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Walden University Writing Center

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Help Them Help You: Being Receptive to Faculty Feedback

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At the Walden National Faculty Meeting this summer, I presented a session to faculty titled “What Students Say Behind Your (Feed)back.” During the presentation, I talked about some of the common concerns students have with the way their faculty members communicate with them about their writing. I was a little nervous, unsure if instructors would be defensive or even interested in hearing about ways they could improve in this area. I breathed a sigh of relief as my classroom filled up with faculty members eager to hear student perspectives and ideas for how they can better meet those needs. They asked questions, took notes, and were genuinely interested in how they can change their approaches to better support you.

Walden Writing Center tips for responding to faculty feedback

During the session, we talked through some sample student scenarios, and I started to take some notes of my own, writing this blog post in my head as I listened. Some common threads emerged when I asked faculty members to share some of their own challenges, the problems that make it hard for them to work effectively with their students on writing. During this session, and in other conversations I’ve had with course instructors in my role here at the Writing Center, I’ve heard these two issues more than any others:

“The student was offended when I suggested the need for writing help.” 

There are variations to this concern, often involving students who have gotten through several courses with solid grades, only to find that this course instructor has different expectations or standards. We all relate to this reaction; writing is very personal, and negative feedback about your writing can feel like negative feedback about you. I would encourage you, though, to step back and take a breath before reacting defensively to a suggestion to pursue writing support. We see students at all skill levels at the Writing Center, and we have yet to say to anyone, “Yep, this is perfect. No room for improvement here!” We can all use another set of eyes—including those of us at the Writing Center. This very blog post will go through at least two rounds of editing, for example. Try your best to take this sort of referral in the spirit in which it’s intended—as a desire to help you strengthen your skills—rather than as an insult.

“I don’t think the student is reading my feedback.” 

This can be especially frustrating, and instructors who encounter this frequently will sometimes give up, cutting back on useful feedback in the future out of a feeling of futility. One of the biggest values of your education is the one-to-one feedback you’ll get from your course instructor or chair, and you can encourage more of it by showing that you’re reading and using it. 

A few tips for responding to feedback

1. Course instructors use different means to communicate their feedback. Some will send you e-mails, some will embed comments within your paper draft, and some provide “wrap-up” comments within Blackboard. As you start each new class, be sure to learn your instructor’s feedback style. If you don’t see any feedback after your first paper, ask the instructor. He or she will be thrilled to know you’re eager to learn.

2. If your instructor uses shorthand or terms you don’t understand, ask for clarification. Instructors would much rather you come to them with any confusion rather than simply shrugging off a comment as unclear and potentially making the same error on the next assignment.

3. Thank your instructor for the feedback. It might seem silly, but after a long night reading a dozen or more assignments and sending feedback into cyberspace, it can be hugely gratifying to have at least one response from a student saying, “I hear you, and I appreciate it.”

4. Use the feedback when writing your next assignment. I can’t emphasize this enough. Instructors who make extensive writing suggestions expect that you will remember and apply them as you compose your next paper. (For help, check out Kayla's blog post on how to apply feedback to your writing.) Your instructor is looking for writing skill growth across assignments, and the feedback you receive should move you in that direction.

5. The next time you receive writing feedback from your instructor, commit to hearing that feedback with open ears, and responding to that feedback with appreciation and a readiness to learn. You’ll make a faculty member’s day, and you’ll be a stronger writer for it!

For another perspective, stay tuned for our November WriteCast episode, which will feature Writing Center Associate Director Melanie Brown on responding to faculty feedback. 

Practice: For the next 10 minutes, think and free-write about the way you usually respond (or don't respond) to writing feedback from your course instructor or chair. Do you follow any of the tips above? How does or how might following the tips change your writing experience? Share your free-write in the comments, and don't forget to respond to other writers. 

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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WriteCast Episode 14: The 5 Rs of Revision

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If you groan or get confused when you hear the words revision or revise, you won't want to miss our latest WriteCast episode. This month, Nik and Brittany explain five characteristics of this crucial part of the writing process. 




Episode 14 transcript


author

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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Top 5 Paragraph-Level Mistakes in Student Writing

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Often, Walden students ask for our feedback on APA style and grammar. However, in my experience, these issues are usually not the most important ones that need addressing in a student’s submitted piece of writing. Rather than sentence-level issues, global-level issues—such as those on the paragraph level—are going to make or break your paper. By “paragraph level,” I mean things that are not immediately evident in a single sentence but rather in the paragraph as a whole: organization, flow of ideas, use of logic and evidence, diversity of research, and absence of bias.

