March 2013 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Successfully Submitting Your Study to ProQuest/UMI

By Paul Lai, Dissertation Editor

Congratulations! You’ve just received the Chief Academic Officer’s approval of your capstone study abstract. There are just a few steps to complete before you receive your doctoral degree. One major stumbling block for many students is submission of the study to ProQuest/UMI. This blog post offers some advice on how to avoid delays at this stage. Keep these tips in mind when you are drafting your capstone proposal, when you work on each chapter or section of your final study, and when you revise the manuscript to submit it for the form and style review.

seal of approval comicAfter final abstract approval (which will not contain the seal on the left, sadly), you will receive an email from the Center for Research Quality (CRQ) about the remaining steps of the capstone process and doctoral degree. In this email, CRQ will direct you to the submission website where you will enter information about your study and then upload a Portable Document Format (PDF) file of your capstone study. (Note that the latest versions of Microsoft Word offer the built-in function: Save As a PDF file.)

Within a couple of business days of submitting your PDF, you will receive an email from CRQ via the ProQuest website, either approving your submission or pointing out required revisions before your study can be approved. If you do not receive an email, look in your spam folder and log in to the submission website to check your status. Do not assume that you are done until you have received an email from ProQuest that your PDF has been approved and that the graduation process has been triggered.

Here are six common reasons for rejecting a PDF:
  • Blank pages
  • Table of contents errors (usually when the automated table values are missing: Error! Bookmark not defined.)
  • Highlighting, colored font, or track changes remain
  • Approval page is not the first page
  • Incorrect page numbers
  • Formatting errors in the front matter (title pages, abstract, dedication, acknowledgments, table of contents), especially with page numbering

Many of these problems are due to the conversion from Microsoft Word (.doc, .docx) to PDF, particularly if you have formatted your document manually (for line spacing, page breaks, hanging indents, and other elements) rather than with Word’s automated features. Once you have converted the document, be sure to scroll through the entire PDF to make sure there are no errors. Using the capstone templates (PhD, EdD, DBA, DNP) and style tags will help reduce these types of errors.

To recap:
  • Use the capstone template for your program.
  • Thoroughly review your PDF file before you submit it.
  • Check your email account to see whether your PDF file was accepted or whether changes are required. 
  • If changes are required, make them promptly and resubmit.

Once you get that final confirmation, your capstone study will be sent to ProQuest, and you will soon be a published researcher!

Paul LaiPaul Lai, who joined the Writing Center in 2011, has a background is in teaching college English and editing scholarly journals and literary magazines. His dog's name is Giles.


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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. K. Elizabeth McDonald

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This week we present the first in a new blog post series that will spotlight Walden faculty who have made a difference in the writing development of their students. Look for a corresponding student spotlight series as well!

Dr. K. Elizabeth McDonald
Indiana native Dr. K. Elizabeth McDonald
now lives in Minneapolis, MN.

For this first faculty spotlight, we identified a Walden instructor who has been doing extensive work to help her students learn APA style in a logical, efficient way. Dr. K. Elizabeth McDonald, core faculty in the MS in Mental Health Counseling program, has even published on this topic, and the Writing Center is lucky to have her work featured on our website! We presented Dr. McDonald with some questions about her perspective as a Walden instructor.

What are the most common writing challenges for your students?

I work with a lot of students in their first course in our master’s program, so the APA manual itself is a big challenge! Once they make meaning out of the manual, then the difficulty with logistics seem to disappear. For example, once students realize that paraphrasing is a clinical counseling skill as well as a written skill, they cease being over-reliant on quotes in assignments. Just imagine a counselor parroting back to the client everything that the client said!

What have you done to help your students master those skills?

In addition to providing specific APA page numbers and links to the Writing Center, I help students make those connections between clinical and written skills in my feedback to them. For example, I’ll mention that when I am working with a client who constantly talks in the second person, I have the client switch the language into first person. If the client says “sometimes you just don’t know what your husband thinks of you,” I will ask the client to rephrase to “I don’t know what my husband thinks of me,” which is so much more powerful for the client. I don’t think it is a coincidence that second person is not recommended by APA!

How does your own experience as a writer inform your work with student writers?

I have received my fair share of red marks on papers (both for school and for publication) due to formatting issues. Sometimes it feels like my very soul is in my writing; this can make it difficult to receive feedback about formatting or content. I try to balance providing feedback with the recognition that sometimes my feedback may seem trite. When talking about where a period goes in reference to a citation at the end of the sentence, I let the student know I realize I am commenting on the placement of a single dot!

