Welcome to the Walden Writing Center Blog! Each week on the blog, we--the Walden University Writing Center writing instructors & editors--publish a post about scholarly writing, APA style, course papers, the dissertation, book reviews, our WriteCast podcast, technology tips, & more to help you through your academic writing journey. We also feature spotlight posts highlighting Walden University..
Even if you wouldn’t consider yourself a perfectionist, generally speaking (have you seen the state of my laundry piles?), perfectionist thoughts and tendencies have a bad habit of showing up when we sit down to write. For many writers, finishing a writing project has just as much to do with responding to perfectionism as it does with the words on the page. Here are some strategies to combat perfectionism in your writing process. I’ve adapted these strategies from a book that has been helpful to me lately: Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done written by Jon Acuff.
Cut Your Goal in Half When we face down a big goal, it can be crippling. We might set the goal with the best of intentions, but if it’s too big, it will be overwhelming rather than motivating. This is why it’s important to break down larger tasks. Instead of “write my literature review,” it’s much easier to work on “find and download ten relevant sources from the library.” The goal of “finish my dissertation” might be paralyzing, but “spend 25 minutes working on an outline for one section” is doable.
If the perfectionist voice in your head is speaking up right now, it’s probably telling you that a smaller goal isn’t good enough, that if you write one chapter by the end of the term rather than two, there is no way you will finish your capstone on time. Actually, one study described in Acuff’s book indicated that when people cut their goal in half, 63% of them increased their performance over previous attempts, and 90% felt more motivated to work on their goal. That’s right: cutting your goal in half can actually make you more productive.
Double Your Timeline Sometimes it isn’t possible to cut a goal in half. After all, your professor probably expects a full prospectus or capstone rather than one that includes half of what they’ve asked for. In these cases, when you have the control to do so, consider doubling your timeline. You may find yourself feeling anxious at lengthening an already long timeline, but in reality this longer timeline will probably be more reasonable and lead to better, and perhaps even faster, results. For example, Acuff cited a study where one researcher asked students to estimate how long they expected it to take to finish their theses in both the best circumstances and the worst ones. Interestingly, less than 50% of them finished by their longest estimate. This indicates that we often underestimate how long it will take us to complete a task and need to lengthen our timelines to make them manageable. Do Less to Do More Of course, there are also times when both the goal and the deadline are fixed, such as when a course assignment is due. When this happens, you need to focus as much attention as possible on achieving your goal within the time allotted. To do this, you’re probably going to have to give something up in another area of your life, at least temporarily. This means disregarding the voice of perfectionism, which will tell you that you can give 100% to your work, school, family, and social lives all at once. Instead, choose what you are willing to let go to achieve your goals. Perhaps that’s a Netflix habit, social media (though not the Walden Writing Center blog, of course!), or doing certain household chores yourself. Is there anything you can eliminate from your busy schedule to allow more time for your goal? If not, how can you simplify what you have to do? Build in Rewards In theory, finishing an assignment, class, or degree program should be its own reward, but that’s actually perfectionism talking again. For most people, writing is hard work, so give yourself some rewards for putting in the effort! Maybe you can enjoy your favorite treat or playlist while working on your project to make it feel more enjoyable. When you’ve worked towards a big, long-term goal consistently for a week or a month, do something special for yourself to recognize your hard work. And, of course, make a plan for what you’ll do to celebrate once you’ve finally achieved your goal. These rewards don’t necessarily have to be expensive or time consuming (though they can be, if you like). They should be something that you will find motivating and be able to indulge in guilt-free.
What steps will you take to let go of your perfectionism and finish your writing project?
Cheryl Read is a Writing Instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. Her reward for finishing her PhD will be a family trip to Disney World. When she's not helping student writers at Walden, Cheryl stays busy playing with her son and knitting.
Did you know that writing is a process? For instance, when you read academic articles, the authors didn’t write their work in one sitting. Instead, they practiced prewriting, drafting, revising, and proofreadingstrategies to polish their work so that they could present their arguments clearly and effectively to readers. Of course, approaching writing as a process can also help writers with time management issues related to writing, such as writing under deadlines and writing for a course while juggling work and other responsibilities.
Want to learn more? The writing center has several sources on all stages of the writing process. Don’t forget to share with use what prewriting, drafting, revising, and or proofreading strategies do you use that you find are effective!
The Walden Writing Center provides writing resources and support for all student writers including paper reviews, a podcast, live chat, webinars, modules, and of course a blog.
If you’re ever played board games with your family or friends, maybe you have dealt with someone who cheats at them. Growing up, my older sister made cheating at board games a science—each time I would catch her in the act, she would find a new way to cheat next time. These board game shenanigans meant that playing detective with her cheating was more of the actual game we were playing. I’m still waiting for the board game police to show up.
