Category Archives: Posts by Madeline

How the Centre for Academic Communication can support your writing

By Madeline Walker

Experienced tutor Gillian Saunders helps a graduate student

In graduate school, students are expected to write skillfully in their disciplines, yet explicit writing instruction via academic writing courses is rare at the grad level. Moreover, instructors are not often able to provide the intensive mentorship many students require, and if they can, such supervision “is costly and time consuming” (Dunleavy, 2003, p. 4). Tutors at the Centre for Academic Communication help to close this gap in grad student support by providing regular meetings to talk about writing, help to plan writing, and work on specific writing issues.

Grad students benefit from CAC tutors’ knowledge of and experience in graduate academic writing.  Additionally, graduate students appreciate the continuity of support  we offer. For example, one MA student finds that meetings with her busy supervisor are sporadic, but she can count on a weekly meeting with a tutor to check in. Another Master’s student (EAL) saves questions throughout the week and uses his time with a tutor to check vocabulary, syntax, meaning, and organization of his thesis in computer science, questions he deems inappropriate to ask his supervisor.

Students also appreciate the encouraging, non-judgmental approach we take during tutoring sessions. Writing at the graduate level involves developing a new scholarly identity, and this process can be fraught with anxiety and self-doubt.  Students often feel reassured after meeting with a tutor because they realize they are on the right track. They can set goals and talk about how to be more productive—topics their supervisors may not have time to discuss.

Graduate students number over 3,000 at UVic, and they need academic writing support. With faculty members supervising multiple graduate students in addition to their teaching, research, and service commitments, the role of the Centre for Academic Communication has never been so important.  Connect with us by creating an account online and booking an appointment with a tutor. Check out our spring schedule for tutoring, workshops, and other services. Come to the Grad Writing Room, Library 151B on Fridays from 10 to 1, where you write in community with others. Or just drop by and say hello.  We’re located on the main floor of the  Mearns Centre for Learning – McPherson Library. We’d love to see you.







Dunleavy, P. (2003). Authoring a PhD: How to plan, draft, write and finish a doctoral thesis or dissertation. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.



Learning to swim again

By Madeline Walker

With a wry smile, I look back on my first class as a graduate student. I registered for twentieth-century African American literature and eagerly signed up for the first seminar presentation.  The task was to comment on the third chapter from Paul Gilroy’s seminal 1993 book, The Black Atlantic, in which Gilroy presents his theory about a transatlantic Black culture that transcends diasporic differences.After a long spell away from university, I was jumping in head first. Little did I realize how deep the pool of knowledge was!

Although I knew a bit about the history of African America (slavery, the 13thamendment to the Constitution, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights era), I was completely unprepared for the kaleidoscope of concepts and ideas I needed to make sense of Gilroy’s jargon-laden writing. In every paragraph, I was confronted with dozens of new terms, for example, “post-structuralist,” “textuality,” and “metaphysics of presence.” What was the difference between “modernism” and “modernity”? What did Gilroy mean by “the politics of authenticity”? Who was W.E.B. DuBois and what was “double consciousness”?

My head was barely above water as I sputtered away. Worse, I had the haunting sense that the professor expected me to be familiar with the context and debates embedded in the book and the class, to breathe underwater. I wasn’t and I couldn’t.

The way I saw it, I had two choices. Quit now, or move forward. I had already quit grad school once in my twenties, and I didn’t want to disappoint myself again. So I chose to move forward. To avoid getting mired in feelings of inadequacy, I simply started where I was. I puzzled through the layers of ideas by making notes, asking questions, looking stuff up, and reading around the subject to build meaning from the chapter.  I relied on prior knowledge, basic reference books (dictionary of critical theory, encyclopedia of African American history), the introduction to Gilroy’s book, and book reviews of The Black Atlantic to help me find my feet at the shallow end of the pool.  Although my understanding of the chapter had big gaps, I was able to make a reasonable presentation and ask lots of questions as part of my talk.  Despite having to catch up my knowledge, I ended up enjoying the class, and a seed was planted. I was inspired to focus on African American literature for my entire graduate school journey.

If you are feeling out of your depth, take heart.  Things take time. I just had a chat with a student who was marvelling at how his capacity for reading academic writing has grown over the past three years. Material that he found obscure and dense at the beginning of his program, he now breezes through with high comprehension.  But building facility in his disciplinary discourse wasn’t accomplished quickly.  We don’t punish children for not learning how to swim quickly; rather, we put water wings on their arms and give them time to get comfortable in the shallow end. So don’t chide yourself for taking the time you need to learn to swim in the sea of knowledge. Things take time.

