February 2013 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Punish the Procrastinator! A Review of the Write or Die App


By Kayla Skarbakka and Nik Nadeau, Writing Consultants

You have a looming deadline and are just about to start that paper when you notice the dust bunnies under your desk. A text from your daughter. That new episode of Parks and Recreation on Hulu.

Sound familiar? Oftentimes, “sitting down to write” means “doing everything I can think of to avoid writing.” If you—like many of us in the Writing Center—find yourself in that situation a bit too frequently, you might want to check out Write or Die, a free online application (also available for purchase on iPad or Desktop) that helps writers combat procrastination.

According to Write or Die’s creator, the so-called “Dr. Wicked,” the app uses negative reinforcement to get writers to put words on the page. Using the app is simple: set yourself a time and word goal and get to work. As long as you keep typing into the text box, you are in the clear.

Think twice, though, before pausing to read that new e-mail or grab another cup of coffee. If you stop typing for more than a few seconds, you face consequences ranging from a gentle pop-up reminder to keep writing (Gentle Mode) to an unpleasant sound that persists until you continue typing (Normal Mode) to self-erasing text (Kamikaze Mode). The final consequence level, “Electric Shock Mode,” is, fortunately, not actually a usable option.
Write or Die app screenshot

In the words of Dr. Wicked, “the idea is to instill in the would-be writer… a fear of not writing” (“Write or Die,” 2013, para. 6), giving writers real and immediate consequences for self-sabotaging behaviors. Intrigued by this idea, writing tutors and professional procrastinators Kayla and Nik decided to try the application to help them with their own writing projects.

Kayla Skarbakka

Kayla’s Take

After playing around with the various consequence options available in the Write or Die app, I have determined that I am (a) a speedy typer and (b) an awfully slow thinker.

I simply mean that as long as my goal was to get words—any words—on the screen, then the “fear of not writing” was a fantastic motivator. Do I want to hear crying babies, blaring car horns, or “Peanut Butter Jelly Time”? No thank you.

There’s a lot to be said for focusing on quantity. Ten minutes of madcap typing in the Write or Die app (much of it asides like “Oh geez, that’s bad; obviously I will fix that later”), and I managed to work through a plot problem in a story that has been nagging me – no lie – for 2 years.

However, I soon found myself wanting to slow down and write a bit more thoughtfully. I wanted to be picky and playful with language; I wanted to be accurate, deliberate, and detailed. Turns out I can’t write in that way quickly enough for Dr. Wicked, though, and let me tell you: it’s difficult to concentrate with “Never Gonna Give You Up” blasting from your speakers every 15 seconds.

My take on Write or Die: fantastic for brainstorming, generating ideas, and warming up those writing muscles. It might even be helpful for a first draft if you’re battling writer’s block. But once you know what you want to say and are more concerned with how you say it, you might be ready to move to the word processor.

Nik Nadeau

Nik’s Take

Unlike Kayla, my idea of “warming up” for writing is eating, watching YouTube, or finding one more thing to clean with a Lysol wipe. I will do ANYTHING to not write. And I find that the things I do write that I (and sometimes other people) like are those things that I didn’t really care about. Now let me explain: I care about my writing. Deeply. 

But what I really need more than to care about my writing is to NOT care. To further explain, let me give an illustration:
Nik's writing process pie chart

So as you can see, where Kayla would prefer to avoid getting her ears blasted by crying babies, car horns, and every possible song that should never have been introduced to human culture, I WELCOME it. I need to be shoved off a cliff to write consistently. And, well, if that’s the way it is, I’d rather listen to “Never Gonna Give You Up” over and over again rather than, you know, actually getting shoved off a cliff.

Editor's note: Other writing apps that aim to minimize distraction are Flowstate, Freedom, and WriteRoom. Let us know what you think of these apps. Do they work for you?


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General Guidance on Data Displays


By Tim McIndoo, Dissertation Editor

According to APA style, a table has a row–column structure; everything else is called a figure (chart, map, graph, photograph, or drawing). This post won't discuss the creation of a figure—the possibilities are endless—except to say that figures are not enclosed in a box (as they are in the APA Publication Manual). If you’ve not created a table before, it may take a little practice.

Here’s guidance on the (a) keyboard steps to create a table, (b) the opposite formatting of tables and figures, and (c) the APA and Walden requirements.

