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Walden University Writing Center

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WriteCast Episode 51: Using Evidence In Academic Writing

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You know as a student your writing should be research-based, but how do you use that evidence in your writing without just repeating what your source says? How do you make it your own? In this month's podcast, Max and Claire look at what evidence is, and how using it in your writing can shape your meaning. 

Stream or download (via the Share button) the full episode:

Visit the Writing Center's WriteCast page for our episode archive and transcripts. Happy listening!

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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 helpful writing instructors. Possible episode topics will always be considered from listeners--share your questions and suggestions in the comments.

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Paraphrasing Generators Impede Learning

The most common questions I hear from Walden students are about how they can save time. Specifically, students often ask whether they can use X program to help them with their writing. The programs students are asking about can vary, but common ones I hear about are APA reference generators, spell check, and Grammarly. The question is understandable: You are busy students, balancing work, family, and school, and you have limited time. If there’s a way to save you time, I’m with you!

Unfortunately, my answer to this type of question often disappointments the students asking it. Rather than a whole-hearted endorsement, I explain that potentially the program they are asking about could be useful, but that all writers need to be careful that they are using these programs judiciously. I go on to say that English grammar, academic writing, and APA are complex and often dependent on context, which computer programs sometimes can’t understand. My recommendation to these students, then, is that if they must use these programs, use and review their results carefully.

Paraphrasing generators impede learning

Another Chapter in the Story: Paraphrasing Generators
That seems like the end of the story, right? Well, not quite. My standard response to this question changed slightly when I learned about a new type of program promising amazing results to academic writers: paraphrasing generators. There are many versions of paraphrasing generators, but all of them promise quick and easy paraphrasing that avoids plagiarism. The problem with these paraphrasing generators, however, is that they aren’t really paraphrasing generators—they are really synonym generators, which isn’t true paraphrasing.

Let’s take a closer look at why paraphrasing generators aren’t really paraphrasing at all. Paraphrasing is a difficult academic writing skill because it’s complex. Strong paraphrasing requires critical thinking where a writer represents a source’s ideas in their own voice. What makes a paraphrase in your own voice? Three things: (1) focus on the key information needed for the context of your paragraph; (2) use of your own word choice; and (3) use of your own sentence structure. Complex, right?

Paraphrasing generators only address one of these three parts: swapping out words with synonyms. They can’t determine the most relevant information to include, how it fits into the context of your paragraph and your own ideas, and how to rephrase the ideas into your own voice, all essential parts of a paraphrase.

The other issue is because paraphrasing generators rely on synonyms, the result can be strangely worded at best and unintelligible at worst. Synonyms are tricky things; most of the time writers must choose synonyms carefully to avoid changing the sentence’s meaning. Using synonyms judiciously is important when using even one synonym in a sentence, but entire sentences of synonyms become so unclear that the original meaning is entirely lost.

Let’s Take a Look: A Paraphrasing Generator Result
Let’s take a look at these issues in practice so we can see the actual result of using a paraphrasing generator. Here is an original quote and the result of a paraphrasing generator. Read both carefully, then ask yourself: Does the result from the paraphrasing generator accurately reflect the original quote’s meaning? Does it sound like a new, original voice?

Original Quote: "Online teaching observations are valuable tools for documenting and improving teaching effectiveness" (Purcell, Scott, & Mixson-Brookshire, 2018, p. 5). 

Result from Paraphrasing Generator: Web based showing perceptions are profitable instruments for reporting and enhancing adequacy. 

Hopefully you’ve generated some ideas in response to my questions above. Here are my responses:

  • The result from the paraphrasing generator changes the meaning of the original. Where the original quote refers to “valuable tools,” the paraphrasing generator says “profitable instruments.” Something being valuable is very different than being profitable, which has connotations of monetary gain that valuable doesn’t.
  • The paraphrasing generator also doesn’t make sense! Where the original talked about “observations,” the paraphrasing generator says “showing perceptions.” If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering what “showing perceptions” even are. Additionally, the phrase “instructing adequacy” from the paraphrasing generator isn’t clear. 
  • The paraphrasing generator doesn’t create a new, original voice because it relies on the original quote’s sentence structure. If we were to diagram these two sentences—marking out their grammatical structure—they would be exactly the same.

