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Walden University Writing Center

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Student Spotlight: Shaima Alraiy, College of Social and Behavior Science

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The Walden University Writing Center is privileged to work with talented students. In the Student Spotlight Series, the WUWC aims to support incredible work our students do, both in and out of the classroom. The goal of the Student Spotlight Series is to provide the Walden community with a place to build bridges and make connections by developing shared understanding of the diverse and varied student journey. Students share stories about their writing process, their efforts towards social change, and their motivations for pursuing higher education. We ask questions, and students generously answer.

This Student Spotlight features Shaima Alraiy, student of the College of Social and Behavior Science.

What are some of the most useful lessons you've learned through paper reviews?
The paper review was a huge learning experience for me. The feedback I received from the Writing Center was significantly constructive and valuable.   It helped me better understand the use of the APA Style in a practical way through the suggestions and examples provided by the Writing Center Instructors. In some of my courses, I received minimal feedback from instructors but that was compensated by the feedback I received from the paper reviews. Through the feedback I received from the Writing Center, I was guided on how to find answers to my questions by always referring to the prompt of the assignment or discussion post. The suggestions of enhancing structure and using more formal and suitable words enhanced my language substantially. I have to admit that what I learned through the Writing Center paper review did not only enhance my work at Walden but also my writing for my work.

What does social change mean to you?
To start talking about social change, I would like to share an excerpt from my first discussion post in my current PhD program. "You changed my life." That was an honest statement an 11-year-old boy said to me in the closing ceremony of a project called "from Child to Child" that I was coordinating in sponsorship by UNICEF in 2006. That phrase made me speechless with no words to respond back. That phrase was ringing in my mind non-stop for a long time until it made me realize its meaning and the achievement behind it. I have not seen that child again, but I can never forget his words and smiling face. He made me realize that I can be of help, and I can be a change agent. He drafted my first rough goal in life which is to help children, who I believe are both current citizens and future leaders.

That was an introduction that I wrote in my first discussion post in my first course in this Ph.D. program. Social change, which is the main goal in all I do, is also the motive, which made me select Walden University. The reminder of social change in most of the assignments and discussion posts throughout the various courses made it part of my thinking and actions. As for my understanding of the meaning of social change, I do believe there is always a motive and a reason for a person to be a social change agent. That motive is what directs the person towards a goal that contributes to social change. The meaning of social change for me is what we do as individuals, groups, and organizations to create change that yields to positive social outcomes. 

Group of 20+ students posing for the camera
Shaima is on the far right of this photo, wearing a black scarf
What social issues have you observed in your community, and how have you advocated for positive social change?
Children and women are the most vulnerable groups, who are mostly dealt with as secondary citizens in the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) region. The person I’ve become and what I achieved so far as a Middle Eastern woman is what I consider a great accomplishment. Going against the norms to achieve noble goals to contribute to social change was a struggle in a conservative society such as Yemen and the MENA region in general. However, I was able to harvest the fruits of my work when I saw the youth I supported come out of their shells and speak for themselves. With my determination and passion for change, I led national campaigns and programs contributing to the welfare and protection of children and young people.

I contributed to social change through the children/youth empowerment network that I initiated with my colleagues in Yemen, which I consider my life project. Some colleagues and I started this network with 4 teachers and 10 school students. We trained them on essential life skills and designing and managing community-service projects. The impact of this project was tremendous on the community and the youth as well. The outcomes of this project made me and my colleagues decide to continue and expand the project. Now the network operates in ten cities with around 1500 youth and 600 teachers who work in community-services projects to support their communities. My colleagues and I (trainers, field coordinators, and mentors) are volunteers who made this network one of the biggest in the country. Some of these young people were selected to present their experience in international conferences and won in some other international competitions. I always see the youth transform when they go through an experience in which they design and lead initiatives themselves and contribute to social change. It is rewarding when some of these young people meet us and say “you changed our lives”!

