HOW I WRITE with Hilde van der Wall

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Tell us about yourself.

I studied International Land and Water management, which covers everything from social relations, people to their land and water, agriculture to some politics and economics. For my studies I have been travelling quite a lot, living in Kenya, South Africa, Israel and Spain. After I graduated last May I came here and have been working at the German Development Agency, which is the GIZ. Our project is about biodiversity. We are currently working on biodiversity and erosion control in Akham village of Ismayilli.

You are a recent graduate and are working for an NGO at the moment. How much do you write?

I write every day. For my master’s I wrote quite a lot. For every course we wrote essays and I also had two theses. Now for my work, I am writing and reviewing a lot of reports. Besides that, I also have materials to publish, – posters, papers and information boards – on behalf of the organization. And besides, I am working on a paper to publish in a scientific journal.

What is your writing routine? Do you have any writing rituals?

Whenever I start writing, I start filling out the structure of the paper or report that I want to write. First, I outline what want to write the introduction, the main part, and the main part consists of smaller parts, discussion and conclusion. Then I continue dividing these parts with subheadings and in advance I know exactly what I am going to write. This way I will not forget anything and all the parts will be there. If I forget about it, the subheading is there to remind me that I still need to complete that part. So, this is what I start with and then it becomes much easier than having a blank paper and thinking “Okay, I need to write 5,000 words. Where do I start?” By dividing the paper into smaller tasks I make my writing routine much easier. So I start with an outline, and slowly-slowly by filling up the subparts, I get these 5,000 words.

Is there anything particular that you like about your working space when you write?

I want it to be quiet, no distractions, and no phones buzzing. I usually play some classical music. Other types of music are too distracting for me. When I write with classical music on, I stop hearing it because I am so focused and do not hear other distractions anymore. This way I am totally consumed by the writing process.

Do you experience writer’s block?

Yes. It usually happens when I am writing about a subject I do not know or I have too many things on my mind and I do not know where to start anymore. I usually write down the points I still have to include or what I doubt about so that I come back to them later. I try to concentrate on the part I should be working on instead of starting doing research on other subjects. So I just put it aside and concentrate on the necessary parts. I have also taught myself that if I cannot concentrate and write something within 15 minutes then half an hour is not going to work either. Then I put it aside and start working on something else.

Do you often take breaks?

Not as often as I should. I know it really helps just to go away from the computer and go outside for a walk, but I always think I do not have the time. When I do it, I come back refreshed and work more productively. So I really recommend doing it and I myself should include it in my writing routine more often.

Do you write multiple drafts?

I continue writing the same paper. If I start a paper, I redraft it many times but I always continue the same document. Currently, with my scholarly article for a journal, I am working on my forth draft. I need to finalize it. In fact, I do not like handing in an incomplete paper for a review or anything. Some people hand in half of their papers or unfinished papers. I think that if I hand in something to my teacher for review, then I should take out all the bad parts I can take out myself. I do it because it is not her job; I want her to help me improve the paper and not waste time on the things I can do myself because I am too lazy to finalize it. So I make one perfect draft and hand it in, wait for the review, write another draft where I incorporate the comments and then once again continue with the same process until it is done.

So your current draft is your fourth draft, which means you have reviewed it yourself four times, right?

Yes, I have reviewed it four times and my teachers now – three times. This is how I have come to the current draft.

When you write, do you prioritize content or structure? 

While I make sure I have the right content, I prioritize the structure. With a good structure you can make it very clear what the paper is about. This will make reading it much easier rather than writing with fancy words or perfect language but then not telling anything because the structure is totally off. So, for me the most important thing is that when someone reads my paper, he can follow my thoughts. In fact, the structure allows me to focus on the content.

Is there any difference when you write in Dutch and English?

There are differences in academic writing in both languages. However, I have been writing so much in English in recent years that it is hard for me to say. Writing in English and Dutch is similar because both require you to write the thesis and build the rest of the paper around it. There are small differences in finalizing papers, though. In Dutch we do a lot of summarizing in the conclusion. In English it is different – concluding but with less summarizing. So it was quite easy for me to switch from writing in Dutch to writing in English because maybe it was the language change but not necessarily the writing style.

How much time do you allocate to polishing and proofreading?

A lot. Two working days at least. What I do is I print the paper because it is easier for me to spot errors and get highlighters to mark the paper. At first, I start marking the main sentences in each paragraph. Then I look if the actual content of a paragraph supports the main idea. After this I check if the paragraph connects to the next and the previous one. Does it make sense? Are my paragraphs well connected or abrupt and disconnected? I might add sentences that will connect my paragraphs. And only after the structure is perfect, I go over the text or writing itself because I can change it in advance but the sentence is useless and I am going to kick it out anyway. So the word choice and grammar are what I check last.