Short-Term Results Instead of Long-Term Gains
As you can see, the paraphrasing generator doesn’t have very good results. But beyond that—beyond all of the problematic aspects we’ve discussed so far about paraphrasing generators—there’s one final drawback: 

Programs like paraphrasing generators get in the way of your learning! They offer a quick solution, but this short-term gain impedes long-term progress. If writers use paraphrasing generators, they aren’t engaging with the research they are reading, learning how to put it in their own voice and developing their paraphrasing skills. 

Paraphrasing generators have a certain appeal, especially if writers are looking to save time or they believe their promises of avoiding plagiarism. However, they are much more problematic than the other programs students often ask me about. While Grammarly, spell check, and APA reference generators can be used cautiously and still be helpful, my conclusion? Paraphrasing generators should be avoided altogether; they simply have too many drawbacks to be helpful to academic writers. 

Close up of Beth, who is smiling

Beth Nastachowski is the Manager of Multimedia Writing Instruction in the Writing Center. She joined the Writing Center in 2010, and enjoys helping students develop their own voice as writers through webinars, residencies, and multimedia resources. She is also Contributing Faculty for Walden's Academic Skills Center (ASC). 

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June Webinar Preview

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June is nearing, as is the beginning of a new term. As your classes get rolling, consider joining the Writing Center for one of our live, interactive webinars. In our webinars, you'll get to ask questions and receive answers in real-time. We love hosting webinars because they present such a fun way to interact with students, and we expect our June round of webinars to be no different. Please join us! We can't wait to have you. 

Webinar update
Join us this month for some exciting webinars!
Upcoming Webinars

The full list of June 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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Introduce, Cite, Explain: Using the ICE Method to Strengthen Analysis

If you are a student at Walden University, you may be familiar with the MEAL plan, a method of paragraphing that revolves around including a main idea, evidence, analysis, and a lead out in each paragraph. Using the MEAL plan when creating paragraphs can help to ensure that each paragraph contains balanced use of evidence such as source material and analysis of that evidence. 

Writing tips from the Walden University Writing Center

As we often say in the Writing Center, analysis adds the “you” to a paper. While scholar-practitioners might use the most reliable, relevant, and current sources available in the literature, without adding their unique voices to the paper through analyzing those sources, no original ideas will be added to the discussion, and adding original ideas forged through analysis and synthesis of source material is the goal of scholarly writing. However, it can sometimes be difficult to integrate source material into a paragraph and add analysis, particularly when using quoted source material. 

To expand upon the analysis (A) component of the MEAL plan, I recommend trying the ICE method, which is a three-step plan to cite and analyze quotations. Although the ICE method is not a replacement for the MEAL plan, this method of integrating quotations can lead to a stronger emphasis on analysis within paragraphs. When using the ICE method of integrating quotations, you will:

  1. 1.) Introduce: Introduce the quote in your own words. The introduction to a quote is often called the signal phrase, and the signal phrase can be as simple as introducing the author’s name within your sentence or as complex as embedding the quote into the narrative of your sentence structure.
  2. 2.) Cite: Cite the author by including quotation marks, the author’s name, the year of publication, and the page or paragraph number of the information. 
  3. 3.) Explain: Explain how the quoted information relates to the main idea in your paragraph or paper. In other words, you will show readers how the quoted information relates to your chosen topic.

Now that you know the three steps of the ICE method, you can review a few examples below with the elements of the ICE method underlined, italicized, and boldfaced:

  • Using learning analytics can illustrate individual and team contributions to a classroom by “combining specific data, precision, and speed to create a unified picture of classroom contribution” (Doe, 2016, p. 240). Instructors can use learning analytics in the classroom to assign more accurate grades to group members, specifically for complex projects that require students to work outside of the purview of the instructor.

