Category Archives: Academic Writing

Celebrating Writing

Amy Sexton, MSEd, Writing Tutor

Fall means crisp, cooler weather, stunning autumn shows of crimson, rust, and golden leaves, bountiful garden harvests, and, on Friday, October 20, a celebration of writing!


October 20 is designated as the National Day on Writing. The National Day on Writing is sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). NCTE recognizes that writing is a central tenet of literacy and founded the National Day on Writing to draw more attention to and celebrate writing across the nation. This fall, the Writing Center invites students, faculty, and staff to join us in celebrating the National Day on Writing.

On October 20, from 9 am to 5 pm ET, students, faculty, and staff can connect with a writing tutor to talk about writing and its importance in our lives.  Click here to chat with a writing tutor about why writing is important to you.  We also invite you to share your comments here.  Why do you write?  What role does writing play in your life?  What does writing allow you to accomplish daily?  Please share your thoughts, and be sure to include the hashtag #WhyIWrite. You can also learn more about the National Day on Writing by visiting the official web site here.  Happy National Day on Writing!



I Really Want to Present at a Conference: The Keys to a Successful Submission Process: Part One

Steven V. Cates, DBA SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Purdue University Global, School of Business and IT

You may be asking yourself, “Why is making a presentation of my research at a conference important? What is the big deal?” Here are a few good reasons:

  1. It allows you to contribute to and learn about the most recent advances in YOUR field.
  2. You become an ADVOCATE for your field of study.
  3. If it is NOT important to conduct research in YOUR field, then why should students major in it?
  4. You learn how to discuss your findings with other academic colleagues.
  5. You get the opportunity to meet and network with other researchers in the same field.
  6. This allows you to build your own Research Brand.

So what is a Research Brand? As academics, we are not only required to provide university and community service through serving on committees and boards, but we are called upon to transfer learning through teaching our students about the subjects in our specific disciplines.  How are you going to provide that learning opportunity unless you are a Subject Matter Expert in your teaching field? How do you become a Subject Matter Expert? In some cases, your past and current professional experiences might make you an expert. As an academic, your expertise also comes from the research you are constantly performing on chosen topics in your field. This allows you to then share your research findings with your students and your colleagues.


You may ask, “How do I even get started?” One way is to read the journals that are published in your field. You may also have trade journals, other magazines, or internet sites that provide the “Hot Topics” that are being discussed in your discipline. This will give you an idea about what is being written and read about in any teaching field.

If you belong to a professional association, this is also a great place to hear new and exciting discussions on topics that are unexplored. You might even want to consider attending a conference and listening to presenters discuss the trending topics that have people talking. Certainly, networking with other academics is a great way to find out what are the major issues being faced and what research, if any, is being done on a given topic.

If you have enjoyed reading about ways to begin submitting to conferences, please keep an eye out for Part Two next month.  This will be followed by the rest of the I Really Want to Present at a Conference series.



Tools for Preventing Plagiarism

By Amy Sexton, Purdue University Global Center Tutor

One way that the Writing Center supports university students is by presenting live workshops each month on the important topic of plagiarism, and we strive to explore different perspectives on plagiarism with each offering.  Last month, I presented one of our most popular titles, Preventing Accidental Plagiarism.  This presentation offers students many helpful tools they can use throughout the writing process to prevent plagiarism in their assignments.

We begin the workshop with a look at Purdue University Global’s  official plagiarism definition, as well as some examples of plagiarism.  One example that seems to surprise some students is self-plagiarism, as many of them do not realize that one form of plagiarism is reusing a previously submitted paper for a new course.  After talking about what plagiarism is and what it may look like, we then turn our attention to strategies to prevent plagiarism.

Preventing plagiarism begins with careful research.  Students must take detailed notes during their research, including recording all bibliographic information needed to cite and reference their sources and properly noting any information that they record verbatim by enclosing it in quotation marks.  At this point in the workshop, I usually relate stories of working with students who waste precious time tracking down necessary bibliographical information because they did not record it during the research process or who unintentionally plagiarize because they forget that they recorded source material word for word in their notes and cite it as a paraphrase in their papers.  Finally, we know that students sometimes plagiarize because they have not thought through the topic enough to   form their own opinions and ideas, so we encourage students to use the research process to think critically about the topic, analyze what they are reading, and ask probing questions.

Next, we look at what effective paraphrases look like.  A common misconception among students is that paraphrasing means to take an original sentence and change it by finding synonyms to replace some of the words.  One effective way to unravel this misconception is to suggest to students that paraphrasing does not mean to “put something into your own words” but instead means to extract the meaning from the original text.  While this may not seem like a huge distinction, this change in defining paraphrasing does seem to make a difference in helping students understand the goal of paraphrasing.

