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Essentials of Academic Writing - Part 1

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Good morning friends and welcome to NPTEL online certificates course lectures, to the lecture on Effective Writing. Friends as you will remember in the previous lecture, we talked about essay writing and today we are going to talk about Academic Writing. Now the question that you might be thinking of is what is academic writing and how is it different from other forms of writing. I call it academic writing because we are going to discuss some sorts of academic writing which actually are used for academic purposes. Now, you might be thinking that are other purposes not academic that is not my intention. My intention is to confine todays lecture to some forms of academic writing which are meant only for academic purposes. Now what are these writings and how we can approach them? Dear friends, all of you might in some way or the other be having some sort of writing. You write every day in some form of the other. Sometimes, you are writing in your organization, sometimes you are writing at your home. But when you write for academic purposes, these writings are different. Now are there some important aspects of academic writing? Yes, an academic writing is purely a sort of writing which is based on facts and that is why there are certain requirements of academic writing. The first is the researching.  Since academic writing is based on research, since it is based on facts; one has to do a lot of research about it because an academic writing believes that whatever the writer goals to say has some amount of evidence. So, the first criterion of academic writing is researching and then the second category is to evaluate the information. You cannot write anything and everything in academic writing. Whatever you have researched, you also have to evaluate your writing and then when you have that you are to organize because in course of academic writing since they are based on facts and they are written factually, there is a lot of argumentation. And all these when you have a lot of ideas; when you have a lot of facts, facts related to information related to new innovations, related to something new that you want to contribute naturally in order to prove your point or in order to bring home something that you really want to contribute to the world, you actually have to depend on a lot of argumentation. And then in course of doing all this, you may also have to respond because there are people who can contradict, who can argue, who can in some way or the other disagree with what you say. So, you have to while you are going for an academic writing, you have to ensure that you have some pieces of information ready in order to save yourself or defend your line of argumentation. Now, as we are talking about academic writing, you also might be thinking that do not you right as I said in the beginning all of us are doing some sort of writing in some way or the other. Now, there are some misunderstandings also about academic writing and among people, many people sometimes or the other when they read a piece of academic writing, they sometimes think that either it is stupid antic or it is too full of technical information. Many people say that they are not able to understand because this piece of writing is full of technical jargons which you do not understand. Now, as an academic writer all you need to do is you actually need to analyze and express your point of view in a very clear, in a very lucid manner in in such a way that the other party or I mean the people who are going to read your writing is in a position to understand your line of argumentation. It has also been seen that in order to make a piece of writing academic, many of us make it unnecessary complicated. If you remember while we were having some lectures on the principles of effective writing, we were talking about how unnecessary complication is made because of the use of long sentences, because of the use of so many phrases, because of also the use of unfamiliar words. So, all that you have already learnt; how unnecessarily a sentence or a paragraph is made complicated. But, this is not going to pay you in the long run my dear friend and then an academic writer sometimes appears to be too much technical and since you are going to add something new in terms of academic writing, at times it may also appear that you become a bit impersonal you know. Impersonality is also one of the ingredients of academic writing and then since your writing is actually the output or the result of all your research you at times become authoritative. But then since your aim through this academic writing is to make other people know and understand your line of thinking as to what you have done naturally, you become a bit authoritative. Now, you might also be thinking of how a writing becomes academic. It is actually not possible to discuss all the forms of academic writing that you come across, but there are certain things that can make your writing academic and their certain terms which actually are to be clarified here. I am not in a position or rather a because of less amount of time we cannot discuss everything, but there are certain things which are difficult and which pose difficulty while one goes through academic writing. So, I have touched upon some of them. The very fast thing in terms of academy writing is title as I have been saying that whether you are writing an essay or your writing something else, the first thing that somebody comes across is title. You want to add something new to the world to the world of knowledge naturally, the very first thing that you decide is on which aspect you are going to talk about on which aspect you are going to express it your views or augment your views. But then before that one has to be ready with