Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Pettis Perry (Part 2) -->

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

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


  1. Thank you for sharing the tips on writing info. I am undergoing the process of dissertation writing from Capella and having tough time. In fact, I asked for an editor from editnpublish.com to help me with improving my writing and he came back to tell me that my writing was weak and required a rewrite before an editor could help. Your post is guiding on how to write which is good and I will recommend a similar blog for Capella as well.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Puneet! We're so glad you found the post helpful. We have many other posts about writing dissertations, too. Some of them are specific to Walden dissertations, but many of them are not, and you might find them helpful as well.

      We also encourage you to browse through our
      posts on academic writing
      . We have posts on outlining, paragraphing, thesis statements, transitions, and much more.