific as possible.
Your readers need a specific image of the problem and who it affects.


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Writer’s Workshop #4: Know Your Stuff

Beth Oyler
By Beth Oyler, Writing Consultant

At the Writing Center we talk about writing with students all the time. It’s what we do for (at least) 40 hours a week. When students approach us, though, I sometimes wonder if they might be asking the wrong questions. Becoming a proficient writer is, of course, an important skill you’ll learn in higher education. But before you can write a phenomenal paper, you have to—simply put—know your stuff, which starts with strong critical reading skills. How we approach reading as scholars matters; if you are able to become adept at critically reading, your writing will improve. Trust me!

Think about the last article or piece of research you read. How did you approach that text? If you’re like me, you probably have a stack of reading material you need to get through when you find a little time after work or between other commitments. Time crunches like this can cause us to rush through research, reading just to get through it. Instead, we need to be aware of what type of reading we should be tapping into.

To get technical for a minute, there are two different types of reading, as discussed by Rosenblatt (1982):
Aesthetic reading: Reading to gain the feeling of a text, often referred to as reading for pleasure.
Efferent reading: Reading to use and apply information from a text, like reading for academics.


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Correlative Conjunctions: Words in Pairs

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Jonah Charney-Sirott
By Jonah Charney-Sirott, Writing Consultant

Some words travel as pairs. Where we use one, we must use the other. Take the word both, for example.

When two subjects are considered together, most of us use the word both to discuss the items as a group. Though we all think we know how to use this easy four-letter word, there are a whole lot of rules governing its usage, and a whole lot of us don’t always follow them. Let’s start with a little background:

Both is a correlative conjunction, a fancy way of saying that it’s part of a select group of words in the English language that must always go in a pair. In the case of both, our sister word is and. Think of these two words as a team. If you use both, you have to play her teammate and as well, or else you’ve got a problem.

Take, for example, this sentence: Both a dog as well as a cat would make a great pet for my grandmother.

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Expert Advice: On Motivation

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Walden Writing Center staff
By Writing Center Staff

By this point in the fall, perhaps you are feeling a bit weary. Am I right? The excitement of the new term has begun to fizzle, and you’re not sure if you can sustain the long hours of work, school, and family time. In this week’s blog post, Writing Center staff lift your dragging feet. Pat you on the back. Say in unison, “I think you can. I think you can.” That’s right; the tutors and editors are musing about motivation—how to get it and how to keep it. For a pick-me-up, check out their answers below.

How do you stay motivated to write?

    • Beth and Amber recommend “chunking” to see progress:
      • Beth Oyler: When I have a large project to complete, I split it up into chunks, which helps it feel more manageable. For example, if I’m writing a research paper, I think about the different steps I need to complete (research, notes, organization, drafting, revision) and focus on each step in order. That way, I have the satisfaction of feeling like I accomplished something if I’m able to check off even one step.

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To AutoRecovery, With Love

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Julia Cox
By Julia Cox, Writing Consultant

On August 21, 2009, tragedy struck.  My MacBook crashed, exactly 11 hours before I was to begin a fresh term of graduate classes.

The next day, I stood petrified in the Apple Store, ready to pen a “dear Steve” letter (to late Apple founder Steve Jobs) bemoaning that my overpriced, allegedly immortal MacBook had come undone, my personal history interrupted, my Alexandria burned.

Indeed, the digital age has conjured new forms of personal crisis, where a frayed motherboard wire can extinguish vacation memories, silence a music collection, and destroy a canon of professional and academic documents in the space of a few seconds.

For students, technological catastrophe can be especially traumatizing, as it always strikes with an impending deadline. Microsoft users will recognize the blue screen of death. For Mac patrons like me, disaster starts with the rainbow wheel of pain. Regardless of which team you click for, the feeling of loss, pain, and nausea is the same.

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