May 2013 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Expert Advice for Capstone Writers

The dissertation or doctoral study can seem like an impossible task. You’ve never tackled such a large and complex project before. But here you are with your committee’s approval and before you, the Form and Style Review.

While it may seem like an impediment to progress, the Form and Style Review can be helpful. The editors know APA and Walden style very well; they have edited many capstone studies. Yet it may be hard not to take the edit personally. Reading and trying to follow the editor’s close review of your final draft can be an emotional experience. Try to keep in mind that the goal was not to judge the writing, only to improve it. (After all, the work you publish on ProQuest will represent you for the rest of your career.)

If you can spare the time, set aside the document for a few days. Let your mind adjust to the idea of writing a revised draft. See if you can get psyched up to begin the process. Remember that writing itself is a process of discovery and that to revise—“to ‘see again,’ to look at something from a fresh, critical perspective”—is in the nature of writing. Everyone needs to write multiple drafts. But it takes courage (and time) to “see again,” to reexamine your work and edit it. Here are some ideas that might make your task a little easier.

  1. A Form and Style Review includes tracked changes and comments. If you haven’t worked with these functions before, you can find guidance on the Writing Center website at
  2. Be sure to work on the edited draft. Don't try to transfer changes to another version because the process is likely to introduce errors.
  3. To switch off the comment balloons on changed formatting: for Word 2003, go to Tools > Track Changes > Show > Formatting; for Word 2007, click on the Review tab > Track Changes > Change Tracking Options. 
  4. To restore the lines that connect comment balloons to the text: For Word 2003, click on Tools > Options > Track Changes. Then check the box that says “Show lines connecting to text.” For Word 2007, click on the Review tab > Track Changes > Change Tracking Options. Then check the box that says “Show lines connecting to text.”
  5. As you begin reading, you can quickly make a lot of progress by using the Accept Changes option.
  6. You might find it useful to use Word’s find-and-replace feature. It can speed up the process of, say, fixing a misspelling throughout the document.
  7. Have your dissertation checklist (or rubric), your template, and your APA Publication Manual handy.
  8. Try printing your work to better see what the issues are and how they might be resolved. Reading the printed page can feel more settled than reading the screen version. For some writers, reading paragraphs aloud can help reveal what changes are needed.
  9. Look over the review slowly and carefully. Don't start editing until you have paged through the entire document. That way, you can get a sense of how much and what kind of work will be needed.
  10. Don't forget that your editor did not edit the entire work—only Chapter 1 and a few pages at the start of each of the other chapters. The issues pointed out there are very likely to be found in the other chapters of the study. You’ll need to review those pages with Chapter 1 in mind. (Sometimes an editor will find an issue in the last chapter. If so, be sure to see if that issue appears in any of the previous chapters and then fix it.)
  11. Try listing the steps in your revision process (proceed in whatever way works best for you); it could help make the process more manageable. You also might get some ideas from your editor’s cover letter.
  12. Go slowly. Tackle just a handful of pages at a time. Or tackle one issue at a time. Start with a task that seems easy—formatting?—something you know how to do. (This helps build up confidence.)
  13. Consider working on two different fronts—writing and formatting. Writing revisions can take a lot of energy. APA and formatting take less. If you take a break from editing and do a little formatting, you might find that you can work longer and make more progress.
  14. Save work on the abstract for the last, when your sense of the project is most accurate and complete.
  15. Finally, keep in mind that you are not alone. You have three sources of help: your editor, your chair, and the Writing Center’s 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 medicin
e, 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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Why Scholars Don't Exclaim

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What is the deal with exclamation points and why should I think twice about using them in academic writing?

We live in a world of excitement and emphasis. Great to see you! Well done!

See what the insertion of an exclamation did in the two previous sentences? It added a hint of volume, a sprig of passion. Depending on your outlook, this insertion can be a nice method of achieving a sort of textual breathlessness or, alternatively, it can induce in the reader a sort of nausea.

Indeed, the exclamation point has always been controversial. Chekov, for example, wrote an entire story in which a government employee is slowly reduced to insanity by the realization that he has not used an exclamation point in 40 years of writing.

But on to academic writing, where the use of this punctuation mark is an entirely different matter. Remember in the last paragraph when I wrote that exclamation points and their utility can vary depending on one’s outlook? Well, APA and the scholarly audience have a very clear outlook when it comes to exclamation marks, and the consensus is definitely against them.

Why Scholars Don't Exclaim
Someecard (c) LizJostes
Because an academic tone strives to maintain the impression of objectivity, the exclamation point is considered almost entirely unwelcome in scholarly work. For sure, a student’s evidence-based ideas may inspire passion and excitement in the reader—but students should remember that those ideas and words alone must do the hard work of making impressions.

In academic writing, state your claim and then defend it with evidence. If the point you are making in your paper is that important, trust readers to determine it for themselves.

