Academic Writing Workshop by Dr. Javed Wani

The CSPS Internship comprises a series of virtual lectures featuring prominent thinkers, scholars and writers, to speak on pressing themes. The Fourth session hosted Dr. Javed Iqbal Wani, who gave a seminar lecture to our interns about “Academic Writing”. The session included an introductory lecture following an interactive question and answer session between Dr. Wani and the interns at CSPS.

About the speaker

Dr. Javed Iqbal Wani is a renowned academician and scholar who currently occupy the position of Assistant Professor at School of Law, Governance & Citizenship, Dr. BR Ambedkar University, Delhi, India. He completed his P.G. Diploma from Jamia Millia Islamia, NMCPCR on Conflict Analysis and Peace Building.  This was followed by a MA and M.Phil. from Center for Political Studies (CPS), Jawaharlal Nehru University, India; and PhD from Department of History, Royal Holloway, University of London, United Kingdom. He has held two positions as Guest Faculty at the Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia from 2011-2012 and at the Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution (NMCPCR) Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi from 2016-2017. He has been a visiting lecturer at the Department of History, Royal Holloway, University of London, United Kingdom from 2014-2016.

Dr. Wani has authored several papers, news reports, book chapters, and review articles on various political issues. His research interests surround History, Culture & Politics of South Asia, particularly India. This can be narrowed down to issues pertaining to characteristics of the State, Ideology, Violence and Resistance. Contemporary focus of his work has been the issues related to ‘Law’, ‘Governmentality’, ‘Surveillance’, and ‘State of Exception’.

Opening Remarks

Dr Wani started his session by highlighting that whatever he is going to speak today is a culmination of his own experience. He has accumulated several pointers since his time in the University as a student to deal with the struggles and resolution of hiccups which he then goes onto share. Nevertheless, he puts forth a DISCLAIMER that “No lecture can improve your writing. Only practise of writing can improve your writing. Keep on writing to see the shortcomings you have.”

To begin with the lecture, Dr Wani asks the interns to introduce themselves and then poses a hypothetical question. He says, “If I am your professor and ask you to submit 3 assignments throughout the semester and declare on 4th September to write the term paper due by 25th September, when is the time you all begin writing the assignments?” To this most of the interns replied that they would begin either on 20th September or post that.

Dr. Wani underlines that the basic point to come up from this is procrastination which remains the biggest problem with writers. This may be a result of our social relationships as we tend to think that such engrossment may negatively affect these connections. Moreover, if a student starts the task right before the deadline there hardly remains any time. They may also be tired and the mechanisms for the task are also not there. But, one thing to note is that we all love the adrenaline rush we get from finishing a paper 10 minutes before the deadline and the surge of happiness. This may also be a very big factor. Furthermore, there are Internal and External consequences of procrastination.

  • External: Fear of bad grades or just mere pass marks.
  • Internal: A sense of anxiety that leaves us discouraged and overburdened.

However, nothing is beyond help. According to Dr. Wani there may not be “quick fixes” but we have “strategies”. The question that comes up time and again is “Why do we procrastinate?” The answer lies with psychology where the problem may lie within our fears:

  • Fear of Failure – We are scared that a particular piece may not turn out as expected. This is a major problem with ‘perfectionists’ as they avoid any kind of work due to their aversion of such pressure.
  • Fear of Success – In a group, few may be better equipped and thus, they think they stand a chance to turn into workaholics or do not require putting in much effort. Such people also assume that if they work too hard they may get sucked into the system of writing and loose social contacts. They also do not want to raise expectations and thus, tend to procrastinate.
  • Fear of Losing Autonomy – ‘Authority problem’ plays a role over here. It concerns itself to power dynamics between the Teacher and the Student. Such fear thwarts you from doing something another individual asks you to do. Students often want to assert their independence and respective individuality as Teachers are the ones who set the deadline of assignments. Students try to maintain their control of the situation by going at their own pace. This is often a problem amongst College and University students.
  • Fear of being alone – This fear emerges out of the various evaluation you face at every stage. In this case, a counter argument also comes from the concept of ‘work-life balance’. It is good to have a work-life balance but some people tend to allow work-life overtake the writing.

