How to Write for Positive Social Change -->

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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)

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.


  1. Well said. I have actually struggled to write up this section. Not that I didn't know what to write or what social change is all about, but some reviewers still don't see the change from your point of view even after you have spilled the whole beans you have on the topic. That takes me back to the question again "what exactly is positive change?" It seems to me different people still have different understanding of this. Thanks very much for the discussion.Its much clearer now.

    1. Hello, My name is Brian Wells. I can completely understand your point of view. To say one thing could mean so much or mean so little. I am more the type of person who would be actually at the point where my idea has been already rough draft and is close to be exercised.

    2. Hi, Brian. Thanks for your comment. Going through the drafting process can be tricky, especially when you are trying to keep your ideas consistent. However, in our experience, the best writing is revised writing. Let your passion and ideas guide you, but don't be afraid to revise, revisit, and reinterpret the words and ideas you have on your page.

      Keep up the great work!

  2. This is such an important question to ask (and seek an answer to). Thank you, anonymous comment-leaver. Positive social change is something that is embedded in the mission of Walden University, and each and every capstone project conducted at Walden has a component thereof.

    I'd be very curious to learn how you approached this in your Capstone project. How did you successfully explain to your reader what "positive social change" is in the context of your project? If someone disagreed with your definition, how did you persuade them?

    Would any other readers out there care to explain what positive social change means to you? How might it influence scholarly research/writing? And how can we make sure we are doing ethical research to achieve this goal?

  3. As I started the process of looking into finishing my BSN, I admit I was overwhelmed by the amount of online degree programs. As I researched each school they all seemed to have one common theme, finish fast. While I admit that is appealing, especially at my age, I felt like I needed a better value for my hard earned dollar. I took a step back for a week or so and a good friend said to look at Walden. Its refreshing to see not only do they provide a quality education but they are helping to make better students and create change in this chaotic, changing world. I'm excited to begin my journey here.

    1. Oh my gosh, thank you so much for this comment!! We at the Writing Center couldn't agree more with this sentiment. Walden U and its students do great work for the common good. We all feel very lucky to be here. :) Good luck as you work towards your BSN!!

  4. I have to admit that as I have progressed through my PhD, I was struggling with understanding the aspects of social change. While I understood the general definition, I was unsure of how to work it into my discussions and papers. The discussion you provided helped me to better understand my role and how my research can benefit others. Thank you!!!

    1. We're so happy to help, and we would love to hear more about your research! Thanks for reading!

  5. My name is Faith. First, thank you for a clear explanation of how to write for positive social change. I, like others, have a basic understanding of what I want to see happen to make life a little better for others. I also had somewhat exaggerated anxiety about writing during my capstone in a couple of years from now (I did say it was exaggerated anxiety). Reading this made so much sense! Like an "Ah-ha!" moment, I gained needed clarity. Thanks to this reading, I decided that I am going to start researching early so that I will be prepared and more fluid in my delivery when I reach the capstone course! Walden Writing Center is phenomenal and I am thrilled to be a student here.

    1. We are so glad you are here, Faith! It takes people like you, who have a vision for how to improve the world, to actually make it happen. Whatever we can do to support your is our honor.