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Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

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WriteCast Episode 16: Why You Need to Join a Writing Community

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Being a part of a writing community is a great way for student writers to connect with each other, stay motivated, keep each other accountable to writing goals, share challenges, and celebrate successes. This month, Nik and Brittany chat with Dissertation Editor Lydia about the importance of having a writing community, the communities that the Writing Center offers, and new resources for doctoral students.

Episode 16 Transcript

Next year, we're going to be trying another kind of writing community: small, private writing groups through Google+. Fill out this brief survey to become part of a group for January!

Resources mentioned in this episode:
Walden Capstone Writing Community 
Writing Center on Facebook
Writing Center on Twitter
"Writing Together: How Peer Writing Communities Can Be Your Secret to Success" blog post


is hosted by writing instructors Nikolas Nadeau and Brittany Kallman Arneson and produced by writing instructor Anne Shiell. Check out the podcast archive for more episodes.

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Responding to Feedback is Hard--Here's Why You Should Do It Anyway

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This fall, for the first time in my life, I was accused of plagiarism. I had written a literature review for my online graduate program, and due to the frequency of citations as well as the length of my reference list, my draft received a rather high similarity score in Turnitin (TII). Having felt proud of the work I submitted and confident in my paraphrasing and citation skills, I was shocked and disheartened to see a note from my professor advising me to rewrite the entire paper.

Okay, so this was not exactly an accusation, but it sure felt like one! After a moment of panic, I wrote back to my professor, politely pointing out that the only flagged content consisted of citations, references, and a few common academic expressions. We engaged in a small debate on the topic, and at last my professor concurred, acknowledged that a high similarity was to be expected due to the nature of the assignment, and even thanked me for reminding him of the need to analyze TII reports rather than judging a paper solely on its similarity percentage. This story has a happy ending, but I found the whole experience to be incredibly uncomfortable, and I had to wonder: If I did not have so much professional experience with TII, would I have stood up for my work? Would I have contacted my professor at all?

Words of wisdom from the Walden University Writing Center
Original image (c) 2014 Doug Robichaud via Life of Pix
My purpose here is not to discuss how to interpret TII reports—we’ve done that in previous posts—nor is it to criticize my professor, who only wanted to help me improve my writing. Instead, my goal is to offer a student’s perspective on Amber’s recent blog post as well as to WriteCastEpisode 15, both of which focus on responding to faculty feedback. These resources offer invaluable tips and best practices. However, as I learned this fall, engaging with feedback can be harder than it sounds – even for someone who reviews academic papers nearly every day.

Writing that first e-mail to my professor was not easy. I had to rein in my initial reactions, including panic that I had inadvertently plagiarized, indignation (“Don’t you know what I do for a living?”), and a natural inclination to acquiesce to authority figures. I had to analyze an idea that I found unpleasant—the possibility that I had plagiarized—and ask myself: Can I see where my professor is coming from? Do I understand the nature of his concern? Do I see anything that I did wrong? What evidence do I have to support my perspective? And then, after all of this, I needed to craft an articulate, respectful, convincing e-mail voicing my questions and concerns.

Engaging takes time. It takes mental effort. It requires us to juggle confidence in our perspective with open-mindedness and humility. No wonder so many of us, at the end of a long working day, are wary about expending this kind of effort. No wonder we want our homework to be as simple and painless as possible. And no wonder that even when we feel confused, isolated, or frustrated, we hesitate to reach out, to challenge, to ask.

But this type of engagement is exactly what we signed up for when we enrolled in higher education. If we are unwilling to engage our faculty in conversations and to learn more about our work, we run the risk of become passive consumers of knowledge or of falling into learning ruts. When we actively communicate our questions, comments, and concerns, however, we are co-creators of our learning experiences. We are holding up our end of the academic conversations. From my perspective, this is our responsibility as students: not just to absorb information, but to process that information, interpret it, make it relevant, and contribute to it.

So the next time you receive difficult feedback from a professor, a classmate, or even a Writing Center writing instructor, remember the following:

1. You’re not alone! If you have a question or concern, odds are that someone else does as well.
2.  Your instructors don’t know how to help you unless you contact them. They can’t meet your needs until you make those needs known.
3.  It is your right and responsibility to construct your own learning experience. Make it a good one.


Kayla Skarbakka is a writing instructor and coordinator of international writing instruction and support. She is earning her M.S.Ed. from Purdue University. 

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New in 2015: Join a Walden Writing Group!

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We’ve talked about the importance of having a writing community here and here on the blog, and we'll also be talking about it in our next WriteCast episode (stay tuned!). We know that finding such a community can be challenging, though, particularly at an online institution. That’s why next year, we’re trying out a new service: small, private writing groups for Walden students. 

writing group

The groups will run for four weeks in January and will take place in Google+ communities. A Writing Center staff member will organize the groups and will post some discussion questions to get things started, but what you want to get out of the group will be up to you and your group members. To help make the groups useful for everyone, we just ask that you commit to checking in to the group twice a week.

The writing groups are open to all Walden students--undergraduate and graduate--working on coursework. If you're interested in joining a writing group, please sign-up via this brief survey. If you're a doctoral student working on your proposal, we encourage you to form a group through the Walden Capstone Writing Community.

What can you do in a writing group?
Discuss writing questions, challenges, and successes
Motivate each other
Keep each other accountable to writing goals
Share writing tips and advice
Get feedback from peers on your writing

We're going to start forming groups this December, so fill out the sign-up survey today!

