October 2013 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Writing Through Fear

I suppose fall is the perfect time to discuss fear. The leaves are falling, the nights are getting longer, and the kids are preparing ghoulish costumes and tricks for Halloween.

So here’s my scary story: A few weeks ago, I sat down at my computer to revise an essay draft for an upcoming deadline. This is old hat for me; it’s what I do in my personal life as a creative writer, and it’s what I do in my professional life as a Walden Writing Center instructor. As I was skimming through it, though, a feeling of dread settled in my stomach, I began to sweat, and my pulse raced. I was having full-on panic. About my writing.

Image of fear

This had never happened to me before. Sure, I have been disappointed in my writing, frustrated that I couldn’t get an idea perfectly on paper, but not completely fear-stricken. I Xed out of the Word document and watched Orange Is the New Black on Netflix because I couldn’t look at the essay anymore. My mind was too clouded for anything productive to happen.

The experience got me thinking about the role that fear plays in the writing process. Sometimes fear can be a great motivator. It might make us read many more articles than are truly necessary, just so we feel prepared enough to articulate a concept. It might make us stay up into the wee hours to proofread an assignment. But sometimes fear can lead to paralysis. Perhaps your anxiety doesn’t manifest itself as panic at the computer; it could be that you worry about the assignment many days—or even weeks—before it is due.

Here are some tips to help: 

1. Interrogate your fear. Ask yourself why you are afraid. Is it because you fear failure, success, or judgment? Has it been a while since you’ve written academically, and so this new style of writing is mysterious to you?

2. Write through it. We all know the best way to work through a problem is to confront it. So sit at your desk, look at the screen, and write. You might not even write your assignment at first. Type anything—a reflection on your day, why writing gives you anxiety, your favorite foods. Sitting there and typing will help you become more comfortable with the prospect of more.

3. Give it a rest
. This was my approach. After realizing that I was having an adverse reaction, I called it quits for the day, which ultimately helped reset my brain.

4. Find comfort in ritual and reward
. Getting comfortable with writing might involve establishing a ritual (a time of day, a place, a song, a warm-up activity, or even food or drink) to get yourself into the writing zone. If you accomplish a goal or write for a set amount of time, reward yourself.

5. Remember that knowledge is power.
Sometimes the only way to assuage our fear is to know more. Perhaps you want to learn about the writing process to make it less intimidating. Check out the Writing Center’s website for tips and tutorials that will increase your confidence. You can also always ask your instructor questions about the assignment.

6. Break it down.
If you feel overwhelmed about the amount of pages or the vastness of the assignment, break it up into small chunks. For example, write one little section of the paper at a time.

7. Buddy up. Maybe you just need someone with whom to share your fears—and your writing. Ask a classmate to be a study buddy or join an eCampus group. 

The writing centers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Richmond, as well as the news site Inside Higher Ed, also have helpful articles on writing anxiety.

Hillary Wentworth

Writing Instructor and Coordinator of Undergraduate Writing Initiatives Hillary Wentworth works and writes from her home in Portland, Maine. When she's not at a computer, she likes to read, roller skate, and travel to new places.


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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Pettis Perry (Part 2)

When we asked Dr. Pettis Perry to answer our faculty spotlight questions, he responded with a treasure trove of insights—so much so that we decided to break his response into two parts. Click here to read Part 1, and enjoy Part 2 below!
Expert advice from Dr. Pettis Perry
Dr. Pettis Perry, Ed.D., is a core faculty member and program
coordinator of the Master of Science in Leadership Program.

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

The most significant shaping experience came from my father, who only completed 15 months of formal education but taught himself how to read and write. When I asked my dad how to spell a word, he would tell me to get the dictionary and we looked up the word together. I learned that not understanding something was not an excuse for failure, and I also learned to keep a dictionary handy, which I do to this day.

A second experience that shaped my work with students was that I failed every writing proficiency test I took. Over time, I discovered that sitting down to write about a foreign subject did not allow my brain sufficient time to process the information so that I could use it. Once I began to understand how I processed information, I adjusted my approach to my school and professional work.

My favorite teacher from my Jesuit training required us to write single-page papers regardless of the amount of reading. This forced me to learn how to write much more effectively and with greater impact. I was also inspired by the lack of feedback I received from many of my instructors over the years. My response was to make a personal commitment that if I ever ended up in a classroom, I would do everything I could to help students.

Recently, I remembered my high school counselor telling me that I shouldn’t consider going to college because I would not succeed, and the difficulties I had with writing assessments seemed to reinforce that opinion. However, by the time I presented my dissertation, a committee member commented that my dissertation was one of the best he had seen in 20 years of teaching.