If you need support in academic communication, including reading to write, writing, presentations, academic integrity, or academic expectations, please see us at the Centre for Academic Communication (CAC).  We get it—we’ve been there.

You can drop by our offices in the McPherson Library at the end of the Learning Commons or make an appointment online:

Madeline is the Coordinator for the CAC. She has a PhD in English (20C American Literature). She loves to write and to coach other writers.









“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter”: Revising and editing with intention

By Madeline Walker and Nancy Ami

The quotation in our title from popular writer James Michener stresses the importance of revising and editing your own writing. Indeed, knowing how to revise and edit is just as important as being able to generate a first draft.  Here we describe two ways you can revise and edit your work with intention.

Using readability statistics to plan revisions, by Madeline

A simple, free tool can help you analyze your own writing with an eye to revision.  Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software available, yet few people know about the Readability Statistics feature. This feature analyzes your writing and provides counts, averages, the percentage of sentences in passive voice, and two readability measures. You can use this information to plan improvements to your writing. For example, the average academic sentence contains 23 words (in Business it’s 15-20), but what if you see from the statistics that your average sentence is 35 words?  Now is the time to read Nancy’s contribution below and edit for concision. What if you see that 50% of your sentences are in the passive voice, but your discipline prefers active voice? You can revise accordingly. The two readability measures show the grade level of writing (Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Test) and the level of difficulty (Flesch Reading Ease Test) with 100% the easiest to read and 0-29 confusing prose.  You can use this measure to revise with an eye to clarity and accessibility.

  • To get started right away in Word for PC, go to file/ options/ proofing. Under “When correcting spelling and grammar in Word,” select the “Check grammar with spelling check box” and select “Show readability statistics.”  After writing your document, go to review/ spelling and grammar, and when the check is complete, a text box will appear on your screen on top of your document.
  • In Word for Mac, go to Word/ preferences/ spelling and grammar and check “Show readability statistics.”  After finishing your document, go to review/ spelling and grammar, and when the check is complete, a text box will appear on your screen on top of your document.

Just for fun, here are the statistics for part one of this blog post. Click here to learn more about Readability Statistics and how to interpret them. Then you can revise and edit with intention.

Concision, by Nancy

After noting my essays overflowed with phrases like “future plans for one’s life ahead” and “the discussion of the characters in the novel that was assigned,” my undergraduate communication professor suggested I read The Elements of Style.  I bought it and read it. I understood why my course instructor made notes like “awk” and “redundant” and “?” in my essay margins. I learned how I could write differently. Concisely.

Over the years, since putting aside The Elements of Style, I’ve noticed that my writing has returned to its former state. Puffy.  Expansive. Obscure. What happened to concision?

Desperate to review tips I learned more than thirty years ago, I thumbed through my yellow-paged $2.95-ticketed third edition and found scribbled asterisks next to principles like 14: “Put statements in positive form” and 17: “Omit needless words”. Would the advice I followed in my undergraduate degree help me thin my padded writing now?

I applied Strunk and White’s principles to my sentence scrawls:

  • Avoid “not”

In spite of the fact that writing is difficult for some, it is not difficult for others.

In spite of the fact that While writing is difficult for some, it is not difficult easy for others.

I replaced “not difficult” with “easy” and saved a word!

  • Trim the fat

Perfectionists are people who struggle with writing.

Perfectionists are people who struggle with writing.

I eliminated “are people who” and saved three words!

My colleague writes in an effective manner.

My colleague writes in an effective manner effectively.

I used an adverb to replace a phrase and saved four words!

Writing is an activity that is difficult for some.

Writing is an activity that is difficult for some.

I excised “an activity that is” and saved four words!

I need to call your attention to the fact that writing is difficult.

I need to call your attention to the fact that Writing is difficult!

I replaced the idea of “need” with a “!” and saved 10 words!

  • Replace clauses with phrases and phrases with words

Writing that is done by scholars can be complex and incomprehensible.

Writing that is done by scholars can be complex and incomprehensible.

Scholarly writing that is done by scholars can be complex and incomprehensible.

Complex scholarly writing  that is done by scholars can be complex and in comprehensible.

I reduced a negative eleven-word sentence to a positive simple statement of six words!

Comprehensible writing results from applying only two of the simplest of Strunk and White’s twenty writing principles. True in 1985. True today. Check it out!

In addition to employing these techniques, remember that you are always welcome to work with a tutor at the Centre for Academic Communication to improve your revision and editing skills.

Nancy Ami (R) is the Manager and Madeline Walker (L) is the Coordinator of the Centre for Academic Communication. That’s Nancy’s dog-eared copy of The Elements of Style, 3rd edition. The fourth edition is available in the Reference section of our library: PE1408 S772 2000