Are you making these 5 paragraph mistakes? via Walden Writing Center

Here are five of the most frequent paragraph-level issues I address as a writing instructor in paper reviews:

1. Paragraphs lacking the student’s own analysis.

Remember that a paragraph should normally do more than merely summarize what other scholars have said; instead, it should feature your own scholarly analysis and arguments. To make this happen, APA and Walden recommend that each paragraph begin with a main idea (expressed in a topic sentence), followed by supporting evidence, your own analysis of that evidence, and end with a lead-out sentence that concludes the paragraph’s argument. At the Writing Center, we often call this paragraph structure the “MEAL” plan, which stands for the four components in bold above. For more information, check out our four-part blog series on using the MEAL plan for paragraph organization and development.

2. Paragraphs that cite only one source.

Unless your course instructor indicates otherwise, each paragraph should typically contain a minimum of two cited sources, and preferably three to five. If your paragraph only has one cited source, you are merely summarizing a source rather than conducting scholarly analysis, and failing to show diversity of research.

3. Paragraphs that start with another researcher’s ideas, rather than the student’s.

When beginning a new paragraph, we recommend starting with a topic sentence, which states the main idea of your paragraph with your own ideas and in your own words (meaning that you should not need to include a citation). Ideally, you want your readers to be able to summarize your paper simply by reading the first sentence of each paragraph. For more information, see the Writing Center’s webpage on writing topic sentences.

4. Paragraphs that are too packed or crowded.

In episode 3 of the Walden Writing Center’s WriteCast podcast, we call these paragraphs the “whole paper" paragraphs. Trying to cram too many ideas into a single paragraph will not only confuse your readers, but also potentially cause your writing to become off-track and unfocused. If you find yourself addressing more than one main idea or argument, either cut out the extra material or use it in a new paragraph. 

5. Paragraphs that fail to directly focus on a single idea or argument.

Make sure that whatever you write in the paragraph directly supports the paragraph's topic sentence (see #3 above), which will help prevent the "whole paper" paragraph issue. Often, this requires zooming out to a bird’s-eye view and explaining what a quotation or a particular point means and how it relates to your topic.

For more on writing strong paragraphs and paragraph mistakes to avoid, consider listening to episode 3 of our WriteCast podcast. Or, view the archived “Writing Effective Academic Paragraphs” webinar, found in the “Scholarly Writing” section of our Webinars webpage. 
Practice: Spend the next 10 minutes reflecting on your own writing. Do you see any of the paragraph-level issues in your own work? Share your reflection in the comments, and don’t forget to give feedback to fellow writers.

author

Nik Nadeau, a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center, has been reviewing student papers since 2011. Nik also co-hosts WriteCast, the Writing Center's podcast.


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Three Key Points for Knowing When to Use the Year or Date in APA Citations

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Our all-time most popular blog post is Amber’s explanation on “Citing an Author Throughout a Paragraph: Notes on a Tricky APA Shortcut,” and for good reason: The APA rule that Amber explains is, in my opinion, one of APA’s most confusing rules. We get many questions about this rule, so we wanted to revisit the topic with a fresh example.

Defining Parenthetical and In-Text Citations

First, some definitions. APA has two basic citation formats. In one format, all of the citation information goes inside parentheses. As you might guess, these citations are called parenthetical citations. In the other format—sometimes called an in-text citation—the source name is grammatically part of the sentence. In other words, if the in-text citation is removed from the sentence, the sentence no longer makes sense. Here’s an example:

Sentence with an in-text citation: Shiell (2014) noted that many writers struggle with this tricky APA rule. If we take out the in-text citation, the sentence doesn’t make sense: Noted that many writers struggle with this tricky APA rule.

Same sentence with a parenthetical citation: Many writers struggle with this tricky APA rule (Shiell, 2014). If we take the parenthetical citation out of the sentence, the sentence has a citation problem, but it still makes sense grammatically: Many writers struggle with this tricky APA rule.

