The Lesson Of The i

Also published by American Chronicle in a slightly different form

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The Alfie Workshoppers, 2007 June 25-29 (names at end of story)

Being On Filipinos Pioneering In

The Art Of Technical Writing

The Philippines has just conducted the world’s first workshop with a theme song, Alfie, in Technical Writing For A Refereed Journal. And we did it, 13 from the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research & Development (PCARRD), and I. And it’s all about love.

Incongruous, you might say. An i word; it is precisely from the incongruous where you learn something new, or gain a different insight. Those who are afraid of the incongruous may learn only what they are told.

I designed The Write Approach (in i, GLORiA, frankahilario.com) for the workshop. First was a ‘feedforward’ sheet, which included the lyrics of Alfie and the question, ‘What is love?’ After collecting the papers, I sang the first line of Alfie and explained why it is our theme song. I said that the right attitude is love. In the beginning and in the end, what’s it all about is love. You must love what you’re doing. If you don’t have love, you will never improve; you will always be like a resounding gong, or a clanging cymbal that, as Shakespeare puts it, is ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’

Alfie is about a playboy. The workshop is about technical writing. That was intriguing, and I had planned it that way.

In the movie ‘Alfie frequently speaks directly to the audience, as a deliberate Brechtian alienation effect’ (Wikipedia). The approach I took was the exact opposite. Where the A Effect forces the audience to be engaged in the story, the Write Approach Effect (WA Effect) is where the workshop director forces the participants of the workshop to be engaged in the story, which is the writing of a technical paper, which he knows is neither a pleasant process nor an easy one – by cajoling them, inspiring them, pushing them in a delicate exercise of trying to change behavior and attitude.

My Write Approach can be described and explained in one word: immersion. Immersion means ‘totally submerging a person in water’ (American Heritage Dictionary). I believe that a workshop must always be an educational experience, emphasis on experience and not education, and to get it, immersion is the best way I know how.

Day 1 AM: A For Alfie & Attitude

With my baritone, I sang the first line of Alfie by Burt Bacharach (music) and Hal David (lyrics):

What’s it all about, Alfie?

I explained that this first line of the song reflects exactly the first focus of technical writing, following my WRITE APPROACH, an acronym for 13 guidelines, the W being for ‘What’s your focus?’ (‘The Write Approach,’ in i, GLORiA, frankahilario.com).

Day 1 PM: The Write Approach

In the afternoon, I copied their electronic files of pre-prepared technical papers they had brought from all over the Philippines: Luzon, the Visayas, Mindanao. I mentioned ‘Write Approach’ being an acronym for 13 guidelines; they had read my handout. I said I’m not afraid of the number 13.

About the study being reported in each technical paper, I said something about the Conclusions necessarily meeting the Objectives of the study. Then I began to read the papers for the first time while they began to re-read.

Day 2 AM-PM: Word 2003 As Tool

I made sure everyone was using the same software – Word 2003. Then, they with their desktops and laptops, and I with my desktop and the office’s LCD projector, we tackled selected features of Word 2003, including Compare Side By Side. I focused on Outlining-Organizing, and showed them how to assign and then view the heading levels to see how they connect (or don’t) with each other, and where one can delete to make a long story short, to cut down, say, a 58-page paper by pruning unnecessary material.

The reading and revising continued. And, as in the first two days, we were on our desks until very late into the evening. They had to review their own, while I had to read all of theirs.

Day 3 AM-PM: Breaking The Cycle

With a rented van, in the morning we went to Liliw, Laguna to buy some souvenirs: slippers, shoes and such. In the afternoon, we visited the campus of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, which some had not seen. We also visited the shrine of the national hero Jose Rizal in the City of Calamba. We had a good time.

Day 4 AM-PM: 1st One-On-One

I explained that the ‘day off’ was part of the workshop’s design, because everyone needs to relax from work.

Then I went from desk to desk copying into their hard disks their own files that I had commented on. I also reviewed with them their Objectives in relation to their Conclusions, that the latter must fulfill the former; if not, something is wrong somewhere. I also checked whether their Conclusions were logical deductions (or inductions) based on findings, or were simply findings restated.

Day 5 AM: 2nd One-On-One

In today’s one-on-one, the second, I emphasized to each one of the thirteen their Objectives in relation with their Conclusions. I still found at least two with their Conclusions being only a rehash of their Findings. I reiterated that while a finding is a ‘what?’ a conclusion is a ‘so what?’

Day 5 PM: Denouement

At the graduation rites, I said, ‘Finished or not finished, pass your papers!’ They all laughed. It was time to say goodbye, the thirteen and I. Sorry, but I wasn’t paying much attention to what Dr Lily-Ann Lando was saying; she is the Director of the Applied Communications Division of the Council called PCARRD, the sponsor of the workshop, with the blessings of Executive Director Patricio Faylon. The thirteen came from the different R&D consortia under the jurisdiction of the Council.

I told the thirteen: ‘I began with love, I end with love.’

The i’s have it? Just before me, Edith had summarized the lesson best: ‘You can’t have it. You have to go get it.’

Photograph, L-R, Back row: Virgie Lacuesta, Jenny Rabara, Asuncion Nagpala, Lea Agbigay, Mae Morales, Jun Feranil, Efren Magulama. Middle row: Monalinda Cadiz, Susan Rivera. Front row: Frank Hilario (Workshop Leader), Mae Posadas, Editha Pangan, Marissa Estrella, Janet Paday-os, Lily Ann Lando (Director ACD-PCARRD).

Copyright 2007 June 12 by Frank A Hilario.
Researched for, organized-reorganized, formatted & hyperlinked via Microsoft Word 2003.

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