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

Clearly articulate your expectations and provide substantive content feedback as well as technical writing feedback. Consider the student perspective: We have so much variation in our faculty expectations that it creates problems for students who are confused as they move from class to class. Students complain that many of their faculty provided them 100% scores with little or no feedback, leading them to believe that there wasn't anything that needed improvement. It is certainly much easier for us as faculty to simply give students grades rather than forcing them to earn their grades in an environment of tough academic scrutiny, and it can be potentially more lucrative in terms of how high grades may relate to more positive student evaluations and, therefore, higher faculty performance evaluations. However, who is being helped when we do this? If we truly want to support our students, then we have to do the right thing by letting students know when they are doing well and when they need additional support. 

What advice do you have for students who want to improve their writing?
seek writing feedback

Be willing to embrace critical feedback and learning from your instructors. Even strong writers have things to learn in order to write more effectively. Seek feedback when it’s not provided, and focus on the learning rather than the GPA. Cultivate relationships with your instructors by asking questions and seeking understanding regarding the logic of your grades, and seek out those who will give you honest and tough feedback rather than feedback you want to hear.

Work on language skills every opportunity you get. Practice them during every discussion, application, presentation, or memo. 

Be patient with yourself as you journey through your degree. Remember that the formal education process is a demanding process that requires a substantial time commitment over a finite period. Informing friends and family members about those commitments can open up scheduled time for writing and completing assignments. Create holes in your schedule, such as working on assignments while using public transportation, during work breaks, or after putting children to sleep.

Since writing requires synthesizing and communicating information, create a system for managing information consumption, reflection time, and writing time. For example, the MSL program follows a day 3-7 posting schedule. This creates opportunities for completing all of the required reading during days 1-2. Do the reading in order of how the materials will be used for each assignment, which gives your brain an opportunity to process the information in preparation for using it sequentially.

Take some time to become familiar with your designated writing manual. Review the table of contents and the example papers, but live in the index. Only submit your best work and take ownership of the work you submit. Everyone is busy, so none of us can use that as an excuse for the quality of the work that we submit. Remember, your ideas belong to you.

Be excited about your education journey and passionate about your subject, and you will find it easier to sustain momentum. There simply isn’t any substitute for a positive attitude and passion about your work. In fact, when we are passionate about the things we do, we generally do not see the effort as drudgery but rather as an investment in something we truly enjoy.

writing in the fieldHow is a student’s ability to write related to success in your field?

Whether a leader is seen as credible is closely tied to his or her ability to use language effectively. Leaders have to be able to communicate to a wide variety of stakeholders, such as employees, board members, customers, or vendors. In order to adjust their message effectively, leaders have to be able to communicate using a variety of mediums that require the ability to write well.

Functionally, the smaller the organization, the more the leader has to do to produce reports and correspondence. When leaders are unable to communicate clearly, concisely, and effectively, they inadvertently produce dysfunction within their organizations. The ability to communicate effectively will make the difference between success and failure, not only for the leader, but for the entire organization.

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

I used to collect movies and recently had to get rid of more than ¾ of my collection (about 350 movies) because of a lack of space in my new home.

Other posts in our Spotlight series:

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Pettis Perry (Part 1)

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. K. Elizabeth McDonald

Student Spotlight: Mary Eldredge-Sandbo


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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Pettis Perry (Part 1)

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This faculty spotlight features Dr. Pettis Perry, Ed.D., core faculty and program coordinator of the Master of Science in Leadership Program. When we asked Dr. Perry to answer our faculty spotlight questions, he responded with a treasure trove of insights—so much so that we decided to break his response into two parts. Enjoy Part 1!
Expert advice from Dr. Pettis Perry

What are the most common writing challenges for your students?

Becoming familiar with the rules of the game.
Writing is both a science and an art; it has to be approached both technically and creatively. The science encompasses all of the rules of the game associated with writing according to the writing style being used (APA, in the case of Walden) and expectations established by the academic program. For example, the MSL program is an applied theory program, so in addition to language usage and formatting,  the rubrics contain assessments for how well the theory was applied, content accuracy, how well the narrative was organized, critical thinking, and creativity. The art of writing encompasses the ability to convey ideas fully, clearly, concisely, and interestingly. Students sometimes have difficulty here because it is so dependent upon strength of language skills and the creative centers in the brain.

Learning the language and subject matter of the discipline.
Learning the language of the discipline (subject matter) that is being studied is fundamental to communicating effectively and authoritatively. The way to learn the language of the discipline is much like learning anything new: A writer must use the words and phrases that structure the language of the subject. With practice, the degree of familiarity with the language and subject matter will come through in how we communicate our ideas.

