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Walden University Writing Center

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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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WriteCast Episode 15: What To Do With Negative Feedback on Your Writing

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Feeling frustrated, discouraged, or confused about feedback on your writing? Want to know how to handle these feelings in the future? Don't miss our discussion with Dr. Melanie Brown, associate director and manager of writing initiatives at the Walden Writing Center. Dr. Brown also teaches Walden student support courses, and she has a lot of helpful advice for students on what to do with negative faculty feedback. Stream or download the episode below, or view the transcript, and share your thoughts with us in the comments!


Episode 15 Transcript

Blog posts mentioned in this episode: "Help Them Help You: Being Receptive to Faculty Feedback"


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WriteCast
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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How to Give Useful Peer Feedback

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Throughout this article are 12 "tweetable takeaways." Click on a Twitter icon () to share one of Lydia's peer review tips. 

Giving and getting peer feedback on drafts can be an incredible tool for improving your writing, but only if that feedback is clear and specific about what to do next. Having someone say, “I liked it!” or “Well done!” can feel good for a moment, but it won’t help anyone improve.

You also don’t have to “know everything” to give helpful writing feedback; just be self-aware about your own reading experience. The whole point of feedback is to just show the author what a reader will see in a draft. 


women discuss over a laptop
Is peer review part of your writing process? 

General Strategies

Find out what the author wants, but keep in mind you may see things the author hasn’t considered yet, too. Peer review tweetable takeaway

Don’t give too much; don’t give too little. Sometimes it is not helpful to point out every error and make suggestions on every line—this can be overwhelming. Vague or incomplete feedback can be just as frustrating and can feel like a waste of time. Peer review tweetable takeaway

Follow the golden rule. Give the kind of feedback that you would like to get. That is, be respectful, constructive, thorough, and honest. Peer review tweetable takeaway

Trust yourself as a reader. If something is not clear to you, the author probably needs to make it clearer. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense because the author hasn’t made sense of it yet. Peer review tweetable takeaway

Content Critique versus Error Correction

You don’t need to be a grammar or APA expert to give worthwhile feedback. Address the big things first! For example, if you are reading over someone’s problem statement, it is probably more important that the author made sure you could understand the point than if he or she used a semicolon correctly. Focus on content and clarity before you focus on mechanical errors, like typos or missing punctuation. Proofreading concerns should come last unless they significantly interfere with a reader’s overall understanding. Peer review tweetable takeaway

Thinking of Things to Say

Keep track of questions that occur to you as you read. For example: How does this point relate to the one before? What does this term mean? Is there a missing word here? Peer review tweetable takeaway

Offer concrete suggestions whenever you can. For example: This paragraph might work better at the beginning. I was confused here—maybe a subheading would make the transition clearer. Peer review tweetable takeaway 

Examples of things to focus on in a content critique:
  • Organization (are things in a logical order?)
  • Consistency/contradiction (does the author say the same thing throughout or seem to change his or her mind?)
  • Focus (can you tell what the main ideas are, or is there a lot of extra information?)
  • General clarity (make note of passages that don’t seem to make sense to you, either because the wording is confusing, there is not enough explanation, or you can’t tell how the information fits in to the main idea)
  • Point out when authors do something well, too, and let them know why. For example: The obvious topic sentences really helped me follow your argument. The wording in this paragraph is clear and easy to understand. Explaining it this way is much better than in the earlier paragraph—now I know what you mean. 

Don’t Get Stuck

If you can’t find something positive to say about a draft, look at it from another perspective: The wording is dense and hard for you to understand, but maybe you can really tell how knowledgeable the author is about the topic. (When people have a lot to say, sometimes it just takes a few drafts to make sure they say everything in the right order.) Peer review tweetable takeaway

If you come across something you just don’t understand, tell the author this, but also say what you think it means—sometimes when an author hears a reader’s interpretation (or misinterpretation) of an idea, the author can more easily figure out what to fix. Peer review tweetable takeaway

If you can’t find anything to critique, focus on making sure the author knows why what he or she did worked. Don’t just say “This is awesome!” Be specific: “I could really tell how all the scholarly evidence fit together—the way you explained things and gave examples was really helpful.” Peer review tweetable takeaway

Interpreting Feedback for Your Own Work

Try not to take it personally—you are very close to your own writing and may think you have settled on the right way to do things. What makes sense in your head may not make sense in someone else’s.

Be grateful! Thoughtful feedback takes time and mental energy. If someone has a lot of suggestions, don’t think of it as “tearing your paper apart;” think of how many ways he or she is trying to make it better.

You don’t have to follow every suggestion, but keep an open mind. A fresh pair of eyes may catch something you missed.

Getting #writing feedback: Don't take it personally, be grateful, & stay open-minded. 
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Giving and getting peer review feedback is an excellent way to develop your skills as a writer. We encourage you to join a writing community and/or find a writing partner to make peer review a regular part of your writing process.