Jonah Charney-Sirott
In his role as an instructor 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." For more punctuation pointers, see this web page.

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Clearing the Haze of Hyphenation Rules

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Hyphenation is a spelling issue and it can be frustrating. Should a word be spelled open (two separate words), solid (two words spelled as one word, no hyphen), or hyphenated?

There’s guidance, but it may be inconsistent for a few words whose spelling is in flux. Nevertheless, proper hyphenation is not trifling: When wrong, it creates confusion. And confusion is an enemy of communication.

no hyphen imageHyphenation comes with many rules (see left and below), few of which get committed to memory (unlike the spelling rule i before e except after c). Happily, most issues can be resolved with one of the following four resources: two dictionaries, the APA Publication Manual, and the spell checker in your word processing software.

1.  Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (or, if needed, Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, published in 2002). Try Merriam-Webster’s first; it’s APA’s primary source. Hardbound versions are updated regularly; the 11th edition is the current one. But you can find many words in the online version:  Not only is it the easiest to access, it’s also the most up-to-date.                                                              

2.  APA Publication Manual (6th edition). The manual’s three tables offer comprehensive guidance in the form of rules (pp. 97–100):
  • Guide to hyphenating terms
  • Prefixes and suffixes that do not require hyphens
  • Prefixed words that require hyphens (In this case, be sure to use the hyphen (-) rather than the longer en dash (–).

3.  APA Dictionary of Psychology, published in 2007. If there’s any doubt about a term in psychology, use this dictionary. After all, APA stands for American Psychological Association.

4.  Your word processing software’s spell checker. It can be helpful in pointing out words with prefixes and suffixes that don't need hyphens (e.g., subquestion v. sub-question).

While hyphenation can seem complicated and frustrating, getting it right makes a difference. For more discussion of this punctuation mark, see the Writing Center’s web page

Tim McIndoo

Tim McIndoo, who has been a dissertation editor since 2007, has more than 30 years of editorial experience in the fields of medicin
e, 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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Writing Support by the Numbers

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If you can believe it, this former Composition 101 instructor probably spends more time in an Excel spreadsheet than he does in a Word doc. I’m not sure how many writing center directors can say that, but there it is.

You see, part of my job is determining who you, our users, are—what programs you’re enrolled in, what writing center services you use, and how you heard about us. These data help inform services, new and old, and make sure that we are providing the kind of support you want and need.

Anyway, I thought it might be fun if I shared a bit about who you are and who and what you use in the Walden Writing Center. For instance, did you know that the writing center’s instructors review close to 1,000 student papers a month (twice as many papers as there are seats on a 747)? Or that students in our education programs are our biggest users? (We serve more education students monthly than there are people who live in Potlatch, Idaho.)

Here are a few other eye-opening statistics:
  • Nearly 28% of the student body at Walden will use a writing center service at least once per quarter. (That’s almost 12,000 students, roughly the population of Cuba!)
  • Our website sees over 3 million hits a year.
  • Over 800 students attend our webinars a month. (That’s the equivalent of every current NBA player attending a webinar… twice.) 
    Scores 30 points a game. Still bitter about APA 6th edition.
  • Walden Writing Center staff (29 full timers) hold nearly 60 degrees.
  • It can take a dissertation editor almost 12 hours to complete a form-and-style review (as long as all three Lord of the Rings movies combined or a flight from Denver to Tokyo).
    One does not simply skim a dissertation.
  • The center’s social media services reach over 480,000 people a year (close to Graceland’s annual attendance).
  • Walden students submit nearly 90,000 drafts a month to Grammarly. (If everyone in Cowboy Stadium submitted one paper to Grammarly, they still wouldn’t submit as much as Walden does in a given month.)
    not one knows what a gerund is

If there’s a point to all this—and I hope there is—it’s that you use us…a lot…and in a lot of different ways. And if you aren’t accessing all of these services, please do. They’re there—and popular—for a reason.

Brian Timmerman---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Writing Center Director Brian Timmerman's research interests are "focused on ludology, game theory, and narrative in interactive lit." He advises students to investigate the broader context of a topic, rather than just presenting it in isolation.

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Winners of the WUWC Haiku Contest

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In honor of National Poetry Month, the Walden Writing Center ran a haiku contest in April. Entrants had to be Walden students, and their submissions had to be in the traditional 5-7-5 syllabic structure on the theme of writing.

And now we give you...our winners!
Is it 'I' or 'me'?
When do I use 'us' or 'we'?
Staff, I must agree. 
~Jackie Rebideau

APA Guide...Check.
Spelling and References...Check.
Student I am...Check. 
~Alissa Geurink

We loved the playfulness of Jackie's poem and her focus on one specific aspect of scholarly writing: point of view. In Alissa's haiku, we enjoyed the repetition of "Check" (we envisioned a student proofreading a paper) and her mention of the APA manual as a resource.

Congratulations, Jackie and Alissa! Keep writing!

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