February 2018 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Speech-to-Text: Prewriting by Speaking

Let’s face it, scholarly writing can be frustrating—sometimes you might face writer’s block, sometimes you might face issues juggling school, work, and other responsibilities, and sometimes, yes, sometimes, you just don’t feel like writing. Period. I don’t mean just the mental tasks involved with scholarly writing, but the physical one too (so much time staring at a screen and typing!).

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That said, one of the hardest parts about being in a position as such can be when you are beginning a writing project.  For this blog post, I will be discussing how you might use your computer’s speech recognition software to enable Microsoft Word’s speech-to-text features for prewriting (i.e., brainstorming, freewriting, journaling, creating an outline, or otherwise organizing your thoughts). Since this post is more theoretical, I won’t be discussing the technical “how” of using MS Word’s speech-to-text, but rather the “why.” If you have questions about using MS Word features and functions, you can contact the Academic Skills Center's Microsoft Word tutoring team. I also found this tutorial on setting up speech recognition on my computer helpful.

My own introduction to using MS Word’s speech-to-text was as a graduate student. More specifically, as a graduate student, I wrote three twenty-five page papers per semester (and that’s not including, of course, discussion board posts and other shorter assignments). Over the course of my masters and doctoral studies, this clocks into about fifty twenty-five page papers. It’s easy to believe how sometimes I got tired of writing but still needed to keep the momentum up.  So, I started to use speech-to-text as a way to both get myself motivated to write and to help with the process of writing.

Brainstorming, Freewriting, and Journaling
I sometimes used speech-to-text just to brainstorm ideas for paper topics. For instance, when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to focus a paper on, I would “talk through” ideas on paper without having to sit down and write. Similarly, other times I would have a loosely articulated idea and I would use speech-to-text as a way to freewrite, or journal, to flesh my idea out more. For me, the physical act of writing could sometimes lead me to more writer’s block issues, making me feel like I had to come up with something and start drafting. Thus, speech-to-text allowed me to just freely brainstorm, freewrite, or journal while simultaneously keeping notes, taking some of the pressure off and leading to actual drafting as opposed to more writer’s block.

Creating and Outline and Organizing Thoughts
In addition to helping me brainstorm and flesh out ideas further, speech-to-text was also helpful when I wanted to use an outline to draft those larger papers. For example, those longer course papers required a lot of planning, and outlining provided a way to layout and manage my argument which took some of the head work and time out of the process. Thus, for me, speech-to-text helped with time management. Like many students, I had several other responsibilities outside of my coursework, such as teaching, so having a program that helped me with time management, to include cutting down my typing and drafting time, was a huge plus. To be clear, I could work on an outline while making dinner or in-between teaching sections of classes. Then, when I was ready to start drafting, the process went more smoothly because I there was less struggle with starting up.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to use speech-to-text in Microsoft Word to brainstorm, freewrite, outline, and organize my ideas helped to keep me motivated to write. Rather than sit down in front of my computer and feel blocked about what I wanted to write about, struggle with fleshing out my loosely formed ideas, or face issues with time management and drafting, I could use speech-to-text to keep me motivated to write because it helped break down the process of drafting in ways that sitting at a computer often didn’t. For me, sometimes the act of writing itself creates writer’s block because I fail to see the trees amongst the forest. Taking some of the typing time out of drafting relieved some of the pressure and helped motivate me when it was time to sit down and start drafting.

Next time you are faced with a writing assignment—or maybe even the masters thesis or dissertation—you might try using your computer’s speech-to-text programs to help with brainstorming, outlining, and keeping you motivated. Whether you use speech-to-text or not, I do recommend prewriting as a way to support a smooth writing process. As my dissertation chair once said to me—slow and steady wins the race!

Let us know if you’ve tried  speech-to-text for prewriting in Microsoft Word. How did it go? Have you used any other technology for prewriting? Share in the comments below!

Veronica Oliver author pic

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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March Webinar Preview

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Join us in March for our live-streamed, academic writing webinars. We are excited to host you and to help you find answers to all your writing queries. Register via the links below for some or all of our webinars. There is no limit to how many you can attend! 

Webinar update
Join us this month for some exciting webinars!

March Webinars:

7:00PM - 8:00PM Wednesday, February 21, 2018

1:00PM - 2:00PM Tuesday, February 27, 2018

12:00PM - 1:00PM Wednesday, March 7, 2018

7:00PM - 8:00PM Thursday, March 8, 2018

12:30PM - 2:00PM Monday, March 12, 2018

2:00PM - 3:00PM Thursday, March 15, 2018

4:00PM - 5:00PM Monday, March 19, 2018

11:00AM - 12:30PM Tuesday, March 20, 2018

7:00PM - 8:00PM Tuesday, March 27, 2018

full list of March webinars can be found on this page. Should these dates and times not work for you, remember that we record all sessions. The webinar recording archive houses all past webinars. Happy webinar viewing!

