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Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

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WriteCast Episode 19: The Literature Review: Tackling the Hard Questions

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In our latest episode, Beth and Amy K. chat about literature review (in)FAQs. You won't hear about synthesis or MEAL plan paragraphs here! Instead, we wanted to tackle some of the harder questions students ask, such as
  • When can you stop researching and start writing?
  • When do you know you're finished?
  • How long should the lit review be? 
Stream or download the episode below. As always, we invite you to share your thoughts via the blog comments. If you like the episode, you might also share it with others--there's a handy little share button right next to the download button.


Episode 19 transcript

This month on the blog, we're featuring topics related to the doctoral capstone (dissertation or doc study). Stay tuned for a new post each week!

author

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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Faculty Spotlight on Dr. Darci J. Harland

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Faculty Spotlight on the Walden Writing Center blog

This month on the blog, we're highlighting various members of the Walden community. This post is our last in this month's spotlight series; if you missed them, be sure to check out our WriteCast episode featuring student questions, our staff and alumna interviews, and our services spotlight.


Dr. Darci J. Harland, Walden UniversityThis week, we’re featuring Dr. Darci J. Harland, contributing faculty in the Learning, Instruction, and Innovation (LII) Ph.D. program in the Richard W. Reilly College of Education and Leadership, and writer of one of our favorite blogs for dissertation writers. An Illinois native, Dr. Harland teaches advanced LII courses, mentors dissertation writers, and writes courses in the Educational Technology PhD program.


What are the most common writing challenges for your students? 

Early in the program I find that students try to write like someone else. It’s as if they believe that because they are in a PhD program, their writing should have lots of big words and sound “hoity-toity.” They are often relieved when I tell them to stop using the thesaurus, and remind them that while the ideas they communicate need to be complex, their language does not. With dissertation students, the literature review seems to be the biggest challenge. There’s so much reading and organizing that has to happen before the writing begins. That frustrates students when they think that the dissertation is all about writing, and in actuality, it’s about organizing ideas for writing.   

What have you done to help your students master those skills?

I’ve started a blog to address common issues my mentees have with the dissertation process. I started No ABD for me to help me organize my ideas around certain issues common among my students. When working with future students, I can refer them there and be assured that they are each receiving consistent advice.

I also use the dissertation forum discussions to get students to talk about the process of writing; once they discover how others brainstorm, organize their ideas, take notes on their reading, and schedule writing time, it not only helps frame their own practices, but provides camaraderie within my mentee group. In these forums, I’ve posted prompts on anthropomorphism--asking them to review Writing Center information on the topic and explore how their own writing is affected by it--and the WU Writing Center blog, asking them to find a post, share it, and describe why it helps them at this phase of their journey.

For the literature review, I've developed note-taking tips that focus students on the questions they need to answer in order to have a complete review of their topic. We often brainstorm these together. I provide a sample matrix and note taking sheets I use for writing, organized by these sub-questions. If established properly, it helps students identify when an article informs the topic and when it doesn’t. This technique helps students take notes efficiently and by topic, rather than by article, since one article will most likely help answer more than one sub-question. Taking this approach helps when it comes time to write because the paraphrased ideas and quotes are already organized by sub-questions, which easily become the paper’s subheadings. I certainly do not force my students to use my note-taking method, but I do require that they watch a video I made about how to use the system, as it will better inform their own methods and give them a bigger picture of what needs to be accomplished in the literature review stage.

How does your own experience as a writer inform your work with student writers?

I thrive on feedback. Anytime I write, I give the piece to a colleague and ask him or her to be ruthless. I love getting another perspective, finding ways to make my ideas more clear and improving my writing by rewriting. I try to instill this same mentality with my PhD students. I want them to see writing as a PROCESS and that the time and energy I pour into their feedback is done in love and in an effort to help them improve.

What advice do you have for students who want to improve their writing?

Find a writing buddy. Find someone with whom you can schedule writing times for accountability and then exchange papers for editing. Writing can be lonely. When everyone else you know is outside enjoying life and you’re at a computer typing away, worried about comma splices, you’ll be less likely to be resentful if you know someone else is writing too!

What advice do you have for faculty who want to help their student writers?

Before writing lengthy feedback about writing, quickly scour the Walden Writing Center website and blog. Most of the student issues I see are covered somewhere on their website. Refer students to a specific URL and then hold them accountable in the next paper to address that specific writing issue.

How is a student’s ability to write related to success in your field?

LII isn’t one field; I have nursing students, military service members, kindergarten teachers, college deans, industry educators, and high school principals. As in any field in academia, if you can’t clearly communicate your ideas, you won’t be able to contribute to the field.

What’s something about you that would surprise your students?

I have a “big” online personality, so students are often surprised that I’m only five feet tall.



author

As the Writing Center's manager of program outreach and faculty support, Amber Cook's main focus is supporting faculty in their work with student writers.


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Spotlight on New and Improved Writing Center Services

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This month on the blog, we're spotlighting Walden studentsstaff, alumni, Writing Center services, and faculty.


services spotlight

At the Writing Center, we're continuously evaluating and creating services to better meet student needs. Read on for some of our exciting new offerings!

Writing Groups

For undergraduate students; master's students; and doctoral students working on coursework, the premise, or the prospectus
We're kicking off another round of Google+ writing groups with some changes based on your suggestions. March writing groups will take place in Google+ and will be small, private spaces for you to peer review and/or discuss your writing challenges and strategies with fellow students. If you're a current Walden student, sign up for a March writing group here.

