Of pens and paper
MAY 29 — Recently, for one of the research papers we had to write for our orthopaedics and rheumatology rotation in medical school, we were asked to mark our own papers according to a preset marking criteria. Then we were to submit the paper and the mark we thought we deserved to our tutors, who would in turn mark the paper independently and compare what they gave us to what we gave ourselves. It was an interesting exercise.
Looking through the marking criteria, a lot of emphasis was given to good writing. It appeared that to do well in the paper, it wasn’t so much what you said (even though it would have been undoubtedly important), but more how you said it. To some people this must have seemed preposterous. Surely a person who can demonstrate that they had done copious amounts of reading and referencing different journals, books and articles should get the best results, regardless of their style or flair in writing.
But what is the use of doing vast amounts of research without the means to communicate what you found to another person who may not be an expert on the subject? Good communication, and indirectly good writing, has therefore become a big player in the game of medicine, and medical schools have moved to encourage their students to improve their skills in the written word. I would not be surprised if this was true not only in medical schools but also across many other degree courses, and not just in England but also worldwide.
Most kids in Malaysia are studying fervently towards passing their exams to be able to qualify to go to university. Knowing that good writing is important for all of us to be able to compete in the global community as well as to succeed in university, we Malaysians have to really step up our teaching and learning of language and composition.
I remember the days of UPSR, PMR and SPM when my English teachers informed us that we were going to write essays about something like “The advantages and disadvantages of the television.” Some of them followed that up by giving us all the points and basically allowing us to put sentence connectors to what they had already given us.
This isn’t the part where you go off and start blaming English teachers. Sometimes that was all they could do, when some of the students’ grasp of the language was so fundamentally lacking. There was no time or guide on how to teach these kids better English without resorting to private tuition sessions or time travel back 10 years to force the reluctant child to read more books.
Good language skills come together in a package. If you listen a lot, you speak better. If you read a lot, you write better. When you’re at university like me, the people around you who have been listening, speaking, reading and writing since they were much younger have the advantage over the people who have only just begun to realise how important it is to have a good foundation of the language from a younger age.
So what do we do? I never write any of these articles thinking that the ideas or issues brought up in them would change anything in the grand scheme, but I always hope that at least one or two people would read them and think about these issues as well as what they could do for themselves or the people around them. The message from this article is this: good writing is a very useful skill to add to your Swiss army knife of talents, no matter what your ambitions and ideals are. The younger you start, the better you get at competing with all the other people in your generation for good jobs and a better life.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.
Previous: Dignity is under-rated