Aaron in Azerbaijan

Just another blog about Azerbaijan.

Posts Tagged ‘Writing

The Five-Paragraph Essay; or, Written Elegance

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Azerbaijan is full of unexpected features for the uninitiated Westerner. Yet, English-language essay writing was not on my list.

I am a Five-Paragraph Essay devotee. If there was a Facebook page devoted to the Five-Paragraph Essay, I would Like it. If there was a +1 button on Google Plus for the Five-Paragraph Essay, I would +1 it. Before coming to Azerbaijan, I was into this essay format. After living in Azerbaijan for nearly two years and reading through countless essays in English by non-native speakers who were not steeped in the practice, I can say definitively that such a structure is far superior to any other format. This clarity arose because of the noted lack of structure in essays here and the subsequent mess of writing that results from a lack of structure.

America’s education system taught me well the five-paragraph essay format. However, Azerbaijan, influenced by Russia, does not stress such a layout for essays. Instead of the repetitive organization of the writing, I’m told that most Azeri and Russian writings lack this type of structure. The best essays are the ones that are the longest, including the most content (related to the subject at hand or not). This is much like classroom instruction here, where the student called on in class is expected to pontificate for as long as possible, and the student who talks the longest (substance and organization notwithstanding) is the one who gets the highest marks in class. Or, at least that was the Soviet system, if it’s not still prevailing today.

If that’s how writings are expected in Azeri and Russian, that’s fine (for them, anyways). In English, though, we expect a certain degree of organization in an essay. And essays without good structure, even if they have great information, don’t get very far. It is for this purpose that Mason and I have started a weekly essay-writing class, emphasizing the five-paragraph essay. Starting with the basics has been an interesting process to observe. I can understand how it would be difficult for some because the structure is repetitive. If you aren’t accustomed to that, are told that that’s a waste of space to repeat yourself, then cramming essays into the structure will be a bit confounding.

The most interesting part of the class so far, though, is that when someone actually follows the structure of the essay, even on their first try, it transforms the written word into a more serious form of argument. Suddenly, logic is underpinning the whole piece and everything else falls into place. One student, Ramil, made his first gander at the essay and we had no problem breaking it down to its component parts and understanding his argument (we had assigned a tough topic: Why is Peace Corps presence not good for Azerbaijan? After doing outlines for the positive aspects of having PC here, we thought it’d be good to stretch their minds a bit.) The students are also noting how simple it seems. Instead of long, winding writing, we’re emphasizing simple and structured. It’s a big change and, hopefully for those who have to read essays from these folks in the future, a big improvement.


Written by Aaron

August 5, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Women’s Forum Social Correspondents: Trained

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This past weekend was a big one: Bailey and I worked with the folks at Women’s Forum to put on a blogging and social media training for six new social correspondents. As I described earlier here, these new social correspondents will be writing articles on their own blogs, to be picked up and published by Women’s Forum. Our project even got picked up in the news, if with a little bit of misinformation:

The project office reports that master classes were delivered on 23 and 25 July by journalist Liya Bayramova, entrepreneur Nigar Kocharli, psychologist Javad Effendi and blogger Farid Sadikhova-Buyuran. Trainees were selected from 56 candidates who submitted their applications and passed individual interviews. During the training course the young authors were suggested to get acquainted with the basics of web-journalism, develop writing skills, work in a team, and create their own blogs. Immediately after graduation, they will start to work as social correspondents. Their functions will include continuous updating of blogs with fresh articles, coverage of critical social issues and their promotion in domestic Internet.

I’m not sure who was delivering master’s level classes, and I’m not sure who graduated either. That must have been another Women’s Forum Social Correspondent training. There were some writing sessions and we gave out certificates, though.

After discussing blog writing and blog layouts and how to build online communities, we talked about their plans going forward. Because the program itself continues through December, Bailey and I will be mentors for the bloggers, meeting with them regularly to make sure things stay on track and they continue to improve their writing and their blogs, overall.

I do have just one specific observation about the training: I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a training that was conducted in three languages – Azerbaijani, English, and Russian. We didn’t really plan it out that way. Instead, Bailey and I just did the training in English because all of our trainees were good English speakers. The guest speakers spoke Russia, Azeri, or English based on their preference and the preference of the group. One of them was changing languages after almost every question, depending on in which language the question was asked. That was bizarre. Cool, but bizarre.

For a slideshow of some pictures from the training, see below. Read the rest of this entry »