Good tips, no leftovers and way too much coffee

29 Mar

Wednesday night was absolutely great. It was the opening night of The Young Ethnographers Project and it was a fantastic opportunity to introduce the idea of this collaborative research to many of who are now its official participants. And although there was too much food and way too much coffee for that time of day, after Prudence recalled her experience with food in India, everyone decided to take some more home. What a good idea! — especially for me.. it saved me half of the cleaning. Who knows, little ideas like this one are probably what we’re missing nowadays.

The aim of the night was, yes, to talk about the project, but I think the guest speakers were really the highlight of the night, with the handy tips they provided on doing effective online blogging and critical journal writing, tips that will be essential for everyone who takes part in this venture. For this reason, I thought it would be a good idea to quickly go through their tips here again, so that those who were there (and those who weren’t) can go back to them from time to time.

Simple yet very ingenious: note taking and the basics of ethnography

The first one to talk was Jaap Timmer, a motivating lecturer and director of Macquarie’s Master in Applied Anthropology, the perfect person to give us some tips on how it is possible to unfold one’s ethnographic sensibility and cultural mind through writing:

  1. Don’t forget or underestimate your HEAD NOTES — Edmund Leach, a famous anthropologist, lost the notes from his fieldwork among an aboriginal culture (the Kachin) not once, but twice! These were his records of entire years of work. Yet he managed without them and was able to write an incredibly detailed and well informed account of that culture. Needless to say, he definitely proved for everyone the importance of having ‘head notes’.  Your head notes are really what will get you to make sense of your cross-cultural experience. They conform the scattered thoughts and insights that you picked up along the way from things that shocked you or amazed you. They are like the points of focus that will help you to ground and define your personal inquiry.
  2. Take as many SCRATCHY NOTES as you can — Probably the most important tip Jaap left us with is that you have to, have to write those head notes down, articulate them in length and not let them go away if you really want to get hold of them and put them to use for a higher purpose. If what you want is to bring some of that traveling self to the present, you will have to write lots of scratchy notes somewhere  (that’s what the little notebook and the iPad or even your phone are for).
  3. Make use of narrative in a FIELD JOURNAL (or online blog) — Putting thoughts together, making connections between notes and writing a story-like longer note is always a useful technique to make you really understand and define what your particular search for meaning is directed to. Everyone finds different things troubling, everyone has different questions to reflect on, but the funny thing is that not many people get to pinpoint exactly what their particular interests and perspectives are. Keeping a journal or blogging online can help you with that.

What any blogger should have in mind

After him came Lisa Wynn, an incredibly engaging lecturer that knows well how to move an audience through witty comments and controversial waters. Talking from her perspective as an experienced blogger – her contributions include active roles in renown blogs like Savage Minds and Culture Matters –  she was able to provide us with really practical, to the point, clues about how to come up with engaging posts:

  1. TELL A STORY — Everyone likes to read a story… something that draws your attention and doesn’t let you get up until you’ve finished reading.
  2. THINK VISUALLY — “Just as text is your narrative hook, images are your visual hook”. Her exact words were worth reminding. Find free pictures without copy writing or take some of your own, even with your phone. Anything that may catch your readers’ eyes.
  3. THINK ABOUT SUB-HEADERS — “People these days have a short attention span”. Think about what? …ah that’s right.. sub-headers, they are like little ‘hooks’, to continue with the metaphor, to help your reader find her way through and not dismay.
  4. HAVE LINKS TO BACK-STORIES — “People love to follow links to back-stories”. It definitely gives your post some depth as well as a feel of trustworthiness.
  5. COME UP WITH FUNNY, CATCHY TITLES — Of a good title depends that anyone wants to read the rest, so dedicate a good amount of time to it. After all, would it matter that a post is really good if no one can be bothered to read it because of its unattractive title?
  6. KEEP IT SHORT — Not only the title, but also your sentences. The longer they are, the more room your readers have to lose their attention and keep browsing.
  7. BE FUNNY AND PROVOCATIVE – A reader is always interested in someone who expresses an opinion or says something shocking, but remember, it is also important to find ways to be positive and to make sure that what you write will not bite you in the ass”.
  8. GIVE ADVICE OR POST IN A Q&A FORMAT — This one works probably because people love to hear when someone can tell them with certainty that something works… wait, I’m confused… does it work or not then?

Lisa also recommended a couple of weblogs where we can find how well these tips can be put to practice: one is about Neuroanthropology (in lay terms, it’s the study of how cultures and brains shape each other) and the other one is about Islam and the Middle East. Good luck everyone! I hope these expert tips encourage you to reflect, blog (and take notes!) more and better.

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