Tuesday, February 08, 2011

3 Questions On Writing A Paper

Some times back a friend of mine asked me the following questions. I tried to give her an answer. It was highly inadequate. So, I wrote the following...

1. What are the ingredients of a good abstract and a good paper?

The abstract will be as good as your paper is. You cannot prepare the abstract unless you have formulated the entire argument of your paper (even if you haven’t written it down.)

To distribute the ingredients of a good paper, we must first understand what a paper is. A paper is not a thesis. It’s not a book. Yet, a paper as an entity is complete it self, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. And, since it’s not a thesis or a book, whatever a paper wants to say, it should be able to say within its limited scope, say 5,000 words, or 10 regular pages. In a regular conference, you are given 15 minutes to read a paper. Ideally, therefore, a paper should be an essay that can be read aloud within less than 15 minutes.

Therefore, the topic for a paper should be something that we can do justice to within this short span. Therefore, narrowing down the topic is a must.

First, decide the subject. Say, Indian Writing in English.

Now, narrow it down as much as possible. Here’s an example:
Indian Writing in English.
21st Century novels.
Authors based in India
Woman author
Woman author on minority issues
Woman author on religious issues
(After narrowing down so much, you came to several writers... Let’s say, we choose Esther David. Now, David has several novels, you must choose one among them.)
Easter David: “Book of Esther”
(Now, there are several themes in “Book of Esther”. You cannot tackle all of them at once. You must choose a special strand.)
You choose a topic: “How Personal Histories Shapes Identities: A Study of Book of Esther.”

Now comes the tough part, how to go about it...

Conventional wisdom demands that you say something original. Yet, you are not allowed to say anything out of context. Therefore, the rule of thumb: Find a context. Find a theory, or a hypothesis by someone well regarded. For example, in the current context, Salman Rushdie’s famous essay, ‘Imaginary Homelands’. You can start with what Rushdie has to say about personal histories and relate it to David’s fiction.

Keep the focus narrower, never stray from the topic, even if you find that you have so many interesting things to say about a related topic.

You learn by example: Therefore, please read some papers or attend some seminars.

Now, the abstract. The abstract will contain your original research, what you are trying to prove in the paper.

Consider this: You are going, say, from Point A to Point B because you think you will see dragons on the way. This is your abstract.

Now, in your paper you describe the journey, why you think you will see the dragons on the way, and finally whether you saw those blasted dragons or not. Easy.

2. What are the things to be kept in mind (tricks of the trade) while reading a novel/story/poem/drama with the sole purpose of writing a paper on it?

Every creative output is a representation. Now, representation is a loaded word. What does it represent, how does it represent and what is the meaning of this representation?

It represents something from society at large, some facts, some possibility. How it augurs with the ‘reality’? What this representation brings new to the table.

3. How to write a paper on a film? on a song/oral renditions?

If you follow the earlier protocol, you should be able to find the answers to his question.

The Torah is the inspiration of Esther David’s third novel Book of Esther, which also happens to be one of the most beautiful stories narrated in the old testament. Loosely based on family history, the novel is a treasure trove of stories. Mingling reality with a imaginary world, the novel begins in the nineteenth century with Bathsheba, as she waits for her husband to return from his long absence at their home in Danda village on the Konkan coast. The story weaves it’s way from the Konkan to Ahmedabad. Joseph and David inherit Bathsheba’s empathy for all things living, besides possessing a remarkable talent as a doctor in Ahmedabad, but is unable to rein in his exuberant son, in whom the ability to heal is directed towards lions, tigers, panthers and even crocodiles. He goes on to found a zoo and the stories of the pets he raises form a heartbreaking accompaniment to the human drama. Given this background, Esther’s own story acquires an unusual poignancy as she struggles to find her moorings. A search for roots takes her to Israel and France. The turmoils in the city of her birth, coalesce into a desperate search for answer and strength. Peopled by a host of memorable characters, some of them wonderfully eccentric, Book of Esther casts a fresh perspective on the Jewish experience in India as it chronicles the fortunes of a gifted family. Most of all, however, it is a celebration, intensely felt of love and attachment and the joys and sorrows that they bring. (from

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