A. Keyboard steps to create a table

In the Word toolbar, go to Table > Insert > Table > Table size. Pick the number of columns and rows you think you’ll need. Make sure to add one each for the headers of the table and the stub column (which lists the individual items).

Under AutoFit behavior, try AutoFit to Contents. That way, your table will automatically expand to fit whatever data you put in the various cells. You can always change it later.
Under Table Style, try Table Normal. It’s standard, it’s simple, it’s clean.                                                       

B. Formatting tables and figures (and the three forms of notes used at the end of a table). Note how tables and figures are formatted in opposite ways. 

Example of a table formatted in APA style.

C. APA and Walden requirements
  • All cells in a table, and callouts in a figure, use sentence case.
  • APA style does not use boldface type or vertical lines in tables.
  • Do not put a box around a figure.
  • Make titles and captions concise, clear, and expressive. (APA 5.12 & 5.23)
  • Do not split a table unless it is too large to fit on one entire page. It works best to start tables at the top of a page; that way, there will generally be enough space. It’s OK if the table appears on the page following its first mention.
  • If a table is, indeed, too large for one page, then type (table continues) under the table, flush right. Repeat the column headings (not the table title) at the top of the new page.
  • If a table or figure takes up 75% or more of a page, then set no text on that page.
  • If needed, use a different point size (or font) for the text of the table or figure, but in any event, do not use smaller than 8-point type.
  • For numerous examples of tables, see APA Publication Manual, pp. 129–150; for numerous examples of figures, see pp. 152–166. I would encourage studying them all closely. You can also see several examples on the Writing Center website.

Tim McIndoo----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tim McIndoo, who has been a dissertation editor since 2007, has more than 30 years of editorial experience in the fields of medicine, science and technology, fiction, and education. When it comes to APA style, he says, "I don't write the rules; I just help users follow them."


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Publishing the Dissertation: Journal Article or Book?

After countless hours toiling over your dissertation, you’ve finally reached the finish line. Upon approval by your committee, your dissertation is officially ready for the next step. But what is that next step? Is it possible to expand your readership beyond those helpful committee members, to share your ideas with other scholars, to join in the academic conversation regarding your topic, and possibly even advance your career? The short answer: Yes. The somewhat less exciting and slightly longer answer: Still yes, though publishing your dissertation is competitive and difficult (but not impossible!). Let’s walk through some questions to consider as you begin seeking publication.

"Alternatives" (c) Daniel Oines (CC BY 2.0
Step 1 is to determine whether you want to split your dissertation into separate articles or attempt to publish the entire work as a book. Keep in mind that these are not mutually exclusive; a common trajectory is for a student to try and publish articles in journals in order to gain credibility when submitting a book proposal to publishers. That said, just like the complex ideas in your dissertation, the “submit articles first” theory of publication does have its detractors. Another school of thought (let’s call this the “don’t give away the farm” theory) recommends submitting directly to a publisher before you’ve published any articles. The idea here is that academic publishers will not be interested in producing a book that has already had its main ideas appear elsewhere.

Neither option is necessarily easier. Turning your dissertation into a book will still require quite a bit of editing. For example, in an academic book, detailed methodological descriptions are often moved to the appendix, if they are included at all.

That said, you can take solace in the fact that you are not the first person to have to make this decision. Even better, there’s a large body of literature devoted to helping students determine whether their dissertation is best suited to be a book, an article, or none of the above. Books that may be helpful for students struggling with this decision include From Dissertation to Book by William Germano; Revising Your Dissertation, edited by Beth Luey; and The Thesis and the Book: A Guide for First-Time Academic Authors. Who knows? The Walden Library might even have digital copies of these texts.


Jonah Charney-Sirott
In his role as consultant in the Walden Writing Center, Jonah Charney-Sirott aims to "provide the type of assistance that not only can fix a sentence, but make it shine."


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Notes on Winter Commencement 2013

Hillary, Rachel, and Nik at commencement
Writing Center Tutors at Commencement (Hillary, Rachel, Nik)
By Hillary Wentworth, Writing Consultant

I’ve worked for the Walden University Writing Center since May 2010 but never attended a commencement ceremony. This past January I finally did. I sat in the upper part of the auditorium, among the 4,000 or so other guests from around the world. Even though the remarks by Dr. Heller and the commencement address by Dr. Tererai Trent were moving, something else seemed more profound.