The above quotation uses parenthetical citation, which means that the citation is included at the end of the quotation in parentheses. Although the writer could have paraphrased here, the focus of the discussion may be on the strengths of learning analytics, so the writer might have preferred showing all of these elements rather than paraphrasing. The quotation is followed by a positive analysis of learning analytics, but analysis of source material can be positive or negative depending on the view of the writer. Another example of quotation followed by analysis is below:

  • Because of the specific information about student actions in the classroom that learning analytics provides, Doe (2016) argued that “using learning analytics in education is the door to end all windows” (p. 244). However, while learning analytics may provide individualized information about student contributions in the classroom and therefore seem to answer many problems in the online classroom, instructors must take care they use learning analytics as a teaching tool rather than as a justification for assigning grades.

The above quotation uses narrative citation, which means that the author’s quote is embedded in the narrative of the sentence. The quotation is justified because it includes very specific phrasing that would be difficult to recreate through paraphrasing. The quote is also followed by the writer’s analysis of what Doe meant by the phrase “the door to end all windows” and a negative analysis of that phrase when applied to learning analytics.

Keep in mind that paraphrasing source material is favored above direct quotation in APA style because the scholar has to think critically about the source material to rephrase the text. By its nature, paraphrasing includes analysis because scholars must reconstruct the source material around their goals in the writing. In general, quotations should only be used when the exact wording is crucial to the point in writing. Despite this caveat, analyzing direct quotations within writing is an important first step to synthesis of source material, so it can be helpful to add more tools to your scholarly writing toolbox to improve analysis of quoted material.

The nature of analysis is tied to the experiences and ideas of the writer, so analysis of quoted material will be unique to each writer. Using the ICE method can help a writer depict the original author’s ideas and connect the quoted material to the writer’s argument. Although it is a best practice to paraphrase whenever possible, quotations can sometimes be useful in a paper.

Do you use any other methods of analyzing source material? If so, we’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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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For a Quick Source of Motivation, Make a List

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The view from my laptop is giving me anxiety. I’m in my living room, working from my couch, and in front of me are stacks and stacks of boxes. Through my grimace, I also spot cleaning supplies, packing materials, and garbage bags. We moved into our new house not long ago, but we are still up to our eyeballs in chaos—and it’s driving me crazy!

The view from Tasha's chaotic workspace

Every surface area—from tables to counters to chairs—is cluttered with cleaning rags, newspapers, mail, coffee cups, pens, and at least one dog toy. Speaking of dogs, my two pups pace around the house all day and follow me from room to room. I know they’re looking for snuggles as their lives have been turned upside down too, but it’s hard to get anything done when they demand to be picked up and comforted every few minutes.

Two dogs vying for Tasha's attention
The Beasts
I know I do my best work when I am in a clutter-free zone, working at a brightly-lit desk with dual-monitors, and my beasts (as I lovingly refer to my dogs) are snoozing in their beds. But right now, my living and work environments are out of my control, and the beasts are truly acting like beasts. The only thing I can control is how I respond to the chaos around me. One trick in particular keeps me sane and motivated: making lists.

The first and only box I have unpacked contained all of my list-making tools: notebooks, post-it notes, and all of my favorite pens. Now, before I’ve even had my coffee, I start each morning by writing down everything I have to do for the day. As each task is accomplished, I feel a little lighter, and my mood greatly improves. If I manage to complete my list at the end of the day, I treat myself to a little TV or a long walk with my dogs. These treats keep me motivated and give me something to look forward to.

While I have always made lists for house chores and grocery shopping, right now, I am managing my work tasks and writing assignments with this trick. For example, before writing this blog article, I jotted down a list of my ideas, the deadlines for my drafts, and a few to-dos.

Tasha's To Do list for this blog post
Tasha's To Do List for this Blog Post

As a graduate student, I regularly made lists to keep track of assignments and deadlines. I also created a separate list for each assignment and included the tasks: brainstorm key search terms, research web databases, contact research librarian, annotate articles, outline, draft thesis statement, draft major claims and evidence (with references), revise, and proofread. Not only did these assignment lists keep me organized, they helped track my progress and reminded me that there was an end in sight!

One thing I now get to check off my list is sharing this trick with you! I encourage you to grab a piece of paper and your favorite pen and jot down the to-dos for your next big assignment or even personal task. Hopefully this little tool motivates you and brings you some relief during a chaotic time!

