On Academic Writing: Some Helpful Tips

As I was browsing through my Facebook, I came across this fascinating quotation:

“Life is like a camera…

Focus on what’s important,

Capture the good times,

Develop from the negatives. And if things don’t work out,

Take another shot…”

Suddenly, I thought this beautiful quote may also serve as an excellent guide not only for living our lives well, but also for improving one’s writing skills. Writing is such an important life skill to learn; in fact, outside school, a student like you has to write a great deal — when you write to your family or friends back home, update your superiors on what is happening to you in your present life away from your home community, when you apply for a scholarship or student loan, or even just to post something on your social network site such as Facebook, or Twitter. More importantly, writing comprises a great deal of a student’s academic life, so there is no way to avoid it. Surely, you would like your message come across clearly, and interestingly, as well.

Let us see then how each pointer can help you craft an excellent piece of academic writing.

  • Focus on what’s important. As you think of your topic, you also think about your main point, the central point that you would like to communicate regarding your topic. This is usually termed as the controlling point because it controls the flow of your discussion letting you avoid getting around the bush, or totally going out of your topic. When you think of the details to add “flesh” to your discussion, you just select what is important to make your meaning more clear.
  • Capture the good times. I should say, in terms of academic writing, this would mean that in discussing your main points, it is much better to think of the positive aspects of your topic; then write about them. On the other hand, if you are presenting an opinion, state it well in a positive statement rather in the negative. In this way, you will be able to have a lot of room for defending your view. Moreover, writing on the good points of an idea, place, thing or person that you are writing about, leaves a positive feeling on your readers. Stating your opinion in a positive statement can easier make your readers see your point and let them agree with you.
  • Develop from the negatives. In photography, pictures are developed from the negatives. In academic writing, these are the mistakes you make in form, structure and content: grammar, sentence and paragraph structure, choice of words and ideas that do not help communicate clearly what you want your readers to understand. In other words, as you go through each writing stage, you should patiently revise and edit until your composition is perfect. A helpful way to help you check out for the negatives and develop your topic from there is to discuss your initial draft with your peer, that is, with your classmate. Perhaps, you may ask your professor to take a look at your draft so he/she can give you feedbacks on how to better handle your discussion.
  • Take another shot, if things don’t work out. In taking photos with our cameras, we discard shots that do not capture well the scene we would like to have. This is especially easy to do nowadays with digital cams and phone cameras. Likewise, in academic writing, after you have spent a considerable amount of time on your paper, and you seem not able to get your points clearly mapped out for your readers, then it is time to start writing all over again — on the same topic, or on another. If you re-write on the same topic, you may have to consider looking at it from a different perspective or controlling point,  or try using a different approach in presenting it. Usually, for many students, it means looking for another topic that they can easily work out on a clean slate.

Each of these pointers, if followed patiently, diligently and with care, will surely give your readers a very interesting, clear and well-detailed picture of your ideas. Indeed, to paraphrase — writing is like a camera!   

Note: I refer to these pointers as general rules to follow, and students should be aware of the other writing requirements needed for their specific task. (Teacher Marichu)

My Reflection on “Finding God at Home” and “Finding God in the City”

    

I had just been going through the first few paragraphs of the 1st chapter of the book, “Finding God at Home”, when it startled me to discover I was reading something about myself, or rather something about my quest for something akin to what the author calls ‘Life on the Edge.’

A longing to meet a deeper reality could aptly describe that stage in my life when, without my recognizing it for what it was, the need to overcome or resist some norms in my normal Catholic upbringing started to surface. A high school student at the time, I didn’t know the reasons for such need. Nor do I now remember exactly what those norms were.

I had been brought up in a deeply religious Catholic family, and had been educated in an exclusive (all-girls) Catholic school run by nuns. Later, I pursued my Psychology course at the oldest university in Asia, a pontifical university. All throughout my childhood until I got married, life at home had been characterized by daily family prayer-time, regular Sunday Masses, and various church activities like singing in the choir.

My parents were both active members of our parish with my father as a lay minister and a member of the Knights of Columbus, while my mother as a member of the Apostleship of Prayer. One of my younger sisters is a member of the contemplative order of the SSpSAP (‘Pink Sisters’), and a brother is a priest.

Perhaps then, even in this kind of family atmosphere, I had not been able to define what ‘Spirituality’ was, because honestly, I thought it only belonged to the priests and nuns. At the same time, I had prided myself for being a part of such a family.

Years later, I slipped away from that kind of religiousity, and went on to question some practices like praying the rosary, ritualized prayers, and novenas. Although by not praying in my traditional way, I also felt not Catholic,and I felt some guilt and fear because I no longer had a sense of belonging.

Yet, I kept moving between the Church and some other Theosophical thoughts. I once thought I was perhaps looking for some easier way to connect to God, or for some justification why I shouldn’t be praying the traditional way because at times I found them tedious or too much of a ritual.

Becoming a mother didn’t stop me from that kind of “search.” I even experienced what the author described in the chapter on “Life at the Center” as ‘to feel energy, talent, hopes and ambitions all being slowly drained’ because I felt I was always another person for someone else, for some people, never for myself.

If our lives are our gifts to God, our offering to Him, then I didn’t somehow realize this, as it was like I was full of many things, but was nothing at all.

However, after more defining experiences that brought in wisdom and maturity, answers – good answers have started to take shape in different ways. Now a single parent and a grandmother, this book seems to give more meaning to what I am now. I may be like the first kind of soul: I am a bow in your hands, Lord, draw me lest I rot.’ Reading the book, I have realized here are newer and fresher insights.

The article “Finding God in the City” is a very good example for me of life being lived ‘on edge’ and ‘at the center.’ The author’s 7 principles are inspiring and worth living by, too.

Like crystal waters, the thoughts and examples presented by these two authors came to clear my mind of some doubts.

 

Note: I share this as one example of how students can write a personal reflection based on an assigned reading. Again, students are advised to follow their professors’ specific guidelines/requirements.

Shanghai By The Moonlight

 

 

This is a poem I wrote in 2000, inspired by both Enya and a postcard of a Shanghai Buddhist Temple. Though it is in poetry form, it is also a good example of how to write vividly by using descriptive details that are concrete and specific. Doing so can help our readers use their imagination to see, or hear, or feel what we as writers present in our composition. (my note to students)


Like folded hands steepled in prayer

The Longhua Pagoda solemnly beckons –

Where are the stars that paint the sky;

Only the gentle moon silently casts its light

On the mysterious city of Shanghai…

What a cold, lonely night

As I walk through its snow-laden grounds

And I behold the haunting sight

Of winter trees and stones;

And hues of blue and gray and white

Dance to the eerie sounds of silence…

Upon its lace-mantled bosom

A golden light glows

A solitary glimpse of warmth

For a distant soul in hope

Of Memories and a China Rose…


Poetry Prompt #17 – Dreamflights

My Reflection on “The Song of the Bird” by Anthony de Mello, S.J.

 I cannot fully describe my total experience while going through each of the pages of this extraordinary book “The Song of the Bird” by Anthony de Mello. When I set out to read, I tried to put myself into a proper frame of mind, and created a mood in order to get a feel for what the author says: “the mystical.”

I knew being mystical was more than just feelings, so I seriously followed the third suggestion of how to read the stories – in a prayerful manner. Most of all, I tried to open my mind, heart and spirit for the grace of wisdom I would hopefully gain.

Story after story I went and slowly some things would strike me now and then, but only superficially, I felt. Later I discovered I must not predispose myself in a way too expectant nor too presumptuous, for what I found most enlightening were those that I read in a humble way.

Like what most of the stories have to say, we must not be too engrossed with the future, nor should we be buried in the past, for we must live in the present and be aware of what the present has for us. If we do so, sooner or later the beauty of the moment unfolds before us to savor, to experience, to have. Then we cannot just analyze nor rationalize; we just have to let each moment be, and let us be still in the moment, be in the silence of the present.

Like the fish who keeps looking for the big ocean, I learned I must keep still, and listen to the silence of my self, to the lessons that were being imparted to me here, little by little. I should only let my heart be open and let my mind be still and stop walking ahead, wandering around because I cannot just force wisdom into my heart just because that was what I intended to find.

I also learned that this is how we usually go through life. We race ahead to the directions or goals we have set for ourselves as if the future is all there is to life.

What also strikes me about the book is the varied sources of inspiration drawn from different religions and they all speak of searching for the Truth, being one with Creation, and most of all, finding God in our everyday lives.

And though we are of different faiths, of different races, we all have the same stories to share, the same longings for our same God, the same aspirations and ideals. We all can learn from one another.

I was most struck by one story here, “Change the world by changing me.” I believe that this is one powerful prayer that could really ‘move mountains’ if only we were humble enough to first transform ourselves and ask God to help us.

Because I was definitely changed somehow by most of the stories, I decided to share the book with my second son and asked him to write his reflection. May I then take the liberty to share with you what he wrote verbatim:

Reading this book has made me strengthen my faith in God. I am grateful that as I was reading, a lot of questions stirred inside my heart, meaning I am not contented with my spiritual life because being contented means that I already know everything there is to know about God which I think is an impossible feat.

My questions led me to the fact that I was created in His image, a little lower than the heavenly beings which makes me greater than all things here on Earth but that God is infinitely higher so there is a vast difference between us. He knows all the answers to my questions but He may not reveal those to me since He said that there are things that are hidden and are for Him alone. And it is a good thing because His ways and thoughts are not my ways and thoughts. So seeking answers that are not meant for me may be dangerous to do.

And to those questions that are answered, I will keep always in my heart knowing that those will help me experience God better. Also, it will help me lead more souls to Him. I am always looking forward to questions to pop in my mind because each question answered will help me become a more mature Christian.

 

I intend to read this book again and again, for each time, new insights are revealed.