Cheers and hoots echoed from the tiers of seats as graduates marched onto the floor in cap and gown. A scream of “That’s my mom!” rang out when an EdD doctoral student was hooded by her committee chair. Applause—and pride—erupted in the people around me as a student’s name was spoken. And it was catching. A woman in another row who didn’t even know the PhD student said, “There you go, Dr. Tony!” In other words, what inspired me most was the friends and family. The people who’d stood by the graduate through years of schooling, who’d traveled thousands of miles to this very hotel, simply to watch several seconds of glory on a stage.

Graduates at commencement
Graduates file in (above); opening remarks (below)
I have to admit I cried. As I was dabbing my eyes with a tissue from my purse, I said to myself, This is silly. Why are you getting so emotional? I couldn’t really explain it. After all, I’d only worked one on one with a small fraction of the individuals graduating. (I recognized some four or five names.) But then I thought of the achievement, of the sacrifice, and of the great humanitarian works these degrees would allow graduates to do. I thought also of my own parents and my husband who had supported me through undergraduate and then graduate school. How much whining and cursing and misery I’d put them through—and how much pride they’d shown on my graduation day. It seems, then, these degrees are not just our own but our families’ too, and our friends’.

Commencement speaker

Of course, the individual accomplishment cannot be diminished. You have put in the time, the research, the reading of serpentine scholarly texts, the writing. Study these photos; they mark your end goal. And once you’re there, at the end, remember who it was who gave you those pep talks.


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Colloquialisms Part II: Slang

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slang word cloud
By Nathan Sacks, Writing Consultant

Language is always evolving, and this is just as true of slang, a general term for words and terminology that do not fit certain definitions of “standard writing.” As with clich├ęs (another category of colloquialisms that I focused on in my previous post), slang is sometimes difficult for us tutors to diagnose in writing because of constantly-shifting attitudes about what should and should not be considered acceptable language. This is true of APA as well, which requires a clear, direct style that allows few opportunities for creative expression through slang. According to the APA handbook’s sixth edition, precision is “essential in scientific writing; when you refer to a person or persons, choose words that are accurate, clear, and free from bias” (p. 71).

What makes slang not part of these standards for objectivity is that, by definition, only certain groups of people use certain types of slang. For instance, today’s modern alphabet of smiley-face emoticons may be common parlance among teenagers, but they make less sense to an older individual like myself (though there will certainly be exceptions on both ends of the age spectrum). Conversely, certain ethnic, racial, or gendered terms that were common in past academic writing are no longer acceptable, because by modern cultural standards those words are no longer sensitive or bias-free.

The central conceit of APA word choice is to strive for the most clear, direct, formal language that can convey academic arguments to the most amount of people. It is possible for this tendency to be self-defeating. Some scientific papers are so overloaded with formalized academic jargon that they are impossible to read or understand. Others so deliberately distance themselves from any possibility of bias that this distance ends up diluting their arguments.  Earlier, I defined slang as the term for whatever does not fit specific definitions of “standard writing.” But even this platonic ideal of “standard academic writing” is problematic—who should decide what words are and are not acceptable, as well as what and what does not qualify as slang?

As we know, sometimes rules in language change significantly over a small amount of time. For instance, consider the gradual acceptance of the word alright in our modern English lexicon. When I was younger, the word alright was an unacceptable misspelling of all right, which by rule was two words. However, as blogger Grammar Girl noted here, some dictionaries and writing resources have come to tacitly accept alright as its own word with a separate, distinct meaning. How did this happen? When enough people collectively misspelled the word, the misspelling became a standard part of the modern lexicon. What used to be incorrect spelling becomes slang, and by that same process, what was once slang may someday become standard academic practice.

To that end, also consider the APA’s recent change over the number of spaces between sentences. In the fifth edition, one space after a period was standard; in the current edition, both one and two spaces are acceptable. Was the APA just buckling to modern computer user trends, or were they making an effort to be more inclusive and open to linguistic evolution? Possibly, they were trying to do both. In any case, this proves that APA language is a language like any other, not because of its strict rules and word choice guidelines, but because of its capacity to grow, change, and reflect current ideas in writing and thinking.     

Who knows? When the APA seventh edition rolls around, maybe the organization will lift another linguistic embargo, like the one on contractions (ain’t, can’t, won’t). Stranger things have happened, and will continue to happen, to the English language.

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