If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Notes to my students and me: Life writing!




As a teacher, I often learn from my students more than what I teach teach them. My learning happens in many different ways and it usually it goes far beyond the classroom.

Last night, I was checking some papers – essays written by my students. It was an essay they had to write in 40 minutes and they had to write at least 250 words. I found two scripts where the writers wrote far below their capacity because they wrote too much. They seemed to be in a tearing hurry to write whatever they knew and had to say on the topic. Should you do this, particularly if you have to complete the task within a given time-frame?

The answer obviously is a big NO. If you tried something like that, you would commit avoidable errors and have no time to check the work in the end. Besides, since you were trying to cover far too many points, you wouldn’t be able to develop them adequately or offer evidence to prove them. So your essay could well be a hodgepodge of semi-developed ideas and taste like uncooked biriyani. Whatever great ideas you might have would be wasted. Just as the finest basmati rice would be, if it wasn’t cooked properly!

So dear Students, whenever you have to write an essay, do write slowly. Write only as much as you can within the given time. Give your brain the time to process and organise thoughts and give your fingers the opportunity to write neatly. First, decide what the most important points are, and then think: how many of them can you write down neatly in the given time, leaving a few minutes for checking in the end? In any exam, it is the quality of your writing that matters primarily. The quantity matters too – but that’s far too secondary.

*

When I opened my eyes this morning, I was thinking about these answer sheets. Suddenly, my long to-do list flashed before my eyes. And then the penny dropped. Don’t we commit the same mistake in life all the time? Aren’t we trying to do far too many things than what our time and energy would permit? Is everything that I think is important really important? Can I have less worries and more peace? Less junk and more quality?

How many of the things to do in my list really matter?  Let me strike off half of them, for good!



Kolkata

Wednesday, 05 August 2015

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Writing on writing 3


Writing in paragraphs


In the previous essay on this blog (Writing on Writing 2, Notes on how to write articles or essays) we have seen how we should plan our essay – think of the readers, identify relevant points, and put them in a structure. In this essay, I am going to discuss how we can convey our message clearly by writing sleek paragraphs. But before I go on, let me ask you a question. These are two images of the same article. Which one of them would you prefer to read and why?




 I am sure you would vote for the second image. You would prefer to read it because it is easier to read paragraphs separated by a blank line in between. But is the issue only about comfort of your eyes?


The anatomy of a paragraph

The answer obviously is NO. If you write in paragraphs, it is a lot easier for your reader to follow your arguments. And that brings us to the question: What is a paragraph? It would be a good idea if instead of reading the definition you define the term yourself. Please write down the definition of “paragraph”, or write it in your head before you read ahead.


And once you’ve done so, you’ll see your definition is very close to this: A paragraph is a section of a piece of writing usually consisting of number of sentences that deal with a single idea.

So that’s it. A paragraph is a packet containing a single idea. When you write, make sure that you don’t put two different ideas in a single paragraph.  If you follow this rule, you will win half the battle. In order to win the other half, let’s ask ourselves the question: What is the anatomy of a paragraph? To put it simply, does every paragraph contain similar sections?

The answer is: not always, but usually they do. And often, a paragraph has four sections. The main section is the single idea on which you are writing the paragraph. You write a sentence or two to describe the central idea of a paragraph. In all, a paragraph usually has the following parts.

1.       The main idea in a sentence or two, which is/are called topic sentence(s)
2.       Sentences leading to the topic sentence(s) or the main idea
3.       Supporting ideas – very often, they are evidence in support of the main idea.
4.       A sentence to establish a link with the following paragraph.

Please remember: this is only a general pattern. Every paragraph doesn’t have all these elements and neither do they always come in the above order.

Also note that the fourth element above is an essential ingredient of fine writing. It makes the difference between lucid writing and boring writing as it creates “curiosity” in the mind of the reader to continue reading and find out what lies ahead. If you don’t bring in this element consciously, there is every chance that your reader won’t bother to continue till the end.


Dissecting a paragraph

We are going to read a report on a cricket match between Bangladesh and South Africa. Here is the first paragraph of the report:

Of late, I’ve hated watching cricket primarily because rather than sport it’s now more of showbiz. An awful lot of hoopla is created around the game (at least in India) and public opinion is manipulated to ensure enormous TV viewership. And just as any business has ruthless practitioners who would break any rules – moral or legal – to maximize profit, cricket too has its share of con-men, a well-known fact that has just become official thanks to the recent indictment of some big names who ran the business in India. But last night, I loved watching Bangladesh destroy the mighty South Africans in Chittagong. And this is how it unfolded.

Can you identify the four elements in this paragraph? Here is my take:

Topic sentences
Of late, I’ve hated watching cricket primarily because rather than sport it’s now more of showbiz. … But last night, I loved watching Bangladesh destroy the mighty South Africans in Chittagong.
Introductory sentences
There are no introductory sentence in this paragraph
Supporting sentences or evidence
An awful lot of hoopla is created around the game (at least in India) and public opinion is manipulated to ensure enormous TV viewership. And just as any business has ruthless practitioners who would break any rules – moral or legal – to maximize profit, cricket too has its share of con-men, a well-known fact that has just become official thanks to the recent indictment of some big names who ran the business in India.
Connecting sentence
And this is how it unfolded.

Let’s now move on to the next paragraph of the story.

While returning from my workplace, I saw on my phone – South Africa was at a little over hundred for four. I didn’t think much of it as I expected them come out of the hole. After coming home, I casually switched on the TV. And was astounded to see the way the game was panning out!

As you can see, this paragraph has only two of the four elements, three introductory sentences and then the topic sentence, which is in bold. You will also notice that here the topic sentence is also performing the role of a connecting sentence as it creates a curiosity in the mind of the reader to check what happened next.


Your turn

Now identify the four elements of the following paragraph:

The softer sub-continental pitches are not friendly towards fast bowlers and Bangladesh had never produced awe-inspiring seamers. Yet, last night, Rubel Hussains and Mustafizur Rehmans of Bangladesh looked more like Mitchell Johnsons or Morne Morkels. They had such a vice-like grip on the South Africans – the batsmen seemed to be shaking in their boots. At one time, it seemed they wouldn’t last the 40 overs. And in the end, they scored only 168 for nine. I thought maybe, there is some demon in the wicket that is evading my untrained eyes.

Please scroll down to check the answer at the end of this article.

So as you can see, by following a few simple rules, you can write beautiful paragraphs that are not only easy to follow, but also make an impact. In the next essay of this series, we will discuss how to connect different parts of a piece of writing to improve coherence.

Cheers!

Kolkata
Sunday, July 19, 2015



Key to the task:

Topic sentence
They had such a vice-like grip on the South Africans – the batsmen seemed to be shaking in their boots.
Introductory sentences
The softer sub-continental pitches are not friendly towards fast bowlers and Bangladesh had never produced awe-inspiring seamers.
Supporting sentences or evidence
Yet, last night, Rubel Hussains and Mustafizur Rehmans of Bangladesh looked more like Mitchell Johnsons or Morne Morkels. … At one time, it seemed they wouldn’t last the 40 overs. And in the end, they scored only 168 for nine.
Connecting sentence
I thought maybe, there is some demon in the wicket that is evading my untrained eyes.



Friday, 17 July 2015

Writing on writing 2

Notes on how to write articles or essays

When you write or speak, it doesn’t really matter what you are saying, what matters is what your audience is receiving. You may have some brilliant ideas that will change the course of history, but if your readers or listeners don’t accept any of it, your efforts are wasted. You might as well have watched a stupid soap opera instead! Therefore, it is always a good idea to think what your readers might accept. To put it simply, think from the point of view of your reader / listener before you plan to present an idea in writing or speech. In this short essay, I am going to focus on writing and I’ll share with you some tricks that you can use to hook the attention of your reader and keep them engaged. First, I will check how you should select the contents of your essay. And then I’ll discuss how to organise your essay. Trust me, when you’ve finished reading this you’ll have a clear idea about how to approach the task of writing an essay or article.

Our first stop on the way to good writing is to analyse the reader. This means you will have to ask the following questions:
·         Will my target readers be interested in this topic? (If the answer to this is “No”, stop writing. Select another topic or do something else.)
·         What do I wish to achieve by writing this? (My aim).
·         How much do my readers already know? What details will be useful for them?
·         What is the cultural and educational background of my readers? This will largely determine what details I bring in and what kind of language I use.

Once you have got answers to these questions, think of / research what points (facts and ideas) will serve your purpose. Identify a set of points that will be adequate to achieve your aim(s). Keep them and discard the rest. For example, I am writing this essay mainly for young adults who are either students or working people. Many of them have to present complex ideas in writing but they may not have a clear idea how to go about it. They need the skills to write essays etc. effectively. So I can expect many of my readers to read this till the end. Can’t I?

Next, we will see how we can put the ideas (points) into a neat structure. Your article, any article has three parts: the intro, the middle, and the conclusion.

