Professional and Everyday Writing

Happy Easter to all of you!

I thought today’s the 31st of March. I have just come back from a 4-hour chess tournament and am waiting for dinner. It’s nearly 9 in the evening, and I have little mental energy left to do my first day-of-the month’s blog. Thus, I decided to tell you about my soon-to-be-published book instead.

Foreword

The first article I wrote was published in my university newsletter 40 years ago. It was about my 24-hour travel by boat and bus from home to my alma mater. I felt disappointed seeing some words changed and several sentences reconstructed by the newsletter editor. I soon realised that at 16 years old I was just starting to learn how to write.

Ten years later, when my first journal article took a dozen drafts and tough comments from academic reviewers, I just grinned. I even considered it a victory because, at least, it was not an outright rejection and it eventually got published in the Australian Journal of Criminology. Writing is an art and a skill. Some people are gifted by nature and need no or little help to become good writers. Most of us, however, must spend time and energy to harness our writing skills.

Though the evolution of culture and society impacts how we use language, the essentials in writing have remained fairly constant, particularly in formal communication: grammar, verb tenses, punctuation, paragraphing, sentence structure, capitalisation, and tone.

Nowadays, English is spoken widely in countries that have national languages (e.g. India, Singapore, and The Philippines) and not only in Australia, Canada, the UK, and the USA. Nevertheless, standard American and British English varieties remain the main global business and academic references (lingua francas).

The questions and comments of my students, who are adults comprising of public servants, accountants, bankers, lawyers, office employees and tertiary education applicants, have inspired me to write this handbook. They often juggle their professional and personal responsibilities and do not have time to look at grammar textbooks and style guides to write correctly.

Digital tools may help them translate or write, but this does not provide them with sufficient explanations and relevant examples. Consequently, they are likely to make the same mistakes in their writing.

A few years ago, my student told me, “My native English-speaking colleagues behave as if they’re the expert when they aren’t. I’m the registered accountant; they’re clerks and administrative assistants. I always find my correspondence scrutinised for simple grammar mistakes.”

When your grammar is weak and vocabulary limited, you can be perceived as lacking in ability or are inexperienced, which is a harsh and unfair judgement that demotivates and destroys confidence. If you do not want to experience this, you have to learn how to produce clear, concise and coherent correspondence with correct grammar and precise vocabulary.

I hope this book “Clear, Concise and Unpretentious (CCU) – a guide for everyday writing” will help you become a confident and effective writer and communicator.

February – what a month it was!

(The photo above was taken in 2016 in front of the Regal cinema in Brisbane, Australia, where we used to go almost every weekend and saw “The Mission” – one of my favourite movies. I was so glad to know that it’s still open and has kept its 80s-90s atmosphere).

February 2018 was a cinema month for me. I watched thought-provoking and inspiring films based on true stories: “The Post, ” The Darkest Hour,” and “15.17 to Paris.”

“The Post” stars Tom Hanks and Myrl Streep, and it is about the Washington Post’s decision to publish government secrets found in the Pentagon Papers. My favourite line in this movie is “The Way They Lied, Those Days Have to Be Over.”

“People need to be led and not misled. Those who never change their minds, never change anything” – these are just two of the many words of wisdom in “The Darkest Hour.” It is in the 1940’s and Adolf Hitler has risen to power. The European nations, including Belgium and France, are in turmoil; and Dunkirk is in danger including the lives of 300,000 British soldiers.

“15.17 to Paris” is about three Americans (Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler) on their European backpacking tour in 2015. While on the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris on August 21, they tackled a heavily armed jihadist terrorist saving many lives. (There were 554 passengers. The gunman had KM assault rifle, nine magazines and 270 rounds of ammunition, a pistol, a knife and a bottle of petrol. Imagine what could have happened if these brave men didn’t intervene).

The reasons I went to see “15.17 to Paris” were: its director, Clint Eastwood, is an icon in the movie industry; it’s based on a true story; and the three actual guys played themselves (and not Bradley cooper, Chris Pine, Anthony Mackie, or other members of Hollywood’s A list). Hat’s off to these three guys not only to their courage but to their acting as well.

Unlike me, critics are not over the moon with this film. The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/feb/08/the-1517-to-paris-review-clint-eastwood-france-train-attack seen 11/02/18) even stated “the real meat of the film is that mind-bendingly boring holiday: endless beers, endless coffees, endless selfies. No tension between the guys. No real connection either.”

Why does a good film need to have tension and loads of audio and visual effects? I disagree that there’s no connection because these three men have always been connected since their primary education. It was a European trip — France, Germany, Holland and Italy are geographically well connected. (Those beautiful monuments and landscapes brought me back happy memories of our family vacations there). Isn’t drinking beverage part of holidaymaking? For me, the real meat of the story is the composition of love and care (their mothers’ devotion, the wounded passenger warning to his wife, helping the injured, etc.), courage, friendship, politeness, kindness, and surmounting difficulties (as shown during their childhood schooling) = what make life worth living and fun.

We should encourage the watching of this kind of film rather than that of violent and thrill seeking ones. Gradually or immediately, what we see affect our state of mind. “15.17 to Paris” has strong positive moral values and pertinent issues to all of us — as parents, students, teachers, citizens, etc. (In the movie, the teacher recommended the use of drugs because one of them was underperforming and lacking concentration in her class. How about making her lessons relevant and motivating?)

