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Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

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How I Learned That Editors Need Editors Too

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Back when I was a book editor for a self-help publisher, I came up with an idea for a book. I presented it to the review committee and to my delight, they approved it. Because we could not find qualified writers, I was told to go ahead and write it myself. Me? Write a book? Me? I was both thrilled and daunted by turns. I had never written anything so long nor over so long a period.

Title Image for this blog post. A pair of sunglasses resting atop a closed laptop.

But at least I knew what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. The book would consist of 365 essays of 200 words each. According to the contract, I had to write two a day, 7 days a week. Monday through Friday, I would go to the office, work 8 hours, and then come home to eat, walk the dogs, and write two short essays. When I turned out the lights, I was exhausted. Some days I liked what I’d written, some days I just couldn’t get the words right. I was grateful for the contract: In bold letters it said I was the one for the project and, by implication, that I had no choice but to find the energy and the fortitude to complete it.

After 7 or 8 months of steady 2-hour stints, I finished the first draft. What satisfaction, what relief! What a dreaded next step: a formal edit. Instead of being the editor and delivering an edit, I was now the author and receiving one. Though my editor was a friend with whom I’d work for years, I didn’t trust her. I didn’t trust that she’d understand what I was trying to say or how I was trying to say it. In other words, I had little confidence in my work.

When I got her review, I was afraid to look at it. It felt like opening an overdraft notice from my bank. To my surprise and relief, she did understand my ideas and my approach. While she offered comments and suggestions, all were informed, respectful, and useful. And yet, as I revised page after page, I felt irritated and defensive. I was tired, to be sure, but I took the review personally and my ego was suffering. A few months later, the printed book was in my hand and my ego was soaring. I forgot all about the stress and had a little publication party with family, friends, and colleagues who’d worked on the book.

For many of us, writing is difficult. It means creating something out of nothing and we don’t really know what we know until we’ve tried to put it down on paper. When we're sure what we’ve written is what we wanted to say, we revise to make sure it flows. But being so close to our work, it’s often hard to easy to see just what needs help. But if the act of writing can lead us to say what we want to say, then an editor can help ensure that it gets said and said well. (editors need editors too.) Despite the extraordinary effort on the writer’s part, writing for publication turns out to be a team effort: All stakeholders want the work to be as good as it can be.

Tim McIndoo is a Senior Dissertation Editor in the Walden Writing Center. He came to Walden University in 2007 with over 30 years of editorial experience, including work as translator and photographer. He lives in Minneapolis with four cats.

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Thursday Thoughts: How Do You Punctuate?

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Chances are, if you're reading this blog, you have a strong love of written language. Yes, you probably enjoy occasionally listening to the great speeches from history, and you're probably an above-average conversationalist. But you even more so you love to revel in the features of writing that don't exist any other type of communication. For example, consider the complicated nature of punctuation marks. 

The title image of this blog: A laptop with the words Thursday Thoughts Overlaid

There are 14 commonly used punctuation marks written English language, and even more that are less-commonly used. These marks are useful for conveying additional meaning to readers without using additional words, but each one carries with it a series of rules, considerations, caveats, and conditions. Scholarly writers quickly realize that to convey their meaning as clearly and concisely as possible, a functional understanding of those 14 little marks is not an optional skill to develop. 

To help you along on your way in this journey, we've developed an extensive library of punctuation resources that you can access now. Navigate to our punctuation overview page to begin learning. Some highlights of these materials that you will encounter:

Like most writing skills, learning to use punctuation properly must be learned and practiced. We hope these resources will help you do just that. And once you've practiced, you can honestly answer the next time someone asks you at a cocktail party, "How do you punctuate?"

The Walden University Writing Center
 supports writers at all stages of their degree programs. Center staff work hard to create resources that writers will find helpful at any phase of their writing process and for writing matters large and small. 

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How I Learned to Write for My Audience, Not Myself

My first opportunity to write an academic paper came early in my freshman year of college, in a class called “International & Avant-Garde Films of the 1920s.” As a longtime film buff, I already knew a lot about the topic and was eager to demonstrate. Looking back, I was a bit of a hotshot and definitely obnoxiously confident that I knew what I was talking about. So I was taken aback when my professor met me later and told me that my writing, while good, was a bit “glib.”