If you have questions about the groups, please ask them here in the comments. 


Anne Shiell
 is a writing instructor and the coordinator of social media resources at the Walden Writing Center. Anne also produces WriteCast, the Writing Center's podcast.

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What's Your Writing Question?

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If you're a Walden student (or a student somewhere else), I'm sure you have at least one writing question just waiting to be answered. Maybe you're wondering why you have to use APA style. Maybe you have trouble with writer's block and want suggestions for getting unstuck. Maybe you rock your introduction paragraphs but struggle with conclusions. Whatever it is, we can help!

Submit your question to be answered on WriteCast

We're gathering questions about writing to be asked and answered on a WriteCast podcast Q&A episode. Simply click below (alternatively, visit our voicemail page) to record your question using your computer. Here are a couple guidelines to ensure the best recording:
  • Please ask your question slowly and clearly.
  • If you have more than one question, please ask them separately.
  • If you'd like, feel free to introduce yourself and your program or degree. You can also remain anonymous. 
  • If you have a microphone or headset with a mic, using it will provide the best sound quality. If you don't have a microphone, that's fine--just try to get close to your computer when speaking.
Follow these steps and you may hear your question--and Nik and Brittany's answer--in a future episode!

Note: If you're a Walden student or faculty member and you need an immediate answer to your question, also feel free to e-mail it to us at writingsupport@waldenu.edu.

Thank you!


is hosted by writing instructors Nikolas Nadeau and Brittany Kallman Arneson and produced by writing instructor Anne Shiell. Check out the podcast archive for more episodes.

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What’s the Difference Between a Summary, a Transition, and a Preview in a Capstone Study?

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(Note: For the sake of simplicity, this blog uses the dissertation terms chapter and section. In doctoral studies, the cognates are section and subsection.)

At the end of all but the last chapter of a capstone (dissertation or doctoral study) study, most rubrics require three elements: a summary of the current chapter and a transition statement to get readers from the current chapter to the next chapter. Then, at the start of that next chapter, there is a preview of its major sections. Because guidance from the various programs says little about how these three elements differ, they tend to be treated as equivalent to one another. For example, the summary may just list the topics covered in the chapter (much like the Table of Contents does); the transition may just list the next chapter’s main headings (much like the Table of Contents does); and like the chapter summary, the preview at the start of the following chapter may just list the next part of the Table of Contents. Alas, such redundancy is not very helpful for readers. The goal of this post is to suggest how to distinguish these elements in the narrative. 

Think of Your Study as a Story 

First, try to see your study—and write about it—as if it were a story: There’s a beginning (Introduction, Literature Review), a middle (Methodology, Results), and an end (Discussion, Conclusions, Recommendations). In the summary of each chapter, recap the main points or essence of the chapter, but do it in a way that gives your readers a sense of the study’s evolution. A mere list of topics (what was covered), is not enough. Make sure it’s clear how all the elements fit together--for example, the relationship among the problem, purpose, and research question or guiding question. You’ll be writing from a narrow perspective, that is, the current chapter.

After the chapter summary comes the transition statement, which forms a bridge between the current chapter and the following chapter. A mere list of topics is not helpful; guidance on the interrelationships is needed. Describe how the current chapter leads to the following chapter and how the next chapter advances your story (study). Write from a broad perspective, that is, your entire study.

While the transition statement serves to bridge chapters, the chapter preview opens the following chapter. In the preview, tell your readers what you will cover in just this chapter. Again, be clear about how all the elements fit together. A list of topics is not helpful. The goal is to make sure that your reader does not feel lost. Here, again, you’ll be writing from a narrow perspective, that is, the current chapter.

None of these three is easy to write. But you might consider approaching them as a tour guide or baseball announcer.

The Tour Guide

Gettysburg battlefield (image (c) Emilyk | CC by 3.0)
Imagine that you are a tour guide at a famous battlefield. As the bus pulls away from the first site, you remind the tourists about the importance of what they just saw and how it fits in the story of this particular war (like the chapter summary). You then tell them about the next stop on the tour and why you are going there (like the transition statement). Finally, you tell them what to look for (like the preview).  

The Baseball Announcer

Harry Caray, famous American baseball announcer
Imagine yourself as an announcer, like Harry Caray, famous American baseball broadcaster (Public domain image modified from the original by Delaywaves.)  
Now envision yourself doing the play-by-play announcing for a baseball game. At the end of each inning, you announce the score and recap what happened during that inning (like the chapter summary). Then you might say who’s coming to bat in the next inning and talk a little about what these players are facing this inning, based on the team’s history against this particular opponent, and how the game has progressed so far (like the transition statement). Finally, you run down the names of the three lead-off batters (like the preview).

Whether visiting a historic site, watching a baseball game, or trying to follow the argument of a complex research study, guidance is needed to recall what has been seen or read, how that fits in the bigger picture, and what is coming up next. Summaries, transition statements, and previews provide critical continuity in capstone studies. 

Summaries, transition statements, and previews provide critical continuity in capstone studies.
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Dissertation Editor Tim McIndoo, who joined Walden University in 2007, has more than 30 years of editorial experience in the fields of education, medicine, science and technology, and fiction. When it comes to APA style, he says, "I don't write the rules; I just help users follow them."

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