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Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Thursday Thoughts: WriteCast Episode on Revision

Happy Thursday, Writers. If you're currently in a course at Walden U, you very well might be in the middle of your writing process for the week. Do you have a draft of a paper for a course that you're working on? Or maybe you're adapting a discussion post into a longer project? Are you currently between chapters in your Capstone project and need some added motivation? 

Then listen to WriteCast Episode 14 which is all about Revision! Join the conversation as Nik and Brittany discuss the five characteristics of this crucial part of the writing process. 

Just click the "Play" button above to listens to this Episode of the Writing Center's podcast. 

Click here for a complete list of our episodes and transcripts of WriteCast.

The Walden University Writing Center is passionate about the importance of writing inside and outside the institution and welcome the opportunity to share this passion with all members of the university community.

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Be Your Own Best Reader: Tips to Develop Self-Editing Skills

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You may know how to be receptive to faculty feedback, how to incorporate feedback from the professionals at the Writing Center, and maybe how to give and receive feedback on your writing from your colleagues. You have even had to figure out what to do with negative feedback and how to engage with your instructor to address it. But part of taking your writing practice to the next level means learning to revise by training the most important source of feedback you will ever have: yourself.

statue sitting reading a paper

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Thursday Thoughts: Resources for Revision

Did you know the Walden University Writing Center has a number of resources to help you learn and practice the challenging yet important skill of revision? Not only can you improve your papers with effective revision strategies, but the process of seeing your work again (truly "re-vision") can help you develop critical thinking skills that can help you in your academic studies, your professional career, and beyond. 

  1. Revision overview webpage on the Writing Center's "Writing a Paper" website: This resource features an overview of revision including definitions, strategies, and approaches. There is also a revision checklist for those who want a comprehensive document to help guide you.
  2. Recording of our Live Webinar "Improving your Writing: Revising and Proofing" presented by Walden U Writing Instructor Sarah Prince: This webinar discuses the revision process in all its forms, including explaining the difference between proofreading and revising, how to revise on your own, how to revise using Writing Center or peer feedback, and how to revise using faculty feedback.
  3. "Revision and Self-Editing Skills" resource specifically designed for Walden U Capstone writers: Part of our toolbox for Capstone writers, this webpage provides a number of tools and resources that apply to students who are at the advanced stages of their degree program. 
  4. A variety of revision-related blog posts right here on the Writing Center's blog: Instead of listing them all here, I recommend doing a search for "revision" blog posts. The box in the upper right-hand corner of this post will provide you with a comprehensive list of blog posts that give different strategies for developing your skills in this area. 

Stay tuned to the blog next week also. On Monday morning we'll have the next post in our Rethink, Rewrite, Revise series. Hope to see you then!

The Walden University Writing Center is committed to helping students develop as writers. Our staff of dedicated professionals supports students in building and applying their writing skills as scholars, practitioners, and agents of positive social change.

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Revision by Subtraction: Creating Scholarly Voice With Clear, Direct, Specific Word Choice

Academic voice. That illusive, yet all-important, aspect of academic writing. The voice we create as writers depends greatly on individual word choice you bring into your writing. Today, I’d like to give some concrete and straightforward examples of how you can enhance your own academic voice. Keeping focus on the trifecta of academic voice: clear, direct, and specific, I have created a list of words that can be deleted or replaced in most academic writing situations. The removal or replacement of these words with language that is clear, direct, and specific leads to a more academic voice in one’s writing.

There are two main categories of words worth removing. The first is words that don’t add any meaning. These are words that may add length to a sentence, but they don’t enhance content. They aren’t useful in describing or providing an example. I sometimes say words like this only “tread water,” keeping the sentence from moving forward to produce any meaning.

Title Image for this post

My Top Three Words to Eliminate from Your Writing Altogether

Very or Really
The inclusion of the word “very” in a sentence may seem like it is highlighting just how important that point is, but does it? As a reader do you understand how important? "Very" only means more than something else. My “very important” is different than your “very important.” The best thing to do is remove the word.

