The Write Approach

jude-law-alfie.jpg
Poster of the movie starring Jude Law as Alfie

Being The Workshop With A Theme Song, Alfie

Technical Writing: So cold, so logical, so unoriginal. The beauty of my workshop, The Write Approach, is that I’m an original, so I expect you to enjoy every minute of it because I designed it to be both business and pleasure – the pleasure adding to the business.

The 5-day workshop (June 25 to June 29) at the headquarters of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD) based at the Los Baños Science Community and sponsored by the Applied Communication Division of PCARRD under Dr Lily Ann D Lando, will be based on my experience of 32 years as writer, editor and publisher of technical papers since 1975 when I was the Chief Information Officer of the Forest Research Institute (FORI), now the Ecosystem Research & Development Bureau. Among other things, I was the founding editor of the FORI technical publication called Sylvatrop. I have also been founding Managing Editor of Kalikasan, The Philippine Journal of Biology. Currently, I’m the Editor in Chief of the Philippine Journal of Crop Science (PJCS); I started with the April 2001 issue.

The materials for learning hands-on will be (a) the extended abstracts I myself prepared for about 900 papers and articles published in the PJCS since 1976, (b) the actual papers submitted for publication and eventually edited and published in the journal since the April 2001 issue. I created a free website where you can read all those extended abstracts: http://www.cropsciencephilippines.blogspot.com, and (c) the drafts of papers pre-prepared by the participants themselves.

Here lies an interesting story. When I came in as Editor of PJCS, it was late by 2 years, or 6 issues. It’s a journal that is only 60 pages and it’s late by 2 years? That’s because the business of technical writing is not only writing and revising by the authors but also critiquing by the peer reviewers, editing by the editor and desktop publishing by the layout artist or some such skilled person, usually male. In publishing, if you’re slow, you’re 5 times slow, slow slowing down the slow one after the other: writing, revising, reviewing, editing, publishing.

I should know. As Editor of the PJCS, I’m a one-man-band: I edit, correct, proofread, do the design and page layouts, including typesetting (formatting characters, words, lines) and printouts, up to camera-ready pages. And since I’m practical-minded, I use a software that is good for desktop publishing and good for the user because it’s so much easier to use than Adobe PageMaker or Microsoft Publisher: Word 2003, which is also Microsoft. And with a fast software and a fast editor using a fast PC, we made the PJCS up-to-date within 2.5 years; I came out with the December 2006 issue ahead by 7 months, on May 2006 – good for the Guinness Book of World Records.

Can Word 2003 do desktop publishing? Yes it can; I’m the living proof, maybe the only one in the world having done it. I use Word 2003 from the beginning of editing to the end of the publishing process, up to camera-ready pages. With Word 2003 when I started editing the journal, I have worked on 19 issues of the PJCS so far, the latest being the April 2007 issue, or about 133 papers; if the average number of pages of the manuscripts submitted is 10, then I have read 1,330 pages of technical stuff in crop science in the last 6.5 years, seriously, to find fault – and get paid for it! And since I read each of those papers at least 5 times word-for-word before going to press, I know a technical paper inside out.

I’m self-taught as far as working with the computer is concerned; I’m also self-taught as far as writing and editing are concerned. And you cannot teach yourself if you don’t have a practical mind.

That’s the approach I would like technical writers to use, whether they are beginners or professionals. The earlier ‘Frank’s 10 Commandments Of Technical Writing’ (also here at i, GLORiA, frankahilario.com), are for hanging on the wall, or putting underneath the glass on your tabletop. In my workshop, hands-on, you learn to use the WRITE APPROACH. As in:

What’s your focus? Whether you have written a draft or not, ask yourself: What’s my main topic, subject, finding, conclusion, recommendation, proposition, contention or theory? Write it down, then try to look for the parts of the paper that directly connect with it, but especially the Introduction, the Methodology, and the Conclusion. Then you will see whether or not you have successfully presented, described and discussed that focus. If you are still writing the paper, be sure you have a focus and stick to it.

Relating Conclusions with Objectives. Following this precept myself, I can tell whether your thesis, dissertation, report, or paper is good by just comparing your objectives with your conclusions. The two must jibe; the conclusions must answer or meet the objectives. A common fault here is that the conclusions are not conclusions – they are simply rewordings of the findings. It should be like this: If the findings are the whats? the conclusions are the so-whats?

Images, Illustrations. Many authors submit papers that are full of tables but no illustrations of any kind: graph, drawing, photograph. Images help explain things. Above all, images make your paper interesting and look important (which is important) – they add credibility. Which reminds me: you should check before you submit if there aren’t any missing tables, figures, charts, photos, drawings.

Technology. Technology is the reason I require a workshop in technical writing to be conducted hands-on with each participant using a personal computer (PC), desktop or laptop – I also ask for an LCD projector, and Internet connection. I’m assuming that you’re going to write more than one paper, and even if you can afford to pay (or already have) someone to do it for you, it’s the better part of scholarship to be able to type, proofread, correct, revise your own paper. For all that, you need the PC. And I recommend Microsoft Word, specifically Word 2003. (Not Word 2007? No because it’s very complicated, and you need to buy a new PC.) Word 2003 has many shortcuts you’ll enjoy using it once you learn a few tricks. The Internet is a good, ready source of up-to-date data or information or fresh ideas you can use in writing or rewriting a technical paper.