This instance was one of many wake-up calls throughout my life when my writing was changed due to some forceful, sometimes insulting but truthful wake-up calls. This was truly a time in my life when I learned to stop writing for myself, and start writing for my audience.

How I learned to write for my audience, not myself: Cool sunglasses atop a closed laptop.

Being a hotshot, of course I resisted this criticism at first. Clearly, my professor was just unworthy of understanding my genius, right? Well, no—it turns out she was completely right. My writing was clever, full of smart allusions and phrases that certainly gave the impression I was well-read on the topic, but often ended up being irrelevant to my main argument or claim. My word choice was, in Shakespeare’s famous words, lots of sound and fury signifying nothing.

More recently, writing a book about rap music for children has helped me hone my style even further. It was at first very difficult for me to write for a sixth to eighth grade reading level, which requires a certain simplicity of word choice and a word cap on sentence length. At first it became very difficult to explain certain terms and ideas in simple language, but my struggle made me better again at boiling down my writing to its barest, most necessary essentials.

A strange thing has happened to me over time: Even with all the restrictions and rules of academic writing, my creativity did not feel stifled. In fact, it felt liberated. Over time, I slowly learned the rules of literary analysis and close textual reading. Instead of using jargon-heavy “academese,” I used direct and simple language that clearly followed from sentence to sentence. I felt my thinking and writing was becoming clearer. By the time I was in grad school, I was putting all these lessons into practice and consequently, producing a lot more interesting work.

The result of this continual renewal process is that my writing is much, much better than it was even a few years ago, and it comes down to word choice. This is what makes certain writers like Ernest Hemingway worth teaching, in my opinion. Many a high school composition teacher has used Hemingway as the model of a good writer, but the more important element is that he is a profoundly simple writer—he almost completely eschewed adverbs or extraneous adjectives. He may not be a model for every type of writer, but he was a great model for my type of writer—someone who can write a lot and was easily self-impressed by lengthy sentences and big words. 

A common Hemingway sentence is something like, “He sat and drank his beer.” Another writer might compose something like “He reposed at an acute angle in his favorite chair from childhood and drank a beer from a cold glass with a straw.” At one time, I would have written something like the latter sentence. Now, I see the former sentence as better.

Good word choice to me is always about simpler word choice, and it is a lesson I believe I will continue to keep learning.

Nathan Sacks is a writing instructor in the the Walden University Writing Center. He also enjoys writing books, playing guitar, and playing with cats..

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Thursday Thoughts: January Live Webinars

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Here at the Walden University Writing Center, we're busy producing the highest quality writing resources for our community of scholarly writers. As we dive headfirst into the new year, we've got an exciting lineup of Live Webinars on the schedule for January. We hope you'll join our talented Instructor and Editor presenters as they delve into a particular writing topic each week and offer plenty of opportunities for the attendees to practice new skills.

So, if you're a writer who is new to the conventions of academic writing and needs some preliminary instruction: join us! If you're an expert writer but would like additional instruction in a single area to improve your writing: join us! If you're the type of learner who does best in a group setting with structured learning activities: join us! Or, if you just want a chance to interact with like-minded learners from across the globe: join us! It's going to be a great month for webinars!

Here is this month's Live Webinar schedule. Click each link to learn more and register today!

January Webinar Calendar

Title: APA Citations Part 1: Methods to the Madness
Date: Thursday, January 5, 2017
Time (Eastern): 5:00PM - 6:00PM
Audience: All Students


Title: Annotated Bibliographies
Date: Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Time (Eastern): 7:00PM - 8:00PM
Audience: Graduate Students


Title: Mastering the Mechanics of Writing Part 1: Simple Sentences
Date: Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Time (Eastern): 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Audience: All Students


Title: Graduate Level Writing for Master's Students
Date: Thursday, January 26, 2017
Time (Eastern): 12:00PM - 1:00PM
Audience: Masters Students


And if you're looking for even more webinar content before our next live session, please browse our archived recordings of all of our webinars. There's so much great instruction here. Delve in and let us know what your favorites are in the comments section below!