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The Walden University Writing Center presents weekly webinars on a range of topics related to scholarly writing, APA style, and the writing process. In addition to webinars, the writing center offers paper reviews, live chat, and a podcast to support writers during all stages of their academic careers.

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When/How to Conduct Revision and Proofreading

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When scheduling an appointment with the Writing Center, many students request help with revising or proofreading their paper. Or is it proofreading or revising? The two terms are often used interchangeably, when in fact, they are separate steps in your academic writing process. To clear up the confusion, it may help to define revision and proofreading and take a look at their differences.

When/How to Conduct Revision and Proofreading

Revision means to look at your paper for large (global) errors such as: removing entire sentences or paragraphs for clarity, reorganizing ideas for better flow, or rewriting the thesis for a more streamlined argument. Do you see a pattern here? Revision, remove, reorganize, and rewrite all include the prefix “re,” meaning to do something again. The key thing to remember (there it is again) is that you are looking (vision) over (re) large components of your paper.

When you proofread, your goal should be to identify and correct small (local) grammar and mechanical errors such as missing punctuation, incorrect verb tense, and the use of passive voice. Proofreading is a tedious, but necessary step in eliminating any errors that may distract your reader.

The differences between revision and proofreading are mostly found in their processes. The revision process includes steps for editing the paper’s general themes and ideas, while the proofreading process identifies sentence-level errors that could hurt your ethos as a scholar. The main differences between revision and proofreading are when and how to perform each process.

When to Revise: Revise As You Go
Most writers revise their papers as they write, taking short breaks along the way to reflect on their words and confirm that their ideas connect with the overall purpose of their paper. Proofreading, on the other hand, is usually performed as the last step in the writing process. To save time, it makes sense to edit for grammar and mechanics after any text has been moved around, deleted, or rewritten.

How To Revise: Revision process strategies 
There are a number of strategies you can use to revise your paper, all of which can help you to streamline your thoughts and clarify your arguments. My favorite strategy is the reverse outline. It’s easy for me to wander off topic and forget to connect my main ideas to my thesis or central argument. To keep my writing on track, I write the main idea of each paragraph in the right-hand margin of my paper. Next, I look over this list of ideas carefully. I ask myself if the paragraphs follow a logical order and if they connect back to my paper’s topic. I also consider if my paragraphs move my paper forward or if they keep introducing the same points. As I ask these questions, I may move paragraphs around, rewrite them, or delete them entirely.

Other steps in my revision process may include:
  • Using the MEAL plan technique to organize the main idea, evidence, analysis, and lead out within a paragraph. 
  • Highlighting the topic sentence, main idea, and supporting evidence in each paragraph to verify that they connect.
  • Underlining each paragraph’s lead out to make sure it works as a bridge between two paragraphs.

How to Proofread: Proofreading Strategies
Just like revision, proofreading comes with its own set of techniques and strategies that you can pick and choose from to develop you own process. My favorite proofreading technique is to read my paper backwards. After looking at the same paper for days, it is easy for my brain to skip over words and whole sentences as it anticipates what comes next. To trick my brain, I begin at the very end of my paper and read my last sentence out loud while listening for errors. I then move backwards to the next to last sentence. I again read out loud for errors and make corrections as I go. I continue this process and slowly work my way back to the beginning of my paper.

Other steps in my proofreading process include:
  • Printing my paper so I can make notes, cross out words, and highlight changes.
  • Reading my paper out loud to listen for any grammatical errors I may make as I go. I have even read my paper into my phone’s voice recorder and played the file back to listen for errors.

Revision and proofreading can seem daunting, especially when you just want to be finished with your paper. However, testing the techniques described here and developing your own revision and proofreading processes can make your writing feel more personal. What do your revision and proofreading processes currently look like? We’d love to hear more on the steps you take to edit your paper! 

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Tasha Sookochoff is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. Along with earning degrees from the University of Wisconsin, Stout and Depaul University, Tasha has written documentation for the U.S. House of Representatives that increases government transparency, blogged for DePaul University, copy-edited the Journal of Second Language Writing, tutored immigrants and refugees at literacy centers, and taught academic writing to college students.

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Thursday Thoughts: Improve Writing at the Paragraph Level

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We know it seems like there are so many elements to writing: researching, writing clear sentences, creating a thesis, supporting ideas, introducing, concluding, responding to others, citing... and the list goes on. However, have you ever stopped to think about paragraphing as an important writing skill? Paragraphs are the building blocks of a piece of writing. They are small chunks of understanding that work to focus on, and develop, a small piece of the entire paper. Creating solid paragraphs makes it that much easier to build the entire paper.

