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Narrative Writing: Include Relevant Details to Guide Your Reader's Focus

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I’m continuing our series on narrative assignments this week, and today we’ll be focusing on details. I have an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, so I have studied narrative structures before, and am here to give you some advice to help you shape your narrative Walden assignments.

As a creative writer, I’ve done a lot of work constructing and deconstructing nonfiction narratives. For your work here at Walden, everything is nonfiction and has a logical flow, but some assignments are more narrative than others in that they require you to recount a story or event. In these cases, the approach and expectations of the reader are similar to writing an academic paper, but it can get tricky because there are so many personal details to choose from. Today I’ll discuss how you can narrow down the details to enhance your narrative.

Narrative Writing: Include Relevant Details

Let’s say you are asked to tell a story of a leader who inspired you recently in your office. You are telling this story in order to show how some of your course readings apply to real scenarios. The story ends when you’ve explained a specific instance in which this leader inspired you.

Include Relevant Details
Let’s say Linda is the name of the leader in your office who inspired you. Linda handled some very passive aggressive behavior in a meeting very effectively by using some of the techniques you’ve been reading about in class. So, ask yourself, what details are relevant and necessary for the reader to understand what happened? Essentially, what details, if left out, would create a gap in the story? You can list all the details you can think of as an exercise and then pick the ones that you need to include from there. Here are some possible details you can choose from to include in this narrative: 

  • You have worked with Linda for 10 years
  • You have always admired Linda
  • The colleagues in the meeting have a history of negative behavior
  • Linda is the manager of the project the meeting was about

Which of these details are essential to understanding the story? 3 and 4 are likely the most important to readers being able to follow what you’re saying. It may seem like 1 and 2 are relevant, because they’re part of your background with Linda, but they are not essential for the reader considering the purpose here is not a profile of Linda and your relationship, but a specific action Linda took.

Here’s an example of how a paragraph might look with all the above details:
I’ve worked with Linda in my office for 10 years and she is a great manager. I have always admired and enjoyed working with Linda. We recently had a meeting for a project Linda managed, and some coworkers were very passive aggressive and not productive during Linda’s presentation. These particular coworkers have a history of negative behavior and have negatively impacted past meetings as well. Linda handled this interaction very effectively by using Townsend’s (2017) approaches of effective communication.
Now this paragraph is by no means ineffective, but you want your readers to focus on the important and most relevant details that will enhance your narrative—and when you include details not tied in to the meaning or purpose of your work, you can create confusion or a muddled narrative.

A revised paragraph with clearer focus might look more like this:
My manager, Linda, is an effective leader, and recently inspired me with how she handled some negative interactions during a meeting. Linda was the manager of the project we had the meeting for, and while the coworkers present were in a different department, we had worked with them before and had some difficulties. In previous meetings the coworkers had not paid attention while Linda presented and were un-receptive during group discussion and brainstorming. During this meeting, these coworkers interrupted Linda during her presentation and whispered to one another during group discussion rather than engaging with the group. Linda used Townsend’s (2017) approaches for effective communication to speak to these coworkers in the meeting space and establish clear communication for the group.

See how this revision actually has more details, but they are about the most relevant aspects of what happened in this narrative. It is important for a reader to know what exactly happened, that this was established behavior, and how Linda handled the situation in order to understand why the writer is inspired by Linda. We can assume that the narrative will continue from here, explaining exactly what Linda said and did concerning Townsend’s techniques.

So when writing a narrative as part of your academic work, remember to:
  • Ask yourself: What story am I telling? Why? Where does it end up?
  • Write down the details
  • Pull out the essential details for your focus

And of course you can always submit your work to the Writing Center! Narratives are very difficult since we know so much background information about the topic, so one of the best practices, and one every creative or other type of writer uses, is to get a second set of eyes on your work. 