our title. Now how can somebody write an effective title even when one is writing or one is touching upon academic writing? So, there are several ways one can go for a title. There are some titles that announce many titles are very clear. These titles announce; there are some titles which are in the form of question. So, you put a title in the form of question simply to create simply to make people take some interest in what you are going to say. Sometimes it is in the form of a question, sometimes it is in the form of a preposition, sometimes it is in the form of a quotation, sometimes it is a sort of guideline, sometimes it is in the form of alliteration as to because your main aim in the beginning is to captivate your audience or captured your audience through the title. So, when you are going to write a literary piece and you are going to contribute to the to the world of academia, you make your title very alliterative. I mean something that sounds; no something that sounds very musical. There are some titles which are based on comparison and contrast; there are some titles which are mystifying. Now it is up to you which sort of title you are going to choose depending upon your subject area, depending upon your area of interest and depending upon your expertise. But having written the title alone is not enough after the title, you are also to write an abstract. Now the question is many people are divided on this blind as to whether they should write an abstract in the beginning or they should write an abstract after they have written their academic paper or whatsoever. Now, but then the curiosity that you might be having is what actually is an abstract. Many people at times have confused abstract with summary. Of course, abstract is a summary because it is only in the abstract that you are going to tell people what you are going to do in this paper, what you are going to do in this project, what you are going to do in this thesis or any form of academic writing. Now, the question is when you provide an abstract, are you going to give a short summary? Naturally it is a summary, but then an abstract is always a smaller than a summary a shorted than a summary. In abstract what you do is you are going to tell people giving a little bit of background information and then you are also going to talk about what has already been covered and what you are going to take up. I am in your plan of action that is that will be the right word to say your plan of action as to what you are going to say and this abstract maybe different depending upon the different disciplines in your area. And then after you have submitted the abstract, you might have already seen that when you submit an abstract a in response to a call or papers either in some conferences or in a CFP for book or for journal or whatsoever then you send them an abstract. Now, depending upon the quality of your abstract because other people come to know about what you are going to do, they either accept your abstract or reject your abstract. But then since people are getting a lot of abstracts, you will find they also mention and some are conferences or some organizations or some journals, they also tell you have to provide and a they also tell you the length as to what will be the length of your abstract. And then you have to provide some keywords. What are these keywords? These keywords actually make your topic, makes your discussion very specific and it is just an aim to evoke to create interest among the readers. So, and the keywords are not too many. The keywords have to be very specific; the keywords have to have a sort of limitation. Sometimes they say five keywords and these five keywords actually enabled them to understand your line of thinking. After having written the keywords because keywords forms a part of your abstract. Then having written all that there is something which is very interesting which you are will be taking up after your abstract has been accepted and then you start either writing your paper; I mean complete paper. So, you come across introduction. Now, you are ready with the content and you are going to view that content tailor that content into the form of an academic paper or an academic essay or whatsoever. So, in the introduction as I have already told you in previous lectures, that introduction is only a very meager part of your paper or introduction is only a very meager part of your essay or pros or whatsoever. Now in introduction what you do is you give them a background. Suppose you are going to work on sonnets; if you are working in literature or and you are going to talk about some specifics sonnets. So, what you do is first you talk about sonnets in general and then you come to Petrarchan experience or whatsoever. Likewise when you are going to talk about some scientific things, there are also you are going to provide some pieces of information in a background. Then since it is a work which is very specific, you have also to provide limitations and then your methodology your plans and then your division. But then introduction has always to be sort, but introduction is always some way or the other a bit longer than you are abstract. In introduction you are creating a sort of rapport as you do in spoken form and then referencing. One must also once you are in the world of academic writing, you also are to be familiar with all sorts of referencing because when you are providing some piece of information in the form of contribution to the academic world, you are also going to make some claim, but that claim has to be supported by some evidence. And for these evidences, you are going to follow some sort of documentation styles. There can be varieties of documentation styles, but I am confining myself only to four which are very popular. The first among them is APA uh, you might be knowing APA is American Psychological Association