Example: The passing of this legislation is very important in securing funding.
Revised Sentence: The passing of the legislation is important in securing funding.

The main idea is the same, but now it is more direct. 

Lots Of / A Lot Of
Much like “very”, “lots of” isn’t specific. What is a lot, anyway? In addition to this, the word has a very casual or conversational tone. Removing it from the sentence is the best choice to improve the tone.

Example: Change in management organization can lead to lots of dissatisfaction among employees.
Revised Sentence: Change in management organization can lead to dissatisfaction among employees.

In this version is much cleaner, clearer, and direct.

Any Word that Ends in -ly
Go ahead and do a quick Google search about avoiding adverbs. You’ll quickly learn that it is a writing tip frequently recommended. (See what I did there?) This classic advice exists with good reason, however. Often, these added describers are not needed to clarify or create meaning for the reader.

Example: Slowly, we are making progress in revising the triage procedures.
Revised Sentence: We are making progress in revising the triage procedures.

Deleting the word “clearly” has not changed the meaning, but the sentence is now clear and direct. 

The second category of words worth eliminating is words that are best replaced with something else. Like the previous category, these words do not add content or meaning so much as they take up space. However, the space these words inhabit should contain another, more specific, word. 

My Top Three Words to Replace with More Specific Language 

Things or Stuff
Uhhh what things? Even a reader who spent a few pages with the above writer might wonder which things are being handled. Although fine in casual conversation, using “things” or “stuff” in academic writing means you are not being specific or clear. Replace these words with what you mean.

Example: Working with the Jacoby Quality Matrix (Jacoby, 2010) will ensure we handle these things appropriately.
Revised Sentence: Working with the Jacoby Quality Matrix (Jacoby, 2010) will ensure we handle patient concerns about medication appropriately.

Now the reader knows what is going on! It’s always more specific to say what you mean.

The list goes on and on, I’m sure. However, in academic writing leaving the rest of that list off does not create for a clear meaning. Make a decision with this one. Either put the rest of the list you have in your head OR end the list. Sometimes we put a little “etc.” at the end when we have run out of items to list but are certain there has to be more.

Example: This shift in curriculum standards will affect parents, teachers, students, etc.
Revised Sentence: This shift in curriculum standards will affect parents, teachers, students, administration, and academic support staff.

This revision shares a specific list of people.

Due to the Fact That
This is an easy fix. Sometimes writers try to sound formal or academic by using more words than needed. The correction? Just use “because” instead.

Example: Due to the fact that 75% of respondents preferred phone conferences (Chopra, 2013), the practice should replace in person conferences for medication counseling.
Revised Sentence: Because 74% of respondents preferred phone conferences (Chopra, 2013), the practice should replace in person conferences for medication counseling.

Crisp and clean, this sentence gets right to the point.

And now that you have my list, it's time to seek out these words in your own papers. Did you know that there’s a shortcut you can use to find and replace all a word every time it's used in an entire document? Now that you have a list of offenders, you may want to check out our how-to post on editing using the “find and replace” feature in Word so you can implement these strategies. 

Do you have any questions or strategies for harnessing your academic tone? Are there other words that you avoid or replace? Let me know in the comments section. 

Melissa Sharpe
is a Writing Instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. Her favorite part of working with writers is helping facilitate the writing process. 

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Introducing Our Upcoming Blog Series: Revision! Rethink, Rewrite, Revise

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Today's Thursday Thoughts is about a very important topic.

Here in the Walden University Writing Center, we see lots of students who develop into wonderful academic writers. The trait these writers commonly share is their ability to incorporate revision into their writing process. Instead of using revision as a tool at only one specific point in their writing process, these writers use different types of revision strategies in different situations as they complete a writing project. Revising your paper after you have a paper review session with a Writing Instructor is a good idea, but your writing can further improve if you can harness that energy and use it at different spots throughout your process. 