Owning your current skills with a thirst to grow developmentally.
common student writing challengesThe willingness to own our current writing skills is central to learning how to write well. If writers assume that they write well and have nothing more to learn, they will meet feedback with denial, frustration, and defensiveness. As frustrating as it might be to receive substantive content and writing feedback, finding ways to set the ego aside is crucial to embracing valuable advice. Openly embracing the feedback may also lead to closer relationships with faculty members who are willing to work with students when they need additional support.

Creating the time and space to write.
Finding the time for organizing thoughts and conceptualizing the narrative before writing can become an overwhelming exercise, particularly for working parents with young children. Yet, writing well takes time to construct, proofread, and draft multiple iterations before producing a final product of which to be proud. Creating the time and space to write may entail keeping a list of content notes and ideas, writing individual segments of an assignment as time permits, and then compiling the work into the final document in a final sitting. Being flexible and creative about how to complete assignments creates opportunities for completing the work with less self-imposed pressure.

Learning to demonstrate critical thinking.
The MSL program and many other programs at Walden University emphasize the need to demonstrate strong critical thinking skills as part of becoming a scholar-practitioner. Critical thinking is defined here as demonstrating the ability to read, comprehend, synthesize, and use theory-based literature by applying it to real-world or case study examples.  Demonstrating critical thinking competency requires several skills, such as (a) identifying a problem by analyzing an operational work environment, personal experience, or case study; (b) identifying and discussing the applicable theory that might help explain what was observed; (c) selecting a real-life experience or case study example that is reflective of the theory; and (d) applying the theory to the real-world example to demonstrate how the theory are applicable.

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

With student feedback, I created a course guide titled My Course Survival Guide, which I post in doc sharing for students to download. The guide covers a range of topics, including my expectations, helpful writing tips, and some of the more important APA rules with examples.

The feedback that I provide is intended to assist students with communicating their ideas more clearly, concisely, and powerfully to maximize the impact of their communications. The idea is to help them create what I refer to as bulletproof arguments that will withstand counterarguments and also to prepare them for their capstone documents. My bias is for how things are communicated rather than towards the direction of the narrative itself. Therefore, I provide substantive feedback regarding the application of theory and critical thinking and then references to improving technical writing.

When I come across students with language or critical-thinking deficiencies, I encourage them to contact and work with the Writing Center, which is a wonderful resource available to all students. As part of my feedback to students I also download and attach their Grammarly reports rather than trying to rewrite their papers for them as I used to do. I found that my attempts to provide detailed writing feedback were overwhelming students, so I changed tactics. Today, I combine into a single PDF document the graded paper, rubric, and Grammarly report so that the student has everything in one place.

I also make myself available by telephone. One of the positive outcomes of this practice is that the conversations not only answer questions and lead to increased learning, but they often lead to positive relationships with students that continue beyond graduation. My expectations are posted in several places in my classrooms. Whenever I get the chance, I strongly encourage students to cultivate a work ethic that includes doing whatever it takes to devour the subject resources and to submit only quality work.

Dr. Perry currently resides in Bellingham, Washington. Look for his insights in Part 2 of this faculty spotlight soon!

Other posts in our spotlight series:

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. K. Elizabeth McDonald

Student Spotlight: Mary Eldredge-Sandbo

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Demystifying Narrative vs. Parenthetical Citations

Most of you already know that APA style requires you to cite sources—but perhaps you are confused about how to do so. You may have heard of “in-text citations” and “parenthetical citations” and "narrative citations," but you may not know the difference or feel confident enough to execute them on your own.

So, to put your mind at ease, here are a few common questions we receive about citations, along with our answers.

What is an in-text citation?

The term “in-text” refers to any citation in your text. You can use the term "in-text citation" interachangably with "citation."

What is a narrative citation?
A narrative citation is a citation in which the author name appears in the sentence itself, rather than within parentheses. The author name is part of the meaning of the sentence. 


Nadeau (2013) stated that dogs make unique eye contact with humans.

What is a parenthetical citation?

A parenthetical citation is one that contains the required citation information within parentheses.


Dogs make unique eye contact with humans (Nadeau, 2013).

Patterson (2009) is an example of a narrative citation. Whereas, (Patternson, 2009) is an example of a parenthetical citation.

How do I know whether to use a narrative or parenthetical citation?

Is the author’s name grammatically necessary in the sentence? If yes, use an narrative citation; if no, use a parenthetical citation.

For example, in the example below, the author name “Nadeau” is grammatically necessary since it forms the sentence’s subject (doer of the action), thus requiring an in-text citation:

Nadeau (2013) stated that bright lights can make one sneeze.

