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Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Writing Introductions for Discussion Board Posts

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Problem: You have to write a discussion post, but only have a certain amount of words/characters you are able to use. You know you need an introduction, so that your reader is not confused, but you aren’t quite sure how to draft one given the limited amount of characters and space you can use to draft a discussion post. But have no fear! In this post you will learn how to draft a perfectly acceptable three-sentence introduction for this type of assignment in no time!

Writing Introductions for Discussion Board Posts

Solution: It is perfectly acceptable to write a 3 sentence introduction To do this, the Walden University Writing Center specialists are here to help you learn about code shifting. Code shifting is the ability to change our writing based on what we are writing.

Code Shifting
Say you have a bad day at work. Your boss was mean. Your sandwich was soggy. Your coffee was cold. Is the text you write to your best friend complaining about this the same as the text you would write to your mother? To your grandmother? To a workmate?

Doubt it. Grandma needs a little less slang, best friend can understand emojis and abbreviations, and mom prefers to speak on the phone. The point of this is that we all have different communication methods when we are communicating in different ways. Writing is no different. Sure, you need an introduction for that discussion board post you can only use 500 words in. But it doesn’t need to be a full-scale academic introduction with 7-8 sentences and a problem statement. 

This is where your code shifting comes into play. You will want to use the strong writing skills you already have to master the more concise writing that takes place on a discussion board. So How Do You Do This?

First: Outline Your Ideas
One of the biggest things we see in the Writing Center when students are working on shorter documents is that they have a lot to say! And rightfully so! However, when you write out everything and go back and edit it you end up losing a lot of time that could be spent with your family, friends, sleeping, or even on other assignments. Outlining your ideas first will make sure you understand what the most important issues are that you need to touch on, allow you to omit some of the more minor issues, and it will give you a sense of direction for this discussion board post, which means you will do less work overall. Hooray!

Second: Write Your Body Paragraphs
Say what you have to say in your first draft. This is a little bit different than how you may do some of your other writing, but allowing yourself to see the focus of the body of your post will allow you to not only have a more focused and targeted thesis statement, but it will allow you to see what is needed and what is not needed before you go into your second round of drafting: actually writing your thesis statement/introduction.

Third: Read Your Body Paragraphs TwiceFlip your paper over, cover your monitor, close your eyes (if you can write with your eyes closed) and see how you can summarize all of the wonderful things you covered in your body paragraphs in one sentence. This should give you an idea of what your thesis statement is going to be.

Last: Re-read Your Body Paragraphs
Re-read the thesis statement you drafted. See how you can add a topic sentence and even, possibly, a lead-in sentence that moves your reader from your topic sentence to your thesis statement. It is completely acceptable to have a three-sentence introduction for a discussion board post! In fact, it is advised, as it allows you to spend more time and space on the ideas that matter the most in your post, while still giving your reader the direction they need. Some people can even swing this type of introduction in two sentences. It may be something you want to play with—but I would say start with 3 sentences first, and see how that goes.

And, Voila! You now have an introduction, topic sentence and thesis statement for a discussion board post. You have saved an hour or so in your writing/drafting due to outlining first. And your reader knows exactly what your post is about and gets a lot of valuable information due to you drafting such a focused and specific discussion board introduction. Go you!

Stay tuned for a future post on how to draft a conclusion statement (instead of a full-on conclusion) for discussion board posts. I promise to save you even more time with the next set of tips! We'll update this space with a link when the post goes live in the near future. 

Meghan K Barnes author image

Meghan K Barnes holds a BFA in Professional Writing & English, an MFA in Nonfiction Literature, and a MAT in Post-Secondary Adult Online Education. These degrees lead to multiple opportunities including a Fulbright Scholarship to study the nonfiction work of Sylvia Plath in England, three Pushcart Prize Nominations, and four book publications.

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How To Write A Lot

On WriteCast, the Walden University Writing Center's writing-focused podcast, we recently shared a “book club” episode in which two of our writing instructors discuss the strategies in Paul J. Silvia’s How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. This is a great book for Walden students who have to write a lot as students at an online university! Today, I’m following up on that episode with some key points from Silvia’s book and some questions so that you can join our conversation. You can access WriteCast episode 65 on our podcast homepage by following this link. 