WE are affected by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last February 14 that took 17 young lives. This kind of awfully heartbreaking crime isn’t linear and simple. He might be mentally or/and psychologically disadvantaged, socially or/and academically inept, or/and financially introuble, and a wrecker or wreaker. However, when something atrocious happens, the society and its leaders have serious questions to answer.

We may not be able to keep an eye on everyone who wants to harm us deliberately or not, but we can choose or appoint decision makers in government, public institutions, business organisations and associations who, primarily, act on our safety and secuirty rather than enriching themselves with wealth and power.

Predicting and forecasting

January has always been an intellectually exciting month for me. My students are eager and thrilled with whatever subject I present for discussion. Perhaps being the first month of the year, which is associated with resolution and starting afresh, they are motivated with most things, including learning or improving their English.

In January 2018, one of the topics that interested them most was predicting and forecasting — two words which are often confused by many native and non-native English speakers.

For me, predicting is a subjective telling of the future based on intuition and personal judgement, which can be biased (sometimes it is entertaining or disconcerting). Whereas, forecasting is done by analysing the past. I predicted that my Aussie nephew would have a wedding in a tropical island where the weather forecast is favourable for outdoor ceremony, reception and party.

The Cambridge English dictionary defines ‘to predict’ (verb – /prɪˈdɪkt/) as “to say that an event or action will happen in the future, especially as a result of knowledge or experience: It’s still not possible to predict accurately the occurrence of earthquakes. [ + that ] Who could have predicted that within ten years he’d be in charge of the whole company? [ + to infinitive ] The hurricane is predicted to reach the coast tomorrow morning. [ + question word ] No one can predict when the disease will strike again” (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/predict).

Mediums Craig and Jane Hamilton-Parker have made the following predictions for this year (http://psychics.co.uk/blog/predictions/): “A trade embargo with North Korea will fail, the US will strike at railway line and bridge to disrupt imports. Massive Bitcoin fraud uncovered and thwarted that funds terrorism and war. Terrorists make an airborne chemical weapon gas attack by multiple drones on a European capital city.”

Would you like to try your predicting skill? Who will win the football/soccer World Cup in Russia in June? Who among the world’s celebrities will fall from grace?

The Cambridge English dictionary defines forecast (UK /ˈfɔː.kɑːst/) (US /ˈfɔːr.kæst/) as a statement of “what is likely to happen in the future, especially in connection with a particular situation, or the expected weather conditions” (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/predict).
Examples: The economic forecasts are gloomy.
According to the weather forecast, it’ll be sunny today.
“The global economy is set fair in 2018. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently upgraded its forecast for global growth to 3.7%, to reflect the return to health of manufacturing in most of the developed world and China(https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/dec/30 /business-predictions-2018-some-joy-quite-a-few-fearspopular).

If we take seriously the forecasts on environmental and climatic changes , we’ll be worried sick about the future of planet Earth and the well-being of our children and their offspring. As such, we shouldn’t be complacent and indolent when it comes to consuming wisely and less, recycling diligently, and supporting people and ideas that contribute to the sustainability of our global village.

Wishing you an awesome New Year… No resolution only motivation

It’s still the holiday season and being on staycation, I’ve time to read. One of the articles I’ve recently come across is on the science of success and motivation (https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/05/19/the-science-behind-success-and-motivation/#6b62c0c44a81Harvard seen 26/12/17). Mr Eric Barker, writer of the Barking Up The Wrong Tree blog, stated that “If you’re tired and unmotivated, it almost doesn’t matter what other strengths you have. People who do nothing tend to achieve nothing. So knowing what motivates you can be critical to success.” I agree with him.

Quoting Prof Teresa Amabile’s research finding that the feeling of progress in your efforts is the most motivating factor in life, Barker advises us to focus on “small wins.” I share his view on this: it is better to work gradually and a step at a time toward meeting our main challenge than to deal with massive issues head on then feel like we’re not getting closer to our goals and are failing.

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from within, i.e. yourself. Individuals are motivated because they want to be accepted, honoured, independent, loved, powerful, respected, or wanted.

Extrinsic motivation comes from the outside, and the most often mentioned motivating factor for working hard is money. However, many studies have shown that money is not the main source of happiness. If I were one of the respondents, I would have definitely revealed the same thing.

Years ago, an Australian friend brought to my attention a research done by Dr Adele Eskeles Gottfried, retired professor of educational psychology at the California State University at Northridge. She had surmised that children with parents who encouraged independence, inquisitiveness and effort had higher intrinsic motivation and achievement, and these have long-term effects. Dr Gottfried even said that teaching children the desire to learn is as important as teaching them academic skills.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. This down-to-earth idiomatic expression means that you can provide people with an opportunity or an advantage, but you can’t force them to do something if they don’t want to.

Since intrinsic motivation is primordial to success, how can we have this? I am motivated when I feel I am doing something that is part of my overall goal and wellbeing; or it contributes to the good of other people, especially to my family and friends. My motivation is maintained, or even increased, when my performance is favourably recognised. It’s alright to be proud of what we achieve.

I don’t get money from blogging, but I do it because I enjoy writing. I am passionate about sharing my ideas and experiences with others. How about you?

Understanding what motivate us can have immediate and lasting positive effects. By doing what motivate us, we are more likely to live a healthy, peaceful and happy life.

If you want people around you to be motivated, then be intrinsically motivated yourself. Motivation is contageous: values, beliefs, actions and behaviour can be transmitted and facilitated.

All the best.