What challenges have you encountered in your pursuit of social change? How have you overcome them?
In a developing country like Yemen, promoting rights sometimes is a challenge. Young people and children are merely passive listeners in the different settings, especially home and school. To convince parents, school teachers and admins, as well as children themselves, that they can be social change agents was not an easy task at all. However, after they see the impact of such an experience on their children’s personalities, they usually support the concept significantly.

How has your education at Walden influenced how you think about social change?
The reminder of social change in all discussion posts and assignments always fosters what I am doing and motivates me to keep moving forward. Moreover, Walden emphasized the importance of research as a key element in social change.

What are your strengths in writing? What are your greatest challenges?
I think my strength in writing is that I often capture the whole picture when I write about something. However, the fact that English is my second language makes it sometimes hard to be very expressive and formal.

Can you describe one writing project or assignment that meant a lot to you in some way?
Actually, they were three assignments: the final projects of the grant writing course, the annotated bibliography of the Research Theory Course, and the Public Policy analysis and planning course.  The final project of the public policy course was a great exercise of how to analyze and plan for a public policy in reality. I am grateful for this exercise as I was able to analyze a very important policy, which is Family Reunification in Canada. It was a great learning experience as I was able to analyze and provide solution options based on literature, similar policies, and commendable practices. This paper was appreciated by the MP office of the area where I live.   

What would you like other Walden students to know? What advice can you give them as they begin, continue, or close out their degree programs?
In the two residencies I attended, I advised some colleagues I met to utilize the services available for them such as the Writing Center, the library, and the Research Center. I was surprised to know that many of them have not used the services of the Writing Center yet and some of them did not know about it. I immediately showed them some papers that I got reviewed by the writing Center and how the paper was enhanced by the feedback of the reviewer. I would also advise them to look for the motive that makes them want to contribute to social change. That motive will guide every aspect in their PhD Program and how they apply the knowledge and skills they gain to contribute to the social change of the discipline they are interested in.

What writers do you admire, and what is it about their writing that interests you?
Zayd Mutee Dammaj is my favorite writer. He is a Yemeni writer whose novels were appreciated and won prizes internationally. When I read Dammaj, I feel like I am one of the characters, living their experiences. The way he narrates the story is very engaging, making the reader visualize what is happening.

What inspires you to write?
At the personal level, writing is like a close friend with whom I can say what I feel without restraints. Whenever I see something wrong that needs to be addressed or something rightful that needs to be shared, I start writing. This writing can be in different forms, such as a post in Facebook, a study report, a proposal to a funder, etc. In the course of my career, I contributed to different studies such as the “Country Profile on the Situation of Children in Yemen,” “Regional Analysis on the Situation of Violence against Children in Schools in Lebanon, Morocco and Yemen,” a study entirely led by adolescents on the situation of children using the “Child-led Data Collection” methodology, national quantitative and qualitative assessment research on “Violence against children in Schools,” qualitative research on “Child Marriage, Armed Children and Children in Conflict with the Law in Yemen.” I also drafted grant proposals to different funders such as the EU, Oxfam, World Bank, MEPI, UNICEF, Save the Children, and different embassies such as the US and the Netherlands Embassies.

The Walden Writing Center provides information and assistance to students with services like live chat, webinars, course visits, paper reviews, podcasts, modules, and the writing center webpages. Through these services they provide students assistance with APA, scholarly writing, and help students gain skills and confidence to enhance their scholarly work.

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Thursday Thoughts: Using Your Academic Writing Skills to Find a Career

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You probably spend a lot of time working on discussion posts, essays, and projects for your classes, but do you spend the same amount of time on your cover letter and resume? It may seem like the most important focus for these documents is your actual experience and education, but sentence structure, word choice, and organization matter too. All the academic writing skills you have learned about and refined as a student writer can be applied to the career search and application process. The Walden University Career Services Center provides education and support for the career navigation process. The Writing Center often works with Career Services to share tips and advice for crafting application documents. Although a cover letter may not bear resemblance to a course paper, it is possible to apply academic writing skills and knowledge to the cover letter.

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Here is a collection of some of our resources for writing application documents

Become a stronger job applicant using academic writing skills: From document formatting to sentence structure, this post reviews some important things to keep in mind when writing a variety of application documents.