WriteCast podcast logo: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers

Make a Writing Schedule
Silvia’s primary recommendation is to schedule your writing time. Look at your schedule, figure out when you can write, and protect that time like you would any other appointment. There’s a romanticized idea that writers write when they are inspired, but Silvia points out that inspiration doesn’t really factor into academic writing. In fact, by showing up for your scheduled writing sessions consistently, you are more likely to feel inspired and less likely to experience “writer’s block.” (Note: I've put this term in quotes because Silvia argues that writer's block doesn't exist. We discuss this in the WriteCast episode, so if you'd like to consider this idea more, check out the episode!)

I find that I am best able to keep my commitment to my writing time when I schedule it for first thing in the morning. Then, it’s less likely to be interrupted by emergencies, and I won’t be tempted to schedule a doctor’s appointment when I should be writing.

When do you like to schedule your writing time, and how do you protect it?

Shift What “Counts” as Writing
Once you’ve scheduled your writing time, think about what you’ll do with it. If you’ve scheduled yourself for an hour every day, you might be wondering how you can possibly spend that much time writing. The idea of scheduled writing is much more palatable if you follow Silvia’s advice and expand your definition of what counts as writing to include all tasks that move your project forward: this means everything from initial research to final formatting.

This holistic definition of writing has been really important for me to stay consistent with my writing. Earlier this week, I rolled out of bed after my toddler had kept me up in the middle of the night. I convinced myself to sit down at my desk and get started, but I couldn’t seem to focus on the revision task I had planned for that session. Rather than abandon my writing entirely, I decided to spend the time formatting my references. This task wasn’t what I had planned, but it still needed to get done and still moved me closer to my goal.

What are tasks that need to get done before you can submit your work but may not feel like “real” writing?

Track your progress
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed with how far you have to go, especially when it comes to longer writing projects. To combat these negative feelings, Silvia recommends tracking your progress with objective data like minutes spent working or words written. Then, when you feel like you haven’t done enough, you can look back at your data and be proud of how far you have come.

I find tracking progress to be incredibly motivating. I do track the number of words I write each day, but I have found that using this metric alone doesn’t allow me to track my productivity on research-heavy days, when I am still working hard but may not be writing new words. In order to account for the different kinds of productivity that take place over the course of writing a dissertation, I also track time spent on the project each day, writing streaks (how many days in a row I’ve shown up for my writing), and have a calendar on my wall with a sticker for each day I’ve worked on my dissertation.

How do you keep track of your writing progress?

If you haven’t checked it out already, How to Write a Lot is a quick read with lots of great tips and a no-nonsense tone. Check it out, and let us know which strategies you’re using!

Cheryl Read Author Image

Cheryl Read is a Writing Instructor and the Coordinator of Asynchronous Course Visits in the Walden University Writing Center. She loves finding strategies to get lots of writing done. When she’s not helping student writers at Walden, Cheryl stays busy playing with her son and working on her dissertation.

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Annotated Bibliography Essentials: Application Writing

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In the Writing Center, when we talk about synthesis we often ask the “So What?” question—you’ve provided evidence and analysis related to your topic, but so what? What does it mean? If you haven’t answered this question in you text, you likely need to add an explanation of why this information matters so that your readers can follow your argument.

Annotated Bibliography Essentials: Application Writing

In the Application portion of an annotation, you similarly answer the “So What?” question. You tie the key information you gained from this article (provided in your Summary) and your understanding of that information (provided in your Analysis) to your own project. You situate that article in the context of your research and give the reader a sense of why it matters. It’s a bit like the Lead-out portion of the MEAL plan: as in a lead-out, your Application connects your evidence and analysis to an overall argument.

Let’s walk through how you might construct an Application portion of an annotation. Typically, the Application is about a paragraph in length. You could use whichever approach you prefer to structure this paragraph, such as the MEAL plan, PEAS, NO TEARS, or various other methods of constructing paragraphs not based on acronyms. (I’ll use the MEAL plan here for the sake of simplicity and consistency with our other paragraphing resources.) Your Application might look a little bit different than a typical MEAL paragraph because it needs to focus primarily on synthesis, but it should still contain the key MEAL components. You’ll need:

A main idea (M), which is usually your main takeaway from this article.

