February 2016 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Don't Just Write a Paper, Take a Trip

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Have you ever asked this question before: Do I really need to take the time and go through a writing process to achieve a good quality paper?  This is a question most people who have written an academic paper have asked themselves at some point in time, especially during tight deadlines and time constraints. I confess, I have.  

The answer is yes. You do have to go through a writing process to achieve quality writing. However, it does not have to be just any process. Producing good quality writing most often involves some type of pre-writing, outlining, drafting, and revision, which can all add up to be a lot. However, instead of the writing process being an extra series of tasks or chores to trudge through (sometimes begrudgingly), I suggest you look at your process in a new way and try something different to make it work for you. Try this. Each time you start a new piece of scholarly writing that involves research, imagine your writing process like taking a trip, the trip of a lifetime, complete with a satisfying narrative. 

Beginning –The Pre-writing
I encourage you to begin your writing process, as you would your travels, with keen analysis. From your experience as both a traveler and a researcher, you will gain useful information and you will find flaws in your information. When you travel, you may encounter the hotel brochure’s description of your quaint charming accommodations was just an act to masquerade that your room is nothing more than a mop closet with a doll sized bed. In turn, as you do your research you may find that one of your sources produced a thorough analysis of the season of winter, spring, and fall, but for some reason left out summer. You make a decision to look to a different research source or to look into reasons as to why the author of this source may have done left out summer. Your individual take on your own experience with the information you acquire on your topic is the value of your paper. Your readers want to gain your perspective: the pros, the cons, your response to them, and your stance on your experience (your trip) and what you make of it all.

Middle – The Outline 
From there, you must decide how you will document your journey –the process of transcribing your thoughts into words. The thing is – is that thinking is not a linear process, and molding and shaping thoughts from the brain into linear formats like paragraphs and essays involves transformation. Thus, the very nature of the writing process itself helps connect writers to a linear path. This linear path is your outline, often referred to as a road map that illustrates how you want your readers to get from Point A to Point B and so on.

Because the writing process is cyclical, meaning you do not have to follow a specific chronological writing process order, like: pre-writing first, then outlining, next drafting/composing, and last revision, you can go out of order and shape the way you write just like when you travel and decide how would reach your destination.  You are free to orchestrate it however you would like. If you prefer to take the train to a cafĂ© and then bike out to the coast, do it. Or, if you prefer to take the train the whole way to the coast, you can make that choice. You can decide because it’s your trip. Similarly, if you want to free-write then create a draft, or if you want to create a draft, revise, and then brainstorm, it’s up to you to decide. It’s your paper. Navigate your thinking process like you navigate a trip, choose what is the easiest and most enjoyable for you.

End –The Product
The climax of the writing process is when the writer discovers what her thesis or the purpose statement will be and sees the subtopics that will further support and prove the thesis to be true. This revelation presents the ah-ha moment, for the writer now has solved the problem of what to write about regarding the topic at hand and knows the one main point, the overall stance she will take on her topic. This is the moment when the whole paper often comes together and falls into place – so to speak and the outline, the road map, the plan is realized. For example, I may conclude my tropical vacation presented island life as a series of marketing disappointments among a back drop of serene natural environments. In regards to my research topic, I may determine that the Midwestern climate presents four distinct seasons that parallel human states of being. In both cases I have reached a final main point based on my interpretation of my topic.

And it’s all downhill from here. When you engage in your writing process, you really can partake in a narrative trip to a new destination and discover your topic in a new and rejuvenating way.  I highly encourage you to do so! Throw yourself into new territory, and be a traveler in your own narrative writing process from the beginning all the way to the end.

Christina Lundburg
 is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center and is driven by the desire to grow, shape, and develop a page to reach its highest potential. When she is not immersed in student papers, she enjoys dance classes, coffee shopes, and time with her husband and son. 

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Thursday Thoughts: myPass Primer Tonight!

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Are you curious to learn more about the 1-on-1 paper review services that the Walden University Writing Center offers? Would you like to know more about the kind of feedback you might receive when you submit your paper to one of our professional writing instructors? Has your instructor suggested you seek out additional writing instruction to help you develop your skills as an academic writer? You're in luck!

What: A primer event explaining the process of making a paper review appointment 
When: Tonight, February 25th at 8:00-8:30 pm est
Why: To learn how to make a paper review appointment so you can work with a professional writing instructor to improve your academic writing
Who: All undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral students writing their coursework
Where: A fully online, live webinar (Register Here)

Tonight, we are hosting a live event illustrating the steps for accessing myPass, the Writing Center's scheduling service, and making an appointment to work with a professional writing instructor. During this primer, there will be an experienced Writing Center staff member on hand to answer your questions about the process and help you make your first appointment.  

