February 2017 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Literature Review Essentials: Define Goals

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This is first in a four-part series focused exclusively on the literature review. Throughout March, my colleagues will focus on specific aspects of this specific writing endeavor, like note taking and organizing your literature review. Today, I want to clarify the definition and purposes of a literature review and provide a few tips for successfully creating one. That way, as you proceed through the next week’s posts, you’ll have a solid foundation for developing your literature review skills.

Literature Review Essentials: Define Goals

So, what is a literature review? A literature review is a “written approach to examining published information on a particular topic or field.” A well-crafted review can demonstrate a researcher’s mastery of a field as well as substantiate his or her assertion that more research is needed on a topic. It can also lay the foundation for the justification of an extended research project like a capstone study. (Note that some researchers complete a literature review as an end in itself [e.g., for a class assignment] and not as a basis for a study.)

Writing a literature review is challenging, it is true, but it can also be very rewarding. One reason the review may be difficult to write is because it lacks a roadmap. Its content and some aspects of its form will vary based on your needs and purpose. While you may have some required parameters such as page length and number and type of sources, you will probably have more latitude in regard to content and subheadings.

One reason that this process is rewarding is that it allows you an opportunity to develop in-depth knowledge about your topic as well as skills (e.g., in library search, critical reading, time management, synthesis, and APA). Developing such knowledge and skills will probably foster a sense of competence, which can be very satisfying.

A second reason is that writing the review helps you clarify key aspects of your study.. In writing the review, you develop more understanding of critical vocabulary and relevant research methods related to your investigation. You also gain confidence that your work has merit (i.e., that you are addressing a bona fide research problem).

To be as effective and successful as possible in writing your review, try to keep in mind that your review has multiple audiences – for example, your instructor or committee members, other researchers, and the general public, among others.

Rather than try to cover x, y, and z topics or include every source you found in your literature search, try to craft a narrative that provides a foundation for readers, some of whom may not be knowledgeable about your field of study. You need to guide your readers so that they, too, understand key vocabulary, core concepts, and developments in your field of study and “buy” your argument that further research is needed.

Adopting a reader’s perspective should be helpful for organizing your narrative as well as developing skills in synthesis. Synthesis involves “comparing different material and highlighting similarities, differences, and connections.” The end result is the “present[ation] of new ideas based on interpretations of other evidence or arguments.” This is a challenging skill to master; summarizing is much easier. Viewing yourself as a reader’s guide, whose purpose is to draw connections, should help.

This post, hopefully, has given you a good introduction to the literature review, and my colleagues will share more specific information with you in the weeks ahead. But for now, as you begin work on this challenging yet rewarding writing project, embrace your role and think of how you will tell your reader the story of the literature in your field.

Tara Kachgal
 is a dissertation editor in the Walden University Writing Center. She has a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and teaches for the School of Government's online MPA@UNC program. She resides in Chapel Hill and, in her spare time, serves as a mentor for her local running store's training program.

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Writing Refresh: In-text versus Parenthetical Citations

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Today let’s go over some resources for narrative versus parenthetical citations. Although both important, narrative and parenthetical citations aren’t fully interchangeable. Sometimes just sticking that parenthetical citation at the end of a sentence can be confusing and unclear to your reader. Read on for this writing refresher to achieve clear citations and review some of our great resources to assist you with citation formatting! 
Image of glass with lime and straw with Writing Refresh written over it

Sometimes a parenthetical citation (read more about parenthetical citations here) might look like this:

This educational plan will enhance the nurses’ patient care and ability to communicate more effectively with patients (Helakoski, 2016).

After implementing these changes, Woodward Elementary can engage ELL students more effectively (Helakoski, 2016).

So what’s the problem?  Helakoski didn’t specifically write about the writer’s educational plan for a specific hospital’s group of nurses, right? Or about Woodward Elementary and its ELL students. What’s more likely in both of these cases is that Helakoski’s ideas influenced the specific plans the student has made or changes they’d like to implement—but the reader can’t tell that from the citation.

So how do we fix this? Simple! Switch to a narrative citation for clarity (read more about the trouble with these citations and more examples and solutions here).

This educational plan will enhance the nurses’ patient care and ability to communicate more effectively with patients as described by Helakoski (2016).

After implementing these changes, Woodward Elementary can engage ELL students more effectively, similar to Helakoski’s (2016) study.

And there are lots of options!

Using Helakoski’s (2016) methods, this education plan will enhance…

After implementing these changes, modeled after Helakoski’s (2016) intervention, …

For more about when to cite narratively in the sentence versus in parentheses, check out these additional resources!

So next time you cite an author concerning a method or idea specific to your paper’s topic, be sure to make it clear to the reader where the line is by citing narratively rather than in parentheses

The Walden Writing Center provides information and assistance to students with services like live chat, webinars, course visits, paper reviews, podcasts, modules, and the writing center webpages. Through these services they provide students assistance with APA, scholarly writing, and help students gain skills and confidence to enhance their scholarly work.