Some evidence (E). You’ve already provided evidence in your Summary, so you usually won’t need to restate it here. Instead, you might briefly reference one or two key ideas from your Summary to illustrate your main idea.

Some analysis (A) to convey your understanding of that key evidence.

A lead-out (L) to establish the article’s connection to your research project.

Let’s look at an example Application paragraph (taken from our Annotations webinar):

This study was valuable to my understanding of how a female police officer’s experiences may be different than a male police officer’s. While Thompson et al.’s conclusions are not generalizable, their literature review is helpful to any scholar first approaching the subject. However, the researchers also showed that more studies should be conducted to fully explore the possible differences in police experiences that they identified.

Notice that there are only three sentences here, which is okay—remember, the MEAL plan is a guide, not a formula. The important thing is that the Application paragraph provides each MEAL component.

While you’re in the process of writing an annotated bibliography, it can seem tedious to write an Application for each annotation. The answer to the “so what?” question might seem obvious or, alternatively, unimportant to you in that moment. However, doing the work of writing an Application for each of your annotations provides a basis for the next phase of your research. By articulating  your sources’ usefulness, you lay the groundwork necessary for synthesizing those sources later on (this is, in part, why you’re often asked to write annotations in preparation for a literature review), because writing an Application, as with all writing, clarifies your own thinking about your topic.

If you're curious to learn more, click here to view all of the posts in this five-part series on Annotated Bibliography Essentials!

Matt Sharkey-Smith author photo

Matt Sharkey-Smith is a senior writing instructor 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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Annotated Bibliography Essentials: Analysis Writing

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More than most commonly assigned graduate writing papers, the annotated bibliography is an assignment whose structural components remain largely unchanged. Unlike other common writing prompts and assignment that can change a great deal across curriculum and specific areas of focus, the requirements of a single annotated entry are relatively straight forward and easy to follow. The main sections of the annotated paper, not including the reference entry for the actual source, are: the summary, the analysis, and the application. Let’s talk about the second section, the analysis.

Annotated Bibliography Essentials: Analysis Writing

The analysis portion of the annotated entry is the area of the paper to discuss both short-comings and strengths of the research being reviewed. Unlike the first section, the summary, the goal of the analysis is not to provide an overview of the research but, rather, to discuss to what effect the study’s construction and organization aided or hindered its pursuit of information.

What some students find challenging about the analysis is that it requires them to sit in a position of power above the study itself and, in essence, review the quality of the work. For many students, this task comes with a certain amount of responsibility and fear. As graduate students working towards an advanced degree, a master’s or doctorate, many students writing annotated assignments have yet to complete and publish original research on their own, and the prospect of critiquing material that is already out in the world can seem a bit daunting. 

Beyond the actual nuts and bolts of jumping into the reviewed research to look for seams and cracks, there is the added difficulty of using the language of research construction (i.e. sample size, validity, bias, confounds, etc.) that carries its own set of difficulties. Although students at the graduate level may be familiar with the terms and language used to describe research studies when seeing them on the page, the actual analytical practice of deconstructing a study to identify would-be errors in its methods or application can be a very daunting challenge. Not only does this kind of thinking require the student to mentally “travel back in time” within the study to look at its construction, the student must also be able to hypothesize, imagine, and articulate an invisible road not taken that may have led the study to a more complete, more applicable, or more significant outcome. For students who have not a great deal of experience reading about or constructing research studies the process of thinking in this way, too, may seem very intimidating.

When starting on a new annotated bibliography assignment the best advice an apprehensive student can follow is to learn by example: look for examples of other annotated bibliographies online and take note of the structure and ideas they’re presenting. If one is unfamiliar with how studies are constructed or what language to use when speaking of the structure of a research study there are always more examples to be found within other annotated examples and additional research studies, as well.

The light at the end of this dark tunnel is that academia is a practice built on history; no student should ever feel completely alone or without resources when working on an assignment like this for the very basic reason that the annotated bibliography has been around for a very long time. In plain speak what the middle section of annotated bibliography represents is the application of learned material to an old problem presented as new: a study was conducted; how could it have been better?

