Pramono (P): How often do you write about topics in your field of study?
Muhamad Ali (MA): I write about various topics in my field of study several times a month, albeit not always regularly. I write when I feel I have to respond to certain issues or when I am asked to do so by professors or in other cases when I feel I am simply interested in discussing issues related to my field of study. My current field of study is history of Islam in Southeast Asia.
Do you write about something else beyond your field of study?
Yes, I often write about different things beyond my field of study. I like writing different issues and problems beyond history; I write about issues such as contemporary political situation in my country, Indonesia, and the United States where I undertake my study. I also write about interfaith issues and social issues.
Do you use any writing style when you write about in your field of study? Please explain.
In my field of study, I utilize academic rather than popular style. The academic style is however not monolithic. I use essay style for reaction papers which are usually under or up to five pages, but use an academic style for longer usually final papers, which must still be based on certain academic writing rules. I use academic style for research papers, journal articles, book reviews, and books, among other academic writing forms.
I write about contemporary issues in more popular fashion. For example, I write about the necessity of interfaith dialogue between Pope and Muslim societies in the world in a more popular manner. Popular writing is not monolithic either. It can be in any way as long as a writer is aware of the audience or the future readers. I write about current issues for newspapers and magazines.
From a different point of view, the styles of writing about history consist of description, narrative, exposition and argument. But most of the time, I write about issues by using a combination of styles. For example, I like to use description, but should put argument too. Few of my historical papers are devoted to description alone. I also like to use expositions. For example, I like to explain and analyze such topics as philosophical ideas, causes of events, the significance of decisions (such as Bush’s policy in Iraq), the motives of participants, the working of organization, the ideology of a political party, and so forth.
Why do you prefer this style rather than the other? Why do you prefer this style to the other?
I write about my field of study in a more academic style because I intend to develop them into published work in journals. Journal articles are strict in their rules, and I have to comply with them. I have to choose the academic style also in order to practice and develop academic writing. For me, practicing academic writing is the only way to be an author.
I use popular style because I write about current issues for general audience. I cannot use footnotes, long citations, or specifically field of study terminologies.
Different styles of writing can be independent of each other, but can also be combined. I use expositions because I set out to explain cause and effect or the meaning of an event or an idea. Exposition may coexist in an essay with other modes.
I also like to utilize argument style of writing. I use argument to take a position on a controversial subject. It can be said that every essay contains an argument in that every essay is built around a proposition that I want the readers to believe. An argument is part of a debate, a dialogue between two or more opposing views. Arguments however include exposition, for they must explain my point of view. Often times, I tend to pay attention to different sides or arguments and then take a side that I think is stronger. Not every argument is perfect, and therefore I try to moderate my views, instead of turning myself into another extreme.
What is your consideration when you write a title of writing? What aspects would you consider when you write a title of writing?
A title is a catching word, and it needs to be succinct and telling to the readers about the topic and content. A title is a brief and interesting statement of my main topic. So I first consider the topic, then consider whether this or that title is telling exactly the message I intend to convey to the audience.
Do you usually mention your purpose of writing in your papers?
Yes, I always do. I put the purpose of my writing in the first paragraph or the last. Putting the purpose of writing would make it clearer for the reader why I am writing the topic.
What kind of citation do you usually use: direct or indirect?
I use both kinds of citations: direct and indirect. If I write about something which can be narrated or explained in my own words, then I will use them. But sometimes I use direct citations when I feel the original words are unique and much more interesting and revealing than if I have to paraphrase. So I use both depending on the writing situation.
How often do you use loan words from foreign language? And what kind of words do you usually use?
When I write in my native Indonesian language, I sometimes include English terms which do not have similar translation in Indonesian language.
When I write in English, I sometimes use Indonesian terms with English translation. For example, the term mudik should be included in its local language, although I put a translation of it (returning home, or something like this). I also use Arabic when I write about Islamic issues that have particular Arabic terms, accompanied by their English translations. I sometimes use French words in my English and Indonesian writings. For example when I write about secularism I put the word laicité.
What do you think about using non-academic words in academic writing?
Popular words should not be used in academic writing. But if we write academic writing about popular issues, we can include popular words as our primary materials. They were written as objects of study, rather than as our own translation or interpretation of them.
Finally, do you have any suggestion about writing for me?
Writing is an art. Everyone has his or her own style. For academic writing, you have to read and learn the guidelines carefully as well as from reading as many as journal articles and books while paying some attention to their style of writing. Reading books about how to write would be also helpful. The most important of all is however practice. The more you practice the more you develop how to write better.
Good luck, Pramono.
picture: me and Pramono in front of Ward Theatre, Honolulu.