Three Key Points to Memorize

When learning and following these APA rules, keep these three key points in mind:

  • All parenthetical citations must include the source's publication year. There are no exceptions to this rule; it doesn’t matter if the source has been cited in the paper or the paragraph already.  Tweet this
  • The first in-text citation for a source in a paragraph includes the source's publication year. Subsequent in-text citations for the same source in the same paragraph do not.  Tweet this
  • The in-text citation rule starts over with each new paragraph.  Tweet this

Now, let's evaluate the citations in a real student paragraph (used with permission) with these key points in mind. Pay attention to the Gregory and Chapman source, highlighted in blue, and the Hall source, highlighted in yellow

Breaking Down a Sample Paragraph

In culmination of the Tomlinson (2006) and the Anderson (2007) position on differentiated instruction, Gregory and Chapman (2006) emphasized that experience and new brain research has informed educators that students are different, learn differently, have different preferences, and have different needs. Students also differ from each other in social development and physical abilities. Consequently, Gregory and Chapman posed the question of why teachers expect students to adjust to learning in "one-size fits all" lessons instead of adjusting the lessons to the students. Gregory and Chapman further advocated for teachers to know their students and know the standards, as well as to allow the needs of the students to determine instructional decisions. The authors elaborated their perspectives on differentiated instruction to include the concepts that differentiated instruction "meets learners where they are and offers challenging, appropriate options for them in order to achieve success" (Gregory & Chapman, 2006, p. 3). The authors further explored why differentiated instruction is needed today instead of employing the traditional instruction methods of yesterday. However, Hall (2002) reflected that there is a gap in literature regarding pedagogy of differentiated instruction and traditional instruction. Hall reiterated: "Differentiation is recognized to be a compilation of many theories and practices. Based on this review of the literature of differentiated instruction, the 'package' itself is lacking empirical validation. There is an acknowledged and decided gap in the literature in this area and future research is warranted" (p. 5). Hall based her evidence upon differentiated instruction literature review of Vygotsky (1978), Fisher et al. (1980), and Ellis and Worthington (1994). Further discussion to bridge the knowledge gap within research literature will be referenced in Chapter 2 of this research study.
Breaking the paragraph into smaller sections can help us better examine the citations. Here is the first Gregory and Chapman citation in the paragraph:
In culmination of the Tomlinson (2006) and the Anderson (2007) position on differentiated instruction, Gregory and Chapman (2006) emphasized that experience and new brain research has informed educators that students are different, learn differently, have different preferences, and have different needs.
Because the citation is an in-text citation, and it's the first in-text citation for Gregory and Chapman in the paragraph, the writer includes the year. Here are the subsequent Gregory and Chapman citations:
Students also differ from each other in social development and physical abilities. Consequently, Gregory and Chapman posed the question of why teachers expect students to adjust to learning in "one-size fits all" lessons instead of adjusting the lessons to the students. Gregory and Chapman further advocated for teachers to know their students and know the standards, as well as to allow the needs of the students to determine instructional decisions.
The writer again cites the Gregory and Chapman source in the paragraph, using in-text citations. Because these are not the first in-text citations for this source in the paragraph, the writer doesn’t need to include the year again. Instead, just the source names are enough. The next Gregory and Chapman citation is parenthetical: 
The authors elaborated their perspectives on differentiated instruction to include the concepts that differentiated instruction "meets learners where they are and offers challenging, appropriate options for them in order to achieve success" (Gregory & Chapman, 2006, p. 3).
Because this citation is parenthetical, it must include the year. Even though the writer already cited Gregory and Chapman in the paragraph, that doesn't matter--all parenthetical citations need to include the year. A citation should never look like this one: (Gregory & Chapman).

We can see these rules played out again in the paragraph with the Hall source: The first time the writer uses an in-text citation for Hall--in other words, the first time the source is cited in the paragraph as part of the meaning of the sentence--the citation includes the year. The two subsequent times that the writer cites Hall as part of the sentence, no year is needed. The paragraph doesn't contain any parenthetical citations for Hall, but if it did, they would all need to include the year.

Now, remember the third key point: These rules are unique to individual paragraphs. In any other paragraphs in the paper, whether they come before or after this paragraph, the writer must include the year with the first Gregory and Chapman in-text citation and the first Hall in-text citation. 

I hope this example helps clarify one of APA’s hardest citation rules. Still confused? Comment with your questions!


Practice: Take another look at the first sentence of the sample paragraph. If the writer wanted to add another piece of evidence from Tomlinson in the middle of the paragraph, would the writer need to include the year in the citation? Why or why not? Post your explanation in the comments and give feedback to fellow commentors

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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Paragraph Cohesion: Beyond the MEAL Plan

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If you’ve worked with the Writing Center before, you might’ve been encouraged to use the MEAL plan to guide the development of your paragraphs. You might’ve also looked through our page on paragraph structure (which discusses the MEAL plan) and applied this model to your own paragraphs, but you might still have trouble making your ideas flow logically in your writing.