The most promising and challenging aspect of the analysis portion of the annotated bibliography is that it challenges students to look towards the future. More than an isolated assignment that calls upon students to apply a certain amount of critical thinking, the very nature of looking at another person’s research, in essence, requires the graduate student to assume this position of power, if only for a few moments. As the student reviews the methods and thinking of a published piece of research, one could easily find one’s self slipping out of time into the future: a place where master’s-level or doctoral work is far behind and one is critiquing the soundness of a colleague’s research. To assume the role of one who has something to say, the role of someone who looks at a study to boldly claim what is, in plain terms, “just wrong” is a lofty place to sit. It carries with it the burdens of responsibility, scrutiny, and authority. 

In this way, it’s not surprising that the middle section, the analysis, of the annotated bibliography is as challenging as it is. More than just short section within a common writing assignment it is also a gateway to life beyond graduate school. It’s a short, written proposal of one’s fitness to speak as an academic, and to review another’s research with authority. It’s no wonder the middle section seems so scary. It’s the part of the assignment when the lights dim, the microphone goes on, and everyone quiets to listen.

Don’t be afraid.
You’ll be ready. 

If you're curious to learn more, click here to view all of the posts in this five-part series on Annotated Bibliography Essentials!

James A. Horwitz author image

James A. Horwitz is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. James received his MA and MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, having first earned undergraduate degrees in both English and Psychology. James has taught at the college-level for over 13 years and is passionate about student-learning, mentoring, and student writers developing their work.

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Annotated Bibliography Essentials: Summary Writing

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When it comes to the annotated bibliography, it can feel difficult to know what to include in such a unique assignment. In general, the annotated bibliography does not reflect a typical course paper. Due to the nature of the assignment and limited exemplars in academia, many students tend to feel confused with the annotated bibliography’s structure. The question of whether “am I doing this right?” comes into existence.

Annotated Bibliography Essentials: Summary Writing

As a Writing Instructor here at Walden University’s Writing Center, I come across many annotated bibliographies from students. Time and time again, I see students struggle with the annotated bibliography process, specifically summary writing for each source. Most students understand the basic rules of summary writing, such as writing the summary in your own words and writing the summary in the past tense (e.g., “The authors found that…”). However, summary writing is more than just covering the basics.

I tend to see summaries with missing pieces or perhaps summaries that are too vague. After years of reading annotated bibliographies, I noticed that students are unclear on the best practices in summary writing for sources.
So, here are three best practices when it comes to summary writing for sources in your annotated bibliography.

What did the author do?
For each source, take your time to read the content. As you read each source, it is crucial to locate the author’s actions in the source. What exactly did the author do in the article? Perhaps the author conducted specific research related to a topic. It is important to capture the author’s actions and begin your summary with this specific information. As a result, the answer to “what did the author do?” will create a strong foundation for your summary.

Why did the author do that?
Next, it is essential to determine why the author took a particular action in the source. In other words, you want the reader to understand why the author conducted the research. The answer to this question will unfold a series of reasons on the significance of the source, which will essentially establish a clear connection to the purpose of the source in your annotated bibliography.

What did the author find?
Finally, every summary should include the author’s findings. Overall, the author’s findings serve a unique purpose in your annotated bibliography. It allows you to share the importance of using the source because of the author’s findings. With such important information, you can use the author’s findings to establish the application of the sources later in the annotated bibliography.

Summary writing for an annotated bibliography can feel confusing at times, but it does not have to be that way. In addition to this post, I recommend checking out our overview of summary writing webpage. Then, when you are ready, I encourage you to share your annotated bibliography with any of our Writing Instructors in a paper review session. Click Paper Review Appointment to make an appointment today and receive useful feedback to strengthen your summary writing.

If you're curious to learn more, click here to view all of the posts in this five-part series on Annotated Bibliography Essentials!

The Walden University Writing Center

The Walden University Writing Center creates content to help students with a range of topics related to scholarly writing, APA style, and the writing process. We host webinars, and offer paper reviews, live chat, and a podcast. You can check out all of our resources by visiting our Walden University Writing Center home page.

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