Tips to make your cover letter strongYour cover letter may be the first thing a potential employer reads, so start with this page on our website to discover techniques to make an impact with your cover letter.

How to Write A Dynamic Cover Letter:  Let a career services adviser explain the process of writing a cover letter.

Is your resume reader for your next career move? It's nice to have a reminder to keep your resume current and ready to submit. Here, you can read about resume tips from a career services adviser, including how to use strong and clear verbs. 

While you probably won't be including outside research and citing sources in your cover letter and resume, you will be able to find ways to apply your academic writing knowledge.

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The Walden Writing Center provides information and assistance to students with services like live chat, webinars, course visits, paper reviews, podcasts, modules, and the writing center webpages. Through these services they provide students assistance with APA, scholarly writing, and help students gain skills and confidence to enhance their scholarly work.

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APA Documentation Style in Scholarly Narrative Writing

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Some of the trickiest APA questions we receive have to do with how to document sources in narrative style writing. In this style of writing, writers are charged with citing interviews and personal communication and sometimes, even, themselves. This blog post will discuss these types of documentation, commonly found in narrative style writing.

APA Documentation for Narrative Scholarly Writing title image

Most important in this style of writing is that your readers know your interviewee’s credentials and why their ideas are being included in your text. While you may have had a conversation about politics with your friend, their friend’s ideas are only valid if they have credible professional experience or research experience in that field. Think critically about the sources you choose to include in your text and make sure their background makes them a credible and reliable resource, with valuable insight on your topic. 

Citing an Interview or Other Personal Communication

First, it is important to know that an interview or personal communication is cited in your text only. Interviews and other personal communication will never be included your references list.

In your text, interview and personal communication citation guidelines follow standard author/year APA rules. Additionally, however, you must include your source’s first initial, along with the month and day that your communication took place.

For example, if you conducted an interview with Donnie Edwards on May 28, 2017, you would cite this interview as follows:

D. Edwards (personal communication, May 28, 2017) claimed that donuts are better than cookies.
Donuts are better than cookies (D. Edwards, personal communication, May 28, 2017).

In summary, you must include the following information in your in-text citation of interviews or other personal communication.

1. Your source’s first initial and last name
2. The form of communication (personal communication)
3. The month, day, and year that the personal communication took place

And remember, interviews and personal communication sources will never appear in your references list.

Citing Yourself

It is generally recommended that you do not cite your own ideas from previous papers. Walden University (and we at the Writing Center!) know that you’ll revisit your areas of interest again and again during your tenure as a student. Research in your areas of interest will continue to grow during your tenure, which means that you will have new and evolving research to include in your texts. This means that your own analysis of your areas of interest should also be evolving.

The Walden University Student Handbook (2017) builds on this idea, stating that “During their studies at Walden, students might find themselves writing for a second, third, or fourth time on the same topic; regardless, their writing is expected to reflect new approaches and insights into that topic to demonstrate their intellectual growth.”

If you do choose, however, to cite your own ideas from past papers, you can do so by following general author/year APA guidelines. You must include the author’s name (your own name) and the year of publication in your text. For example, if I am citing myself, I might say:

Townsend (2017) claimed that “it is generally recommended that you do not cite yourself in your text.” 
“It is generally recommended that you do not cite yourself in your text” (Townsend, 2017).
This is a source that you would include in your reference list, as it adheres to the standard conventions of APA-style documentation.

In summary, due to the continual evolution both of research in your areas of interest and of your own analysis of your areas of interest, Walden University recommends that you avoid citing yourself in your text. However, if you choose to cite yourself in a paper, you must follow standard APA guidelines, and you must also include the source in your references list.


Nicole Townsend
 is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She has worked in writing centers for ten years, with an interest in individualizing support for diverse student populations. While Nicole also enjoys editorial work and teaching English as an adjunct professor, her passion is for the foundation of collaboration embedded in writing center best practices.