In addition, students sometimes unintentionally commit plagiarism when they paraphrase an entire paragraph or more of source material.  This often occurs when beginning students are learning about a new or unfamiliar topic.  Many times, students erroneously think that adding a citation at the end of a paraphrased paragraph is sufficient.  This workshop offers a good opportunity to talk about this misconception with students and to introduce the concept of using both signal phrases and parenthetical citations to cite large passages of paraphrased material properly.

In the last part of this workshop, we look at what proper citation looks like including in the text and on the references list.  Specifically, we look at the differences between in-text citations for quotations and paraphrases and talk about why paraphrasing is often preferred over quotation.  Finally, we review a sure-fire strategy that all students can use to detect issues with plagiarism in their writing: matching in-text citations and references.  Sometimes, students may include a reference for a source they used on the references page but forget to include an in-text citation to show where they used the source material in their writing.  Ensuring that each in-text citation has a matching reference and vice versa can help students see where additional citation may be needed or discover that they overlooked including a reference on the references page.

By reviewing definitions and examples of plagiarism, careful research, effective paraphrasing, proper attribution of  all borrowed source material, and corresponding citations and references, students attending this workshop leave with a tool box full of useful strategies that they can use to proactively prevent plagiarism in their writing.


Resource Spotlight: 3 NEW Effective Writing Podcasts

By Chrissine Rios, MA, Purdue University Global Writing Center, Tutor

Until this week, Purdue University Global (Purdue Global) Composition students have had exclusive access to three new Effective Writing Podcasts from podcaster Kurtis Clements who offers some of the best writing advice around for students who need a deeper understanding of important concepts and processes quickly.   Kurtis was a writing tutor in the Purdue Global Writing Center when he began producing the extremely popular Effective Writing Podcast Series in 2011.  However, when he became the Assistant Chair of Composition at the start of 2012, the series seemed concluded at episode 36.  Happily, this is not so!

Kurtis produced three podcasts specifically for Composition that he recently offered to the Writing Center for publication with the original series, and they are excellent!  (Thank you, Kurtis!)

 APA Reference Page Checklist

Argument and the Toulmin Model of Argument

Using Signal Phrases and Interacting with Texts

Audience Demystified

By Chrissine Rios, MA, Purdue University Global Writing Center

A common time to teach “audience” to students is during the revision stage of the writing process: “Draft for yourself, and rewrite for the reader,” say a great many writing tutors and instructors. The same goes for long-windedness and correctness: “First express your ideas, and then edit your words,” say many writing experts. Ever since the early 1980s when Peter Elbow wrote about the importance of prewriting as a distinct phase in the writing process, writing has popularly been taught as a recursive process, and not a micro-recursive process where a writer critiques while writing and rewrites before writing more but a process having recursive stages where in each stage writers give concentrated attention to certain aspects of the writing.


“The Recursive Stages of the Writing Process” [PowerPoint Slide]. Adapted from Learn to Edit and Proofread presented by Chrissine Rios (2015). KUWC Writing Workshops

The prewriting stage, for instance, is for invention—coming up with ideas, questions, and plans.

During drafting, writers generate a discussion having a beginning, middle, and end; a thesis or theme; supporting details and evidence; reflection; analysis.

Then during revision, writers step back and re-see the main idea(s) and revise to bring them more into focus, and this stage, along with the editing stage, is where taking audience into consideration helps writers revise and edit to more intentionally appeal to the readers.

However, at this point in the writing process, the writer should already have a sense of the intended audience for the chosen topic and for the purpose of the writing. Together, the audience, topic, and purpose are what make the writing a form of communication, which is the goal of writing academically, to communicate. In order to communicate effectively, writers have to think about what they are writing and why and for whom. All three of these elements should be considered at the beginning and during every stage of the writing process because they are together what makes the writing situation.

Audience, the paper’s topic, and the writer’s purpose are the writing situation.

“The Writing Situation” [MS Word SmartArt] by Chrissine Rios (2016) for the KU Academic Support Center

“The Writing Situation” [MS Word SmartArt] by Chrissine Rios (2016) for the Purdue University Global Academic Support Center

During tutoring sessions, I’ve asked students who the intended audience is, and one common answer is the “general public” or “society at large.” This is a good place to begin thinking about audience and how it influences what and why writers write.