Register for this event on our Registration Page

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Take the Time to Write: On Completing a Dissertation with Sustained, Regular Effort

Writing a capstone study can be daunting. Finishing my dissertation was a hugely overwhelming and often anguishing experience– mentally and emotionally as well as physically—and I often thought of quitting along the way. I know that I’m not alone. Here, I want to share a tip that helped me to overcome my insecurities and despair and eventually finish my dissertation. My tip: Create a regular writing schedule and stick to it.

A stair case alongside the words take the time to write.


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Staff Spotlight: Get to Know AWA Cherri Brown

The WritingCenter’s AWAs (Administrative Writing Assistants) are Walden students with a mission and a desire to help others. When you email the Writing Center, chances are you'll be communicating directly with an AWA. This group assists fellow students with APA and writing questions, and seeks to bring about social change in their own communities and fields of study. From time to time on the blog, we will be spotlighting some of our very own Walden student AWAs to share the great work they're doing in the Writing Center and Beyond.

A welcome image for our staff spotlight series

An entrepreneur, visionary, and teacher, AWA Cherri Brown clearly lives with a desire to live passionately and help others. She began her professional life working for the original Pan Am, which allowed her to visit at least 80 nations and develop relationships (which continue today) with people all over the world. When she later moved to Puerto Rico with her husband and family, she opened a catering and event planning business. She also wrote as a food editor for Scripps-Howard, performed a weekly CBS radio broadcast, taught at the island's only cook school, and “played with food” on television cook shows.

When life brought Cherri, her husband, and her children back to the United States and hurricane damage forced her business to close, Cherri was determined to pursue her dream of teaching. After divinity school, a program as a full-time student (living in a dorm and only visiting family on summers and holidays), and then a move to a program back home, Cherri completed her MBA. She later enrolled as a Walden student. She is currently teaching Introduction to Psychology as an adjunct professor for Andrew College and working on the final stages of her dissertation.

We asked Cherri to share a few tidbits about herself, her tips for students reaching out the Writing Center, and her plans for after graduation. Here are her responses:

Walden University Writing Center: What are your interests and hobbies?

Cherri Brown: Making water color paints from stuff around the property (flowers, red clay dirt, plants, tree bark, tree sap, just stuff), then painting (acrylic and oils, coffee and tea, mustard, ground peppers, all sorts of things); making some furniture from some of the trees that uprooted in a storm a few years back.  I write, I read, I write s'more; I record printed materials for others; photography (my Nikon is not functioning, it's old, and the newer model is horrid, Nikon refuses to service or even talk about my D70);  grow and preserve more foods. I love creating new dishes because that's the caterer in me (probably why I paint with food).

WUWC: What was your program of study here at Walden?

CB: Psychology, Education

WUWC: What drew you to want to study at Walden?

CB: Researched the online education offerings. I wanted just a click away, to stay home; one child and her children moved back in. Lots of family love and considerations. Click away was choice. Met with and random called many WU faculty. Checked credibility ratings with friends in big biz, people in high places: Results all positive, so WU it was.

WUWC: You worked as an Administrative Writing Assistant with the Writing Center for almost 2 years. What is the one thing students should keep in mind when emailing the writingsupport@waldenu.edu email with a question?

CB: Consider the e-mail a formal academic writing assignment. Clarity and detail are equally important. We're here to help, that's our only job, so help us help you.

WUWC: What are your plans once you receive your WaldenU degree?

CB: If Democrat President in 2016, then a chat with folks who know folks who introduced me to folks who I met with and asked me to return upon graduation to lend their ears to a pilot program I have for teaching English to non-English speaking immigrants to the U.S. with special attention to Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants.
To continue writing and publishing about all the background noise, to finish the book with three co-authors (they have been extremely patient), to buy a new chair and petrify the one I've been sitting in for too many years as a reminder of the price of goals and end visions.
To get folks with “bux” motivated to invest in properties with buildings for housing homeless female veterans and their children. We are a very dedicated group of women.
My friends still vote for me to run for the Senate or House. I think maybe they just don't understand that social change begins with the little steps when no one is looking and few know or care about who the changer might be or how the change was done, but it was, and the changer sleeps well.
Oh, and after Andrew College, I'd love to teach at WU because it's a good place to share.

Many thanks to Cherri for all her hard work!

Head shot of AWA Cherri Brown

Cherri Brown
 was born in California somewhere between Topanga Canyon and the Santa Monica Hospital. She and her family grow, harvest, and preserve a whole host of foods at home and live in a semirural area. She was a wonderful AWA and she will be missed as she moves on to bigger better things.  

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Can You Doodle Your Way to Better Writing?

Can you really doodle your way to better writing? Perhaps, if you’re a kinesthetic or visual learner. Students are familiar with their academic interests but often not their learning style strengths and preferences. Learning style refers to how a student might approach an assignment to help them focus on and develop the skills necessary for it. Understanding your learning style preferences can mean the difference between staring at a blank computer screen for hours and actively engaging in the process of writing.