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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Narrative Writing: Scholarly Narrative Overview

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In the coming weeks on this blog, our Blog Team will take an in-depth look at a common (yet complex) type of academic writing that Walden University students are often asked to write: Scholarly Narrative Writing Assignments. Narrative writing is mostly associated with creative writing and other forms of informal prose. However, as scholar-practitioners, Walden students must be prepared to share their professional and academic experiences in a variety of scholarly contexts. With that in mind, over the next few weeks this blog will feature expert advice to help writers strike that perfect balance between formal exposition and personal descriptive writing. We hope you learn and enjoy! 
Scholarly Narrative Overview Title Slide

The world of academic writing has always had a complex relationship with personal narratives. In some scholarly situations, personal narratives are appropriate, but this isn’t always the case. One thing that can sometimes be confusing in academic writing is knowing when to use personal narratives in your work. For example, in completing personal reflection assignments, using a narrative is a good idea. The main point here is that use of personal narrative, as all of your writing, should build your authority and credibility with the reader.

One pitfall with personal narratives is a problem of evidence. This is where I see students most often using narratives ineffectively. Personal narratives relay anecdotal evidence. Though you personally may have experienced something, your personal experience is not necessarily indicative of a larger phenomenon. Because one event happened to you, that doesn’t mean that this is a common occurrence that many others have experienced in the same way. Statistical anomalies happen, and they do not reflect the situation accurately.

Here’s an example: a great deal of research supports the idea wrestling wild bears can cause injury. Now one may say, “my uncle wrestled a wild bear, and he was not injured.” Ok, sure, that did happen, but this is the exception not the rule in this situation. Therefore, you want to avoid using personal narrative as support for your points. This is anecdotal evidence and is not as strong as peer-reviewed, scholarly research with a large and diverse sample size.

Though it is not appropriate to use personal narrative as evidence, personal narrative is appropriate when reflection is involved. This is the case because reflection is all about looking back at your own experiences with a critical eye. To help you do this correctly, here are some general tips that can help you:

Be Honest – when a student is asked to reflect on how a theory or idea can be incorporated into their workplace, for example, it is important to be honest about the situation. These real-life based assignments are common in master’s programs and are ideally suited to the use of personal narrative.

Think Critically – Students can be protective of their role, company, or project when engaging in personal reflection. It is important to give yourself enough space to correctly recognize what was done well in your past and, more importantly, what can be done better. Avoid being apologetic. The point of personal reflection is to look back on your actions with a critical eye. So, when crafting a personal narrative to do this, don’t sugarcoat your critique.

Join the Conversation – Similarly to number 2, students are often asked to reflect on how they will apply the content of a course into their lives. As a scholar, it is incumbent on you to provide an honest critique, even if it is regarding a professor or course content. Failing to sincerely critique your academic experiences honestly makes your writing feel quite generic or even as filler. Note: these reflections are for academic purposes and are not an opportunity for a student to air their grievances with a particular instructor or class. Critiques need to be supported and professional in tone.

Personal narratives can be a tricky thing, but they are an important part of scholarship in their facilitation of personal reflection. Do not use personal narrative to support your points or arguments unless they are indicative of larger phenomena. This is the place for your research. Lastly, when you are using personal narrative, treat it honestly, critically, and professionally. Scholarship is really about being part of a conversation. When you do use your own personal experiences, be sure that it is in a way that builds your authority and credibility in the reader’s eyes.   

Michael Dusek is a Writing Instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. He has taught writing at universities in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, and enjoys helping students improve their writing. To Michael, the essay is both expressive and formal, and is a method for creative problem solving. In his personal life, he enjoys the outdoors, books, music, and all other types of art. 

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APA How-To: Citing and Referencing a PDF

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Sometimes in research we may come across a digital document in Portable Document Format (PDF form). How do you cite and reference a PDF in APA format? Read on to find out!

APA doesn’t have a specific formatting style for an in-text or reference list entry citation for a PDF. Essentially, this is because the format alone doesn’t provide any usable, fixed reference information to assist a reader in finding that work. But don’t worry! There are two main types of documents that appear as PDFs, and we’ll help you cite them today.

The two main types of documents you’ll likely find in PDF format are Articles/Sections from a Book, and Documents Relating to a Webpage. You may also have PDF documents as part of your course materials, but we have an entry for those in our common reference entry page, so look there if your PDF is part of your course materials.