To reach a general audience, writers will want to take a broad view of the topic and use plain vocabulary and syntax, so the writing is relevant and readable to diverse people. Most academic readers, however, will find such general discussions lackluster because they assume the reader doesn’t know anything. In most cases, the topic and purpose of a college-level paper will be better suited for an audience having college-level literacy skills, so the writer can best demonstrate his or her own college-level literacy skills and college-level learning.

Narrowing the audience helps the academic writer be more specific and develop ideas with more depth because narrowing the audience increases the shared common knowledge between the writer and readers. When students think of an academic audience, however, they will often go too narrow and only consider the professor. Especially when the professor assigns a specific topic and purpose for the writing project, students will be inclined to write only for the professor in response.

On the up side, students who consider the audience the professor will usually write within the parameters of the assignment requirements and strive for correct usage of standard American English and academic style. On the down side, writing for such a narrow audience as a highly educated professor who already knows more than the writer about the topic, can be very nerve-wracking; nothing will sound right to the writer, so it won’t sound right to the reader either.

The most effective academic writing I see is written for an educated audience within the student’s discipline of study or specific field because this is where the assignment will also usually situate the topic. I’ve learned from tutoring writing, however, that not all students automatically consider others in their field of study–other interested learners, educators, or professionals in the field—the intended readers. Helping the student see themselves within a discourse community in which their writing is adding to the body of knowledge on a topic is an important and fairly quick lesson to relay, and it can make all the difference in the student also knowing how to narrow the focus of topic and define a clearer purpose.

The narrower the audience, the more the writer can and must know the topic and express a clear purpose.

“Audience from General to Specific” [MS Word SmartArt] by Chrissine Rios (2016) for the KU ASC

“Narrowing Audience” [MS Word SmartArt] by Chrissine Rios (2016) for the Purdue University Global Academic Support Center

Some of the best student writing I see is in response to assignments that identify an intended audience in the directions: the business letter assignment, the proposal, the memo, the blog post. . .. However, sometimes the intended audience is harder to decipher from the directions.

I recently read an information technology assignment to write a white paper that explains the benefits of a new computer system, and “to explain” is usually to inform, but white papers are usually persuasive, so the purpose would likely be to convince the audience of the merits of the new system. I initially thought the student was to write informatively, but then it seemed he was to persuade. It could be both, but then, is the audience those who want to understand the benefits, or do they need to be convinced of them, and would those who approve already want to treated as though they don’t, and would those who need persuasion even read what they don’t see the point of?

Sometimes too, there are so many directions—explain this, list that, compare those, describe these, and finally, analyze this, and evaluate that, and all in one 3 to 5-page paper—the writer’s concerns are rightfully on addressing all the subtopics and demonstrating comprehension rather than who the intended audience is. But then, they also do not know where to begin, which is what brings them, thankfully, to the writing center.

Knowing the topic, purpose, and audience helps writers
know where to begin and which direction to go.

The exception to my advocacy of considering the audience early in the writing process is in creative writing. Poets, fiction authors, creative nonfiction essayists, memoirists, and other writers in the arts or really any writer who writes professionally or for the love or art of it, write with or without a particular audience in mind. These writers create their own audience. They put their voice, expression, and creations into the world and see how, where, and for whom they make an impact. Yet even then, the goal for many if not all is for the writing to connect with somebody, and when there is a somebody, there is an audience. In academic writing, we often begin with no intended audience in mind but try to identify one while prewriting.

If you teach or tutor academic writing, help your students consider audience at the onset of the writing assignment. Use yourself as an example of the typical academic reader to help them with the expectations of academic style, but also have them think of the audience as others like them who are interested in their topic or directly impacted by it, those who read at their writing level, and who are purposely reading to glean new information, beliefs, or understanding.

Additionally, if you teach within a specific discipline like behavioral and health sciences, education, criminal justice, law, IT, . . .  fire sciences, help students think about the expectations for communicating within that discourse community. Help them imagine where writing is used and why one would write on the assigned topic. Also, as one of my first writing instructors taught me, have your students imagine readers as nice people who care about what they have to say.

Finally, introduce the element of audience at the beginning of the writing project, and encourage writing as a process, so students have the opportunity to show what they know and write well.

Writing Center Resource Spotlight: Power Paragraphs

By Chrissine Rios, MA, Purdue University Global Writing Center Tutor

Paragraphs are building blocks.

Paragraphs are building blocks.

A popular analogy compares paragraphs to building blocks. The analogy helps student writers understand that paragraphs are the units or individual points of a unified discussion.

But, to me, blocks do not capture or depict the intricacies and patterns of language that give a composition depth and appeal.


Paragraphs are a tapestry.

Paragraphs are a tapestry.