Do you allocate two days only for major papers or shorter papers as well?

No, I do it only for longer, more important papers. For shorter work-related papers, I spend less time editing and proofreading because people will not read them as carefully as my teachers would. Usually in scientific writing it is important how you formulate your ideas, because you are also referring to others’ papers. If you use a wrong formulation, then the content changes. The writing styles of scientific papers and work papers are different. Scientific papers are usually for people who know the subject well, while my work papers are also for people who would like some more insight. They do not know anything yet, so I use different wording and make it a little easier and understandable, and do not go as deep as I would in scientific papers.

What would be your writing advice to ADA students?

I thought a lot about it. Make sure you know the structure of the paper you are writing. If you do not what to write about, do research. You cannot start writing if you do not know your topic well. Read some news articles. Try to figure out what is interesting because it is really difficult to write about something that you are not interested in at all. This is the main thing. Know what to write about and how to write it.

How do you decide what to write about if your professor does not specify it?

Look at the assignment carefully. For example, for my theses I had lists of topics I could choose from. And I just thought “Okay, this topic is interesting for me. I do not know much about it and would like to learn more.” And there is information available. This is also important. Of course, with research papers, you want to produce more information so you should not take a topic everything has been written about, but starting from zero is also difficult. So try to find some sources, go search if you can find information you will need to write the paper. Also, do not pick a topic because you like it. Debate yourself on why you should pick this or that one. And maybe sometimes a topic you would not choose in the first place is more interesting that the topic that immediately comes to your mind because you will not get biased and are open to see others’ opinions.

Is writing just for yourself helpful or worthy?

Yes. It is for practicing writing. Also when you write for yourself, you read it back you either notice “Ok, I can write a nice story.” or “Ok. I wrote this and I am happy no one is going to see this because it does not make any sense.”

Do you think writing is important after the university and outside of academia?

Yes, of course. Especially today, even our everyday communication is in writing, on WhatsApp and Facebook. It is so easy to be misunderstood if your writing is off and you cannot put your thoughts into wording. Especially with your personal communication. If I am smiling when I am talking to you, you know I am happy. When you are writing, no one is going to see your face and gestures. That is why it is important that you can accurately formulate what you feel.

How did you get good writing skills? Did you practice writing or read a lot of books?

When I was doing my bachelor’s, I was not that good at writing. I would get feedback such as “Nice story but you need to rewrite it.” Suddenly I understood how important it was to use the right structure and I practiced a lot. I wrote papers for every course in my master’s. Every time I got a little bit better. And every time I got feedback and I knew “Ok, I should not do this.” I think it is mainly practicing. Then I started to enjoy it because I figured out I was able to write good papers. And I became even more motivated to write papers. More practice and some insights on how to write. I also think that feedback is important. If no one says what to improve then you do not know. I asked my classmates to swap and read each other’s papers. It was really helpful because I filtered out a lot of mistakes so it only became better.

 

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How I Write: Personal Statements

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Open House at the Write Space

Come by the Write Space to learn more about our work!

Our doors are open today 11:00-18:00.

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Testimonies from our student clients

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The art of writing

Discovering a pearl while writing

Aynur Asadli

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Writing is a cognitive process when we dive deep into our thoughts, swim through ideas, discover pearls, collect them, and make a valuable necklace. Pearls are our thoughts on the subject we choose to write about, collecting pearls is organizing and describing our thoughts, and the valuable necklace is the piece of writing we come up with at the end of the process. But what happens when a person does not know how to ‘make a necklace’? A person may have the most beautiful pearls at hand, but if he does not know how to line them up correctly, he will end up with an ugly necklace that nobody wants to wear. Organizing and describing one’s thoughts in an understandable manner while writing has the same effect on the end result of the writing process. Writing is not an easy process, it is definitely not an easy process to think and write in a foreign language.

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 4.16.17 PMWriting in English is a common difficulty that most of local ADA students experience. They think in Azerbaijani or Russian, and write in English. As a result, when expressing their thoughts, they  come up with wrong word choices. Most often, wrong word choices do not happen because of the limited vocabulary of the writer, but due to the attempt to write in an ‘academic’ way. Plain words get replaced by fancier words to make the essay look more ‘academic’. Unfortunately, those ‘academic’ words are often used out of context, and do not exactly replace the plain words in the sentence. Alongside, students have a similar approach when it comes to the sentence structure. They assume that having complex and longer sentences will make their writing look more academic. Why is it an issue after all? The answer is simple: words make up sentences, and sentences make up the essay. Wrong word choices confuse the reader, and complex sentences increase this confusion.