and then we have MLA which is Modern Language Association, then IEEE which is Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering and then we have Vancouver. Now all these are styles have some amount of differences. When you are going to provide them some pieces of information because whatever information you have had, they also have certain basis in some others works also because you are not going to agree with others, you are also at times going to disagree with others you are going to counter. But then while you are countering since you referred to them and that is why they have to be acknowledged and these acknowledgement can come in the form of either bibliography or references. Now, here are some of the examples given and these examples are related to these tile. The very first style, you see are the very first style is written in the form of APA, American Psychological Association. Now what do you do in documentation? In documentation you are going to refer to those pieces which you have consulted and not only consulted, but then you have cited as well. So you will find when you referred to American Psychological Association documentation, then the name of the author just after the surname of the author comes the year and then this is different in MLA where the year is flushed towards the end; year is flushed towards the end. In both the ways, you will find that surname comes first and then the initials come and then the name of the book or the journal followed by name of the place of publication and the press and also the date and the year. But, then in MLA and APA are the basic difference is the name of the year is florist towards the end in MLA whereas, it is written in the beginning in APA. Next is IEEE which is very popular with science and engineering. There you will find what they do is it is not the surname that comes first, but then the initial. They provide the initial first and then the surname and then other details are come accordingly. And, the last is a bank cuber style where the where just after the surname, the first initials come. Just after the surname, the first initials come and then they provide the name of the book. Here what is the basic difference is the typography is very spare, it does not go along or other lines of documentation where we see to it that capitalization should be there. You can have an example in many cases especially you will find in the areas of humanities, many people prefer to provide foot notes as well as end notes; footnotes and end notes. Through foot notes and end notes what they want to do is they actually want to provide some more information because if somebody is interested more, then the discussion follows in the end note or the footnote. So, footnotes are always more extensive than references. Having known that let us since we have come to know what are the essentials of academic writing, let us now see how we can begin to write. Now many people you will find many people which whom you also might be knowing, they are a verse to writing. Many people think why should they write is not it because they always think that if by writing they are getting some amount of a promotion, it is some sort of hike, it is ok. They are always after rewards, but remember my dear friends it is only not the rewards that can ignite you to writing. Writing is a very personal thing, is not it? You want to add something to the world of knowledge, you may not get extrinsic rewards quite often, but then you get a sort of intrinsic rewards. Now what is the basic difference between extrinsic and intrinsic of awards sorry rewards? Now extrinsic reward is what you get from the external world. Imagine when you want to write, do you really start writing with that purpose? Not at all, everyone wants to see his or her name in print know. Imagine the sort of excitement you had when you could see your first paper published in print or when you received an email. Somebody complimenting on your innovative idea, somebody sending you compliments through letters and all I mean these are all these are all intrinsic rewards. So, if somebody is only after extrinsic reward naturally they cannot write. One should always think that writing comes not only out of the heart, but also out of the head and remember that we all are emotional people in some way or the other. So, the sort of emotional satisfaction you get when you see something in print and that also by yourself that really gives you immense joy my dear friend. But then not everyone can write as I have been saying and my purpose also through these lectures is not to convert people into a writer. But, then in today’s world in order to prosper in order to see yourself getting some hikes in order to see yourself getting appreciated. You need to write you need to be writing not exactly in the sense of becoming a writer, but writing just to prove yourself and that is why everyone should start writing. Now, how can they start writing even if somebody does not feel like writing and if every now and then one write something you know getting some ideas on paper? Is it true that not all of us have an inclination when we see something or when we come across some idea? We also want to extend that idea I think all of us have. So what we can do is we can get our ideas on paper and getting our ideas on paper and if we make it an iterative habit; if we make it a regular habit perhaps in course of time, we will have no such obstacles or blocks which many people say they face when they write. And then some authors have said that one should also have some amount of free writing. What exactly we mean by free writing? Free writing is when you write do not always write with a purpose. If you start writing with a purpose in the very first instance, you will never be able to write and remember that perfection is all media misnomer. So, start writing something, all