Writing Centers

Forms of Writing-Graduate Students and Bachelor's Completion

Action Research

Action research is a process of applied research undertaken by practitioners (such as teachers) with a goal of improving their own performance or the performance of the organization in which they work. Action research is focused, methodological, disciplined, self-reflective, and often collaborative. It is carried out in a real-life environment (such as a classroom or school building or district) rather than in a library or laboratory, and involves the engagement of participants in their actual settings in order to examine real-life situations and to recommend improvements.

Methodology is important to successful action research, and it needs to be considered carefully in research proposals and described accurately and thoroughly in the research report.

If you want more help, check out the resources below.

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Resources for Writing Action Research

Research to Practice: Guidelines for Planning Action Research Projects – Ohio Literacy Research Center

An Overview of the Methodological Approach of Action Research – Rory O’Brien, University of Toronto

Action Research – Eileen Ferrance, Brown University Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory

Teacher Research – Sharon Parsons, San Jose State University

Annotated Bibliography

A bibliography is simply a list of books and other resources, usually those consulted for a research project. An annotated bibliography is one that includes a brief summary and/or critique of each item on the list. An annotated bibliography can be included with a research project, or it can stand alone.

An annotated bibliography is not the same as a reference list at the end of a research paper. A reference list contains only those works cited in the text of the research paper, and the entries provide only retrieval information (author, publication date, title, publisher information).

For an annotated bibliography, provide a full citation for each item, following the format of your assigned style manual. Follow the citation with the information you have been asked to provide.

If you want more help, check out the resources below.

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Resources for Writing an Annotated Bibliography

Annotated Bibliographies – Purdue Online Writing Lab

Example – Purdue Online Writing Lab

How to Write an Annotated Bibliography – University of Louisville Writing Center

Case Study 

A case study is a detailed account of a complex, real-life situation that often involves a conflict or problem. Case studies serve various purposes, such as providing insight into broader issues that might occur in similar circumstances or presenting a problem for further analysis and discussion. The material for case studies is usually drawn from a current event, person(s), or institution, although historical events are occasionally used as well. In most cases, the fact narrated in the case study are explained, contextualized, discussed, and analyzed using current literature (peer-reviewed scholarly sources).

If you want more help, check out the resources below.

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Resources for Writing Case Studies

An Evaluation of an Action Learning Program – Bob Dick, Southern Cross University

Action Research Example:“How Technology Cheats Girls” – Carolyn Csongradi

Action Research for Staff Professional Development: Case Study of a School in Uganda – Jaya Earnest, Research Unit for the Study of Societies in Change, Curtin University of Technology

Executive Summary

An executive summary, as the term implies, is a summarized version of a longer text. It is intended to be read quickly and easily by an audience that is not necessarily an expert on the topic. Executive summaries vary in length and format. The resources below will provide you with guidelines and examples.

Please note that some of the examples below do not follow APA style. You will see some examples with numbered in-text citations, and some with no in-text citations at all. Executive summaries follow many styles. However, for coursework at Saint Mary’s University, you must follow APA style unless your professor tells you otherwise.

If you want more help, check out the resources below.

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Resources for Writing an Executive Summary

Overview: Executive Summary – Writing@CSU, Colorado State University

How to Write an Executive Summary of a Business Plan – Susan Ward, Cypress Technologies (an IT Consulting business)

Executive Summaries Complete the Report – G. Jay Christensen, California State University Northridge

Literature Review/Synthesis Paper

A literature review (or synthesis paper) is intended to summarize and synthesize the pertinent research on a topic by professionals in the field. A literature review can stand alone or appear as part of a longer work, such as a research proposal. The quality of the literature review is dependent upon (a) the writer’s clarity of purpose and focus of the research question; (b) the thoroughness of the writer’s search; (c) the quality and reliability of the writer’s sources; (d) the degree to which the writer provides synthesis (i.e., relates research studies to one another and to the paper’s thesis and purpose in meaningful ways); and (e) the objectivity of the writer in selecting, interpreting, organizing, and summarizing the research he or she has reviewed.

Keep in mind that a literature review is not just a summary of studies, but rather a synthesis of information and research methods in those studies. You must make clear how the studies relate to one another and to your thesis or research question and to your purpose. Synthesis requires comparing themes, methods, and conclusions among the authors. One way to keep track of it all is to create a research matrix or table. The resources below will help you get started.

The links below provide information about, and examples of, literature reviews undertaken for a variety of purposes. Links are also provided for creating a literature review matrix. This will help you create synthesis while writing a literature review.

If you want more help, check out the resources below.

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Resources for Writing a Literature Review

Writing the Literature Review

How to Write a Literature Review – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Writing a Literature Review [a three-part site] – Wesleyan University Library

The Literature Review: A Few Tips on Conducting It – Writing Centre, University of Toronto

Creating a Matrix

Literature Review Matrix – Saint Mary’s Twin Cities Writing Center

Writing a Literature Review and Using a Synthesis Matrix – North Carolina State Tutorial Services.. Ingram, Hussey, Tigani, Hemmelgarn, & Huneycutt, contributors

Synthesizing Multiple Sources – Indiana University

Create Your Own matrix in MS Word – This blank matrix is ready for you to use for your own research review.


Meta-analysis is a quantitative method of combining the results of previous individual, but related, studies to synthesize summaries and conclusions. It serves to introduce cross-study precision in many fields of research, and it is most useful when individual studies are too small to yield valid conclusions. It is different from a literature review. In a literature review you are comparing findings. In a meta-analysis, you are combining the data sets from each study to create one large data set. This is done in a systematic, quantitative way that guarantees comparability. In statistical terms, the population/sample if an individual study (its N value) becomes a subset (n value) for the population (N value) analyzed in the meta-analysis. There are a number of ways this can occur, but the key is that this process of combination is systemic and the data being combined is comparable.

If you want more help, check out the resources below.

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Resources for Writing a Meta-Analysis

The Meta-analysis: Principles and Procedures – Egger, M., Smith, G. D., & Phillips, A. N. (1997). British Medical Journal, 315(7121). Examines the procedures in conducting reliable meta-analysis in medical research

Meta-Analysis – Gerard E. Dallal, Ph.D., Tufts University


A research proposal is similar in a number of ways to a project proposal; however, a research proposal lays the foundation for a project that addresses an academic or scientific need. The forms and procedures for academic or scientific research are well defined by the field of study, so guidelines for research proposals are generally more exacting than less formal project proposals.

Research proposals include extensive literature reviews and must offer convincing support for the need to undertake the research being proposed. Doctoral dissertations begin with a research proposal that must be approved by a panel of experts (usually professors) before the actual research can begin. In addition to providing a rationale for the proposed research, the proposal must describe a detailed methodology for conducting the research–a methodology consistent with requirements of the professional or academic field.

If you want more help, check out the resources below.

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Resources for Writing a Research Proposal

The Elements of a Proposal – Frank Pajares, University Of Kentucky

Writing a Research Proposal in the Social Sciences – University of Southern California Library

Dissertation Proposal Workshop – Professor Chris M. Gold, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Dissertation – S. Joseph Levine, Ph.D., Michigan State University

The Proposal in Qualitative Research – Anthony W. Heath, PhD, Division of Behavioral Sciences, McNeal Family Practice Residency


A project proposal describes a plan for a needed action such as marketing a product, streamlining a production process, developing a curriculum, or meeting a financial goal for a non-profit agency.

A project proposal may be used to obtain a grant for an organization or to convince a board of directors to fund a new initiative. Project proposals consist of several sections, often including an executive summary, a description of the problem or goal, a history or background of existing conditions, a review of research , and so on. The resources below describe components and processes of project proposals for a variety of purposes.

If you want more help, check out the resources below.

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Resources for Writing a Project Proposal

How to Write a Project Proposal – Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal – F. Joseph Levine, PhD, Michigan State University

A Guide for Proposal Writing (PDF) – National Science Foundation

Guide for Writing Project Proposals– Dr. Ramon Lawrence, University of British Columbia Okanagan. (Includes a sample proposal)

Reflective Writing

What Is Reflective Writing?

Reflective writing calls on you to express your own views on an experience, even though you may have “experienced” it only in print or on the screen. Reflective writing takes many forms, including a reaction paper, journal, learning log, and personal essay.

Reflective writing for an academic assignment, regardless of its purpose or setting, can be identified by these characteristics:

Purposeful: Reflective writing does not mean jotting down scraps of thoughts as they pop into your head. That might work for a personal diary, but not for reflective writing with an academic purpose. Like any academic writing, reflective writing should be coherent, with well-supported, unified paragraphs that are linked by effective transitions.

Perceptive: Reflective writing is not merely describing or telling a story. It requires higher order thinking skills. These higher order thinking skills could take the form of analysis (What are the separate and underlying components of the situation, process, or argument you are reflecting on? What are the causes and effects?), synthesis (How do those components relate to or react to one another? How are they different when considered together rather than apart?), and evaluation (What is your attitude towards the subject? How have you been affected? What part will you accept or reject? How might you perceive or act differently in the future?).

Polished: Although you may not use research sources, reflective writing must meet the standards of clarity, conciseness, and correctness that apply to any other styles of formal writing. Plan to write and revise. Do not hand in the first draft.

APA: Follow APA style in all aspects possible: Use formal punctuation and complete sentences, insert page numbers and headings when appropriate, and maintain margins and paragraph indents.

If you want more help, check out the resources below.

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Resources for Reflective Writing

How Do I . . . Write a Reflection? – Trent University Academic Skills Centre

Reflective Writing: Guidance Notes for Students – P. Watton, J. Collings, & J. Moon, University of Exeter, UK

Reflective Writing – University of Nottingham.


Resumes, Curriculum Vitae, Cover Letters

A resume or curriculum vitae (CV) is a brief summary of one’s professional qualifications and accomplishments, written for prospective employers for the purpose of obtaining a job. They often include the applicant’s career objectives, motivations, personal qualities, skills, and interests. CVs, commonly used in academic and medical fields, are usually more comprehensive than resumes. For resume and CV tips and examples, click on a link below.

Microsoft Word has dozens of resume and CV templates that you can access by opening a new document template. If you don’t find what you want there, go to Google and search for a free template. Most resumes are set up in invisible table format, so you might also need to search Google for tips on managing tables in your word processor version.

If you want more help, check out the resources below.

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Resources for Resumes, CVs, and Cover Letters

Writing Center Resume Workshop

How to Write a Resume That Stands Out – Harvard Business Review

Help With Your Resume & CV – Riley Guide

Resumes: The Basics – Bellarmine College Career Center

Curricula Vitae vs Resumes – The Writing Center, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

Guide to Writing A CV – National Institutes of Health

How to Write a Curriculum Vitae – Alison Doyle on About.com


SMART Goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time limited. Following these guidelines when setting goals will help insure the goals are useful. At Saint Mary’s, they are a requirement in the Nurse Anesthesia Program, but are helpful for all academic goal setting.

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Resources for Writing Smart Goals


Summary and Critique

Summary and critique are terms that describe rhetorical modes (ways of organizing and developing ideas) as well as individual “pieces” of writing. Summary and critique are foundations for many forms of academic and professional writing, such as book reports and literature reviews.

Summary: A condensed version of an original presentation that

  • identifies the original author by name,
  • identifies the context for the original presentation, and
  • states the original author’s main idea and major points.

Response: Describes and explains your intellectual response to the original author’s presentation. The response may include one or more of the following:

  • how the original author’s ideas compare to the ideas of other experts.
  • whether or not the original presentation contained logical flaws or misinformation.
  • whether or not the author responded to other points of view on the subject.
  • how the author’s ideas might be applied or how they might change a situation if they were (or were not) applied.

Critique: A combination of summary and response. Summary precedes response in a critique.

If you want more help, check out the resources below.

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Resources for Writing a Summary and Critique

The Book Review or Article Critique – University of Toronto

Tips for Writing Good Summaries


Tips For Writing Good Summaries

  • Put aside your own opinions when you begin to read the original, and do not let yourself mentally argue with the author as you read. Remain objective in order to “hear” what the author is saying.
  • Start your reading with these questions, in this order:
    • What is the topic?
    • What opinion does the author most want readers to keep in mind about this topic?
    • What arguments or information does the author use to convince (or try to convince) readers?
  • Summarize as you read. Write a sentence in your own words at the end of each paragraph. Draw from these sentences for your final summary. Put the text out of view to ensure that you are summarizing in your own words. Check yourself.
  • Never insert your own ideas into a summary. A summary contains only the ideas of the original author. Period. Your opinions are appropriate for the response or critique.
  • Formatting can give you hints about main ideas and supporting points.
    • The title can suggest a question and answer about the topic.
    • Headings and section breaks can give a clue to main topics.
    • Italics or boldface type usually indicate an important point.
    • Paragraph or sentence numbering can indicate important points.
    • The main idea of a paragraph is often (though not always) expressed in the first two or last two sentences of the paragraph.
    • The first paragraph often provides an overview of the entire article.
    • The last paragraph often provides a very brief summary.
  • Examples, illustrations, and anecdotes (little stories) are almost never main points. When you run across an example, ask yourself: Ok, what is this an example of?
  • Use the original author’s ideas, but not his or her words. Instead, paraphrase the author. Paraphrase means that you read the author’s words, and, without referring to the text, write down the author’s idea in your own words.
  • Make sure you understand what you’re reading. If you don’t, talk to someone— instructor, classmate, Writing Center consultant—until you are sure you do. You can’t summarize what you don’t understand. Get help: it’s not only allowed, it’s encouraged.

Tips For Writing Good Responses

  • In academic or scholarly writing,
    • responses are based on facts that you can support (facts from experts, class discussions, assigned reading in your text, and the like), not on hearsay or emotions
    • responses are based on the original author’s purpose and audience.
    • you must provide support for the opinions you express in your response.
    • your opinions and interpretations appear only in your response, not in your summary of the author’s work.
  • Sometimes an instructor will ask you for a gut reaction or a reaction based on your own experience. In that case, and only in that case, you may stray from Point 4 above. Still, you should try to analyze your reaction so that you can state why you responded as you did.

Tips For Writing Good Critiques

The most frequent mistake students make when asked to critique an article is to tell the instructor only what the article is about. A critique requires that you articulate your opinions about the article. If your instructor does not provide guidelines for writing a critique, follow these:

  • Identify the author, his or her affiliation, and the context for the article or presentation.
  • In one to three paragraphs, summarize the article: Describe the focus and identify the major points of the article. Do not insert your opinions in this part.
  • If the work being critiqued is a research study, describe the type of research, including purpose and methodology.
  • Comment on the author’s assumptions, methods, and conclusions. What was the author trying to accomplish? Did the author acknowledge and respond to other points of view? How objective was he or she? What new ideas were presented? How do the author’s ideas compare with prevailing views on the topic? What strengths or weaknesses did you notice in the author’s methods and reporting?

Comment on the author’s work in terms of your own knowledge and experiences with the topic. If you came away with new insights, explain them. If you disagree with the author, say why and explain your views as they derive from knowledge and objective experience, not from feelings or intuition.



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