November 2016 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

And/Or No More: A Stylistic Consideration

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Sometimes there are minor issues that crop up in papers that, while they don’t ruin a student’s academic writing, are still worth remarking upon in a blog post like this. Today I will talk about a small issue I see as I work with Walden University students in Paper Review Appointments: the use of the forward slash between conjunctions “and” and “or,” like this: “and/or.”

This term is meant only to pop up in sentences rarely, in situations where either options in a sentence or both options are simultaneously possible. That means, in order to use it in a sentence, both the “and” and “or” must make sense by themselves in a sentence.

This is where students get tripped up. Here is a sentence where it does not work: 

“This paper will explore the effect of teacher evaluations on student grades and/or test scores.”

Why does this not work? In order to use “and/or,” you would want to make sure that “and” by itself and “or” by itself both work in the sentence. First, the conjunction “and” works because you are talking about two separate factors, and you plan to focus on both of them in the paper. The word “or” does not work so well—you are not working on one or the other, right? You are looking at both. Therefore, “and/or” does not work here and should be revised for better clarity.

Even in those situations where “and/or” does work grammatically, instructors and editors here at the Writing Center strongly encourage you to express yourself another way, without that term. And we are not the only ones. Many of our favorite resources for academic writing style advise writers to avoid a forward slash between words. The APA Sixth edition manual tells readers “not to use a slash when a phrase would be clearer.” And blogger Grammar Girl reaffirms, “you’d be hard-pressed to find a style guide that doesn’t admonish you to drop and/or and rewrite the sentence with just and or just or.” It may sound smart in your writing sometimes, but chances are, editors and proofreaders don’t like it so much.

So try to avoid “and/or.” Even if it sounds smart in a sentence, or grammatically appropriate, you can still probably express yourself another way, without forward slashes between words.

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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Thursday Thoughts: An Autumn Reprieve

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Walden students!
We hope you are enjoying your current courses! Whether you are enrolled in a quarter- or semester-based program, you are on your way to a brief coursework reprieve. Quarter-based students, you are on vacation from coursework right now! Soak it up. You deserve this time off. Semester-based students, you are so close! Just a few more weeks until you're in a window between current classes ending and new classes beginning. We at the Writing Center enjoy seeing so many final papers for all your interesting courses, and we are excited for your new courses to get started, too! Soon, the cycle will begin anew, with your very first course discussion posts.

Intermittently throughout this cycle, we meet new students in their first courses at Walden, and we say goodbye to students completing their programs. To all of you, we would like to say thank you for making our job so much fun. You inspire us to work hard and to work towards our dreams, like you.

Picture of man walking on mountain peak, text reads: Walden University Writing Center Thursday Thoughts

We hope you're able to thoroughly enjoy your breaks between courses and, as you begin new courses and new writing assignments, we hope you'll return to us for paper reviews and writing support!  We have a few announcements for you during your coursework break:

  • The Writing Center will be closed on Thursday, November 24, and on Friday, November 25. Our services will resume on Monday, November 28. 
  • Our webinar on Engaging Your Reader With Sentence Structure, which was originally scheduled for Nov. 17 at 5 pm Eastern, is now scheduled for Nov. 30 at 5 pm Eastern due to the presenter's illness. We hope you'll join us this time around! 

Most importantly, we want to tell you: You make our job worth doing. Without you - and your fun APA questions, and your thought-provoking discussion posts, and your informative and educational papers - our job would not be worth it. Thank you.

We cannot wait to see you again when your new courses begin!

The Walden Writing Center offers to Walden students 1:1 writing support and offers to students and non-students alike all the writing expertise, tips, and information a writer could want.

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Developing Your Research Writing Process

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One of the most frustrating things to me, when I was starting my academic career, was determining what research to include in my writing. Not only would I spend so much time fretting over this, but I was never quite sure when to start my research or what to actually research. I would find myself writing a paper before doing any research at all, which almost always resulted in me having to rewrite large sections of the paper. It was not until I went to graduate school that I learned what it truly meant to do research writing and how this process can differ from other types of writing. Today, I’d like to share with you some of my top tips for working with research at each stage of your writing process.

Prewriting: Develop your Topic and Engage with the Existing Research As you begin your process, start with some prewriting activities. These preliminary steps will help you determine targeted, specific research that will be relevant to your project.