Journal Article and/or Section from a Book
If you find a PDF when searching in a database like Google Scholar, it might look something like the image below, where we can see that this appears to be a journal article available in PDF form to read.

a journal article available in PDF form to read

If we click on the title of the article to open the page, we’ll see some of the publication information and the abstract, but it might be in a jumbled format that we’ll need to put together in order to properly cite this article.

Journal article publication information in a jumbled format that we’ll need to put together in order to properly cite this article.

In this example, we can see the authors’ names and the title in the center of the page, and the journal title, publication year, and volume and issue numbers at the top left of the page. There’s your citation! Regardless of format you read this article in, because it was published in a journal, this is all the information that you need.

If you click on the PDF directly, it will not have all of the information that you need—so be sure to take note of where you found the article or chapter of a book, because very likely this will list some essential information. If you find the PDF on its own and are unsure of the publication information, you will need to look up the title, authors, and any other information that you can find on your PDF in order to find the original source, since that is what you should cite both in-text and in your reference entry. For a refresher on citing a journal article or chapter in a book, visit our common reference list examples page.

Document Relating to a Webpage
Some webpages produce PDFs of statistics, facts, or public information. If you find one of these PDFs, cite it as though it is a webpage on the site itself unless there is other publication information available on the PDF.

For example, the CDC publishes fact sheets in PDF form on their website. Since these are not printed out and produced in another medium, we’ll cite the PDF as a webpage connected to the main site. In the image below you can see how a link to a PDF might look on a webpage.

How a link to a PDF file may appear on a website.

In this case we’ll click and open the PDF and it will open a new webpage. Below you can see an example of what the open webpage from the PDF link looks like.

After opening the PDF file, look at the beginning for the information needed to cite/reference it in APA form.

Once we’ve opened this PDF, we’ll cite it like a webpage. We know from how we accessed this PDF that the CDC produced this document, so that’s who we will use as our author here since there is no specific author listed. We can also see the publication year at the top and the title of the document itself, which we will consider the title of this webpage. Then, we add the URL for where we retrieved this information.

CDC. (March, 2017). National tobacco control program fact sheets: Data sources and methodologies: CDC office on smoking and health. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/ about/osh/program-funding/ pdfs/fact-sheets-data-sources-methodologies.pdf

Just remember these easy steps when citing a PDF and you’ll find the way to cite it correctly according to APA style guidelines.

1. Find the source—webpage or publication?
2. Find the relevant information (author, title, URL, publication year, etc.)
3. Format correctly based on type of document or webpage
4. Double check your work with our Common Reference List Examples page

That original source is the essential component you need to cite a PDF. If the source isn’t clear, do some digging by searching the title and any other relevant information. If you are unable to find a clear source for that document, try to find the information from it elsewhere in order to provide the reader with a retrievable scholarly resource.

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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AWA Student Spotlight: David Yeary

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The Writing Center’s Administrative Writing Assistants (AWAs) are at the front line of the writingsupport@waldenu.edu inbox, performing necessary tasks to make the Writing Center run smoothly. Writing Center AWAs are an integral part of the Writing Center as they communicate regularly with students. But, the AWAs are also Walden students, and thus integral to Walden University itself. That’s why we’d like to share some of their stories of academic success, professional accomplishment, social change work, and advice for other Walden students. In this spotlight series, we show our appreciation for all their hard work so that others can be inspired by their stories as well.  

Today's spotlight is on David Yeary, student in the Riley College of Education and Leadership

Administrative Writing Assistants Spotlight Series

David joined the Walden University Writing Center AWA team three years ago and embodies Walden’s values of service and community involvement in his interactions with students.  He is a native of Newnan, Georgia but saw several corners of the country as he finished elementary school in Baltimore, Maryland, and attended junior high and high school in Reno, Nevada. He returned to Georgia to obtain his B.A. and later his M.A. degrees, and has lived and taught in the Peach State ever since. Starting off his professional career as a sportswriter and editor, David later was drawn toward a goal he had held since high school: Teaching. Working for positive social change in his community, David has worked within multiple Georgia school systems and even worked with educators at the state level to review and revise education materials to ensure alignment with Georgia’s version of Common Core standards.

We asked David to share a few tidbits about himself, his tips for students reaching out the Writing Center, and his plans for after graduation. Here are his responses:

Walden University Writing Center (WUWC): What are your interests and hobbies?