Paragraphs more aptly resemble a tapestry. They embody all the words and sentences, points, and details that attentive writers weave into an original piece.

Both analogies show how paragraphs are pieces of a whole. Whether blocks of a structure or threads in material, paragraphs give writing form, function, and style.

In a recent workshop at the Writing Center, I discussed paragraphs and what makes them coherent and powerful. I specifically identified six features that would help new and experienced writers alike become more attentive to what they are saying and skilled at how.

Purdue University Global Writing Center workshops in general cover effective strategies, best practices, and skill-building tools for academic writers. And our lively tutors make learning the expectations of college writing fun.

While the live presentations are accessible to PG students only, the Writing Center happily makes archived workshops available on our Student Webinar Calendar. I hope you enjoy my workshop on “Power Paragraphs.” Please share it!

Presenting a Poster Presentation: Tips and Reflections

By Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

Active professional development and scholarship are extremely important for educators, and conferences can provide an excellent avenue for both. As a virtual employee, I find it especially refreshing to attend physical conferences and interact face-to-face with colleagues in my field.  I recently had the opportunity to present at a poster session at the Georgia International Conference on Information Literacy in Savannah, GA.  As a writing tutor, I constantly help students with tasks related to information literacy, so I wanted to attend and present at this conference. I have presented workshops and traditional presentations at conferences before, but I had never presented a poster presentation, so that is what I proposed.  I wanted to broaden my horizons and try something new and different.  Designing and making the poster and then presenting to a group of educators was interesting and fruitful and  resulted in numerous takeaways, including practical suggestions for designing and producing posters and thoughtful reflections.

Designing and Creating a Poster:  Prior to this conference, my experience with primarily visual communication had been limited to PowerPoint presentations and the occasional bulletin board, so I needed assistance with poster design.  I found the following sites and articles helpful:

Creating Effective Poster Presentations – This site contains comprehensive links that cover important elements from planning to presenting the poster (Hess, Tosny, & Liegel, 2015).

How to Distinguish a Good Poster Design from a Bad One – This article gives helpful guidelines and pictures of good, bad, and ugly poster designs.  As a visual learner, I appreciated seeing examples (“How to Distinguish”, n.d.).

Free Research Poster PowerPoint Templates – While I did not use a template, I found it helpful to see templates and examples (“Free Research Poster”, 2015).   I would definitely use a template if I had arranged to have my poster printed (see below).

When I created my poster, I first wrote a PowerPoint presentation and then printed the slides and arranged them on a 36X48 trifold poster board.  I used adhesive tabs to attach the slides to the poster.  This worked well, and I was happy with my poster design, but, as always, hindsight and reflection have helped me pinpoint some things I may have done differently.  I share these here in hopes that they may be helpful to others who may not be very familiar with poster design and creation.

One reason that I did not use a template was I realized that doing so would require a special printer to print the larger PowerPoint slides. I do not have a special printer, so I would have had to arrange for a printing company to print my poster.   The starting price for printing a poster the size of mine is $45 at (“Price Guide”, 2015), and a quick Internet search suggests that this is a typical price.  While this may seem expensive, to compare, it is approximately the same amount that I spent preparing my poster.  Also, if I had flown to the conference rather than driven, as many conference attendees do, having the  poster printed and shipped to the hotel or conference site would have been necessary.  Obviously, having a poster printed would be an extra step that would need to be factored into the planning process.

Conference Reflections:  Preparing the poster, traveling with it, and setting it up at the conference went smoothly, but, once I was in the room and presenting with colleagues, I noticed that many of  the other presenters had a related, tangible action that they discussed with conference participants, such as a study, project, or course revision.   The presenters to my left talked about an ongoing traveling librarian program at their university; the presenter on my right detailed the successes of implementing an information literacy component using Web 2.0 technologies into a library research course.  While my project had good ideas and research, I have not yet implemented any of my findings (other than to publish an article on this blog: Exploring and Preventing Plagiarism in a Digital Age), so I am now thinking about ways that I can use the knowledge I gained from my research  in my daily work and future presentations.

Overall, proposing and presenting this presentation was a worth-while and fun professional learning experience.  Perhaps best of all, it was something new and unfamiliar, which forced me to step, metaphorically, into the shoes of our students as each and every course they begin is likely new and unfamiliar to them.


Free research poster PowerPoint templates.  (2015).  Retrieved from

Hess, G., Tosney, K. & Liegel, L.  (2015).  Creating effective poster presentations:  An effective poster.  Retrieved from

How to distinguish a good poster design from a bad one.  (n.d.).  Retrieved from

Price guide: Products and services.  (2015). Retrieved from