Don’t worry: this is common.The MEAL plan is a great tool, but it isn’t perfect. Sometimes an explicit L (lead-out sentence) isn’t necessary in a paragraph because its topic is very similar to that of the next paragraph (and the connection between the two topics is implied); sometimes you’ll have a sentence of Evidence followed by a sentence of Analysis followed by more E and more A, and this will make complete sense for your argument; sometimes your Main idea functions as a transition between two topics rather than a statement of just one topic. You might have paragraphs with M and A but no new E, or you might have E without A.


Two rules for creating cohesive paragraphs 

For these situations, here are two rules of thumb you can use to compose effective paragraphs. Make sure that

1. Each of your sentences in a paragraph logically follows the one that comes before it.
2. Together, the sentences within a paragraph contribute to a “mini-argument” about a single topic, as if the paragraph were a tiny paper by itself.

Identifying Cohesion

These two rules are easy to follow in principle but often challenging—even maddening—in practice. Let’s look at a sample paragraph to see how they work. Each sentence is numbered in the sample, as we'll be breaking the paragraph down in a moment. 
(1) Creating specific treatment guidelines for transgender adolescents experiencing gender dysphoria is a difficult task for many reasons. (2) The American population is vastly diverse, representing a wide variety of cultures. (3) Cultural variations in gender norms, gender identities, and expressions of gender identities are immense (Coleman et al., 2011). (4) Some subcultures are quite supportive of gender diversity in children and adolescents, assisting young people and their families as they consider medically transitioning, while in other subcultures, transgender individuals experience extreme stigma and discrimination (Carroll, 2009; Coleman et al., 2011; Ehrensaft, 2012; Kelleher, 2009; Riley, Sitherthan, Clemson, & Diamond, 2011). 
There are some successful aspects of this paragraph; if you break it down according to the MEAL plan, you'll find that it has a Main idea, plenty of Evidence, and some Analysis. It doesn’t contain a Lead-out sentence, though, and it could use a bit more overall cohesion.

According to our first rule—the sentences should follow each other logically—this paragraph mostly works but could be strengthened further. Sentence 1 sets up the topic from which the rest of the paragraph develops, and sentences 2, 3, and 4 provide some of the “many reasons” mentioned in the first sentence. However, it’s not quite clear why sentences 2, 3, and 4 appear in this order. The order isn’t necessarily wrong, but it leaves me with a few questions. Is there a linear, step-by-step connection between these reasons? Are they of equal importance, or are some more important than others? Answering these questions might lead the writer to a solution that increases this paragraph’s cohesion—for example, the writer could use a transition or two to clarify the relationships between these pieces of evidence.

Let’s move to our second rule. This paragraph makes a good start toward providing a mini-argument about the difficulty of creating treatment guidelines for gender dysphoria. However, if you look for the traditional components of an argument—thesis, evidence, conclusion—in this paragraph, you won't find anything suggesting a “wrapping up” of this paragraph. As with the L in the MEAL plan, an explicit conclusion isn’t always necessary, but the questions raised in a paragraph should, more or less, be answered by the time it ends. With this in mind, the writer could add some sort of concluding statement that underscores the main point of the paragraph.

Revising for Cohesion

Here’s a revision based on the two rules, with added text in bold: 
(1) Creating specific treatment guidelines for transgender adolescents experiencing gender dysphoria is a difficult task for many reasons. (2) The American population is vastly diverse, representing a wide variety of cultures. (3) Cultural variations in gender norms, gender identities, and expressions of gender identities are immense (Coleman et al., 2011). (4) Complicating matters further, some subcultures are quite supportive of gender diversity in children and adolescents, assisting young people and their families as they consider medically transitioning, while in other subcultures, transgender individuals experience extreme stigma and discrimination (Carroll, 2009; Coleman et al., 2011; Ehrensaft, 2012; Kelleher, 2009; Riley, Sitherthan, Clemson, & Diamond, 2011).  The breadth of America’s diversity prevents the creation of treatment guidelines that could be applied to all cultural groups equally.
This version is a bit clearer, even though it doesn’t, strictly speaking, follow the MEAL plan any better than the original. If you find yourself in this situation—with paragraphs that are MEAL-compliant but still need more cohesion—try applying these two rules of thumb to your writing.
Practice: Select a paragraph of your own writing, and analyze it for cohesion. Then, use Matt's two rules to revise your paragraph, if needed. Post your practice in the comments, and don't forget to share feedback and encouragement for fellow writers.

author

Matt Sharkey Smith 
is a writing instructor and the coordinator of graduate writing initiatives. Matt has this advice for writers: "Write as much as you practically can, even when you don't want to, even when you know beyond a doubt that you're not writing anything that's any good. ... It's at once paradoxical and commonsensical, but it's true: You get better at writing by writing."


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