Writing Center Modules

New to our collection of writing modules is the academic paragraphing series. In this set of modules, you can learn:

Want to preview the content of these modules? We have module preview videos for you to check out before choosing a module to work on. Practicing writing skills that are focused at the paragraph level may help you with that long list of pieces you consider while writing.

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The Walden University Writing Center helps student writers at all points of the writing process by providing one on one writing instruction, modules, webinars, a podcast, and blog.

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Synthesis and Scholarly Writing Part 2: Putting Synthesis to Work

In Part 1 of this blog series, Katherine discussed the definition of synthesis and its importance to scholarly writing. This week, Katherine suggests methods of synthesizing information and provides examples and additional resources for improving synthesis in writing.

Combining Parts to Make a New Whole

When writers synthesize information, they combine their own interpretations and ideas with those existing in the current literature to create new avenues for discussion and research. However, because synthesis is very specific to a piece of writing and the sources used in that writing, improving synthesis is not as straightforward as, say, improving the APA formatting of a document. Writers with different experiences and perspectives will synthesize information in different ways. For example, take the two following pieces of information:

  • In 2007, 21.3% of youths in the state of Georgia were categorized as being obese (Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative [CAHMI], 2007).

  • In the state of Georgia, 16% of youths were categorized as being obese in 2011 (CAHMI, 2011).

One scholar might take these two pieces of information and argue that legislators in Georgia are not doing enough to combat obesity in childhood, while another might argue that state initiatives to decrease obesity in children are working. The same information can be synthesized in different ways, which is why improving synthesis can seem difficult. With that said, there are a couple of overarching methods that writers can use to synthesize information in writing.

As discussed in Part 1, it is important to remember that synthesis often involves building upon the ideas in prior research. When writing a paper, scholars should remember that they are not just repeating what was said in research but instead using research as a foundation for their arguments. Because of this, scholars may want to approach the sources that they use in writing a paper in one of two ways:

The first approach is to read the text as a judge of its scholarly value.

In other words, you can read a scholarly article and ask yourself questions about how the study was designed, the sample size, the conclusions drawn from the information gathered, etc. How does each element of the scholarly article match up to what you know about scholarly writing? Answering this question can help you decide how you feel about the source, which will also help you decide how you would like to use it in your writing. If you come up with positive answers to this question, you can use the source to support your argument. If you find flaws in the study, you can discuss how to improve future studies on the topic or compare the source to stronger studies on the same topic.

The second approach is to read the text with your own theory or experiences in mind (or with theories and evidence from prior research in mind).

This approach is where your experiences as a scholar practitioner will come in handy! You can also read texts with your practical experiences or theories in mind. If prior research has convinced you of a theory, you can read other articles with that theory in mind in order to see how the authors’ positions align with prior research. While you should always allow room for your perspective to change when reading scholarly articles, using your own experiences as a starting point when reading can help you synthesize source information when you write.

Now that you know a couple of approaches that can help you synthesize information at a global level, what does synthesis look like within a text at the local (or paragraph) level? Let’s look at a couple of example sources to begin:

  • The owners of small businesses who followed the theory of financial management reduced business costs by 12% (Ang, 2016).
  • The owners of small businesses who followed the theory of financial management reduced business costs by 17% (Sonfield, 2015). 

Taken together, it appears that these sources support each other, so synthesizing this information within a paragraph might look something like this: 
Ang (2016) found that the owners of small businesses who followed the theory of financial management reduced business costs by 12%, while Sonfield (2015) found that this theory reduced costs at small businesses by 17%. These studies together confirmed that adopting the theory of financial management reduces costs for small businesses in the U.S.
The highlighted phrases show how writers can position these two pieces of source material while illustrating their overall ideas about the source. Once again, though, context is important in synthesis. Let’s say the writer was only able to find the above two sources about the theory of financial management. In that case, synthesis might look like this: 
Although Ang (2016) found that the owners of small businesses who followed the theory of financial management reduced business costs by 12% and Sonfield (2015) found that this theory reduced costs at small businesses by 17%, more research is needed to determine whether this theory reduces costs for other types of businesses.

As mentioned before, the perception and experiences of a scholar-practitioner are incredibly important to synthesis. Through your perception of the scholarly articles you read, you will create arguments that illustrate the connections between sources and your own ideas. This will allow you to build on the foundation of research and eventually conduct your own research. Although I’ve provided suggestions and examples above, synthesis depends upon your experiences and ideas. Do you have any tips for improving synthesis in writing? Please feel free to share them below!