First, try a freewriting session. Often, if we begin our writing and research process by freewriting, we are able to more fully develop our ideas and research interests. Although this may not be thought of as part of the research process, freewriting will lead to more targeted and specific research as well as a deeper focus on your content. You can find more information to help you with this at the Writing Center’s page on prewriting.

Another preliminary step that will help you later is reading existing research pertaining to your topic. In reading current research on specific topics, you are able to find gaps in research, so you are able to more easily target your specific research topic. When you go to write your paper, you will already have your sources vetted and ready to include in your writing! Your friendly Walden University Library can be a huge help with this initial step.

Thesis Construction: Craft a Detailed and Specific Thesis that Focuses on the ResearchMany times we forget that a strong thesis allows the reader to fully understand the focus of the research. Much like the reader needing to understand this focus, the writer also needs to see the overall arch of the paper before it is completed. One of the best ways to ensure that your paper stays focused, and that the research you plan to use is addressed, is to have a clear and detailed thesis that will work with the topic sentences of your body paragraphs. The Writing Center website has lots of great information on thesis statements where you can learn more.

APA Integration: Adhere to APA Rules & Guidelines for Including ResearchAs it is with any type of writing, academic writing has some specific requirements that may take a few revisions to meet. Although the content and research included in your assignment are the most important aspects of your writing, the formatting and style of your writing are also important. In correctly referencing and citing your research, you will avoid intentional and unintentional plagiarism. You will also make your writing stronger and more accessible to your readers. You can practice this step by using our APA basics checklist.

Revision: Take Time to Revisit Your Research Writing ProcessEven though your initial draft and research methods are very important aspects of your final draft, most of your best work will come during the revision stage. After you have a completed draft of your work. it is much easier to make sure that you are providing the correct information in the correct places with relevant research to back it. This is also a perfect time to re-visit many of the different techniques you used in your drafting to ensure that you have fully developed your ideas and presented the best and most relevant research as possible. I recommend these resources about revision and self-editing to help you develop these skills.

In following these tips and tricks, you should be able to draft a detailed and research-driven essay while spending an appropriate amount of time drafting, revising, and researching. If you find these resources helpful, you can bookmark this page so that you can revisit it during your drafting and revision stages of future papers.

Happy Writing!

Meghan Barnes is an instructor and writer based in the South. She has two dogs, and a handful of composting worms that she enjoys feeding scraps to. When she is not writing, editing, or reading, she enjoys playing kickball, softball, and other active sports.

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Breaking Down the MEAL Plan: A Four-Part Series on Writing Strong Paragraphs

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No matter what stage of your process you're in, we'd love to help you develop skills to write strong paragraphs. One way we've done that is by publishing this four-part series dedicated to giving you on-demand instruction on writing paragraphs that incorporate evidence using APA Style . Join us as we start Breaking Down the MEAL Plan!

Breaking down the MEAL Plan: A Four part series on writing strong paragraphs

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to best instruct our students to help them become proficient academic writers. Over the years here in the Walden Writing Center, we've discovered that students often have a difficult time composing effective academic paragraphs. When we are working with students who need a bit more instruction in this area, we love to use a tool called the MEAL Plan.

No, the MEAL Plan is not what you do when you're deciding what to eat for dinner this week. Instead, it's a heuristic that can help you write developed, organized, information-filled paragraphs that allow your reader to focus on your ideas.

So, to help you write effective, clear, and coherent paragraphs in your academic writing, check out this blog series that will guide you through each part of the MEAL Plan:

Main Point - Writing Instructor Beth begins the discussion by helping you define the Main Point of your paragraph and set up your reader to successfully encounter your paragraph's information

Evidence - Dissertation Editor Jen describes strategies for incorporating Evidence skillfully into your paragraph, such as effective citation practices and guiding your reader with transitions.

Analysis - Instructor Sarah offers insight and practice for bringing your own authorial voice to the forefront by providing Analysis of the evidence for your reader. Analysis is the element of academic paragraphs writers often omit. Learn how and why this is such an integral part of scholarly writing.

Lead Out - Instructor Brittany demonstrates the importance of the Lead Out portion of your academic paragraph and how it allows your reader to rest, focus on the point you've made, and prepare to move on to your next topic.
We hope you enjoy these resources. If you have any comments or questions about writing paragraphs or any other scholarly writing-related topic, let us know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!