Knowing the importance of writers developing  these skills, over the next weeks starting on Monday this blog will be devoted to sharing revision strategies with you, its readers. The importance of revision skills for scholarly writing, and, well, any type of writing cannot be overstated. With that in mind, we will be sharing resources that will help you learn about revision and provide plenty of expert advice for how you can shape your writing process to make this a more integrated practice. 

So, as you're writing your next paper for a course. Or the next time you sit down to work on your Prospectus. Or when you're posting your next discussion post. We want to help you rethink your writing, rewrite your prose, and revise your work. 

Check back on Monday for our first revision-related post with practical, hands-on advice. 

If you can't wait that long, or if you have questions about revision before then, the Walden U Writing Center Website is a great place to start.

Questions? Let us know in the comments!

The Walden University Writing Center emphasizes writing as a process and provides feedback at any stage of a writer's process. For years, the Writing Center has provided writing instruction and guidance for students at Walden University at the coursework level and all the way through the form and style review of the final capstone study.

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Everything I Know About Writing I Learned from The Bachelor

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Note: This post does not contain spoilers. Read on! 

Get the popcorn and tissues ready. Tonight marks the finale of the current season of ABC’s The Bachelor, with Ben Higgins choosing between Lauren and JoJo. I get a little Bachelor-obsessed; the show is one of my guilty pleasures, and from where I stand, guilty pleasures are allowed in life, especially as a break from intensive scholarly activities.

So, I was watching The Bachelor last week, sitting in my recliner and texting my friend (also a Writing Center staffer and also obsessed), and I was hit with a powerful realization. Folks, the show is not just about romance and roses and fantasy suites (and insecurities, shaming, and infighting). It is about WRITING. Let’s look at some writing lessons from the show.

Be There for the Right Reasons
Every season, the contestants gossip about other contestants’ intentions. Are they fame-seeking media hounds or genuine people looking to find love? I’m definitely here for the right reasons, they say. No, she’s not here for the right reasons. As writers, we need to consider this idea of purpose as well. The first step in any writing project is to determine your reason for it in the first place. I’m not talking about the surface reasons: to get a good grade, to complete the assignment, to earn a degree. I’m talking about the reason you have selected this topic out of all possible topics. For instance, if your paper is about companies in crisis, your reason might be that you experienced a business crisis in the past and are particularly sensitive about it. You want to see change. Only when you tap into that passion and drive can you be an authentic voice on the page. 

Stand Out on a Group Date
The Bachelor is structured so that each week contains a set number of dates. Some of these are single dates and some are group dates, where the bachelor himself goes out with five or six women at the same time. The trouble here is, of course, that it’s hard for the contestants to distinguish themselves. Now, a piece of scholarly writing is essentially a group date. The other daters are the scholars whose research you are citing. Though such research is necessary in making an academic argument, you still want to establish your own place in the conversation, your own unique points. Through analysis and synthesis, you as the author stand out among all others. 

Get the First Impression Rose
The first rose handed out is a promise. It says, I am intrigued. I want to learn more about you and explore our connection. You could be the one. In Bachelor and Bachelorette history, contestants have made their entrances and tried to secure the first impression rose through outlandish methods, such as bringing grandma along, wearing a unicorn head, helicoptering in, or carrying a cadaver heart. These methods fail because they are too dramatic, too worthy of an eye roll. You, too, should think about your first impression on a reader—which happens in your introduction. How can you intrigue the reader? This doesn’t mean anything extravagant like a series of questions, a scene, or even an inspirational quote; in scholarly writing, it means selecting a piece of information that illuminates the problem or issue to be addressed. For example, if I read that 20% of veterans have PTSD and that the number is only increasing as treatments prove ineffective, I want to learn more. I want to be on board with a solution. Determining the “right reasons” behind your writing project will help you show the problem and convey urgency.