How do we procrastinate?

  • We ignore the task and hope that it goes away.
  • Underestimate or overestimate the level of the task.
  • Try to minimize the impact of the task on our future.
  • We do not take writing as our job and thus, we do not give it much attention.

To combat these things, certain habits become very necessary for us:

  • Discipline yourself.
  • Create a productive environment to work in. It may be the right corner of your University, music of sea emanating from your headphones, or turn off your phone if the need arises.
  • Just start writing.

To help the process of academic writing, we can take up:

  1. Flow Chart – A chart comprising of pictures of separate steps of a process in sequential order.
  2. Mind Map – Such applications are easily accessible to scholars and can give a structure to argument and theory.

Emphasizing that writing a research paper is often a “messy and recursive process”, Professor Wani shared his expertise on the process of writing a research paper, starting with asking students to be more flexible with the structure of the paper. Some of the broad categorisations professors focused on are:

Discovering a researchable topic –

The research topic should be the one that truly interests the researcher. According to Dr Wani if the topic is imposed from outside then it’s inevitable that the researcher will get tired out and finally disinterested in his/her project.

The second point entails talking with the supervisor or the instructor, even with friends and teachers who can alert about different themes one might have missed while thinking about the research topic.

Another important point to note while writing a research topic is that it must always be put forth in the form of a question. Thus the research topic in itself becomes a research problem that needs to be solved. This provides a means for narrowing down the research issue so that it is not absorbed in generalisations.

Finding, Selecting and Reading the Sources-

Once the topic is selected, another step is to select the reading material which will enrich the question and facilitate the researcher to answer his research problem. For that researchers can go to library catalogues, Google searches, bibliographies of work that are similar to the work one intends to do.

If the person reaching for the reading material is a historian or an anthropologist, he can make a distinction between his primary and secondary sources. Primary sources include interviews, archival material, private letters etc. while secondary data includes taking other people’s theories and materials and commenting on them through your paper.

Grouping, Sequencing and Documenting the Sources-

Once the bank of reading material is created, the next step entails grouping the source material, sequencing it and documenting the information that has been extracted from the material. This can be done by highlighting in the general text or by commenting on the screen while reading the PDF of the text. Dr Wani strongly emphasised that the ‘eureka moment’ in which a researcher critiques, appreciate or reject the idea that is currently being read must not be missed. It must be written at the same time and never be prolonged. Thus a system of noting sources, organising material according to its relative importance must be there.

Creating an outline of the paper-

For creating a proper outline of the research paper, a mind map or a flow chart must be created. This will provide the researcher with the key premise on which the research paper is based and how to move forward with this premise. This involves noting important people who have already discussed the underlying theme and what they have talked about. This will allow the researcher to bring his new information through appreciation, surveying, critiquing, and even rejecting the theme altogether.

The researcher can try to create two or three scenarios to approach the research question. Choosing the best scenario will enable us to rearrange the material accordingly once the paper is crafted. This might involve changing the sequencing of the sections according to their relevance to prevent the breaking of the flow of information in the body of text.

Writing the introduction-

The reader must present the context of the paper through relevant background. This involves defining terms, concepts if necessary. The researcher must explain the focus of the paper and define the specific purpose for writing the paper. This entails revealing to the reader what the paper is trying to do.

Body of text-

For writing a well-meaning body text, the researcher has to first look at the outline of the paper, which acts as a guiding force building on the essay through points made in the outline. According to Dr Wani, the researcher must avoid the trap of letting the resource material and sources organise your paper.