The Walden Writing Center Webinars teach a variety of writing skills and APA guidelines in a fully online, interactive, student-centered environment. Webinars offer live writing instruction, as well as an opportunity for students to connect via Q&A and cahtting with staff and other Walden students. Each webinar is recorded for later viewing.

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How I Learned to Use APA Style

It’s a new year, and new years are a great time to reflect on what we’ve learned and what goals we’d like to set for ourselves moving forward. One of my personal accomplishments this year is learning APA style and formatting, which I did not know when I first joined the Walden University Writing Center. Today I want to share how I learned APA and, through practice and regularly double checking my work, became an APA master. It wasn’t easy, but I did it and you can, too!

The Title Image for This Blog Post: Cool sunglasses on a closed laptop.

My Journey to APA Style

The academic writing background I come from is primarily Modern Language Association’s style (MLA), and I know many Walden students are familiar with one of the many other citation styles as well. There are many similarities between these citation styles in general, but the precise formatting is different. Additionally, APA style is more than just citations—it also involves an entire philosophy of clear, direct, specific communication. But I was determined (and required) to learn and understand APA for this position to best be able to help the students I work with. So I did.

One of the major things I did to help become familiar with APA was to read the manual. Yep, I actually read the entire manual, and I seriously recommend that you do, too. It may sound tedious, but if you are unfamiliar with academic writing and specifically writing in the sciences, it’s essential reading to understand the underlying philosophy of APA writing—which is to let the facts speak for themselves, and be as clear and precise as possible for your readers.

Reading the manual helped me to learn the guidelines, but it also helped me learn the reasoning behind those guidelines. APA can seem like a lot of arbitrary rules (like citing after each sentence, for example) but there are actually very concrete reasons behind these rules. The APA manual makes the reasoning clear. For example, citing after each sentence is required because writing in the social sciences tends to be research-heavy, so it is important for readers and researchers to know where the information came from and where they can learn more to fuel their own research projects.

You Can Learn from What I Learned

Mostly importantly, when you’re learning a new writing skill like APA style, don’t get discouraged. When I first started learning APA I was completely overwhelmed by how often you need to cite (in MLA it’s just at the end of the paragraph), but you will really get used to it. Use the Writing Center’s resources (like I do!) to help you stay motivated and in the clear. Here's the Writing Center’s overview page on APA. There are plenty of links and videos for you to check out on this page as well.

Using different types of resources that stimulate different parts of your brain can also be a very helpful way to help you take in this new knowledge. I’m the kind of person who can understand concepts when they’re explained to me, but they don’t really sink in until I do something with those concepts for myself. The interactive components and examples of the Writing Center’s webinars and modules were key to helping me not only understand how APA worked, but how I could use it correctly. You can find our modules and webinars on our writing resources page here. Use them to put into practice the knowledge you gained by reading the manual.

As you start to incorporate all this APA knowledge you’ve gained into your writing, don’t forget to keep your manual nearby. It’s important to double check things! I know it will feel tedious at first to double check your reference entries, search for use of passive voice, or remember to avoid using unclear pronouns like “we” —but it gets easier. Repetition is key to learning and mistakes are okay. Make a checklist of common errors or find some tools and pre-made worksheets that can help you remember all those tricky rules. Make sure you check through it before you turn in assignments and you’ll start internalizing the errors and see them less and less.

Don’t forget: Your friendly Writing Center Instructors and Editors are here to help you along the way, but it will be most beneficial to you as a scholar to work on your APA over time until it becomes second nature! Just like research in your subject area, you really have to steep yourself in a topic before internalizing the ideas and concepts Maybe one of your reflections for this year could be on what APA rules you’ve mastered, and some of your goals could be to continue working on ones you still have difficulty with. It worked for me!

Have APA questions? Email us at writingsupport@waldenu.edu. What do you want to learn next year? What are some personal triumphs from this year or previous ones? Share them below!

Claire Helakoski is a Writing Instructor  at the Walden Writing Center and 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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