Tasha Sookochoff author image

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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WriteCast Episode 50: Why The Third Time’s The Charm for Writing Center Appointments

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If you're a regular blog reader, you'll know that the third time's the charm for Writing Center paper review appointments. In our 50th (!) WriteCast episode, Max and Claire recap the research and give some suggestions for why and how to make multiple paper review appointments. 

Check out our episode preview!


Stream or download (via the Share button) the full episode: 

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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Can Taking Notes Help Writers Avoid Plagiarism?

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Plagiarism can seem like a scary word to students, but it doesn’t have to be. Today, I’ll be discussing inadvertent plagiarism and clarifying a process you can use to help you determine if you do need a citation. For this discussion, I define inadvertent plagiarism as a writer accidentally attributing words or ideas informed by an author they read to themselves.

Can taking notes help writers avoid plagiarism? Walden University Writing Center Exclusive

Help yourself out by keeping notes as you read anything related to your subject or discipline. There are many note-keeping strategies out there and you can read more on our prewriting pages. The intention here is to ensure that not only are you keeping track of ideas you have while reading, but making it clear where something is your idea and where an idea belongs to an author. This is a method you can employ as you’re preparing to write your papers, but more importantly as you’re reading and taking notes. This step is effective at differentiating what you should cite and what’s your own analysis because it can be much more difficult to separate these aspects later in the process since you’ll have all these authors’ ideas in your brain mixing together to form larger conclusions and it will be tough to remember where each individual idea came from.

In the case that you didn’t keep notes or you still are unsure if you should cite, you can use the examples and checklist below to help you!

Example 1: In this course, I learned time-management skills.

You do not need to cite this statement, because this is your opinion and explaining your experience, and it’s a statement which is unique to you.

Example 2: Writing centers are valuable because they improve student confidence.

You need to check if you should cite this statement by looking at your notes to see if a source mentioned writing centers and student confidence improvement.
  • If a source did mention this fact, then you need to cite this statement.
  • If a source did not mention this fact, then you do not need to cite, but you will need to find a source to support this statement and avoid a personal opinion/generalization. For scholarly work, you want to avoid opinions/generalizations and instead support with research.

Example 2.1: Writing centers are valuable because they improve student confidence (Helakoski, 2017). Because writing centers improve student confidence, universities should use additional resources to support these services.

In this case, you have added a citation to your first statement. Do you need to cite the second statement here? If this is your own analysis, meaning that Helakoski or another source didn’t reach this particular conclusion, but instead it is you putting forth your analysis for the reader, then you do not need to cite the sentence. We have some great examples of explaining evidence on our evidence pages that go over analysis in conjunction with cited source material. In cases where you have analysis double check that a source didn’t reach this conclusion and that it is your own explanation for the reader to see if you should cite or not.

Example 3: The directive feedback method is when an instructor provides exact steps to revise a statement.

You need to cite this statement because you are clearly defining a term or method. Defining terms you have not created means that the definition of that term is informed by a source and therefore should be cited.

Example 4: All of the participants enjoyed visiting the writing center.

Unless you conducted this study, you need to cite this statement because it is a finding from a source. If it were a study you conducted, then it would be similar to Example 1 in that your statement would be unique to you and describing an action you completed. However, in this case, you did not complete this study and therefore need to cite this source since you are referencing the authors’ results.

Now that you’ve gone through some examples, here’s a checklist to determine if you should cite:

  1. Is your statement an “I” statement which expresses an action you took or an opinion you have? You do not need to cite.
  2. Is your statement a definition or explanation of a term? You do need to cite.
  3. Is your statement a finding, statistic, exact wording, or paraphrased wording from a source? You do need to cite.
  4. Is your statement analysis explaining source information for the reader? You need to double check if you should cite.

Keep notes as you go to avoid needing to double check with this checklist quite as much, and to have the correct citation information ready to go if you do come across something you think may need to be cited. If you are looking for help on citation formatting and frequency, you can review our how often to cite examples.

Claire Helakoski author photo

Claire Helakoski is a Writing Instructor  at the Walden Writing Center and hosts the Writing Center's podcast, WriteCast. Claire 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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