Title Image for this blog post from the Walden University Writing Center


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Thursday Thoughts: A Revamped Writing Resource You've Maybe Never Used

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Readers of this blog know about lots of the Walden U Writing Center resources like our live webinars, our PodCast, and our R.E.M.-inspired blog posts. But we recently upgraded one of our lesser-known but extremely helpful writing resource that you’ve maybe never used: Writing Modules. Our two most popular series of modules, Plagiarism Prevention and APA References & Citation, have recently been completely revamped and updated. 

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From Prompt to Post: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Effective Discussion Posts

From Prompt to Post: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Effective Discussion Posts

Have you ever felt unsure about how to write a discussion post?  Today on the blog, we offer a 7-step strategy to help you create a discussion post with clear purpose, effective organization, strong evidence, and logical reasoning. To demonstrate how this can be done, let’s take a look at a hypothetical discussion post prompt and use it to go through each of the seven steps. This prompt will serve as the basis for all of the examples below:

For your Week 4 discussion post, please reflect on and explain your reasons for attending Walden and the ways that you see your pursuit of your degree furthering your professional goals. Reflect on why you choose to attend Walden University and what it is about the university, your program, Walden’s mission, or the learning environment that led you to pursue your degree here. In addition, please explain what you hope to achieve personally through your learning at Walden and how you see your degree furthering your professional goals. Provide specific examples from your experiences, and cite all relevant information in APA format.

In the sections below, you’ll find tips for how to approach writing your own discussion post illustrated by examples that respond to this hypothetical prompt. Let’s get started.

Step 1: Understand the Assignment and Isolate the Guiding Questions.  Before you start writing, it’s a good idea to take your assignment prompt, break it down into pieces, and then figure out what you’re really being asked.  For example, using the prompt provided above, here are the guiding questions that emerge:

1.   Why did you choose to attend Walden University? 
2.   What is it about the university, your program, Walden’s mission, or the environment that led you to choose to pursue your degree here?
3.   What do you hope to achieve personally through your learning at Walden?
4.   How do you see your degree furthering your professional goals?

This prompt is asking students to reflect on their reasons for choosing Walden and explain how Walden will help them personally and professionally in the future, which will require use of the first person singular such as I, me, and my. In addition, these questions suggest that this post is going to be quite personal and may not require much outside research. If you have further questions, you can read our understanding the assignment webpage or listen to our podcast episode on assignment instructions for more ideas.

Step 2: Break the Questions Down into Paragraph Sized Chunks. Once you know what questions you’re being asked, you can choose how to group them into topics that will guide your paragraphs. Questions 1 and 2 from above are quite similar, so those could be combined in one paragraph. Questions 3 and 4 are different though, so those could be separate. Using the outlined questions above, here are some options for paragraph focus:

1.   Why did you choose to attend Walden University, and what is it about the university, your program, Walden’s mission, or the learning environment that led you to pursue your degree here?
2.   What do you hope to achieve personally through your learning at Walden?
3.   How do you see your degree furthering your professional goals?

Sometimes, each question will result in its own paragraph (as with questions 2 and 3 here).  Other times, similar questions can be grouped together and answered in one paragraph (as illustrated with question 1 here). In other instances, you might need a few paragraphs to answer a complicated question.

Step 3: Write Topic Sentences.  One way to draft a topic sentence is to take one of your questions and then write a succinct response to it. This succinct response will overview the main idea of the paragraph to come.  For example, topic sentences for the questions above could read like this:

1.    I chose Walden University because of its commitment to social change and the flexibility of the online program for working professionals.
2.    Personally, I hope to learn how to more effectively integrate research into my nursing practice with increased knowledge of Evidence Based Practice.
3.    Receiving my MSN from Walden will allow me to more successfully accomplish my professional goals of becoming a nursing leader and influencing the quality of patient care.

These sample topic sentences don’t give away everything, but they hint at some overarching main ideas and function as signposts for the reader.  Topic sentences also make the writer’s job easier. While these topic sentences may change after the rest of the paragraph has been written, having a topic sentence to start will assist in guiding your ideas and the focus of the paragraph.