Unlike cheating at board games, though, there are consequences to academic dishonesty such as plagiarism. Intentional plagiarism is a fairly cut and dry to understand. When plagiarism occurs, though, it is often unintentional plagiarism. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t carry the same academic consequences. This isn’t meant to scare you, though, as there are some fairly easy ways to avoid accidental plagiarism. In this blog post, I want to discuss two main tips for avoiding plagiarism: correctly citing each sentence that provides information from a source and correctly paraphrasing points from a source.
If you have had a paper review with one of our Walden University Writing Instructors, maybe your instructor pointed out to you the need to cite each sentence that provides information from a source, and you wondered, why? For instance, maybe you cited at the end of a paragraph or cited every other sentence because you were citing the same source throughout the paragraph. The issue is that each point that comes from a source is not attributed to a source, so those un-cited sentences suggest to readers that they are your own ideas when they are actually coming from a source. Both not attributing ideas to a source and falsely attributing ideas from a source as your own and are forms of plagiarism.
Correct citation also refers to ensuring direct quotes are properly formatted. For instance, when a direct quote is included, the page number where the quote was found would be included (as “p. xx”). For sources with no page numbers, the paragraph number would be included (as “para. xx”). As well, quote marks need to be included around the quoted material, otherwise, readers will assume that the information is a paraphrase. Presenting quoted material as a paraphrase is a form of plagiarism.
To avoid plagiarism, then, it is important to correctly cite by: 1) ensuring each sentence that provides information from a source is cited so that information is correctly attributed to the source and not falsely attributed to you, and 2) ensuring direct quotes are correctly formatted so the information is not presented as your paraphrase of that information or point.
Paraphrasing is usually better than quoting since paraphrasing demonstrates a writer’s command of the material and direct quotes, especially long ones, can disrupt the flow of points since they are in a different voice from the author. With this in mind, while incorrectly presenting a direct quote as a paraphrase is problematic, so is incorrectly paraphrasing a source. One way a source might be incorrectly paraphrased is through patchwork paraphrasing which largely means that some of the original source’s wording is used. For instance, the paraphrase may change a word here and there, or move around some of the wording of the original source. In this sense, it would be similar to including a sentence that is a direct quote from a source but presenting that direct quote as a paraphrase—the original author’s words are presented as your own. While not as egregious as not citing at all, ineffective paraphrasing can still be considered to be a form of plagiarism.
So, to avoid plagiarism, it is important to paraphrase effectively. Paraphrasing effectively means that 1) the paraphrase stays true to the original sources’ meaning, and 2) the paraphrase is in different wording, and has a different sentence structure, then the original.
I know this seems like a lot of information, but as I noted in the beginning, the main tips for avoiding plagiarism include correctly citing each sentence that provides information from a source, or needs to be supported by a source, and correctly paraphrasing. Plagiarism can be a scary word, but it doesn’t have to be if you are informed about how to avoid it.
During the day, I’m your usual mild-mannered writing instructor. I review papers, chat with students, and complete other projects to help Walden University students achieve their writing goals. In the evening, however, I become a Walden student with my own writing goals. I’m working toward a PhD in Education at Walden, so I experience Walden course assignments as a writing instructor and as a student. However, even as a writing instructor at Walden, there are times when I’m confused by assignment instructions or unsure about how to begin writing or organize my ideas. In these cases, the strategy I share below for tackling course assignments has helped me to clarify my assignment instructions and start writing.
The first step in my approach to completing Walden assignments is to fully understand the assignment. To do this, I copy and paste the assignment instructions into a separate Word document. This helps me to separate the assignment from the rest of the coursework on the main course page and focus only on the assignment elements. After I have copied and pasted the assignment prompt into a new Word document, I then highlight all of the action words in the assignment prompt that point to something I have to do within the assignment.
For example, my highlighted prompt might look like this:
In a 3-5 page paper, evaluate the importance of Learning Communities in your instructional setting. Analyze obstacles that may prevent the development of Learning Communities. Finally, offer suggestions to combat these obstacles and create strong Learning Communities.
After highlighting my prompt, I now understand that I’m going to have to evaluate, analyze, and offersuggestions about Learning Communities in my assignment.
The second step in my strategy is to open a new Word document that I save and name according to the assignment instructions. This new Word document will become the space where I complete the assignment. As a tip for this portion of the strategy, I recommend keeping a blank course template in your doctoral program document folder. I usually duplicate or copy the blank course template and then rename it to match the current assignment I’m working on. At this point in the process, I now have a better understanding of what the assignment requires, and I have a blank template ready for my ideas.
The third step in my writing process is to organize the blank template to better suit the assignment that I’m working on. Basically, I alter the template heading levels to match the assignment prompt. By filling out the cover page and the heading levels to match the assignment prompts, I create an outlineof the paper that will help me to stay on topic as I draft the assignment and keep the length to 3-5 pages. After I finish creating the outline for the headings, I will add each part of the prompt into its appropriate section. For example, my outline for the above prompt might look like this:
The Importance of Learning Communities
Here is where I will briefly introduce Learning Communities and what they look like in my instructional setting. I’ll end with a thesis statement that contains my overall argument about Learning Communities.