Another crucial point to note while writing the body text is that sequencing your information according to the flow of paper is very important. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the information recorded, so a proper sequencing of the information based on its relevance is very required. The researcher mustn’t just copy from the references and material he has but rather integrates meaningful sources into the discussion that the researcher wants to conduct in his paper. Using original words and writing style is the key to writing a unique research paper. While processing the material, tools such as proper summarization, analysis, explanation, evaluation should be used to avoid paraphrasing of the material already available.

Defining the levels of thinking-

Defining the levels of thinking involves asking other subsets of questions while making generalised statements. Creating these levels enable the researcher to identify where the text is getting too abstract for the reader.

Writing Conclusion-

If a researcher is writing a paper on theoretical subjects like philosophy or critical literature, which involves too many textures and too many contexts, he can summarise the idea of the paper in a brief paragraph. While if the research is conducted inductively without mentioning the findings in the paper, a conclusion can be used to explain the significance of the findings. This involves moving from one level of consideration to another level of consideration linking it with the introduction thus providing a context to the entire discussion. In a way, the conclusion should remind the readers of delivering on the promise made in the introductory part of the paper.

Revision of the draft-

The researcher must revise his draft at least twice through proofreading. This will check on crucial aspects of the paper involving the logical flow of information, depth of the discussion, overall organisation, effectiveness of the conclusion etc. This will enable the researcher to analyse if the end of one paragraph connects with the beginning of the next paragraph and help the reader to appreciate the effort which the researcher has put into his paper. For logical structuring of the paper, the writer must always write in an active voice rather than a passive voice. This enables the writer to “own the material” he is using. Expressions involved while describing the material used thus hold the key to effective use of sentence formation.

Following this, the session morphed into an interactive Q&A involving the interns and the research staff from the centre.

Q&A session

The session presented an opportunity for the Interns to raise any queries they have regarding Academic Writing. A number of simple yet complex questions were raised. Some of these are discussed below:

Could you provide some tips regarding Literature Review?

To answer this Dr Wani shared a few tips. They are –

Put into the conscious effort and always create an outline.

Separate resources into Essential, Supplementary, Tertiary.

Essential (core) and Supplementary (supporting) resources are to be dealt with as fundamental sources (if you have a tight deadline). Tertiary resources depend on the time frame that you have.

You need to clearly imagine the project.

Organise the bibliography into notes and levels of resources.

How can we keep a text neutral and read from a non-ideological viewpoint?

Can we ever be non-ideological? We should always keep in mind the concept of Interpolation by Althusser. We are all interpolated. I do not think we can ever step out of ideology. We exist in socio-political systems. It is subjective to location which depends on Politics of Experience. We can take the example of the emergence of women in writings prior to which the stuff written by men was the only thing we followed but, after Feminists came into the scene they tore the discourse apart. How did they do that? They did it because of their subjective location. What about the writings of Dalit? How is it powerful? It is all experience. As a result, Dalit’s often allege that Upper Class writings are from the perspective of affordability. Another example is that of post 9/11 when UAPA, Patriot Act, etc., are to be viewed from the perspectives of Muslim to completely understand the situation.

Is the way we perceive ideology a part of ideology?

The above answer works for this question as well. However, whenever it is ideology related say it in the introduction itself. Place it in the beginning. Let us say you are talking about Symbolic Violence but from what view? Just state it.

How can you justify Upper Class writing of Lower Class ethical?

What about the Allies? Can others not write? Yes, they can. Just remember to let the Subaltern speak as well. The question ‘can’ the Subaltern speak is a subtle way of repressing them. Let them speak. Be an ally. Even if you have an agenda, say it. Being transparent is important. Other than that, no one can force you – it is unethical.

How can we avoid accusation when writing an Academic Paper?

It does not matter as porosity is everywhere.

The fourth session thus concluded, with a vote of thanks by Saad Ahmed, Research Assistant at CSPS.

The report is prepared by Sagarika Mukhopadhyay, Research Intern at CSPS