And this is what you normally include in these parts.
·         Introduction:
ü  A pithy sentence to capture the attention of the reader.
ü  Your aim, that is, what you wish to achieve; or even better, what benefit your reader can expect by reading it. Often, this sentence will give the reader a reason to read on.
ü  A brief outline of the contents.
·         The main body – this can be organised in many different ways, and let me keep this part for another essay.
·         Conclusion:
ü  Sum up the main points and highlight your main messages
ü  A sharp punchy sentence that would create a lasting impression in the mind of the reader

LET’S REVIEW. Can you go back to the opening paragraph of this essay and check the following?
1.       Is there a sentence to hook the attention of the reader? Which one?
2.       What sentences in the intro give the outline of the essay?
3.       Think. Do you think sentences like these are required at the beginning of an essay or article? Why / why not?
[You can check the answers at the end of this essay.]

And that brings us to the end. To sum up, we have seen how we should select the contents depending on the perceived needs of our target readers and then we have examined how we should put our ideas into a structure. The ideas explained here is not rocket science. But most useful ideas in life aren’t. What is important is that we keep these ideas in the back of our head if we wish to become effective writers.

Kolkata
Friday, 17 July 2015


===
Answers to review questions:
1.       Yes there is: “Trust me, when you’ve finished reading this essay you’ll have a clear idea about how to approach the task of writing an essay or article.”
2.       “… I am going to focus on writing and I’ll share with you some tricks that you can use to hook the attention of your reader and keep them engaged. First, I will check how you should select the contents of your essay. And then I’ll discuss how to organise the contents.”

3.       The sentences are important because they give the reader a reason to read on. 


Shabash Bangladesh!


 
Of late, I’ve hated watching cricket primarily because rather than sport it’s now more of showbiz. An awful lot of hoopla is created around the game (at least in India) and public opinion is manipulated to ensure enormous TV viewership, particularly for the tamaasha called T-20, where snicks and dropped catches that roll on to the boundary are routinely applauded as masterstrokes! And just as any business has ruthless practitioners who would break any rules – moral or legal – to maximize profit, cricket too has its share of con-men, a well-known fact that has just become official thanks to Justice Lodha Committee’s indictment of some big names who ran the business in India.

But last night, I loved watching Bangladesh destroy the mighty South Africans in Chittagong. And this is how it unfolded.

While returning from my workplace, I saw on my phone – South Africa was at a little over hundred for four. I didn’t think much of it as I expected them come out of the hole. After coming home, I casually switched on the TV. And was astounded to see the way the game was panning out!

The softer sub-continental pitches are not friendly towards fast bowlers and Bangladesh had never produced awe-inspiring seamers. Yet, last night, Rubel Hussains and Mustafizur Rehmans of Bangladesh looked more like Mitchell Johnsons or Morne Morkels. They had such a vice-like grip on the South Africans – the batsmen seemed to be shaking in their boots. At one time, it seemed they wouldn’t last the 40 overs. And in the end, they scored only 168 for nine. I thought maybe, there is some demon in the wicket that is evading my untrained eyes.

After the break, I didn’t switch on the TV for a short while. (Let things perk up a bit!) By the time I did, it was something like seven overs, 41 runs, and zero wickets. Before I could blink, it was 53 for no loss. A twenty-two year-old boy from Khulna, Soumya Sarkar hit three superb consecutive on-drives to the fence. On drives - said to be one of the most difficult shots in cricket executed with effortless ease. Stupendous!

And it was no fluke. The game continued in the same fashion. Bangladesh simply toyed with the South African bowling. Both the openers, Soumya Sarkar and Tamim Iqbal hit a flurry of fours. And more importantly, they didn’t seem to be in the least of trouble against great bowlers like Morkel or Imran Tahir, the latest international sensation in the field of spin. Many a match we’ve seen when Bangladeshi attack was decimated with disdain by more experienced practitioners of the game. But boy that’s history. Yesterday, the two Bangladeshi batsmen seemed to be dealing with a bunch of small-town club cricketers. And the shot that sort of summed up the story was a vicious looking bouncer by Rabada. Sarkar ducked, seemed saving his head, but at the precise moment when the ball was to cross him, held out the bad almost vertically to guide the ball above the wicket keeper's head to the boundary. You can play such nonchalant shots only when you are supremely confident and have got the measure of your opponents.

Bangladesh’s one-day series win against South Africa after coming back from a 0-1 deficit was important, but far more important was their total dominance of the game. What we watched yesterday was reiteration of a statement that the Bangladesh cricket team has been making for some time now. Watch out – we are the emerging powerhouse of cricket! Another Sri Lanka in the making.

Shabash Bangladesh!

 Kolkata
16 July 2015