What advice do you have for faculty who want to help their student writers?

Most importantly, help students find meaning by relating it back to the profession. Work with others in your program and the Writing Center to develop helpful resources and make connections between writing skills and professional skills.

Guess what? You are on stage! Students see unprofessional writing everywhere they look. As instructors, we have the unique opportunity to be an example (no pressure here, huh?). I wrote a short article about this very question, which included an example document written about APA format in APA style (why the APA does not do this I will never know). The APA document about APA is sort of a Cliff’s Notes, and is available in the Writing Center. Boy, I sound like a lot of fun at a dinner party, huh?

What advice do you have for students who want to improve their writing?
  1. Review feedback from your instructor on previous assignments before starting your next assignment. Oh, and be sure to contact your instructor if you do not understand the feedback! [Editor's note: In Blackboard, click on Tools → My Grades → Score to access comments.]
  2. Begin assignments with a template. I find that downloading a template from the Writing Center and using it for the beginning of each assignment makes for a less time-consuming writing process. Your time is precious; stop spending it looking up how to make the running head for every single assignment!
  3. Before beginning to write, add headings from the assignment directions. This will help you focus your writing and enable you and your faculty member to quickly see that you have addressed all required elements.
  4. Throughout your learning process, look for connections between your professional voice and your profession. Learning because you “have to” is elementary (and boring). Take control of your education, look at things with an intrigued eye, and use your critical thinking skills to find connections between your writing style and your profession.

image of laptop and paper
Counselors need writing skills for
case notes and client advocacy.
How is a student’s ability to write related to success in your field?

Written voice is incredibly important in counseling; credibility and advocacy are at stake! Counselors write case notes at the end of every session, and in the event that those notes are subpoenaed and provided to the court, they are subject to intense scrutiny. Counselors need to provide clear and concise written rationales regarding the interventions used; otherwise, the counselor (and the profession) loses credibility.  Even if the notes never end up in the courtroom, clinical case notes are sometimes all that exist to provide evidence of the course of treatment. Counselors also advocate for clients in written form, such as to a third-party payer, a grant funder, or an organization to advocate for services. Weak writing skills will significantly limit the ways counselors can advocate for clients.

What’s something about you that would surprise your students?

I have entered a single entry into a journal once a year every year since I was in 5th grade. I also have a “reasonably adventurous” side. I have zip-lined in Costa Rica, spent a few weeks in a yurt in Tanzania, walked a questionable and long tension bridge in Brazil, eaten fried bee larvae in Taiwan, and flown in a hot air balloon at sunrise over the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.  

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To Be or Not to Be?

quotations image

By Lydia Lunning, Dissertation Editor

Let’s say I have to revise the following passage:
There are many reasons to take the process of revision seriously. Not only is revision important because the final product will be much better than the original draft, it is also a way for a writer to think through and clarify ideas. A writer’s understanding of his or her topic is often deeper and more refined after there has been effort to rethink and rewrite troublesome sections.

That’s fine, right? There isn’t anything really wrong with it—subject-verb agreement, not a lot of passive voice, no glaring mechanical errors—but it’s still just a bit…static. The ideas are all there, but I want this passage to be more active, more dynamic. How am I supposed to liven up this wording?

As you become a more sophisticated writer and develop your scholarly voice, revising means improving your style, not just removing problems and errors. Experienced writers develop an active, engaging style in part by paying attention to how often they use forms of the verb to be. These forms include am, is, are, was, were, be, being, and been.

This doesn’t mean we’re supposed to crack open a thesaurus and replace every is with a fancy, three-syllable verb; even when writing at an advanced level, our words should flow naturally and in our own voice. However, we should strive to use to be in moderation.

The verb to be indicates that a thing exists, but not what that thing does or how it relates to anything else in the sentence; using to be too often in your writing is a bit like having a conversation with a friend in which you point at a lot of different things but never explain how those things relate to one another: “This is a leash, there is my dog, and that is the park down the street.” OK . . ., your friend thinks, but so what? All those statements may be true and grammatically correct, but see how much clearer and more active the sentence becomes when we replace all those to bes: “Let’s put a leash on my dog and walk to the park down the street.”

Along with indicating existence, the verb to be also acts as a linking verb in a sentence (kind of like an equals sign): The apple is red, they were loud, she had been up early, he could be easily convinced. All these sentences are grammatically correct, too, but there still isn’t a lot of action going on. Rather than showing action, linking verbs connect the subject of a sentence to more information or further description about that subject. In this example, the apple isn’t doing anything—it’s just being red.