However, in the next example, the author name has no grammatical place in the sentence, and therefore should appear within parentheses, along with the publication year, at the end of the sentence:

Bright lights can make one sneeze (Nadeau, 2013).

Can I use a narrative and parenthetical citation in the same sentence?

You should never cite any source information twice in the same sentence.

Example of an incorrect citation:

According to Nadeau, American football is an unusual sport (Nadeau, 2013).

Because the author name and publication year are already cited at the beginning of the sentence, the parenthetical citation is unnecessary.

However, if you are directly quoting a source and you choose to use a narrative citation, the page or paragraph number (which is required when quoting a source, per APA) will go inside parentheses after the quotation.


According to Nadeau (2013), “dill pickle chips are rather disgusting” (p. 3).

Other posts you might like:

APA Citations: The Method to the Madness

What's the Citation Frequency, Kenneth?

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

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

Nik Nadeau author image

Writing Instructor Nik Nadeau lives in Boston, where he loves to read, speed skate, cook, and write about Asian American topics. 


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Maintaining Confidentiality (Part 2)

In MaintainingConfidentiality (Part 1), I listed a few different places in a capstone study where you should be careful not to reveal the identity of your study site or participants, especially inadvertently through citations and documentation of the research process. This post offers some recommendations for actually writing about your study site or community partner without compromising confidentiality (particularly in introductions and discussions of the setting and participants).

Maintaining Confidentiality: Part II


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Writing for Positive Social Change Using Louise Dunlap's Undoing the Silence: Six Tools for Social Change Writing

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The idea of enabling positive social change is integral to student work at Walden University. Part of Walden’s mission is to help its students “enact positive social change,” and Walden’s vision is for students to use their education for “the greater global good.”  The Writing Center has also incorporated social change into our mission:  “Our staff of dedicated professionals supports students in building and applying their writing skills as scholars, practitioners, and agents of positive social change.” Walden’s Global Days of Service this week prompted me to think more about social change and how writing can contribute to Walden and the Writing Center’s missions of social change. 

Global Days of Service logo

One important component of social change is speaking up. When we work for social change, we speak up for what we believe is right. This means making our own voice heard, but it can also include helping others’ voices to be heard. Knowing how to speak up can be a challenge, particularly when we are working to address problems and issues about which we are passionate.

Louise Dunlap’s book Undoing the Silence: Six Tools for Social Change Writing addresses this idea of speaking up, highlighting the ability we all have to enact social change through writing. First, however, Dunlap believes that we must address the ways we are silenced, interrupting our ability to speak, before we can effectively promote social change. This silencing can manifest itself in ways that we often don’t recognize:

Louise Dunlap
Louise Dunlap. Photo (c) http://www.undoingsilence.org
“I…picture the silencing of our voices as a huge stifling knot, layered together with tangled strands from many aspects of our culture. In this knot, impulses we regard as deeply personal are interwoven and reinforced by the institutions around us” (p. 16).
What Dunlap suggests, however, is that this silence can be broken through writing. Writing, she says, can give everyone a voice and a way to be heard.

Undoing the silence is the goal of Dunlap’s book, and throughout each chapter she explains different tools to achieve this goal. Dunlap explains tools and techniques we can use at the very beginning of the writing process, like freewriting and brainstorming, but also tools that can help you consider the audience for your writing and revising for that audience.

Undoing the Science book cover
Photo (c) http://www.newvillagepress.net
As a Writing Instructor, I find Dunlap’s perspective refreshing. While many of the tools she talks about are topics we commonly discuss at the Writing Center (see avoiding bias and brainstorming), Dunlap’s approach to and perspective of writing is unique, and her change in perspective is engaging. She views all the fundamental tools we use as writers, our “writing toolbox,” within the context of social change. She sees these tools of writing as helping her readers better articulate their vision of social change. Reading her book, I found myself thinking about the writing process in a new and different way.

Because of her perspective, I recommend Dunlap’s book to anyone who aims to have a social change focus in their writing (hint: all Walden students). If you’re a doctoral student, Undoing the Silence—particularly Chapter 6, “The AUDIENCE Tool”—may help you articulate your social change statement in your study. If you’re a master’s student, Chapter 5, “The THINKING Tool,” can help you develop and deepen your ideas. If you’re an undergraduate student, pay particular attention to Chapter 3, “The FREEWRITING Tool,” to help you generate ideas.

But, no matter what type of student you are or what kind of writer, I encourage you to read Chapter 2, “Understanding the Silence.” In this chapter, Dunlap expands on ways she sees writers being silenced. Understanding the silence, Dunlap explains, is the first step to breaking the silence, enabling you to better articulate and enacte the social change you want to achieve.