Evaluation of Learning Communities
In a 3-5 page paper, evaluate the importance of Learning Communities in your instructional setting.
Analysis of Obstacles
Analyze obstacles that may prevent the development of Learning Communities.
Learning Community Suggestions
Finally, offer suggestions to combat these obstacles and create strong Learning Communities.
This is where I’ll wrap up my ideas about Learning Communities. I’ll summarize my overall argument about Learning Communities and then show how this information about Learning Communities can be helpful in the future. Showing the importance of the topic or discussing future application of the information are both solid choices when crafting a conclusion.
Here is where I will add references to the course learning resources or to other scholarly articles that will help me make my argument about Learning Communities.
Now that I have an outline for the course assignment, I’m almost ready to begin writing!
My final step before writing is to begin reading the course resources for the assignment. You might be wondering why I don’t read the learning resources before creating an outline for an assignment. While this may not work for you, I find it helpful to understand the assignment before I begin the readings for the week. That way, I know what I’m looking for as I read the scholarly articles and resources. If I find quotes or ideas that I think would be helpful in my assignment, I add them to the appropriate section in my outline with an APA-formatted in-text citation and then add that source to my reference list as I go. This way, once I finish reading the course resources, I have an outline ready, and I also have scholarly support for my ideas in the appropriate sections.
Once I finish adding in any necessary paraphrased source material during my reading of the learning resources, I’m ready to begin writing! I can then begin crafting paragraphs around my source material, using the MEAL plan to add topic sentences, evidence, analysis, and lead outs that will help readers understand my overall argument about Learning Communities.
Although my strategy may not suit everyone, I encourage you to try it out and see what you think. Please feel free to sound off in the comments with any strategies you find helpful in completing Walden coursework—we’d love for you to share your tips for tackling assignments!
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.
The Walden University Writing Center is closed November 22-23, 2018 to allow our staff to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with their families. We look forward to seeing you again on Monday, November 26!
Even when our Writing Center is closed, there are lots of resources available to you! Check out our website, webinar archive, interactive modules, and other posts here on our blog.
This Thanksgiving and every day, we in the Writing Center are grateful for you, our readers and students. Thank you for being part of this community!
The Walden University Writing Center supports writers at all stages of their degree programs and writing processes. Walden University students are encouraged to participate and practice their scholarly writing skills with one of our instructors or editors.
For some of your work at Walden, you may need to conduct surveys of your own participants. In these cases, you may be wondering—how should I refer to these research participants who want to remain anonymous? Do I need to cite them? Read on for some examples and APA tips on referring to the participants in your research.
You can use a variety of techniques to refer to research participants, and APA has some specific recommendations. According to the APAStyle Blog, these include but are not limited to: their roles, pseudonyms, initials, case numbers, or letters of the alphabet. The APA Style Blog also suggests that you can alter some characteristics to make participants less distinguishable, leave out some information about the participant, or combine participant statements into a composite participant. For more detailed examples, see section 1.11 of your APA manual, but I’ve also listed a few below.
Initials: CH stated that they “love writing and visiting the Writing Center”.
Numerals/Case Numbers: According to participant 7, an online student, “the Writing Center is the best.”
Composite Statement: Several survey participants indicated that they enjoy and plan to visit the Writing Center again in the future.
You may notice here that none of these examples are cited—this is to protect the anonymity of the participants and it is not necessary to cite your own anonymous research participants. If a participant would like to go on record, then you should use personal communication rulesfor referring to and citing that participant in text.
Keep these rules and handy resources below in mind if you’re conducting your own research and have anonymous participants.
Claire Helakoski is a writing instructor at the Walden Writing Center. Claire also co-hosts WriteCast, the Writing Center's podcast. Through these multi-modal avenues, Claire delivers innovative and inspiring writing instruction to Walden students around the world.
In this episode of WriteCast, meet writing instructor Tasha Sookochoff. She joined the Walden Writing Center in September 2017, and now she gets to sit down with Kacy and Claire to talk about her own writing experiences as student, writer, and instructor. Tasha shares her approach to working with students on their papers, some of her favorite Walden Writing Center resources, and the one question she asks before finishing anything she writes.
To download the episode to your computer, press the share button on the player above, then press the download button. 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.
Many people are familiar with APA format in terms of citations and reference list entries. However, there are other APA formatting rules which may seem arbitrary but are in fact important. APA style is not just about building a writer’s credibility through the effective use and integration of reputable sources. APA is also about enhancing your readers’ understanding and respect for your work through format clarity and using non-biased language.
If you would like to learn more about some of these other APA nuances, check out our page on “Ten Common APA Nuances.” Whether you are a beginner in building your APA knowledge or want a refresher, these top common nuances provide a nice, quick reference!
What APA nuances do you struggle with?
The Walden Writing Center provides writing resources and support for all student writers including paper reviews, a podcast, live chat, webinars, modules, and of course a blog.