For doctoral students working on or beyond the proposal
Doctoral students who have started or finished their capstone proposals have the chance to join the Walden Capstone Writing Community and sign up to be part of a small, private writing group with other doctoral students. Visit this page to learn more about joining the community, and then stay tuned for more information about the writing groups.

Live document review

For members of the Walden Capstone Writing Community
Members of the Walden Capstone Writing Community are invited to attend a live document review on Thursday, February 26. An editor will review a volunteer doctoral capstone student's draft, and other members of the community are invited to watch. Visit the community for more information about these types of meet-ups. If you're a doctoral student interested in joining the community, start here.

Two paper review appointments per week

For undergraduate students; master's students; and doctoral students working on coursework, the premise, or the prospectus 
Paper reviews are not a new service, but we want to shine a spotlight on a feature new this year: Students can schedule two appointments per week. You can make appointments for two different assignments, or you can make an appointment for a draft of your paper and then submit your revision for your second appointment. Just remember to apply feedback you've received between appointments, whether you have one or two appointments in a week. 

Grammar modules

For everyone!
Our self-paced grammar modules are now up on our new website! Check them out here. The  diagnostic quiz is a great way for you to identify areas of English grammar that you can improve, and then the modules can help you work on strengthening those particular grammar skills. 



author

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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Alumni Spotlight on Rosemarie Dawkins, MS in Education Graduate

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This month on the blog, we're spotlighting Walden studentsstaff, alumni, Writing Center services, and faculty. 

alumni spotlight


Alumna Rosemarie Dawkins enrolled in Walden in February of 2012 as a student in the Master of Science Education program and graduated in 2014 with a specialization in Mathematics Grades K-5. She lives in Jamaica and is currently a cluster-based mathematics specialist. She is also a member of the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics. Read on to learn Rosemarie’s tips and tidbits about her experiences with the Writing Center and with Walden.

Staff Spotlight on Dissertation Editor Jenny Martel

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Staff Spotlight: Dissertation Editor Jenny Martel

The Walden Writing Center welcomed Jenny Martel as an editor in October of last year. Jenny was kind enough to share a little about her teaching, writing, and editing experiences and philosophies with us on the blog. 

Walden Writing Center Dissertation Editor Jenny Martel
Jenny enjoys creative writing.

What were you doing professionally before you started at Walden?

For the past several years I’ve focused on my graduate work, writing fiction, and my family. To accommodate those priorities, I worked as a freelance writer and editor (as well as an occasional art curator). Prior to that, I spent eight years in New York City in organizational development/management consulting where I first became involved with writing, editing, and publishing books and articles.

I know you enjoy writing science fiction and fantasy. How does your own writing process inform how you work with students at Walden?

In many ways, writing a novel is a lot like writing a dissertation. The task seems insurmountable at first; simply committing to the project requires vision, experience, and education (either classroom or life experience—in the case of both the dissertator and the novelist). Then the project outline must be conceptualized through alternatively creative and linear developmental phases. There is also the shared propensity to procrastinate the actual writing part of writing! I empathize with these challenges and make experience-based suggestions to students in the developmental phases of their work that I hope are encouraging and useful.

From an editorial perspective, I try to bring an awareness of the possible angst and anxiety a student might have about having their work critiqued after a long, challenging journey. Having had my personal work critiqued and edited has been daunting at times (Believe me—if you don’t feel vulnerable when an intelligent colleague critiques a romantic scene in your fantasy novel, you’re not alive!).

What is the best writing advice you were ever given?  

“It doesn’t need to be perfect; it needs to be done.” I’ve found these words of wisdom to be useful in the case of a large-scale project. Unless you’re J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin, each detail of the grandest concentrated effort of your professional life will not be rendered flawlessly. To achieve your goal requires a constant but intermittent refocusing on completion. 

 Tweetable tip: It doesn't need to be perfect; it needs to be done. 

Another piece of writing advice I use when I get stuck is to start with what is easy. I’m amazed at how often I forget this golden nugget, only to remember it in my darkest writing hours. Starting (and finishing) something that isn’t overwhelming can grant confidence, reacquaint you with your project, and create inertial force in the right direction.

 Tweetable tip: When you get stuck with your #writing, start with what is easy.

Could you talk about a particular writing challenge you have faced (with a project or a part of writing) and how you overcame that challenge?

I’ve found that rewriting and editing my own work is extremely challenging both from a motivational as well as a technical perspective. When I’m really overwhelmed, I seek out my academic and creative colleagues. We trade manuscript critiques and create deadlines. Writing can be isolating. Structure, forced accountability, and outside objectivity can really help.

What do you find enjoyable about teaching or editing writing?

On a personal level I feel incredibly lucky to be able to work with students in an area I love. 

What is one writing accessory you cannot live without?

Unlined paper. It helps me to conceptualize freely with bubbles, lines, or (really bad) drawings while creating dedicated boxes for more linear expression.

Describe your approach to writing in three words:

Precise
Simple
Clear


If you are a Walden doctoral student, you may work with Jenny at a residency or in the Form & Style review. We're glad to have her part of our team!

This month on the blog, we're spotlighting Walden students, staff, faculty, and alumni. Listen to our latest WriteCast episode to hear featured student questions. 


author

Ellen Zamarripa,
a writing instructor in the Walden Writing Center, conducted this interview. 


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