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The Walden University Writing Center produces a variety of on-demand, self-paced instructional resources for the students of Walden University and the greater academic community. One of our most common requests is for instruction on writing paragraphs effectively, and it's so fun to be helpful. Enjoy!

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An APA Style How-To: Formatting Titles In-Text

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Believe it or not, there are reasons for all those APA style rules. For example, usually in APA style writing you do not include the title of an article, book, film, or other source in the body of your work. Instead, you simply use the (Author, Date) pattern that Walden U writers know so well. This rule exists since providing the actual title can clog up your text for the reader and unintentionally lead to situations of bias. But exceptions do exist. Especially for course assignments about a specific article or book, you may occasionally need to use a title in-text. For today’s APA How To, let’s take a look at how you format titles of sources in your academic writing.

Title slide for this blog post

The way you format a title in-text depends on the type of source you are consulting. Also keep in mind that this formatting is not the same as how you will format the entry for this source in your reference list.

Here’s a handy guide of how to write out titles in-text versus in your reference list:

Title Formatting Tip #1: Anything that is a self-contained work (a film, book, journal) should be in italics both in your reference list and in the body of your work. For more about the use of italics, check out our webpage on italics.
Example: In Title of Film (Helakoski, 2016), the researcher…

Title Formatting Tip #2: An article or chapter in a book should be in quotes in the body of your work. Read more about quotation marks in the body of yourpaper on our page here.

Example: In “Title of Article” (Helakoski, 2016), the researcher…

Title Formatting Tip #3: In-text, you capitalize every important word (a rule of thumb is to always capitalize words over four letters long). This is very different than the capitalization rules for your reference list. Read more on capitalization case for reference entries on APA's blog.

Example: In the article “How to Visit the Writing Center” (Helakoski, 2016)…

Title Formatting Tip #4: Even if you mention the title of the work and journal in-text, you still must to cite with the author’s name and publication year.

Example 1: In the journal Very Important Journal, the article “How to Visit the Writing Center” (Helakoski, 2016)…

Example 2: In Helakoski’s (2016) article “How to Visit the Writing Center” in Very Important Journal

Need a visual example? Here’s a handy visual chart of some differences:

In-text entry
Book Title (Author, Year)
“Article Title” (Author, Year)
Film Title (Producer, Year)
Article Title & Publication
“Article Title” (Author, Year) in Journal of Publications

So remember to use italics or quotes for titles, capitalize every important word, and always include the author and the publication year, whether it’s in-text or parenthetically cited. Follow these guidelines and you can format evidence titles like a pro!
Have any questions or comments? Leave us a message down below!

Claire Helakoski author image

Claire Helakoski is a Writing Instructor at the Walden Writing Center and holds an MFA in Creative Writing. She has taught writing and Composition as well as acted as a writer and editor in a variety of mediums. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and enjoys reading, writing creatively, and board games of all kinds.

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WriteCast Episode 31: Taking Your Academic Writing Outside of the Classroom

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Have you ever wondered when you are going to use the academic writing skills you gain in college in "real life"? This is something many of us wonder, and our podcast hosts, Brittany Kallman Arneson and Beth Nastachowski, decided to discuss this very topic in their 31st episode of WriteCast. The title of this podcast? Taking Your Academic Writing Outside of the Classroom.

In this episode, Brittany and Beth discuss with Claire Helakoski how a writer might use their academic writing skills outside of academia. Their thought-provoking conversation proves that your academic writing skills will be useful both in and out of the classroom for years and years to come.

If you're curious about this topic, take a listen. Hit the orange play button below.

For a list of all of our WriteCast episodes, visit the Writing Center website for Interactive and Multimedia writing resources. Here, you can also access download information and transcripts for each of our podcast episodes.

Happy Listening, WriteCasters!

WriteCast is a monthly podcast written, produced, and published by staff in the Walden University Writing Center. WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers offers listeners the chance to sit in on a dialogue between two experienced and trained writing instructors. Possible episode topics will always be considered from listeners, just let us know in the comments. 

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How Not to Write Like a Politician

Here in the United States, there’s an election happening soon, and I noticed while watching some of the coverage three common forms of phrases politicians often use that also come up sometimes in academic writing—the imperative, sweeping generalizations, and the presumption. I’ll follow with some examples in a moment, but to help your writing be clearer and free of bias, it’s best to avoid these argumentative forms so often used by politicians. So yes, it’s true. Today’s election-related post shows you how to NOT write like a politician. 