Editorial directions. Each editor or publication has its own guidelines for authors; to submit a paper, you have to follow the instructions. For instance, the Philippine Agricultural Scientist, which is published by the College of Agriculture, UP Los Baños, insists on writing ’kg/ha’ as ’kg ha-1’ maybe because the editor believes it looks more ‘scientific.’ I don’t believe that; I also know that it’s more difficult to format -1 than type /ha – how fast can you do it if you know? For the PJCS, I prepared a 2-page set of guidelines for contributors that you can ask for in an email, free – but if you are not submitting to my publication, you have to follow what the other editor wants. And I don’t want you to type all those author names ALL CAPS like that – they are not interesting to look at, and they’re not easy to check.

aiming for a rough draft first. Many would-be authors cannot write a paper because they always want to write their best even when they’re just beginning to write. That is an impossible dream. In my 32 years in the world of technical writing, I have never written a paper nor have I seen one that is perfect the very first time it was made. It is necessary that you make a draft first, as complete as you can make it, so that you will have a good idea what and where to improve it, or what is lacking. You’ll never know where to improve until you have something to improve; you’ll never know what is lacking until you have what you think is complete.

Passive voice. If you surf the Internet, you will find technical papers now being written in the first person – using ‘I’ or ‘we’ – which is the secret of readability as well as conciseness through the use of the active voice. Try rewriting this, from an abstract of a 1972 thesis submitted to UP Los Baños:

A survey on the extent of rat damage in rice mill-warehouses was conducted in six rice-producing towns of Laguna from January 1971 to December 1971. Actual grain loss (5.14 to 33.03 kg per year) was minimal but the amount of spillage and contaminated grains (36.04 to181.42 kg per year) was much greater. The rat damage estimate revealed losses varying from 0.795 to 4.123 cavans per rice mill per year.

Here is my editing – do you agree with it? Why or why not?

We conducted a survey on rat damage in rice mill-warehouses in six towns of Laguna from January 1971 to December 1971. The damage estimate varied from 0.795 to 4.123 cavans per rice mill per year.

Positioning. In the Introduction, state where you’re coming from, what larger part of the world of knowledge your paper fits in, or what piece of the jigsaw puzzle is it? Others would call it the Rationale, which means ‘fundamental reason, the basis; an exposition of principles or reasons’ (American Heritage Dictionary). I mean all that; I also mean more.

Review of literature. No matter how short, whether it’s a special section or just a few sentences, your review of literature is very important. It will certainly help you much when you write the paper, or even after you have written it. A good review or read-over of what has been published about the subject matter will help set direction or thrust, will give you or indicate the larger context of what you have written or about to write, will give you insights you cannot gain otherwise. And make sure you read the latest about it; a paper may change your mind.

Opening your mind. I mean, even while working, you should be able to relax. It’s good for you, it’s good for the office – you become more productive if you are able to refresh yourself. But remember: While relaxing, you are not supposed to disturb others, like listening to the radio in full blast – get a headphone!

Alfie. Sing it! Didn’t I tell you? This is the workshop not simply with a theme but with a theme song:

Alfie
Music by Burt Bacharach,
lyrics by Hal David

What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie,
Then I guess it’s wise to be cruel.
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie,
What will you learn from an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, Alfie,
I know there’s something much more,
Something even non-believers can believe in.
I believe in love, Alfie.
Without true love we just exist, Alfie.
Until you find the love you’ve missed you’re nothing, Alfie.
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you’ll find love any day, Alfie. Alfie.

‘Alfie’ is one of the many songs created by the hits-team of Burt Bacharach (composer) and Hal David (lyricist). ‘Bacharach is said to have revolutionized the sound of the 1960s with many hit songs like ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head’ and ‘This Guy’s In Love With You’ (npr.org). These are lilting, happy, uplifting songs. ‘His sophisticated yet breezy productions borrowed from cool jazz, soul, Brazilian bossa nova, and traditional pop to virtually define and undoubtedly transcend the staid forms of … adult pop during the 1960s’ (Wikipedia.com).

The 5 days of the workshop are compartmentalized into activities on:

Day 1 Correctness
Day 2 Comprehensiveness
Day 3 Coherence
Day 4 Clarity
Day 5 Conciseness

As the workshop goes on, you will slowly see how Burt Bacharach’s Alfie and Frank Hilario’s 5 Cs of Technical Writing and the Write Approach relate to each other. The workshop should be an enjoyable one, one of discovery, finding one thing after another.

Check & Correct. After all is said and done, you have to carefully proofread (looking for mistakes in typing) and copyread (comparing against the original, which is supposed to be completely correct or letter-perfect) as well as do some editing yourself. How do you edit when you don’t know how to edit? I’ll teach you.

Helping yourself improve. Attitude is first – and last. In everything you do, at work or play, in love or something else, you begin with you and end with you. It’s all attitude.

Yes, the Write Approach is a checklist but not a process, not a sequential, step-by-step prescription for technical writing. It was designed to make you more productive by approaching it in an informal, practical manner. In that way, (learning to do) technical writing becomes truly a creative process.

The Write Approach. In Ilocano, we would call that The Write Appros, or The Write Touch. Touché!

Copyright 2007 June 24 by Frank A Hilario.
Researched for, organized-reorganized, formatted & hyperlinked via Microsoft Word 2003.

 

Advertisements
Explore posts in the same categories: Alfie, workshop with a theme song

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: