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Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Thursday Thoughts: New Blog Series on APA Style Starts Monday

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Starting Monday, May 2nd, the Walden University Writing Center Blog will begin a series of blog posts dedicated to unpacking a variety of APA style-related topics. The Editors and Instructors who work in the Center with Walden students field a variety of questions which pertain to APA style. Now they'll have a chance to share their insights with you. 

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One thing you'll notice right away on Monday is that here in the Writing Center, we see APA style as more than just hard and fast rules to be memorized. APA style flows through the entirety of academic writing in the social science. It influences the smallest detail and the broadest theme. It's a way of communicating complex ideas and research in a logical, predictable, clear way. It's a way of being. It's a way of thinking. 

In other words, this blog series will move beyond simple rules and boxes to check off. We'll do our best to explain how and why APA style asks you to make certain writerly moves. 

Check back in on Monday for our first installment in the Exploring APA Style series: An Introduction to Capitalization Rules. See you then!

The Walden University Writing Center Blog
 is an instructional space where writers of all ilks can come together to learn about and discuss writing. Walden University primarily serves those scholars writing in the social science, and therefore focuses its instruction on the scholarly communication therein.  

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Snow White and The Search for Effective Word Choice: A Writing Center Fairy Tale

Sometimes, as Writing Instructors, we see a particular problem that seems pretty minor, but when it comes up a lot, we feel compelled to write about it nevertheless. Such is the case, I have noticed, with the word “including.”

The word “including” serves a specific function and should never be misused, or simply added for no reason. Literally, the word means “containing as part of a whole.” This is important to remember. Only use the word “including” when talking about a part of something, not the whole of something.

What do I mean? Let's take a look at some of my favorite characters from literature to find out. 

Snow White and the Search for Effective Word Choice

You might see a sentence like this:

“Snow White lived with seven dwarfs, including Happy, Grumpy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Bashful, and Doc.”

This type of sentence makes me Grumpy. It doesn’t work because the author of this sentence is not writing a partial list of the seven dwarfs. The author, has, in fact, named every single member. Therefore, the word “including” does not belong and should be removed:

“Snow White lived with seven dwarfs: Happy, Grumpy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Bashful, and Doc.”

Now, if you were to provide only a partial list of the seven dwarfs, that would be different, and you would use the word “including”:

“Snow White lived with seven dwarfs, including Bashful and Doc.”

This is a partial list, and not a full list. So the word “including” is appropriate here.

I urge students to look at words like “including” carefully in sentences. Often they do not serve a point and can be easily removed with no damage to the meaning of the sentence. Most importantly, remember the word “including” only applies to a partial list, not a full list. If you want to make your reader Happy, practice precise and critical word choice in your next writing assignment. 

Nathan Sacks
 is a writing instructor in the the Walden University Writing Center. He also enjoys writing books, playing guitar, and playing with cats. He's happy to answer your word choice questions in the comments. 

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WriteCast Episode 26 : Wrestling with Writer's Block

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In this month's episode, Brittany and Beth discuss writer's block, tackling topics like how we can define this obstacle, how it influences our writing process, and how we can experiment with different strategies to use this physical and mental phenomenon to our advantage.

As always, Brittany and Beth's advice is practical and accessible to writers at all stages of their writing process. And no, you don't need a PhD in Psychology to practice skills to help you move beyond your writer's block. 

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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The Art of Imprecise Word Choice: Using Pronouns for Clarity and Concision

Pronouns are a time-saving foundation of our language, and most of us use them every day.  Using these pronouns like I, we, our, us, and you helps to convey a point of view and is a common form of communication. We say to talk about ourselves, we to discuss things we have done with others, and you to directly communicate with listeners.

While this technique of using pronouns is acceptable in informal communication, when writing in APA style, many of these pronouns should be avoided or used only in specific ways. This is a result of APA’s emphasis on clarity and concision. This post, then, offers a series of tips for using first-person and second-person pronouns effectively to convey a scholarly voice in your APA style academic writing.


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Understanding Walden's New Policy for Formatting the Running Head

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As you may have seen in last week’s announcement from the Chief Academic Officer, Walden University recently changed its official policy on running head requirements. Here’s the rundown of what’s going on with this APA formatting requirement, how it will impact you, and the reasoning behind this change.

What’s Happening?
You know that fun (and sometimes irksome) running head? It’s an abbreviated version of the title of your paper that appears along the top header of all pages of your work. Walden has decided to officially no longer require this detail for Walden coursework. You will still need something in the header section of your document, but now it’s only a page number in the upper right corner of your paper. Our templates have been fully updated to reflect this change, so you can see a visual of what the new format looks like.

How does it impact me?
Essentially, you do not have to include a running head on any of your papers for your Walden writing. You will not be penalized for including a running head if you so choose, but use of a running head is now optional. However, page numbers are still a requirement. If you need help with adding page numbers, you can find out more here on the Academic Skills Center pages for MS Word help, or use our templates.

Why the change?
Based on data from Walden’s support services, students, and faculty, it became clear that students were spending a great deal of time and effort formatting running heads. The running head functions to help differentiate stacks of physical papers that could get lost or mixed up on a physical desk, so for Walden’s purposes, the running head is much less important than other formatting details. Because Walden is an online university, once an instructor has a file, the title of the document is always at the top of the screen while reading, eliminating the necessity of a running head.

Also, Walden has never required a running head for doctoral capstones or KAMs, so doing away with this element helps with continuity throughout programs.

Still have questions? Need help? The Writing Center is here for you! Visit our Quick Answers, chat, or review services, or email us at writingsupport@waldenu.edu for additional assistance.

The Walden University Writing Center
constantly reviews and revises its practices and materials to best meet the myriad needs of its writers. The WUWC promotes writing as a rhetorical act, which embraces a changing negotiation between writer, audience, and technology. Walden writers can expect evolving writing instruction that helps them become effective scholarly writers in the 21st century. 

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Avoid Textbook Definitions to Make Creswell Work for You

To understand your argument, readers need to understand the terms you use. When you use a term that is unique to your field or your study, or if you use a term in a unique way, it needs to be defined.

In showing how a definition aligns, readers need more than just the definition and a few lines that say, “This is the case of my study.” The discussion that follows a definition must be stated in terms of the definition. Readers need to know how the tool (definition) fits the job (your study), rather than just learning the characteristics of the tool. So instead of simply discussing Creswell's ideas on mixed-methods research, also describe what Creswell's ideas have to do with your own.  In sum, the definition and the discussion need to be interwoven.

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According to Gary Burkholder, Senior Research Scholar at Walden U, abstract, textbook definitions should be avoided. Instead, they should reflect the context in which they are used. Otherwise they may fail to clarify the relationship between a term and how you use it in your study. Since such terms vary so greatly based on the context of the particular study, imprecise use often creates confusion for readers. Here are some common errors (which are true especially of quoted definitions):

  • It may be too broad or too narrow for your study
  • It may may lack detail or include extraneous material
  • It may reflect an angle or nuance that does not align with your study

Students in the social sciences commonly quote the definitions of experts—Creswell or Merriam or Lincoln and Guba, among others. But such quotes must also align fully with your study. They can't be too broad, too narrow, too short, or include extraneous material. Paraphrasing or summarizing often works better.

And by using paraphrase and summary to your advantage, you can choose to avoid explicit definitions. So, rather than starting out by writing “Creswell defines x as _________ ” and following with a discussion of your study in light of Creswell, you could first tell your readers the nature of your study, for example, and then use Creswell for support (typically as a parenthetical citation). Of course, the Creswell citation must truly contain material that supports your study. This model avoids the stricture of leading a paragraph with a (quoted) definition.

To illustrate the importance of contextualizing such definitions, here are two examples from recent Walden dissertations. In the first example, the writer defines the nature of qualitative research. (The a/b/c list format was added to help show the topic sentence defines the contents of the paragraph.)

Quantitative research is “(a) deductive, (b) objective, and (c) general” (Morgan, 2013, p. 47). In this research method the researcher uses a (a) deductive reasoning that starts with a premise and hypothesis, followed by standardized procedures, and ends with a logical conclusion.... Quantitative research is also (b) objective because it minimizes the researcher’s personal biases by using standardized measurements (Morgan, 2013). The purpose of standardized measurements is to separate the researcher’s beliefs from the results and conclusions. (c) Generality is another characteristic of quantitative research because the researcher can study a wider range of people and settings (Morgan, 2013). Generality leads the researcher to develop research questions based on the elements or variables found in theoretical or conceptual frameworks.

As you can see, what the student implied she would explain is, indeed, explained directly and in the same order. Support for the definitions is given parenthetically, which improves clarity and flow. Note that only three words are quoted in the paragraph.

The case is different, however, in the following paragraph by a different author. They are weakened by issues with context, completeness, and flow. (To simplify commenting on the problems, I’ve added my own analysis within brackets.)

Other research designs such as ethnography [this term would need to be defined] and phenomenology are not adequate…. Phenomenology is an approach with many nuances and addressing subjective experiences (Gill, 2014), such as perceptions of an organizational leader about succession. Phenomenology is a way to explicate diverse experiences, reducing the unique individual experience to the common experience and revealing the experiences as universal (Van Manen, 1990). [An explanation would be needed about (a) why either approach—ethnography or phenomenology—would not be adequate and (b) the relationship of the design(s) to the student’s research.]
In this case, the introductory (topic) sentence is not a guide to the paragraph’s content. Parts of the definitions are incomplete and are not shown to be aligned with the study. Some terms within the paragraphs have yet to be explained.

No one knows better what you want to say in your study than you do. Definitions are an important part—sometimes pivotal—and readers don’t have the chance to ask questions. It is up to you, the author, to ensure that no questions need be asked. This extended discussion of definitions, quotations, and flow can be summarized in three points:

  • Readers may be confused if you don’t define terms as needed and if your definitions do not speak directly to your study
  • The meaning of some terms may not be as obvious as you think
  • Paraphrasing or summarizing is preferred to quotations and both approaches make it easier to tie together your ideas, from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph

* Special thanks to the brave souls who volunteered to have their writing shared with the world in this post and to all those writers who have shared their work with me over the years* 

Tim McIndoo came to Walden University in 2007 with over 30 years of editorial experience, including work as translator and photographer. He lives in Minneapolis with four cats.

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Word Choice Strategies for the Scholarly Writer ~ New Blog Series Begins Monday

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Beginning Monday, this blog will be focused on exploring word choice and how it functions in the scholarly writing Walden U students are asked to do. Our posts in the coming weeks will provide instruction for writers to consider when they're making their writerly decisions. As always, we'll have plenty of practical, example-based suggestions for you to try out in your own writing.

Our main goal with this is to give you strategies for harnessing your own scholarly voice. To do so, we have a variety of topics relating to word choice. Here's is the upcoming schedule:

April  11th: How can you define your terms in a way that's useful to your reader?
April 18th: Guidelines for effective pronoun use in APA style
April 25th: Using "including" as a tool

With this lineup of posts coming up in the next weeks, we hope you start to practice new ways to shape and organize your writing. And what better way to do that than from the ground up!

As a teaser, check out the Writing Center's homepage of information on Word Choice by following the link.

The Walden University Writing Center
 is a full-service, completely virtual, set of resources, most of which can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection and a question about writing. The Center's advanced resources and paper review services are available only to Walden U students. Learn more by visiting the Writing Center's website.

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You've Reached Great Heights: Developing Revision Strategies for Condensing Your Work

Sometimes you may have so much to say about a topic that you’ll find yourself several pages over the suggested page limit on an assignment—and then what should you do? Assignment page limits are a challenge in writing clear, succinct and direct works, but figuring out how to cut out what you’ve already written can be the hard part.

The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to help eliminate unnecessary information and really pack in the information you need. These tips are also great even if you’re within the page limit but want to try and condense your writing in general!
Shard Tower in London with text


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