David Yeary (DY): In addition to having raised six children, my wife and I play bluegrass music (she: guitar and mandolin, me: banjo), work in local elementary schools, and we are campground hosts at Watson Mill Bridge State Park in Northeast Georgia.

WUWC: What is your program of study here at Walden?

DY: I am in the final phase of my Ed.D program. My concentration is Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. My educational specialty is general and content literacy.

WUWC: What drew you to want to study at Walden?

DY: I had desired to pursue a doctorate for many, many years. I am in the last third of my teaching career, and Walden offered the combination of a respected and accredited degree and a totally online program, which was crucial to me.

WUWC: What is the one thing students should keep in mind when emailing the writingsupport@waldenu.edu email with a question?

DY: Mainly, that the only bad question is the one that is not asked. Walden students are extremely fortunate to have the Writing Center  as a resource. The main problem I see is that I am not sure the majority of students are aware of what is available to them.

WUWC: What are your plans once you receive your Walden degree?

DY: My oldest daughter is also in the Walden Ed.D program, and I hope she and I can collaborate on literacy research once we are finished with our doctoral studies.

David is going to miss the Walden Writing Center when he graduates this year—we will miss you too, David! Thanks, David, for supporting the Writing Center and, subsequently, supporting Walden students. For more information on Writing Center sources, visit the Writing Center Home page. 

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. Students can email WritingSupport@waldenu.edu and expect a reply from one of our expert AWAs. 

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Student Spotlight: Lihn Tran, College of Health Sciences

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The Walden University Writing Center is privileged to work with talented students. In the Student Spotlight Series, we aim to support incredible work our students do, both in and out of the classroom. The goal of the Student Spotlight Series is to provide the Walden community with a place to build bridges and make connections by developing shared understanding of the diverse and varied student journey. Students share stories about their writing process, their efforts towards social change, and their motivations for pursuing higher education. We ask questions, and students generously answer.

This Student Spotlight features Lihn Tran, student of the College of Health Sciences.

How would you describe your personality to someone just meeting you? Someone that just met me will think I am very social and talkative; however, I am mostly private and keep to a small group.

Tell us about your writing process. My writing process involves breaking down the points I need to address and researching each point. I then write what is on my mind regarding the topics. I come back and support my thoughts with researched articles/evidence. I reread the paper to make sure everything makes sense and make changes as needed. I then run the paper through Grammarly. Lastly I submit the paper to Nicole at Walden's Writing Center. Nicole often make great suggestions that make my papers sound brilliant.

What is one Writing Center service you would recommend to new students? The one Writing Center Service I would definitely recommend over the others is the paper reviews. Working with Nicole has greatly improved my writing and make me more confident.

What are some of the most useful lessons you've learned through paper reviews? Some of the most useful lessons I’ve learned through paper reviews are practicing concision and limiting passive sentences. 

What inspires you to write? I mainly write papers for my classes. The thing that inspires me to write is a topic that I am passionate about.

Can you describe one writing project or assignment that meant a lot to you in some way? One project that I completed that meant a lot to me was my paper for my policies class. Through this paper I realized my passion for empowering my profession through participation in the political arena. I have never been a political person, however, after this paper, I became more active in my nursing organization and am assisting with the efforts to push for the nurse practitioner’s independent practice in Texas.

What is your educational background? I have my associate's degree in nursing from a community college, my bachelor's of nursing at Western Governor University, and I am currently pursuing my master's degree in psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner at Walden.

Have you encountered any challenges while at Walden and how did you overcome those challenges? Challenges at Walden and in most online classes would be the autonomy. Most classes are self-taught and self-motivated with very little interaction from the instructors. Another problem is if you have questions, there is really no one to ask. Questions to instructors take time to turnaround, often past the deadline. The way I cope with this is to work ahead and connect with other classmates. Working ahead gives me time to ask questions before the work is due. My classmate and I also brainstorm on issue we don’t fully comprehend, often answering the questions ourselves.

How has your education at Walden influenced how you think about social change? I took a policy class at Walden that ignited my passion for social change. I hope to lend my efforts and votes to help the community as well as promote the nursing profession.

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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