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Break the Block: The Ticking Clock

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We’ve all been there. You’re working on a paper, but you’re struggling to put words on the page. Perhaps you have a looming deadline; perhaps, instead of writing, you’ve spent 45 minutes catching up on Twitter and watching cat videos; perhaps you know exactly what you want to have written—if you close your eyes, you can see the finished paper, full of unassailable logic and scintillating insight—but cannot seem to actually write it. You are not alone.

The wall crumbling as you Break the Block

Many people, including many very successful writers, struggle to write despite their best intentions. They’ve taken the right steps: they’ve set aside time for writing, they’ve collected their ideas in a notebook, and they’ve developed a plan for their text. When they attempt to write, though, something interrupts them. We usually call this Writer’s Block as if it were a diagnosis with a clear, single cause, but it’s really more like a syndrome, a set of behaviors with murky, and possibly multiple, origins.

For some people, it’s pure distraction. For others the cause is anxiety: negative experiences have conditioned them to mentally and physically react to the work of writing as if it were a hungry tiger, its glowing eyes assessing the meat potential of their bodies. Others lack confidence, which makes them discount the value of their writing. After all, because writing rarely leads to tangible short-term benefits, it can seem to produce no benefit at all (even though we all know this isn’t true), so you might find yourself focusing instead on tasks that yield immediate results, like clearing out your inbox or running errands. Whatever the cause of your block, though, the result is the same: you’re not getting your writing done. Thankfully, there’s a simple technique that can help you get past your block.

The ticking clock is a well-worn device used in fiction, and you’re already familiar with it if you’ve seen a few action movies. The hero races to crack the code, defuse the bomb, rescue the hostage, find the bad guy, or otherwise save the world before time runs out—that’s the ticking clock. It heightens the drama because it places a time limit on the task at hand. It must be accomplished now, not in some hazy future, or else catastrophe will ensue. Nothing else is more important when the clock is ticking down. In a less dramatic (and, admittedly, less clich├ęd) way, you can use a ticking clock to similarly focus your writing practice, reminding you that your time is limited and that this portion of it, right now, is dedicated to a vital task.

You can use the ticking clock in several ways (see our website for a good introductory approach), but they all share these steps:

1.) Start by setting an intention for your writing. It could be a specific task (“revise my problem statement”), it could be more general (“begin a rough draft of the paper I need to turn in this weekend”), or it could be to diminish your fear of the blank page (“write something, anything, for five minutes without stopping”).

2.) Next, set an achievable time goal. When you’re developing a good habit, it’s better to set a goal that you can usually achieve (and, on a good day, exceed) than one you’re unlikely to meet most of the time. For example, rather than committing to writing for 90 minutes every day, which is probably unrealistic if you also need to work full-time and see your loved ones, you might instead choose 15 minutes five days per week. The key is that this is a minimum: if you reach your 15-minute goal, you’ll likely want to—and should—keep writing for as long as you can.

3.)Then, you’ll set a timer for your time goal. I use the timer on my phone, but anything with an alarm will work—an egg timer, an alarm clock, the timer built into your microwave, etc.

4.) Finally, start the timer and write. Don’t stop until the timer is done. You don’t have to write quickly, but avoid interrupting your train of thought. Remind yourself, if you feel your attention being pulled away, that this time is for writing and nothing else. (It might help to close your Internet browser or set your phone to Do Not Disturb to minimize potential distractions.)

When the time runs out, you’ll have some new text to work with, and, more importantly, you’ll have made progress despite your block.

Matt Sharkey-Smith is a writing instructor and the coordinator of research and pedagogy in the Walden Writing Center. He also serves as contributing faculty in the Walden Academic Skills Center.  Matt joined the Writing Center in 2010 with a BA in English from Saint John's University in Minnesota. He earned an MFA in Writing from Hamline University in St. Paul in 2011 and has worked outside of Walden as a technical writer, fact-checker, copy editor, tutor, and writing instructor. 

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Break the Block: A Three-Strategy Series on Writer's Block

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Even if you do your best to set aside time to write, do all your reading, take notes, and work on outlining, you might still find yourself staring at a blank screen when it comes time to write. Break The Block is a three-part series that will help you break free of writer’s block and achieve your writing goals!

Beat the Block Wall Smash Image

In this series we discuss how to find a good space to write, turn off your inner critic, and set aside productive time. Our staff members provide some context, strategies, and personal anecdotes to help you break free from writer’s block and be your most productive writing self.

Sound interesting? Check out each of our posts below!

Find a Suitable Environment—Instructor Veronica discusses the importance of finding your writing space and strategies for figuring out what works best for you in spaces you can control as well as spaces you can’t.
Turn Off Your Internal Editor—Instructor Michael discusses the importance of writing without critiquing yourself too harshly to get your flow going and know that you’ll be able to refine later in the process.
The Ticking Clock—Instructor Matt discusses ways to carve out that time to write, even with a busy schedule as well as fighting the anxiety that can come from experiencing writer’s block during that time.

With some help from these three posts, you can conquer writer’s block and complete your work on time and effectively. Have some writer’s block breaking tips you’d like to share or comments on which of these posts worked best for you? Share below!

The Walden Writing Center provides information and assistance to students with services like live chat, webinars, course visits, paper reviews, podcasts, modules, and the writing center webpages. Through these services they provide students assistance with APA, scholarly writing, and help students gain skills and confidence to enhance their scholarly work.

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Break the Block: Turn Off Your Internal Editor

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When considering how to get over writer’s block, the mind immediately turns to combating this paralyzing anxiety that many people feel when asked to write. This anxiety, in fact, is synonymous with writer’s block. To a large degree, this anxiety can be attributed to a tension between the ideas in one’s head and the difficulty of representing those ideas in the same way.  Unlike speech, where one unconsciously adds emphasis, pause, syntax, diction, etc. writing involves conscious choices. “How do I want to put this?” an author may ask. Here, an internal editor takes over to craft your thoughts into written words and represent those ideas accurately to your reader.

At times though, this editor can get out of control. This editor can get in the way. One can get caught up in thinking of how a sentence should be organized, punctuated, and crafted. Here is where writer’s block rears it sinister face. It is important to limit the input of the internal editor in order to overcome the anxiety that causes writer’s block.

Break the Block: Smash through the wall of writer's block

The first way to start to quiet this internal editor is to understand where it comes from. Most people, if not all people, have a teacher in their past that has been a stickler for the rules of grammar. As a writer, this made you take pause. Putting something perfect the first time became the highest test of a strong writer. The emphasis shifted from stating your ideas to making sure that you have commas in the correct places.

At this point you are losing your way and allowing the less important elements of writing to overshadow the more important ones. The overall goal of academic writing is to add one’s voice to the larger scholarly conversation. What you have to say is more important than how you say it. By discarding this internal editor and getting your ideas down on paper, no matter how flawed grammatically, you are favoring your own scholarly thought.  

Once your thoughts are on paper, you can then return to them later and refine them, using your editorial skills to polish your work. Writing is an iterative process. Composing multiple drafts is something that every writer does. Each draft allows you to improve. Before you can do this though, you need to get your ideas out of your mind and into a more tangible form. Though this internal editor can help you when it comes to reworking your writing, first one needs to get those ideas onto paper.

So, the next time you are caught in a deep writer’s block, and the voice in your head is reminding you that you may not know how to perfectly punctuate a complex sentence with a piece of introductory information, tell that voice to “shut up.” Understand that, though important, mechanical concerns of writing are not as important as the ideas being expressed. Give yourself permission to write imperfectly. Then, endeavor to return to your work and revise it until it both expresses your ideas accurately and satisfies the grammar stickler in your mind. Quieting your internal editor can provide the freedom necessary to break writer’s block and be an effective communicator. 

Do you have any strategies that help you Break the Block? If so, let us know in the comments section below!

For more strategies on how to Break the Block, check out Veronica's post from last week. 
And please join us next week when we'll have the final post in our Break the Block series with a brand new strategy for you to use to overcome your writer's block issues.

Michael Dusek
 is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. He has taught writing at universities in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, and enjoys helping students improve their writing. To Michael, the essay is both expressive and formal, and is a method for creative problem solving. In his personal life, he enjoys the outdoors, books, music, and all other types of art. 

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WriteCast Episode 35: A Brief Daily Session Walk-Through - Mindful Writing, Part 2

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The latest episode of the Walden University Writing Center's Podcast, WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers, is live. In this month's episode, Jes and Max are back to lead a brief daily session in a follow-up to last month's episode about mindful writing.

For this exercise, find a writing project and a timer, and follow along through the four steps: prepare, write, pause, reflect. To get the most out of this brief daily session, we suggest first listening to WriteCast episode 34, "Taking Care of Yourself With Mindful Writing." Find both episodes below.

Taking Care of Yourself With Mindful Writing (Episode 34)

A Brief Daily Session Walk-Through--Mindful Writing (Episode 35)

Visit the WriteCast page on the Writing Center website for our episode archive and transcripts.  Happy Listening, WriteCasters!

The WriteCast Podcast  is produced by the staff of the Walden University Writing Center and delves into a different writing issue in each episode. In line with the mission of the Writing Center, WriteCast provides multi-modal, on demand writing instruction that enhances students' writing skill and ease. We hope you enjoy this episode and comment in the box below.

