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Foundational Concepts for Transitioning Writers: Establishing Context

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After several years working in your field, you become an expert. You have specialized knowledge and information about your work environment, the people you serve, the functions of your team, and your team’s goals, initiatives, and desired outcomes. Newcomers to your workplace will look to you for answers to tough questions. Superiors will lean on your insight to develop practices and procedures within your workplace. When you make the decision to return to school again after these years in the workforce, it can sometimes be difficult to convey this expertise in your writing assignments.

As you transition into scholarly writing, often you will understand the topic of your paper in a way that many of your readers will not. One of the most challenging roles as the writer is ensuring that your readers develop an appropriate understanding of your topic. To do so, you must establish the context surrounding your topic in your introduction so your reader can best understand your position. This is one of the keys to success in your new workplace, your virtual classroom at Walden University.

Post Title: Establishing Context

In this post, I will discuss the importance of establishing context in your introductory paragraph. In the coming weeks, look for additional posts in this series on Scholarly Writing for the Transitioning Writer: one on using evidence effectively and one on point of view in scholarly writing.

Establishing context requires that you present your main topic and your subtopics, and illustrate the connections between your main and subtopics. This is an important part of creating an effective introductory paragraph, and there is a fine balance between providing enough information and too much information.

Consider the introductory paragraph template below.

Sentence 1: Provide your readers with a little contextual information about your main topic. In what context is your main topic important? Is it important in the healthcare industry? Is it important if an organizational leader is working to create more streamlined work practices? Sentence 2: Provide your readers with a short definition of your main topic so that your readers can establish their knowledge of this idea that’s likely new to them. For example, if your main topic is electronic health records, you might say, Electronic health records are BLANK. Sentences 3-5: Present your subtopics to your readers so that they have some idea about what you’ll be discussing in your paper. Final sentence: Introduce your thesis statement. In this statement, you will likely reiterate the main topic of your paper as well as the subtopics you intend to discuss. For example, you might say, In this text, I present MAIN TOPIC, with a focus on how MAIN TOPIC is related to and influenced by SUBTOPIC 1, SUBTOPIC 2, and SUBTOPIC 3.

In this template, you will notice that I do not go into detail about my main topic, nor do I describe in depth subtopics 1, 2, or 3. Still, I have prepared my readers for the information that I’ll present later in my text, as I have told them that the main topic is related to and influenced by subtopics 1, 2, and 3. This introduction “sets the stage” for my paper and has prepared you, my readers, for the information I’ll present later in my text.

As you write your introduction, it is important to remember that your audience may not have the understanding of your topic that you have. They don’t have your experience or expertise! Guiding them into the body of your paper with an introductory paragraph that establishes contextual information is important. This paragraph will help your readers develop their understanding of your topic and prepare them for the ideas that will follow in the body of your text.

Also, please check out the other blog posts in this series (Using Evidence and Point of View. If you’re a writer starting, returning, or transitioning into their scholarly writing journey, we have more topics that will help you engage with scholarly writing. 

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Nicole Townsend is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She has worked in writing centers for ten years, with an interest in individualizing support for diverse student populations. While Nicole also enjoys editorial work and teaching English as an adjunct professor, her passion is for the foundation of collaboration embedded in writing center best practices.

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WriteCast Episode 47: Resolutions to Reflect and Revise

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It's the first month of the year for many of us, which means there's a whole new year of possibilities spread out before us. Here at the Walden University Writing Center, we'd like to encourage you to try out some new practices for your writing in the new year. This month's WriteCast podcast episode provides one set of strategies for doing just that. 

During the daily grind of coursework writing, it can feel like the best practice is to finish your papers, turn them in, and never think about what you wrote again. However, writing can also be seen as a learning process: one that allows you to engage with the content from your courses in multiple different ways. But in order to be able to write to learn, students must spend some time reflecting on the work they have done. Not only can reflection help writers understand the course content better, but it can also help them develop new and better strategies for revision.

Reflection is an integral stage in the writing process for students to develop and progress. With that in mind, Claire and Max sat down to discuss this very process in the latest episode of WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers. Listen to their discussion by clicking the player below.

You can access our full list of all 47 WriteCast episodes by visiting our podcast webpage. We also have transcripts of every episode posted there as well. Enjoy!

Keep Writing. Keep Inspiring.

WriteCast Logo: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers

The WriteCast Podcast
 is produced by the members of the Walden University Writing Center. Episodes are published each month, with topics and themes decided on by the production team based on feedback received from listeners of WriteCast. If you have comments or ideas for a future episode of WriteCast, please leave a comment in the space below. Thanks for listening! 

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Foundational Concepts for Transitioning Writers: Point of View

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Whether you are new to APA style and academic writing, or are returning to this type of writing and considering some refresher tips, there are some core aspects of academic writing that are important. Topics such as establishing context for your paper and the use of evidence. Another important aspect for academic writing is establishing a formal point-of-view. 

Point-of-view is important in academic writing as it relates to scholarly voice and tone. Point-of-view refers to ways that information is presented to an audience such as via first-, second-, and third-person pronouns. Thus, one consideration for adhering to appropriate scholarly voice and tone is how pronoun use represents the writers’ point-of-view.

Foundational Concepts for Transitioning Writers: Point of View

First-Person Point-of-View
Writing from a first-person point-of-view means using pronouns such as “I,” “we,” and “our.” Use of first-person “I” is acceptable in some instances. For example, when an assignment calls for a personal reflection on the writer’s own experience the use of “I” is needed as the subject of a sentence to avoid passive voice. As well, the use of “I” would be appropriate in other instances to avoid passive voice, such as when discussing what will be covered in a paper or what research steps will be taken. That said, the use of “I” should not be used when making claims since doing so presents claims from a 

Examples of acceptable uses of “I”:
  • Reflecting upon my classroom practices, I plan to improve my knowledge of multimodal classroom activities 
  • In this paper, I will discuss x, y, and z
  • I will interview 20 writing instructors who teach writing online

Examples of unacceptable uses of “I”:
  • I believe that multimodal classroom practices should xxxx
  • I disagree with Winston’s (2017) argument because xxx
  • Now that I have discussed [x topic], I will now discuss [y topic]

While the use of “I” can be used in certain instances and not in others, the use of other first-person pronouns such as “we” or “our” should be avoided because they assume who the audience is and are too casual in tone. 

Examples of why first-person use of “We” and “Our” should be avoided:
  • As nurses, we should support patients’ concerns
  • As teachers, it is our responsibility to incorporate multimodal learning tools

These examples illustrate not only how the use of “we” and “our” produces a casual tone, but also how the use of these pronouns can alienate members of the writer’s audience. To be clear, when a writer uses “we” as a pronoun to represent a group of people (such as nurses or teachers), some audience members might feel alienated because they are not part of that group. So, use first-person “I” when appropriate and avoid using “we” or “our.”

Second-Person Point-of-View
What about second-person point-of-view? Like first-person use of “we” or “our,” second-person should not be used in academic writing.  Second-person point-of-view includes the pronouns “you” and “your” which, like first-person “we” or “our,” are too casual in tone and assume the audience.

Example of why second-person use should be avoided:
  • You should consider if and how multimodal classroom delivery affects students with disabilities

Like the use of first-person “we” or “our, the tone in this example is too casual as the audience is directly addressed. As well, since the audience is directly addressed, the use of “You” here assumes something about the audience.  

Third-Person Point-of-View
Third-person point-of-view includes pronouns such as “he,” “she,” and “it.” Generally, third-person pronouns such as “he” and “she” are casual in tone; thus, using specific nouns would be more appropriate for scholarly tone and voice.

Example of third-person use:
  • She stated xxxx (Watson, 2017)
  • Revision: Watson (2017) stated xxxx

In the first example, the use of “she” not only produces a casual tone, it also makes it unclear who “she” refers to (does this refer to Watson or someone cited in Watson?). In the second, revised, example, the tone is more formal and the author is clearly attributed. With this in mind, “it” is another pronoun that should be avoided for clarity since using “it” as a pronoun creates a lack of clarity regarding the subject of the sentence and or what “it” refers to.

Adhering to acceptable use of pronouns and point-of-view is an important part of scholarly voice and tone. Have any questions about point-of-view use?  Let us know! 

Veronica Oliver author pic

Veronica Oliver
 is a Writing Instructor in the Walden Writing Center. In her spare time she writes fiction, binge watches Netflix, and occasionally makes it to a 6am Bikram Yoga class.

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January Webinar Preview

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From all of us at the Walden University Writing Center: Welcome to 2018. We hope the beginning of the year has been treating you well. This time of the year is always exciting for Writing Center staff. We kick off the new year with a focus on Center-wide goals and refreshed minds, ready to read more of your writing and offer you more exciting webinars. 

Webinar update
Join us this month for some exciting webinars!

Here are the January webinars: 

The full list of January 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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Foundational Concepts for Transitioning Writers: Using Evidence

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Are you returning to school for the first time in a long time? Or maybe you’ve just completed one degree, and you’re seamlessly entering your next program of study. If you’re like many Walden University students who are just starting their first term in their degree program, you probably have many questions about what it means to engage in scholarly academic writing. To help make the transition into scholarly writing as seamless as possible, over the next few weeks we here at the Walden University Writing Center would like to share some of the Foundational Concepts for Transitioning Writers. Enjoy! 

Foundational Concepts for Transitioning Writers: Using Evidence title image

Many Walden University students are either first-time writers in scholarly academic writing or have taken some time away from this type of writing and school and are returning later. To help you through the process of transitioning into academic writing and APA again, entering for the first time, or even just as a helpful reminder, today we’ll discuss evidence, both what we mean by evidence and why we use it in scholarly writing here at Walden and in APA style.

What is Evidence?
When we say evidence, you might think of a crime scene and what investigators collect to solve a crime—that connotation of the term isn’t too far off.  Evidence in that sense is proof and clues that will add up to meaning and create understanding for the investigators, because they are coming to the information second hand. In scholarly writing we use the word “evidence” to mean research which will act as proof or support to build an argument. If finding evidence sounds overwhelming, don’t worry! You will be reading a large amount of articles and works in your discipline for your coursework at Walden—and the great news is this is all evidence! So not only will you be exposed to evidence that you can use for your own papers, but you’ll read these articles and see how they use evidence so that you can mimic these approaches in your own scholarly writing.

To put it simply: Evidence is research you have conducted to support your points and ideas. This might be quotations (direct wording from a source), paraphrases (you rephrasing an idea from a source), or summaries (you summarizing findings or information).

What Are Some Types of Evidence?
I noted a few types of evidence above, but what do these mean, exactly? Essentially you will be conducting research for your scholarly work through your course readings and on your own—don’t worry because in your early classes you will be given prompts with particular topics to look into, which will help you narrow down your research. Once you find an article, book, webpage or other form of information you think is useful, save it! You can use it in your writing for your course in two main ways.

Paraphrase –You read the source information and rephrase it in your own unique sentence structure and then place that in your paragraph, also adding a citation.

Quotation Repeating the exact wording from the source and putting quotation marks around it and a citation. Note that APA recommends using quotation sparingly and paraphrasing as much as possible.

There are many elements to keep in mind to determine if you are using appropriate evidence. You can review some tips for evaluating evidence and finding evidence on the library’s web pages.

Why do we use Evidence?
Why is using evidence so important in scholarly writing? Why can’t we, for example, simply write our own thoughts and ideas down? The answer is that the social sciences specialize in are built on research and studies—therefore to prove a point or idea, it is important to be able to support where you got this impression because scholarly writing builds on itself creating one large scholarly conversation Also, from a practical standpoint, scholarly writing is based on research to enhance credibility and prevent opinionated or slanted viewpoints. The philosophy behind scholarly writing is that we present the facts as they are, supported by other research, and allow the audience to come away with their own impressions of the information.

Here's an example. Without the need to use evidence, I could write something like this:

All Writing Instructors at Walden drink a lot of orange juice. They drink more orange juice because it gives them energy and makes them more intelligent.

Now, without evidence, I have no way to prove to you, my reader, that this is factual, right? I am just saying information and drawing conclusions about what that information means without any context or support. Evidence provides you, the writer, and your readers with both context and support for your claims.

So what if I did want to make these claims? I would need to research and state some facts about the writing instructors here drinking orange juice, and qualify what I mean by “a lot”. I would also need to survey the instructors and discover why they drink orange juice. Then I would need to research if there are any links to orange juice enhancing intelligence or energy levels. That’s a lot for me to do, right? Evidence is necessary to support our claims, and that’s what makes scholarly writing such a rigorous and credible source of information.

Now that you know what evidence is and why it is the basis of scholarly writing, try incorporating some in your work today! To help you get there, we also recommend some additional resources on incorporating evidence effectively and using a paragraphing plan to assist you in organizing your paragraphs and evidence.

Claire Helakoski author image

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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