Modified Photo Courtesy of MarylandGovPics on Flickr CC License 2.0
The Imperative

“We must all band together for change!”

In a political speech, a statement like this is quite moving. It groups the entire audience together as well as powerfully states what “must” be done. However, in academic writing this poses a few problems:

  • In academic writing, you want to avoid “we/us/our” phrasing because you don’t know the background of your readers. This is also a chance to be more precise and name the specific population that you mean. Is it educators? Nurses? Students in the United States? Who must band together?
  • The imperative statement doesn’t explain why. Why should citizens band together? We the audience don’t know. Strong academic writing relies on cause and effect more than this type of sweeping statement so that readers can’t possibly misunderstand. Also, unlike a political speech, you as an academic writer have to allow for your reader to have a different opinion and potentially decide they disagree with what you’re saying.
Here’s an academic writing revision:

“Writing instructors at Walden University should attempt to be as specific and positive as possible in order to support their students’ writing and capacity for growth.”

See how this revision is so much more specific and clear? And it tells readers what impact a certain action will have—what results it will achieve.

The Sweeping Generalization

“All children want to learn.”

Although statements like this are certainly powerful, from an academic perspective they are less useful because we can’t actually prove this. Academic writing relies on using evidence to support claims, and this one is just impossible to support. This statement is also logically false. Surely, not all children in the entire world do actually want to learn, right? In academic writing, rather than broad generalizations like this one, you again want to be as specific as you can and avoid sweeping assumptions or generalizations.

Here’s an academic writing revision:

“Since students’ enthusiasm for learning directly impacts their learning retention (Helakoski, 2016), it is important for Walden writing instructors to foster engagement with coursework in order to help their students succeed.”

See how this revision uses a specific group of people, cause and effect, and backs up its point with research?

The Presumption

“It is clear that something must change”

As a politician, it is powerful to band an audience together behind a point of view. But as academic writers we don’t want to make assumptions about our readers or their understanding/experience. What if it isn’t clear to them that something must change?

The phrase is vague as well because it uses “something”—and what does that mean, exactly?  So to fix it, rather than assuming the reader sees things your way, again stick to that cause/effect.

Here's an academic revision:

“If students change their writing process to include the Walden writing center, they will receive in-depth advice on their writing and the tools to become accomplished scholarly writers.”

Remember in your academic writing to avoid imperatives, sweeping generalizations, and presumptions on the reader and instead provide clear, specific cause/effect phrasing to showcase your point of view. With all of these aspects combined you will successfully communicate your ideas to your audience!

So get out and vote tomorrow! And remember, for your academic writing here at Walden University, it’s best to NOT write like a politician.

Any tips, tricks, or other political speech tics to avoid in your academic work? Let us know in the comments below!

Claire Helakoski
 is a Writing Instructor  at the Walden Writing Center and holds an MFA in Creative Writing. She has taught writing and Composition as well as acted as a writer and editor in a variety of mediums. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and enjoys reading, writing creatively, and board games of all kinds.

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Thursday Thoughts: November Webinar Schedule!

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November is here! Can you believe it? In two months, we'll be entering 2017. During these two months, some of you will wrap up your programs and graduate, others will take their very first classes, and many of you will be somewhere in the middle. To all of you, we offer up a wholehearted congratulations! These are big moments.

To new and returning students alike, we encourage you to check out this page to learn how to set up a 1:1 appointment with a writing instructor. Here, you'll find information about our scheduling system, myPASS, and the types of documents we can review.

An especially amazing resource to you are our live, interactive webinars. This month, our topics range from writing intros and conclusions to creating engaging sentence structure. Each webinar is hosted by one of our immensely talented and passionate-about-writing instructors, and we know how excited they will be to see you there.

Click on the webinar links above to register for the webinars and receive reminder emails in your inbox! We hope you'll join us!

Feel free, as well, to check out our entire Webinar Recording Library here! If you have any questions about our webinar schedule or appointment scheduling system, e-mail us at

The Walden University Writing Center webinars teach APA guidelines and writing skills for all Walden students, along with webinars specifically for undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral capstone students. Webinars offer live writing instruction, as well as an opportunity for students to connect via Q&A and chatting with staff and other Walden students, and each webinar is recorded for later viewing.

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