Plan Your Exit Thoughtfully
At the end of every Bachelor episode, one or more women do not move on in the competition. Their fairy tale ends, and they ride off in a beautiful, shiny automobile. Some women leave gracefully, while others get hopeless or angry or verbally abusive to the cameramen. As a writer, you need to think about your exit too. Because the conclusion is the final thing that readers experience in your work, it creates a lasting imprint that can ultimately inspire. Focus less on repeating the paper’s points and more on future or wider implications. How does what you’ve said impact the world? Before starting on the conclusion, revisit your “right reasons” for exploring the topic. Every paper must end, but the ideas within it don’t have to. They can live on, just like exiting contestants live on in The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, and the whole big “Bachelor family.”

A picture of Ben surrounded by flower petals.
The Bachelor can be seen tonight on ABC | Image © ABC
See? There’s a lot writers can learn from this reality show, and I didn’t even have to get into the clever editing. For all you Bachelor fans out there, what are your favorite lessons you've learned from the 20 seasons thus far? And if you have a prediction about tonight's Rose Ceremony, let us know!

Hillary Wentworth
 is a writing instructor at the Walden Writing Center and Coordinator of WCSS Faculty Development at the Walden Academic Skills Center.

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Thursday Thoughts: Preproposal Starter Kit for Doctoral Capstone Writers

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Did you know that the Walden University Writing Center is constantly expanding and improving its resources for doctoral capstone writers? For anyone beginning or about to begin a doctoral capstone project like a dissertation, a DNP project study, or a DBA Doctoral study , we recommend checking out these targeted resources on our website.

The capstone writing section of the website provides program-specific resources, information about negotiating the IRB process, steps for joining the Walden Capstone Writing Community, and how to make the best use of your Form and Style Review.  That's a lot of information at your disposal. However, for those just starting out this much information can be crippling. It might just be easier to curl up into a little ball under the covers and come out in Summer.

Which is precisely why the Writing Center created its latest resource: the Doctoral Capstone Preproposal Starter Kit for those about to start their doctoral capstone project.

Access the Doctoral Capstone Preproposal Starter Kit on our website by following this link.

As you begin this final leg of your doctoral journey, it's important to understand yourself as a writer, and how your own writing and study skills match up with those required of you to complete an extended project like a capstone. Our Preproposal kit offers insight on preparation, self-assessment, writing process, and revision and editing skills, and will ensure that you have a firm understanding of how you can succeed.

These resources are for doctoral students at the premise and prospectus stages and who are not yet working on their official proposal documents.

If you have used any of the Writing Center's doctoral capstone resources, let us know if they were helpful in the comments below. We value your feedback to help us improve our existing resources and create the most helpful resources for all our students.

The Walden University Writing Center
 provides writing instruction and resources for all Walden U writers. Undergraduate, Masters, and Doctoral-level writers can find information, support, and guidance as they progress through their programs of study. 

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Can Elmore Leonard Save Your Prose?

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Elmore Leonard was a novelist and short story writer who began a career in the 1950s writing pulp westerns. As westerns became less popular, he moved to crime fiction, and became known for his tense, engaging plots, memorable characters, and hard-boiled yet quotable dialogue. His characters were clever, sardonic criminals or cops undone by their hubris or stupidity.

It might seem odd to write about a fiction author on a blog about academic writing. But, as I’ve argued in the past, all writing is creative writing. Beyond that, it is always helpful as a writer to look at all different kinds of writing, even if it isn’t a genre one plans to pursue. I cannot do poetry, but reading it can teach me a lot about rhythm, diction, and the pleasing sounds of certain word combinations.

Elmore Leonard is someone that academic writers can learn a lot from. In particular, his list of 10 rules about writing, first published in 2001, has a lot of relevance to what we do as scholar-practitioners. Read on as I explain each of Elmore’s 10 rules of writing and how it applies to the academic world.