Practice: Find a draft of something you wrote a while ago. Pick something you haven’t written or read recently so that you have some distance from it. Take 10-15 minutes to read over and make comments on the draft, imagining you are giving feedback to a colleague on his or her work. What kinds of things do you notice? What suggestions for revision can you make?

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Lydia Lunning is one of the editors in the Writing Center who conduct the final form and style review of all of Walden’s dissertations and doctoral studies. She was terrible at revising her own work until she joined a peer tutoring program in college.


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Ready, Set, Write! It’s time for #NaNoWriMo and #AcWriMo.

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Do you thrive under pressure? Need to set a few goals for yourself and your writing? Want to challenge yourself in your writing?

November marks the beginning of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo). This is the month for writers and academics across the globe to come together for accountability and motivation to start that novel they’ve always wanted to write or to work on an academic writing project. It’s a great chance for writers to get involved in a goal-oriented and fun writing community!

AcWriMo: Are you in?

Have you ever considered jumping on the writing bandwagon? Tobias Ball (Dissertation Editor and Developmental Editing Coordinator), Amber Cook (Manager of Program Outreach and Faculty Support), and Nathan Sacks (Writing Instructor) of our Writing Center staff have participated or are considering participating in NaNoWriMo. Here’s what they have to say:

Why did you choose to participate in AcWriMo and/or NaNoWriMo?

Tobias Ball (Dissertation Editor and Developmental Editing Coordinator): “I did it because [a coworker] ...suggested I give it a try. I had an idea for a novel that I had not yet started, so I went for it.”

Amber Cook (Manager of Program Outreach and Faculty Support): “I needed a kickstart for a writing project I’d been dreaming about for a while. I was always overwhelmed at the idea of committing to such a long-term goal, so having a month-long challenge made it seem much more doable.”

Nathan Sacks (Writing Instructor): “Any writing practice is good writing practice, and I look at NaNoWriMo as a chance to work on a completely new project I have never thought of or worked on before.”

You participated in NaNoWriMo in the past. What were the drawbacks to participating?

Tobias: “There were no drawbacks. It was fun and I wrote 85,000 words in 4 weeks. It felt good to start and complete something.”

Amber: “I got really behind on my Netflix queue. :) [Also] November is a tough month, with Thanksgiving travel and pre-holiday business, and I lost some steam at the end last time. I have a desk job, so it was sometimes hard to make myself spend yet another few hours at a desk for so many days in a row.”

What particular challenges did you experience or do you expect to encounter?

Tobias: “My regular pattern is to start my day with about an hour of writing. […] I added some writing time at night.”

Nathan: “If you can’t write one day because of an emergency or other reason, it may be harder to get back on the saddle and keep working for the rest of November. [Another challenge is] running up against the limits of my knowledge and imagination, which is always when I generate the best stuff.”

What benefit would it be to Walden students to participate in AcWriMo and/or NaNoWriMo?

Amber: “The short-term nature of the challenge helps keep the end in sight, so it doesn’t seem as overwhelming as, say, a 12-month project. It also provides a helpful accountability framework, allowing you to connect with others on the same solitary journey and reminding you to stay on track with your page count.”

Are YOU up for the challenge? See PhD2Published's AcWriMo 2014 announcement and the NaNoWriMo official website for more details.
Practice: For the next 10 minutes, think about a writing goal that you have for this month. Then, declare your goal in the comments! Remember to provide feedback to other writers to help them stay motivated and accountable towards their goals.  

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Rachel Grammer
 is a writing instructor and the coordinator of student messaging at the Walden Writing Center. The best writing advice she has received is to turn off the "internal editor" when beginning a paper--a great tip for starting AcWriMo or NaNoWriMo!


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Writing Center Services Announcement from the Director

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As many of you have probably heard by now, the Writing Center and Academic Skills Center have recalibrated their services to better support student writing at Walden. In short, we are (a) adding doctoral writing workshops for capstone (premise, prospectus, and proposal) writers and (b) shifting of our paper review service to serve undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students in coursework only. This means that by the end of the year our paper review schedule will no longer accommodate capstone drafts, but all of our other services (e.g., course visits, developmental editing, Q&A support, webinars) will continue to support capstone writers.

The rationale for this change is twofold: We want to (a) reserve skill-building sessions for those students still in the formative stages of their degrees and (b) create a scalable service via the workshops to ensure that all students needing assistance at this stage can be supported (e.g., we can continue to grow our faculty to accommodate our enrollment).

While this change may be welcome to some and less so to others, I do want to remind you about all of the services we offer with the following figure.

Walden Writing Center Services

Writing Center Services

Key:

Available to All Students
Exclusive to Students Working on Their Capstones
Exclusive to Undergraduate Students
Exclusive to All PreProposal Students
* Available via the Walden Writing Center website
** Membership may be requested at editor@waldenu.edu
ǂ 24-48 hours from day of appointment, exclusive to students working on their coursework

Questions or concerns can always be sent my way at brian.timmerman@waldenu.edu.


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Brian Timmerman is the director of the Walden Writing Center and the Academic Skills Center.





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