How have you seen writing help you articulate and achieve social change? How have you broken through the silence to speak for social change? Let us know in the comments below!

Other posts you might like:

How to Write for Positive Social Change

Global Days of Service Week is Coming! #IAmSocialChange

Writing for Change on Earth Day (and Every Day)

Writing Instructor and Coordinator of Webinar Writing Instruction Beth Oyler writes about literature in her spare time and enjoys contemplating the possibilities writing creates.

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How to Write for Positive Social Change

We may bandy around the term positive social change so much that it may start to feel like another requirement, another box to check on the long list of goals to reach before finishing a degree. Sometimes, in the thick of course work or individual research, you can start to lose sight of the forest among the trees. It is important, and even energizing, to step back and reflect on the ways that the work you do can have a real impact on the world around you, from the most personal all the way to the global level.

Putting things into words is the first step before turning those words into action. The writing you do at Walden is a way for consolidating and refining your vision for the change you want to see. That’s the powerful thing about writing: It gives us the chance to articulate not just what is, but what could be. In order to make a better world, we have to first imagine one.

If you are pursuing a degree at Walden University that requires you to complete a thesis, dissertation, or doctoral or project study, one essential element you are required to explain is how the whole undertaking contributes to positive social change. But what does that mean, exactly? “Making the world a better place” can seem like a vast and overly vague enterprise. You may feel overwhelmed by being asked to explain how what you’ve been doing at your desk, alone in the library, or on your computer in your precious free moments could amount to something that could change the course of other people’s lives—but that is exactly what you are meant to do.
Want change? Make it.
image (c) http://www.besocialchange.com

Social Change Implications: Challenges and Approaches

One trap that writers can fall into is overstating the implications of their work to the point beyond what a generally informed reader would find logical. Be sure that the claims you make about your research fit the scope of what you can accomplish in a single study. If you are studying the relationship between effective management strategies and better client outcomes at a nonprofit organization for runaway adolescents, you will have a hard time convincingly arguing that your study will directly result in the eradication of teen homelessness worldwide—that’s a problem that is just too big for you to tackle alone. Remember that your study is one drop working together with many, many other drops all flowing in the same direction. Add up all those drops, and pretty soon you have a wave starting to carry things along.

The other mistake writers make is to understate or even diminish the study’s potential for positive impact for the very reason that the problem is too big for one person to take on; it’s just one little study, so how could it have any effect on how things get done in the rest of the world?

At a recent residency, a woman was describing to me her research proposal. She wanted to investigate strategies for helping kindergarten students in her school district who were underprepared at the beginning of the school year so that they would be better able to learn to read alongside their peers. “I’m really passionate about this issue,” she told me, “but I don’t know what it has to do with positive social change.”

Here’s the key to explaining your study’s implications for social change without over- or understating them—start with the tangible impact this new knowledge will bring and with the one individual or group of individuals you know will specifically benefit, and then see how far the wave crashes.

“Well,” I said to this student, “it might be helpful to start thinking about who would specifically benefit from your study and in what way.”

“You mean, why is it important for children to learn to read?” she said, sort of laughing.

Stopping to think through how her work was going to help the teachers and students in her study helped her see right away how those benefits could ripple out to the rest of the community. Strategies to improve literacy at an earlier age would help students achieve more success as they progressed through school, giving them more educational opportunities. Investigating the effective strategies could help educators bring the benefits to other schools and communities as well. No, she wasn’t going to solve the problems with literacy preparation in the education system in one study, but she was going to add an important drop to the wave moving things in that direction.

drop of water

Creating a Wave of Positive Social Change, One Drop at a Time

I am proud of Walden’s commitment to promoting positive change in the world. Whether it is in discussions with colleagues or interactions with students, the feeling is utterly palpable that everyone is genuinely interested in leaving whatever they touch a little better than they found it. As students, you commit your time and resources and dedicate months—often, years—of your lives pursuing degrees and researching topics that you will then use to help those around you and others in your field to progress and improve.

If it starts to get hard to see how the research you’re doing could realistically change the course of human events, or how one letter to the editor or discussion post could realistically change another person’s mind, just remember that your voice is one voice among many. One little drop may not seem as if it can do much on its own, but the resulting waves can carve and re-carve the very surface of the globe.

Other posts you might like:

Global Days of Service Week is Coming! #IAmSocialChange
Writing for Change on Earth Day (and Every Day)

Photograph of Lydia LunningSeeing the variety of social change projects Walden students pursue is one of Dissertation Editor Lydia Lunning’s favorite parts of reading dissertations.


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