Title of this blog post on Rules of Writing

1.) Never Open a Book with Weather: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Amateur novelists love to begin books with descriptions of the weather, to set mood. For Leonard, that was boring table-setting that got in the way of the juicy, entertaining parts. In APA papers, you need to make sure you get to the key points as quickly as possible in the introductory paragraph. Your reader should have a good idea what the paper is about, what sort of population you are studying, and your reasons for undergoing the study. Try not to leave that information until later, but also try to avoid unnecessary setup (details not related to what your paper is focusing on).

2.) Avoid prologues: In fiction, prologues are a convenient way of dumping a lot of backstory in the beginning of the book. Leonard thought this was cheating, as a good writer should be able to bring out elements of backstory through the present actions of the characters. In academic writing, you can think of the “prologue” as the abstract. Some assignments require this, some do not.

3.) Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue: This is something one hears not only in fiction but also in journalism. In academic English, there a few words beyond “said” that you are free to use: “argued” and “claimed” for instance. However, while you want to vary your word choice, don’t go for obscure and big sounding words just because (he prevaricated).

4.) Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely: In my reviews with students, I generally tell them to avoid all adverbs, or words that end with “-ly.” This is because, as Leonard said, these words usually serve no purpose besides adding extra unnecessary language. There are exceptions to this rule when they might be necessary, but in general, be cautious of all adverbs.

5.) Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose: On the Internet, the exclamation point is the most used means of conveying excitement and emotion (followed by the emoticon). But a good writer conveys feeling through words, not punctuation. This rule is even stricter in academic writing. Never include any exclamation points in any academic paper ever, unless for some reason it is part of a quote (which is very, very unlikely).

6.) Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose:" Avoid all common clichés, casual expressions, and well-worn phrases in academic writing. For more on this, see my past blog post where I expand on the importance of avoiding clichés

7.) Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly: If you have anything in a paper that sounds like regional slang or phrases that would not be familiar to the majority of English speakers, try to remove them. They probably do not belong in an academic paper.

8.) Avoid detailed descriptions of character: In the academic realm, take this to mean that you should not include extraneous details about your source other than what the source said or claimed. The degree level of your author, the title of the article, the name of the institution who funded the research, and any biographical details about authors should be avoided.

9.) Don’t go into great detail describing places and things: This is related to the previous rule. Just as biographical details about authors of sources are not relevant, try to avoid going into too much history about locations or instruments under study.

10.) Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip: Unfortunately for this final rule, academic writers do not have the option of skipping information if it is important. However, you do want to avoid situations where you repeat the exact information twice. Sometimes I see papers that will reiterate certain key claims for emphasis. That is usually unnecessary, especially if it is something you mentioned very recently in the paper.

As you can see, some of these rules matter more in the sphere of academic writing than others. But all of these rules are worth considering in all types of writing. Leonard’s ultimate, final goal was this one: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Elmore Leonard was never about impressing his readers with fancy words or psychological acuity. He wanted to tell stories in the fastest, most efficient way possible. The next time you start writing a paper, consider that. You don’t need to impress your reader or prove how smart or interesting you are. Simply tell the story you want to tell in the clearest way possible.

Anything to add? Do you have rules that govern your academic writing? Keep your own list going in the comments down below. 

Nathan Sacks 
is a writing instructor in the the Walden University Writing Center. He also enjoys writing books, playing guitar, and playing with cats. 

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WriteCast Episode 25: A Discussion About Discussion Posts

Greetings all you WriteCasters out there. You'll be happy to know that our latest podcast episode of WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers has been published. Along with hosting a very special guest, Beth and Brittany discuss one of the most common assignments that Walden Students, and online learners everywhere, will encounter: the discussion post. Writing instructor and contributing faculty member Hillary joins Beth and Brittany to chat about the purpose of the discussion board and how to be an effective participant.

To download the episode to your computer, press the share button on the player above, then press the download button. Visit the Writing Center's WriteCast page for our episode archive and transcripts. Happy listening!

WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers is a monthly podcast written, produced, and published by staff in the Walden University Writing Center. Join us each month for a dialogue between two experienced and trained writing instructors. Possible episode topics will always be considered from listeners--share your questions and suggestions in the comments. 

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