While learning how to speak in a new language, the first advice that learners hear is about ignoring grammar mistakes they make while speaking, and focusing on communicating precisely what they have in their minds. In the writing process, it goes in the same way. What is important is organizing thoughts in a cohesive manner – in a way that paragraphs of the essay meaningfully relate to each other and together make a big picture. Writing coherently also means that paragraphs should also be logically related and complete. Cohesive and coherent writing allows the writer to fluently communicate with the reader. However, most students pay attention to having their writing seem academic rather than fluently communicating with the reader.

Picture12pngWhat happens as a result of it? When a student starts to write, instead of putting all his thoughts on the paper, each time he interrupts the writing process to find the ‘academic’ word to explain himself. Instead of diving deeper and deeper into his thoughts, he stops to ‘Google’ the ‘academic’ synonym of the plain word he has in his mind. Again, and again, every time he stops, he gets away from his coherent and cohesive thinking. Ideas do not flow, but jump from one to another. Ideas also become incomplete because the writer mentions some part of his thinking and does not explain properly what he means, assuming that the reader knows how the writer thinks, which is never the case. The writer could notice the lack of cohesiveness and coherence when he reads his essay at the end of writing. However, he is more likely to neglect it again, as he focuses on how ‘academic’ his essay seems. Consequently, it becomes a tiring process for the reader to understand the given piece of writing.

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The process that the writer undergoes to have his writing seem ‘academic’ is also tiring for him. As a result, the writing process becomes a struggle for students. They hesitate to write, and  often they hate writing. It is not difficult for them to express themselves orally, but when it comes to writing, it is where students find themselves struggling.
Luckily, there is a way out of this struggle! While students  need to know which words should be avoided in academic writing,  at the same time, they need to focus more on writing fluently rather than using as many academic words as possible. After all, those fancy words do not matter if the writer cannot reach his aim – communicating his ideas to the reader. If the sentences are too long for the reader to understand, or the words have been used out of context, then, the reader will end up only with confusion. Instead of looking for ‘academic’ words, students should be thinking about the subject they write about. This is how they can come up with different ideas – different ‘colors of pearls’. Meanwhile, they can better explain themselves using simple words, instead of using ‘academic’ ones out of context. This would also allow them to focus on organizing their essay in a better way. As a result, they will have beautiful necklaces made with different colors of pearls that have been correctly lined up!

 

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How I write, December 5th

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How I write with Dr. Valiyev

Our first interview in How I write series is now available in video. Stay tuned for more!

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Join us for the interview with Dr. Valiyev

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Meet our new consultants

 

These three bright students have been selected to work in the Write Space. They have shown a great deal of enthusiasm, hard work, and dedication during the hiring and training process.

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Gumral

Name: Gumral Habibbayli

Program: BAIS 2020

Background: I graduated from the XXI Century IEIC.

Interests: Reading books, traveling, listening to music, and watching movies are my most favourite things to do at leisure. A new book, place, song, or movie can inspire me in my future endeavours.

Why writing: Writing is one of the most prominent means of communicating one’s ideas, opinions, and feelings to other people properly. In the endless world of writing, you can look at any issue from disparate perspectives and put down your thoughts about that in the way you like.

 

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Andrea

Name: Andrea Gutiérrez Cristóbal

Program: MADIA 2018

Background: Graduated from the University of the Basque Country with a degree in Translation and Interpretation, specialized in French and Russian. Currently a Master’s Student of Diplomacy and International Affairs.

Interests: My two main interests are sports and travelling. In my free time I really enjoy running, hiking, playing basketball, volleyball, swimming… you name it! My family and I have travelled a lot, which is probably why I find exploring new countries and cultures so interesting. In addition to these two hobbies, I enjoy reading a lot, especially thrillers and stories through which a country’s culture and customs are reflected.

Why writing: Writing is a way to organize our thoughts and clear our heads. Sometimes the process of writing can be hard or seemingly never-ending, but it is always very satisfying once it is completed.

 

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Heydar

Name: Heydar Rzayev

Program: BAIS 2020

Background: I graduated from school number 89. I am an undergraduate student and major in International Relations.

Interests: Photography is my true passion in life.  I share photos on my Instagram page. I also spend my free time reading books, watching TV series, listening to instrumental music, and playing computer games.  Moreover, I try to learn new languages because they are an important part of my academic life.

Why writing? Because the palest ink is stronger than the sharpest memory. Moreover, writing is an essential part of my major and it is the best way to express myself.

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Welcome back, students!

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