of us have some ideas, all of us at times have some moments of joy some moments of despair, all of us also get something which we discovered through observation through talking to people. So, one should always have some time for free writing when one can write very spontaneously without being concerned about grammar, without being concerned about language, without being concerned about other people. And, if you develop that in course of time, you will start writing fairly. Now, as I said everyone wants to write and everyone wants to see himself or herself in print, here is an observation that can make you feel delighted and elated. The first time I write a draft of a paper, I mean when somebody begins one feels that he or she is not able to write. But then here is an experience by which has been mentioned in the book by Elbow and Bellano who say, the first time I write a draft of a paper, I totally go and rant and rave rant and rave I mean rejoice and say unprofessional things. Because when you are writing a freely, you can say unprofessional things including swear words later I go back and change it to something more acceptable for my academic audience. Because when you write for the first time, first time original ideas may come and you may not be having a control over words. So, you start writing, but then do not leave it. You go again and then rewrite it, revise it thinking that it is going to be for your audience which are academic. My theory is that the new more professional words will still carry the original energy of the first draft. Even if the first draft is not that academic, but then the sort of ideas you had germinated actually these ideas only propel you to expand it further and to extend it. So, even my final academized version will have more oomph than, if I tried too hard to control my initial reactions in the first round. So, this is the experience that one can have in the first instance. Now when you start writing, but before writing as I said you will have a sort of abstract and all. But even before the abstract what one needs to do? One needs to do a lot of survey which we can call literature review. Now how does literature review help and why should you go for a literature review? Literature review can show you the extent of research already carried out. If you are writing in a particular discipline, you would like to know what has already been done performed and what new because some idea might have stirred and you want to extend that idea you want to expand it. Naturally you would like to consult some more books, more literature and for that you visit library and you can also go to several websites because today we are living in an electronic age where we have sufficient materials available. And then when you have a literature review, this literature review can unveil a lot of strengths and weaknesses; lots of strengths and weaknesses. And, you will be as an academic writer, you will sometimes detect that there are some gaps in this methodology. There are some gaps in this model, there are some gaps in this line of thinking and naturally that will prove to be a sort of ignition for you. So, every academic writer everyone who wants to write academically should go for a literature review because this literature review will provide him some scope, some opportunity for further research. And since we have been talking about academic writing naturally, we want to make some amount of research before we want to show it to the outside world. Having done the literature review now you are ready and since you have an information, you have some pieces of information which you would like to share. And how can you share? You cannot share it unless and until it has been approved you cannot share it unless and until it has been appreciated. You cannot disseminate it unless and until exports in that area have already said or given a go ahead. And how can you do that? This can be done through conference papers. Every other day if you have been coming across newspapers, emails or some call for papers you will receive several calls for papers either for conferences or for journals. Now you might be thinking because you have already a lot of idea and you have already discovered something. Naturally it has to be presented in our conference and you know my dear friend, a conference is the is one of the best platforms where your ideas can be listen to by a good number of people and then these good number of people having understood. And being convinced, they can give you a go ahead. So, that your further path of writing and your further path of contributing to the world of academia it goes further. As gold had said conference papers are the essential launching pad. You see essential launching pad for nearly all scholarly carriers whatever career you are in know. You might be whether you are a medical professional or you are an academician or whatsoever or you are a student who is uh becoming ready to be a teacher or to be an instructor or to be an expert or to carry out something in the world of research. Naturally please go to conferences and in conferences, first as I have already said I have already provided you some background as to how you can start writing your first paper. But then in conferences it is not the complete paper that you are going to read in in many conferences, you will find they will say camera ready papers are allowed. In some conferences, they will say you will be provided 20 minutes to present, your paper your conference paper has to be presented. So, what you can do is your conference papers are a spoken form of paper. You have the complete paper with yourself, but you are going to speak it out and people do not have time enough to go through your complete paper. You can submit the paper so, but then you can also provide them some handouts and then you can also make power point