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Break the Block: Find a Suitable Environment

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Writer’s block is unpredictable. Sometimes it stays with you for long periods. Sometimes it arrives suddenly at the end of a long project, only to make the final days grind by. The staff of the Walden University Writing Center is made up of writers of all different ilks, so there are plenty of ideas floating around our Center on how to address writer’s block. Join us today as our bloggers begin a series of posts describing their strategies for overcoming this mental obstacle. Your task might not be easy, but with hard work and these helpful posts to guide you, you’ll be able to break the block

Break the Block words coming through a broken pane of glass

Writers block is something most writers face—it is that time when you just stare at a blank page, your mind wanders, and eventually you just feel like giving up. In fact, I faced writers block while working on this blog post despite the fact that I thought I had what I planned to say all figured out.

There are several ways to beat writers block and finding a suitable environment is one of them. By a suitable environment, I mean a place where the environment you are working in is going to lend itself to productivity as opposed to working against it.

So what, exactly, does it mean to find a suitable environment? Generally speaking, there are three types of environments: those you have control over, those you have some control over, and those you have no control over whatsoever. It goes without saying, then, that the most advantageous environments for beating writers block would be those you have complete control over. That said, having access to such an environment might not always (or even ever) be a reality. Regardless, it is still possible to carve out a space and create a suitable environment. Here are three tips to consider: know what environment works best for you, know where you will have privacy with little to no distractions, and know when and how to wing it.

Know What Environment Works Best for You
When I was working on my dissertation, I switched up the physical environments where I worked a lot: I worked at home, the library, and several different coffee shops. What these places had in common was that they all provided me with the “right” environment to work in. Of course, one person’s “right” environment is not necessarily going to work for another person. For instance, I might not mind the soft hum of white noise at a coffee shop, but some people might find coffee shops too noisy and thus distracting.

In order to determine what environment works best for you, you need to determine what doesn’t. For instance, I enjoyed working at coffee shops because it provided me with less distractions that home did. While at home, I could give myself several excuses to take way too many breaks since I was home and time seemed almost limitless. For instance, I could take a “nap” or surf the internet, thinking that I could make the time up by staying up later than planned when I never did because I could always lay down later and take another “nap” only to find myself waking up the next day with my writing goals not met.

Speaking of distractions, then…..

Know Where you Will Have Privacy with Little to no Distractions
Distractions might be understood to fall into two categories: those created by you and those created for you.

While you might not have total control of the environment that you work in, you do have control over avoiding known things that serve as distractions. For example, placing your cell phone in a different room might help keep you more focused. As well, you might place inspirational things around you while you work such as your masters diploma, things that represent your future career after graduation, or inspirational quotes: avoiding known distractions and a little bit inspiration can help you stay focused so you can work through writers block.

In terms of distractions that are created for you, such as a noisy household, it is important to find a place where you can work and let others know that you need your time to do so. If the only place you have to work is your kitchen table and the whole family is home in the other room watching TV you might request that they keep the noise down to a minimum and try not to create any distractions for you—you might even set aside a time each night where everyone is aware that, for instance, this is your two hour window to work on your papers.

Know When and How to Wing It
As a Walden University student, you might already be in the midst of your professional career which means carving out time and space to work might be nearly impossible. This, of course, can make navigating beyond writers block difficult. But, sometimes, you have to work with what you have. For instance, you might need to start a draft during a lunch break or while you’re on the train to work.

While this is not the ideal, it is important to remember that perfect environments are like unicorns: a concept that seems almost plausible (they are kind of just horses with horns, after all), but in the end is a myth (magical horses that fly, less plausible). To be clear, even a suitable environment that you have total control over can produce writers block (like when you allow yourself to get distracted).

That said, what is a suitable environment to you? How have you carved out your own?

Veronica Oliver
 is a Writing Instructor in the Walden Writing Center. In her spare time she writes fiction, binge watches Netflix, and occasionally makes it to a 6am Bikram Yoga class.  

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Webinar Update: February Webinars!

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Happy February, Walden students! We hope your first month of 2017 was full of fresh starts and continued progress. This month we’re here to keep up that new year momentum with some wonderful webinars. 

Colorful image with Webinar Update text in center

Every webinar presents students with a live, interactive setting where you can ask questions of writing center staff, work on practice exercises and questions, and develop a better understanding of the topic being presented. This month, our topics range from interpreting assignment prompts to literature reviews to nontraditional sources.
You can click these links to register for the webinar ahead of time! If you can’t attend live, don’t worry—you can 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 writingsupport@waldenu.edu. We hope to see you there!

The Walden Writing Center provides information and assistance to students with services like live chat, webinars, course visits, paper reviews, podcasts, modules, and the writing center webpages. Through these services they provide students assistance with APA, scholarly writing, and help students gain skills and confidence to enhance their scholarly work.

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