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Walden University Writing Center

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How "That" Can Improve Word Flow in Your Writing

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What does the phrase word flow mean to you? It is a difficult metaphor to pin down because words don’t literally flow like a river or a stream. So, the definition of word flow can vary for each student, teacher, and writing instructor.

As a writing instructor, I had a few specific identifiers for word flow when reviewing a student’s essay:
  • Simple, clear sentences that communicate in active voice.
  • Limited rhetorical phrases or words.
  • No dramatic grammar usage.

Tips for Writing Meaningful and Worthwhile Sentences

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Tips for Writing Meaningful and Worthwhile Sentences | Walden University Writing Center Blog

It’s the summer of ’15, and the song “Things Happen” by Dawes is getting significant airplay on my local radio station. If you haven’t heard it, tune in to the video at 1:31, 2:18, and 3:09:

For the Good of All Humanity, Imperatives Must Be Abolished

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As a Walden student, you likely have an interest in using your research to make a positive change in people’s lives—most Walden students do, and the university strongly supports efforts to apply scholarship that might otherwise remain abstract and theoretical to concrete, real-world situations. This is, on balance, a good thing. Sometimes, though, students’ enthusiasm for social change can overwhelm their writing, introducing biases that could lead a reader to question their objectivity as researchers and doubt the validity of their results.

Let’s look at two examples of what I’m talking about:

 Teachers must use differentiated instruction because students deserve to benefit from the best instructional methods available (Erickson, 2014).

 This prenatal education program should be implemented to help mothers in developing countries avoid disease.

Both of these statements are grammatically sound, and readers can easily comprehend their meanings. However, they are both imperatives, or statements that implore the reader to do something because it is essential or fundamental in some way. Imperatives can powerfully underscore a writer’s overall point and convince the reader to take action. Imperatives, though, do not really belong in your scholarly writing as a Walden student because in the social sciences, your arguments must be based (as much as possible) on logic and evidence.

You may have heard, in an English or writing course, of the three classical modes of persuasion: pathos, ethos, and logos, which basically mean persuading via emotion, authority, and logic, respectively. These are all effective ways of persuading a reader, and you can see them in your everyday life: Look at any television commercial, political ad, or opinion column, and you’ll likely find some or all of these persuasive appeals at work, making you desire a product, trust a respected official, or believe in the significance of a piece of data.

All about imperatives | Walden University Writing Center Blog

Imperatives, by appealing to our sense of right and wrong, are a potent application of pathos, and they can profoundly affect our judgments. Sometimes imperatives serve us well: When world leaders argue to take action to prevent atrocities like genocide or slavery, they often use imperatives because they’re appealing to our sense of compassion and decency. They’re not arguing that preventing these crimes is true; they’re arguing that it is right. In other cases, though, imperatives are misused to bolster arguments that lack evidence or logical coherence (a quality aptly captured by the term truthiness) and lead readers to draw false conclusions. In those situations, imperatives distract us into believing something is right without concern for whether it’s true.

Our susceptibility to pathos is one reason why scientific research is based on the principle that we should not trust a judgment unless we can verify it with objective observations of the world around us. Consequently, social scientists avoid—and are skeptical of—appeals to our emotions or morals; social scientists use logos (and ethos, to some degree, by doing things like citing sources and maintaining a scholarly tone to establish their credibility) to articulate their research. Put another way, using imperatives in social-sciences writing is akin to sculpting marble with a bulldozer: It's the wrong tool for the task at hand, and it can destroy the very thing you’re trying to create.

With this in mind, let’s look at revisions of my two examples:

 In several recent studies, differentiated instruction has been identified as a more effective method than more traditional instructional techniques (Erickson, 2014).

• If implemented, this prenatal education program could help new mothers in some developing countries minimize the risk of their children being born with nutrition-related health problems.


Even though I might personally feel strongly that all students deserve to benefit from the best teaching methods available or that we should fund health education programs in developing countries, those sentiments don’t belong in my social-sciences writing. Limiting your claims to only what your evidence and analysis will support will make your arguments more precise and more compelling. 



This month, we're discussing word choice on the blog and podcast. To catch up on what you missed, check out WriteCast Episode 24: Why Word Choice Matters.


author

Matt Sharkey-Smith is a writing instructor and the coordinator of graduate writing initiatives at the Writing Center says, "It's at once paradoxical and commonsensical, but it's true: You get better at writing by writing."


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WriteCast Episode 24: Why Word Choice Matters

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We've been talking about some big-picture writing ideas on the podcast lately--how academic writing helps you outside of academia, gray areas in APA style, writing expectations at U.S. colleges and universities--so this month, we're getting specific. In our latest episode, Beth and Brittany share several examples of words and phrases to avoid in your academic writing and explain how word choice impacts your precision and clarity.

Stream or download the episode below. If you're reading this post in your email, click on the post's title to visit the blog, where you can listen to the episode. 



Episode 24 Transcript

As always, we welcome your thoughts and questions in the comments!


This podcast episode kicks off our discussion of word choice. Throughout the next few weeks, we'll discuss other specific words and phrases to pay attention to in your writing. 


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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What Are You Writing For? How Your Academic Writing Skills Transfer Into the Workplace

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During one of my recent residency presentations on the topic of Writing at the Doctoral Level, one student raised her hand and asked, “What are we writing for?” This short but powerful question took me by surprise, and I have been thinking about all of the possible answers to this question ever since. 

Walden students write in order to earn a higher degree, they write in the hopes of social change, and they write to gain and refine their communication skills. And these few answers don’t even scrape the surface! However, I when I initially thought about the “What are we writing for?” question, my answers were all based on prospective gains, as if students could only write as a way to make a difference or gain something in the future. This got me thinking: What are we waiting for? Since many Walden students already have careers, why can’t they begin to apply the writing process skills they gain while earning their higher degrees in the workplace right away? Below are just a few ways you can begin to use (or perhaps are already using) your writing process knowledge in the workplace.

What Are You Writing For? How Your Academic Writing Skills Transfer Into the Workplace | Walden University Writing Center Blog