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WriteCast Episode 42: Using Creative Writing Strategies in Academic Writing

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You don't have to be a creative writer to use the tips in this episode of WriteCast! Join writing instructors Max and Claire for a discussion of creative writing strategies--such as knowing where you're going and how you're going to get there, writing exploratory drafts, anticipating audience response, getting a secondary reader, and understanding deconstruction--that you can use to strengthen your academic writing.

In this episode, we mention a few blog post resources that may be helpful in conjunction with this episode:

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The WriteCast podcast is produced by Anne Shiell and the staff of the Walden University Writing Center and delves into a different writing issue in each episode. In line with the mission of the Writing Center, WriteCast provides multi-modal, on demand writing instruction that enhances students' writing skill and ease. We hope you enjoy this episode and comment in the box below.

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Narrative Writing For Capstone Projects

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The doctoral capstone is a specific type of document that demonstrates your scholarship and your familiarity with academic conventions and existing knowledge in your field. For the dissertation, doctoral study, project study, or project, the primary type of writing required is what is known as “expository”— you inform your reader about current research and/or practice relevant to your topic, explain the type of study you conducted and why it was relevant, and present outcomes and conclusions based on what you found. This may feel different from what we may think of as typical “narrative,” a series of events with a beginning, middle, and end. 
Narrative Writing for Capstone Projects

Social science writing, and particularly writing in APA style, is distinct from literary and other forms of expression. The APA (6th ed.) manual even specifies that authors should avoid “devices that attract attention to words, sounds, or other embellishments instead of to ideas” (p. 70). This is why your chairperson, committee members, and editors at the Writing Center will delete literary devices, emotional language, and more overtly argumentative or persuasive elements in your draft. Because the goals of APA style are economy of expression, clarity, precision, and appropriate academic tone, in many ways a more traditionally narrative form of writing is not suitable for what you want to accomplish in your capstone. It can be helpful, though, to think about how narrative writing may still apply while you write in a more formal, academic way.

Telling the Story of Your Data
In your proposal in particular, you want to resist the urge to follow typical narrative forms. The purpose of the proposal is to explain the type of study you want to do, how it fits in with existing research and/or practice, and its potential significance to current scholarship. When it comes to presenting your results, sometimes it helps to think of that section as “telling the story of your data.” This does not mean suddenly slipping into memoir, of course; still, presenting your results with a beginning, middle, and end can help you convey information in a way that your reader can understand and without repeating yourself or jumping from point to point sporadically. What did you do first? What happened during data collection, and did it match what you planned in your proposal? What did you do once you had all your data? How did analysis work, and what did you find? Thinking of the results as the story of your data, even if you still present it in formal, scientific language, can keep you organized and prevent confusion when it comes time to write everything up.

Reflecting on Your Work
Students in certain programs are required to include specific reflections about their study as part of the final document. While, again, you do not want to become overly literary in your description, you can use this section to tell the story of your development as a scholar. Whereas the other sections convey your research skills and academic knowledge through your analysis and use of evidence, this section is your chance to actually provide the story of your own development as a doctoral-level scholar practitioner. For instance, Sections 1, 2, and 3 of your EdD project study are your chance to show you are a doctoral scholar, and Section 4 is your chance to tell readers about it. Using a narrative structure here can help you present this in a linear, focused way.

Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
The doctoral capstone document is long, with many varied parts, so you will find yourself shifting between different modes of writing depending on the goals of the particular section. While the capstone has certain restrictions, and APA style precludes certain literary approaches, you should still feel comfortable trying out different approaches to conveying your ideas during the drafting process.

Often people can worry that “academic” or “scientific” writing necessarily has to be dry or unengaging, but it is quite the contrary. To return to the words of the APA manual, “In describing your research, present the ideas and findings directly but aim for an interesting and compelling style and a tone that reflects your involvement with the problem” (p. 66). When you set out to write your capstone project, your ultimate goal is to write in a way that the audience can grasp your capstone’s significance and, ultimately, its contribution to social change. Including elements of narrative writing in your capstone project can help your reader do just that.

Lydia Lunning
 is a Dissertation Editor and the Writing Center's Coordinator for Capstone Services. She earned degrees from Oberlin College and the University of Minnesota, and served on the editorial staff of Cricket Magazine Group.

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