Step 4: Build Paragraphs by Adding Evidence, Analysis, and Lead Outs.  The next step is to fill in the rest of these body paragraphs using the MEAL plan for paragraphing.  Using the MEAL plan, paragraphs will start with a Main Idea (M), followed by Evidence (E), with that Evidence supported by Analysis (A), and ending in a Lead out (L).  For example, this first body paragraph of the outline above could read like this:

I chose Walden University because of its commitment to social change and the flexibility of the online program for working professionals [Main Idea]. When I became an RN 15 years ago, I did so because I wanted to make a difference in my community. I saw a need for compassionate and knowledgeable nurses, and I knew that I could fill that gap. After working all this time in the health care field, I still feel passionately about helping my community, but I don’t always feel like I know the best ways how to do that. Walden’s mission is to provide “a diverse community of career professionals with the opportunity to transform themselves as scholar-practitioners so that they can effect positive social change” (Walden University, 2015, para. 4) [Evidence]. I support this mission and believe that pursuing my degree here will allow me to be a more effective social change agent [Analysis]. In addition, I want to pursue my MSN while still working full time as an RN, and this decision cut out many potential programs that require attendance in the classroom [Evidence]. Walden’s online environment will allow me to pursue my degree in order to be better at my job while still working my job [Analysis]. Overall, I am pursuing my degree at Walden because of my passion for social change and desire to still work full time while being in school, which Walden not only allows but supports [Lead Out].

Since this prompt is reflective, the evidence here is personal example along with a quotation of the Walden mission.  All of these elements work together to clearly show the reader the response to the question and to offer support, reasoning, and concluding thoughts. You can watch a recording of our Writing Effective Academic Paragraphs webinar for more about the MEAL Plan.

Step 5: Write an Introduction. The introduction for a discussion post functions in a similar fashion to introductions in other forms of academic writing, but since a post is a shorter document, its introduction can be shorter, too. The two main things that are needed are background information and a clear statement of purpose. For example, an introduction for this sample could read as follows:

Professionals choose to go back to college for many reasons including to learn more, to get a promotion, to earn more money, to switch careers, or to make a difference. Students that come to Walden have unique reasons because of Walden’s mission for social change and its 100% online environment [Background]. The purpose of this discussion post is to share why I chose to pursue my MSN at Walden University and to explain what I hope to achieve personally and professionally [Purpose Statement].

Although some may start the process of writing a discussion post with the introduction, waiting until this moment to write the introduction allows you to have a better understanding of (1) what background information your reader needs to know and (2) what you are doing in the post so that you can clearly state your purpose.

Step 6: Write a Conclusion. Like an introduction, the conclusion for a discussion post can also be brief.  The conclusion paragraph is an opportunity to restate your main ideas from the post and discuss the significance of the post.  For example, a conclusion paragraph for this sample prompt might be as follows:

While several factors came together to drive me to pursue my MSN at Walden University, the online environment and commitment to social change were the significant components that prompted me to make my decision to enroll here [Restate Main Ideas]. In the next few semesters, pursuing this degree will help me personally as I learn more about Evidence Based Practice and professionally as I strive to become a nursing leader and influence the quality of patient care in my place of work [Significance].

For more on these parts of your paper, we recommend our conclusions webpage and the recording of our Beginnings and Endings: Introduce and Conclude Your Writing webinar.

Step 7: Revise and Edit. The paper draft is now complete which means that it’s time to revise and edit.  This is also a good time to add transitions and connect ideas. Here are some strategies for revising and editing:

·      Make a Paper Review appointment and get some feedback from a Writing Instructor on your draft.
·      Ask a friend, family member, colleague, or peer to read through your post and give you revision or editing ideas.
·      Read through your post out loud to catch anything that sounds odd, and revise or edit.
·      Set your discussion post draft aside and revisit it later since distance can increase clarity for revision and editing.
·      Run your paper through Grammarly to get ideas for editing and proofreading.

For more ideas on how to revise, see our revision webpage, learning to revise blog post, or Improving Your Writing: Strategies for Revising, Proofing, and Using Feedback webinar recording.  In addition, you can read our proofreading webpage for more tips on how to proofread and edit.

There you have it: seven steps for drafting a discussion post. If you’re looking for further discussion post writing strategies, you might also appreciate our webpage on writing a successful discussion post and our Writing and Responding to Discussion Posts webinar recording.

Best to you as you prepare to write your next discussion post. Please let us know in the comments how this strategy works for you or if you have questions or other approaches that you’d like to share for how to write and draft discussion posts.

Happy writing!

Jes Philbrook author picture

Jes Philbrook
is a Writing Instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. An experienced online teacher and tutor, Jes has graded and tutored many discussion posts these last few years, so these tips come from much practice reviewing student writing. She lives in Columbia, Missouri with her husband and two cats as she continues to write her dissertation in pursuit of her PhD in English at the University of Missouri.

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Thursday Thoughts: WriteCast Returns!

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The Writing Center is proud to announce the return of the WriteCast Podcast. 

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Painless Paragraphs: The NO TEARS Plan for Composing Academic Prose

Strong paragraph organization is the key to effective synthesis and logical flow of ideas in academic writing. If you’ve heard us talk about paragraphing before, you’ve likely heard of the MEAL plan. A new mnemonic device for paragraphing, called the NO TEARS plan, can also help guide you as you craft an argument paragraph by paragraph. Read on to learn more. 


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