To get an idea of how you use these verbs in your own writing, take a look at something you’ve written and circle the number of times a form of to be appears on a single page. (The first time I tried this on one of my own drafts, I was in for a rude awakening—to be verbs appeared on almost every line!) If you go through the above passage again, you’ll notice that forms of to be (are, is, will be, has been) occur no less than six times in only three sentences. If I want to perk up this passage, I should try to replace at least some of those with action verbs instead.
examples of action verbs image

An action verb is just that—a verb that expresses a specific action. These verbs invigorate your writing and add life to your sentences by making the subjects actually do things. Action verbs also vary much more than linking verbs, so expressing ideas through action verbs allows you to present your thoughts with greater specificity and precision.

If I wanted to rework my original passage to include more action verbs and fewer to be verbs, it would look something like this:

Writers should take the revision process seriously for many reasons. Revision not only ensures the final product improves on the original draft, it also allows a writer the opportunity to think through and clarify ideas. A writer’s understanding of his or her topic often deepens and grows more refined after he or she has rethought and rewritten troublesome sections.

This version includes more active sentences and conveys the same ideas in fewer words. (You will find that replacing a few to be verbs will streamline your writing and clear away some of the clutter in longer sentences.) The changes also don’t interrupt the natural flow of language by inserting overly complicated phrases or unfamiliar vocabulary. An easy fix, right?

As you read over your own work, keep an eye out for how often you use the verb to be in your sentences. Once you get in the habit of using more precise verbs and writing more active sentences, you’ll find you begin to sound more like the developing scholar that you are.

Lydia Lunning

Lydia Lunning, Walden dissertation editor since 2012, enjoys “literature for children and young adults, writing pedagogy, contemporary cinema, and cooking.”


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Developing a Practice: Not Just for Yogis

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Whether you’re a yogi or not, you’ve probably heard people talk about “practicing” yoga. Until I started my own practice, I didn’t really understand why. Now, though, I realize that using the verb practice is an apt choice for describing not only yoga, but many other pursuits in life, including writing.

In yoga, we talk about our practice because the goal isn’t to do a perfect sun salutation. Instead, a yoga practice focuses on a continuously changing and evolving experience. To me, this means a lot of reflection as I continue to improve my poses and breathing.

What does this have to do with writing? Writing (and learning in general) is similar. We don’t just do writing. We practice it: We are always reflecting on our writing so that we can grow, change, evolve, and improve. Writing isn’t a static act that we can master. Ask any published author—She’ll probably tell you that her writing isn’t perfect yet either.

And that’s the point! The wonderful and frustrating thing about writing is that it is never complete. We can always continue to improve and change our writing, striving to further our practice.

Developing a writing practice

The evolving nature of writing is something we often forget. In a rush to finish a paper or assignment, we can lose sight of our development as writers, focusing too much on getting a draft “perfect.” So, in the spirit of always reflecting on our writing, viewing it as a practice not a product, think about what you can do to reflect and grow your writing.
  • Solicit feedback. Whether you’re making an appointment with the Writing Center or requesting the help of a classmate or friend, ask others to review your work. Hearing their feedback will help you reflect on your writing, seeing it from a new perspective.
  • Visit online discussions. Just by visiting this blog you’re engaging with your writing process. You’re reading others’ experiences with writing and what it means to them, which gives you the opportunity to think about your own writing process.
  • Join a community. The Writing Center has Facebook and Twitter accounts where we pose questions and share resources about writing. Or see if your classmates at Walden want to start a writing or study group or participate in an organization related to your field. These are great ways to think more about your ideas—and how you present those ideas in writing. If you're working on your proposal or are in the final stages of your capstone process, check out the Walden Capstone Writing Community.
  • Take courses or seminars. See if you’d be able to take a writing course through Walden or in your community (many community colleges offer writing courses). Or attend one of the Writing Center’s live webinars. You can always improve your writing, and attending or watching even an hour-long webinar can help you think about your writing in a new way.
As you can tell, there are numerous ways you can continue to practice your writing. If none of these seem interesting to you, make up your own. Write in a journal, read a book about writing, or even just talk with someone else. Small acts of reflection like this can really help improve your writing.

What other ways do you plan to practice?

Beth OylerIn her work in the Writing Center, Beth Oyler is “constantly fascinated by the research Walden's students are completing and where their interests are.” She learns from each paper she reviews.

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