The Bard And The Art Of Research Writing

From helping young researchers internalize the English language to getting them comfortable enough to write their research papers, this professor is the ultimate introductory guide to the Bard on campus. Meet visiting faculty Prof. Aruna Chaluvadi. In a chatty conversation over chai, she shares research writing tips that can double up as life lessons too. Read on.

It’s when I overhear a gentle admonishment about handwriting that I spot Prof. Aruna Chaluvadi. She’s not at the head of the class but sitting on a bench with students correcting some papers. As if reading my mind, she says, “I do not believe in lecturing ..even if it’s Shakespeare”. For her, the only way to engage with a class is to ask questions and get them to come up with answers themselves. “The moment you speak of something that they already know, they shut up completely. And I don’t like that in my classes,” she says emphatically.

For The Love Of Shakespeare!

Prof. Chaluvadi is conducting a 30-hour workshop on research writing, a prerequisite for Dual Degree students who are about to embark on their research. The workshop itself has been a Summer staple for some years now. Previously held only for MS and PhD students, it is the first time it has been thrown open to second year students. Though the professor would ideally like to have 4th year students sign up, she admits that they typically get busier with internships or in research labs towards the end of their coursework. “I love the students here because they’re so intelligent. And when they like something, they work,” she says happily.

Interestingly, it was at IIITH that she taught co-ed classes for the first time. Until then she had only taught in women’s colleges. Her tryst with IIITH began with an introduction to English Literature, and more specifically Shakespeare. It was such a big hit with the students that she had to limit the intake to 40 in the subsequent semester. “I generally do four tragedies, and two comedies. I definitely do The TempestI also select six or eight sonnets,” says Prof. Chaluvadi of the English course. She says that the point is to introduce Literature so that students can read Shakespeare on their own and enjoy it. American Fiction is what follows in the next semester. “I focus on Nobel winners and take one of their books. And in the last part of the course, I pick a book that has been the most recent so there isn’t much of material online. This way they are forced to read, think, and talk about it,” says the professor with a chuckle.

The Write Reading

Strongly believing in the adage that you are what you read, Prof. Chaluvadi emphasises on reading in her classes. Not only is it the first step to creating a vocabulary and developing the ability to communicate, but reading also enhances the ability to write well. To help students internalize the scientific writing style, she often brings a bunch of science magazines and journals to class, making them a compulsory read. A part of her focus is also on improving their speed at reading. “The average reading speed for general material is around 300 words a minute. But the students are not there yet,” she says. A similar emphasis on reading is followed for students who hail from a vernacular medium of instruction. “We identify such students in the commencement of the first year and have a separate line of teaching for them, where the focus is on academic reading and listening,” says Prof. Chaluvadi.

Eschew The Labels

A typical start to the research writing workshop involves expressing the concept of time in English grammar. “We have the tenses in Grammar. But I don’t like to label them formally as Present Simple, Present Future, Present Continuous and so on…In the traditional way, one has to learn the term, then the definition and finally the usage. This three-step learning process is a bit much for those of us who are learning English as a second language”. The professor strongly believes that language learning abilities in a child are at their peak until 12 years of age. “One can pick up any language in this time frame like a native speaker. It ought to be made an early education policy to teach reading and writing in 2-3 languages and not just formal Grammar,” she says. On campus, in a bid to get the dual degree students more comfortable in using the language, the professor makes them observe phrasal verbs, conjunctions, prepositions and idioms in their natural settings, that is, in research articles or papers. She also gives students examples of bad writing and asks them to fix it.

Immersive Learning

Despite hailing from a traditional background herself, Prof. Chaluvadi credits her love for the English language to her early years spent poring over The Saturday Evening Post that her father subscribed to. “The New Yorker used to be The Saturday Evening Post. I’m surprised that such few people know about it,” exclaims the professor. That, along with LIFE magazine, Reader’s Digest and Imprint helped her “forget herself”. An early marriage and the ensuing parenthood didn’t stop her from pursuing a higher education. Armed with a PhD in English language teaching and an Advanced Certificate in Communicative Language teaching from the Cambridge University in Budapest, she was soon conducting teacher training workshops all over AP. When the Rajiv Gandhi University of Knowledge Technologies was established in AP, it’s little wonder that she was chosen to structure the English language curriculum there.

No More Clutter

As a visiting faculty at IITH, Prof. Chaluvadi takes classes three to four times a week. When she’s not teaching English, she can be found moderating sessions on Human Values, a mandatory core course in the undergraduate curriculum. “It is a good window to reflect upon a lot of things such as one’s role in society, or family, how we connect with the world and so on,” she says. Typically in Summer, when she’s not visiting her daughter in the US, Prof. Chaluvadi retreats to the hills. “I go to the Himalayas”. Used to an active lifestyle, she indulges in regular small treks and finds it a good way to keep fit since one has to train for them. “That’s what I’m doing at the moment, apart from my own reading. I don’t believe in cluttering my life at this point…I finished with that,” she smiles.

Prof. Aruna Chaluvadi’s 5 Tips On Writing A Good Research Paper

  1. Cut the clutter.The sentences ought to be readable. “Ask yourself if you are informing or obscuring?”
  2. Be Concise.– Trade verbosity with succinctness. “No one has time to read these days, not even the evaluators. A lengthy research paper may work against the researcher.”
  3. Avoid jargon and too many acronyms. “I find that we don’t know how to use simple words any more. We think using grand words is impressive but everyone’s span of attention is short.”
  4. Use polite expressions. Language needs to be elegant and stylish. “The native English idiom is very polite even though the English people are not necessarily so. We use inflection in our speech to convey the same but it needs to get translated into text too.”
  5. Check punctuation. Know when to use a comma, dash, colon, semicolon and the parenthesis. “A hyphen is used for compound words; an en-dash is used as the symbol for ranges; and an em-dash is used to set apart parenthetic statements.”

 

 

Sarita Chebbi is a minimalist runner, practising yogi and baker of all things whole-wheat, and sugar-free. Currently re-learning her ABC’s…the one that goes: A for algorithm, B for Bayesian, C for convolutional (neural network)….

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