presentations. So, since you already with a your paper, you have tailored it now you are sending it to conferences and you are going to read your conference papers. Now one of the other forms of academic writing is also book reviews. After since you are you have started your journey of writing; after spending some years or some months, you sometimes come across a book and you have read it now you want to review. Now book review is also one important segment of academy writing where. And, what is the purpose of book review? The purpose of book review is actually to popularize a book or to introduce a book to the world of academia. That is why when somebody is going to write a book review, one has to do a lot of exercise; one has to read the book completely, one has to find out what are these trends, what are the weaknesses, how it can affect the readers. So, you will find sometimes when people like the book review, they think it is just like writing a paper. No, book review is a very critical you know it is a critical practice it actually enables you to look at the book critically in the way that it is either to the readers benefit or to the readers disadvantage. And, then while writing a book review, the very first thing you are not going to say or you are not going to provide all sorts of information about the book. Though it is actually an overall impression of the book that you are going to provide to the readers. And when you are writing a book review, see to it since you are going to popularize this book. What you are going to do is you are going to provide the title author, publisher, date and year of publication along with ISB and page numbers and all. Here are two examples given how a book review can be documented and also look at when because when you have written a book review either some editor has approached you or somebody has requested you to write a book review. Also think off and also try to understand what are the limitations sometimes they provide you with a word limit and since you are going to write a book review as a neutral writer, see to it that you present an overall evaluation of the content and moreover you have to be careful because you are going to talk about both the merits as well as the short comings of the book. And then the book will be introduced to the readers. But see to it that you are not in a way going to you all guys going to appreciate the writer very blindly my dear friend. Otherwise what will happen? People will simply think that you have been hired to write a book review simply by the writer. No, a book review has to be impartial and then when you have written the book review, one should also see because every writing requires a sort of revision.  o, while revision see to it that you have not discussed the entire content, you have simply talked about this specification and you have not have been blind to the use of language which are not acceptable. I mean satirical language slangs and you are not going to appreciate the writer. I can also give you some information about how a book review can be written. Let us have a look at one of the very important books by one very contemporary author novelist named Aravind Adiga whom you already might have known. He had a he has till now written four books and you know one of his books and title The White Tiger was uh given the booker prize uh. Next to that he wrote Last Man here is  an analysis or a book review of his uh book Last Man in Tower, the novel. Now look at only the two sentences. I am not going to give you the complete paragraph, but see that only two paragraphs, the book review begins with funny provocative and decadent. Now see these are the phrases which are hidden phrases and this actually augments your interest in the book and then Aravind Adiga’s, Last Man in Tower is the kind of novel that is too richly insightful about business and character that it is hard to know where to begin singing its praises. But how he began? He began on a note to captivate, but look at the last paragraph of the novel my dear friend because the book review I mean reviewer sees to it that he is not blinded or he is not singing, he is not glorifying the author. What he says Adiga’s novel is not perfect? He traces his characters wicked impulses more convincingly then he details their occasional surges of virtue and the books final hopeful note feels largely unearned. But these are small flaws compared with many novels many delights and its unusually evenhanded take on urban development. As Adiga told the Times of India, “money itself is amoral”. It can liberate people as easily as it can destroy them in Last Man in Tower, we watch it to both. Now when he writes when the reviewer writes the last line, he leaves some food for thought for other readers and the readers having come across this book review will naturally be tempted to buy the book and that is how the book review will get its justification. My dear friend, we could have gone on talking and talking about academic writing, but times fall heavy and then we have to confine our lecture uh. But then before we confined our lecture because we write a review, but before writing a review first write you know. If you want to become a writer or if you want to become a reviewer, the first thing that one should do is one should write. I once get quite there I write because I have never managed to be happy, I write to be happy. My dear friends you also when you start writing, you will feel a sort of excitement a sort of joy which is intrinsic, which cannot be shared, which you know money cannot buy, which rewards cannot buy. I hope it is time now to conclude this lecture. And, to tell you once again that if you have an idea to write, please write do not delay and keep thinking how you can start, how you can write, how you can make your voices being heard by the outside world. Till then, thank you very much.