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Katherine McKinney is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She received an M.A. in English from Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Education at Walden. Katherine's goal as an instructor is to show students that the best writing results from practice, and she aims to provide feedback and resources that will guide students through the invention, composition, and revision process.

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WriteCast Episode 48: Top 10 Tips for Group Papers (Rebroadcast of Episode 8)

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Walden University students are in the throws of another term, and many courses are beginning to assign group papers. To help students best contribute to collaborative writing projects, we dusted off this podcast episode from our vault. Join Nik and Brittany as they discuss the Top 10 Tips for Group Papers. 

We hope you enjoy this throw-back to the earlier days of the WriteCast podcast. Please let us know what you think in the comments down below. As always, you can find the transcript for this episode and all of our episodes by visiting our WriteCast page on the Walden University Writing Center website. 

Keep Writing. Keep Inspiring! 

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The WriteCast Podcast is produced by the members of the Walden University Writing Center. Anne Shiell is our producer. Come back soon, Anne. We miss you. Episodes are published each month, with topics and themes decided on by the production team based on feedback received from listeners of WriteCast. If you have comments or ideas for a future episode of WriteCast, please leave a comment. Thanks for listening!

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Combining Parts to Make a New Whole: Synthesis and Scholarly Writing

On a warm, clear morning, I sat on my living room floor observing my toddler son as he played with his toys. I watched him furrow his brow, and I thought about how I furrow my brow in the same way. I also thought about how much he reminds me of his father when he tips his head back and laughs. But most of all, I marveled at how much he is his own little person, even with all the characteristics that he has “borrowed” from his parents. As I watched him stack colorful foam blocks, I suddenly realized how much my son illustrates the concept of synthesis in writing.

Combining Parts to Make a New Whole

If you’ve ever had an instructor comment on synthesis within an assignment, you may have noticed that it can be muddy. While an instructor may be able to provide very specific suggestions for eliminating errors in APA formatting or grammar within a paper, comments about synthesis may be general: “Needs more synthesis” or “missing synthesis” are common variations of feedback that a student might receive. As an instructor, I have often had students ask how they are supposed to synthesize information when they view themselves as students rather than scholars. I have also had students mention how difficult it is to create new information when every topic seems to have been thoroughly discussed. To this, I would reply that developing the skill of synthesizing information transforms a student into a scholar with a new perspective on research. 

Synthesis in writing involves combining parts to form a new whole—in other words, scholars create new ideas based on their interpretations of the ideas in sources. Just as my son has traits of both his father and mother but is still a brand-new person, so is each scholar’s interpretation of a source completely new. Although my son will hear his mother’s and father’s ideas about a variety of social issues and about music, entertainment, and a host of other topics, he will form his own opinions based on his experiences in school with teachers and peers and based on the distinctive lens through which he views the world. In much the same way, you have a wealth of information and experiences as a scholar practitioner that you can bring to your interpretation of a scholarly article or to an issue worth tackling. Walden’s mission is one of social change, and you are uniquely suited to enter the conversation—or even begin a conversation—about the issues that you’ve observed in your field.

Though your unique experiences may not be included in every piece of scholarly writing, they form the backbone of your career as a scholar practitioner. Based on the problems you have experienced in your work and the lives you have touched within your time working in your career field, you bring a fresh perspective to each scholarly article that you read and to each assignment that you complete.

Consequently, improving synthesis in writing is not as much about gaining experience and perspective as it is about learning how to appropriately include this experience and perspective in scholarly writing. While scholars often use third-person viewpoint in writing and refrain from using personal experience as evidence, they still use their experiences and perspectives to create arguments and reveal new topics of discussion. These new topics and arguments, which are based on current research but created through individual perspective, are at the heart of synthesis in writing. To return to the analogy of my son, his experiences will teach him how to navigate the world over time. Similarly, the experiences of scholar practitioners at Walden University create new opportunities to enact social change beyond the walls of higher education.

How are you using your experiences to enact social change outside of Walden University? We’d love for you to share your story below!

This post is the first in a two-part series. If you're ready to learn a few methods for synthesizing information in writing, check out next week's post on Monday.

Katherine McKinney author image

Katherine McKinney
 is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She received an M.A. in English from Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Education at Walden. Katherine's goal as an instructor is to show students that the best writing results from practice, and she aims to provide feedback and resources that will guide students through the invention, composition, and revision process.

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Thursday Thoughts: Building and Testing Your APA Skills

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APA guidelines can be confusing at times. Don’t stress, though! The Writing Center offers several short, interactive APA modules for learning about and testing your knowledge of APA. These modules are perfect for busy students like you!

Writing Center Modules

If you like our APA moduels, make sure to check out our entire library of Writing Center modules on topics like citation frequency, grammatical principles, and general scholarly writing style. Enjoy! 

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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