The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn ̶ ̶ Alvin Toffler

This quote by Alvin Toffler was brought to life for me on the 10th of October 2019 when I attended the Essay Writing Skills workshop organized for the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust (WHT) scholars. The workshop taught me new skills, revealed the flaws in my old habits and reminded me of good habits I had forgotten. In just an hour and half, I had the privilege, together with my fellow scholars, to learn, unlearn and relearn important skills and lessons about writing which I would have otherwise not known.

Nsuku Nxumalo, 2019-2020 Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening-Lewis Scholar

The workshop was taught by Nik Kirby, a Professor of Philosophy at the Blavatnik School of Government and a WHT academic adviser. Nik’s engaging style of teaching made the workshop interesting and very practical. He taught us to critically engage with literature to be able to present strong arguments. He then presented a simple yet powerful essay writing method which can be applied widely, thus accommodating the diversity of courses represented in our WHT cohort.

The workshop could not have come at a better time for me as I had a book review due the following week which benefited from the skills taught that day. I realized that I had to adjust to a new way of writing and thinking and that, in doing so, the quality of my work in Oxford and beyond will be significantly improved.

The cherry on top of the main body of the workshop was the set of tips Nik shared at the end of his presentation. The tips included things like using headings for better structure, a challenge to take risks and my favourite tip: just think. The latter was a simple reminder to take the time to develop your arguments and be open to new ideas, in his words “the new idea is not in your books”. Finally, we got some ways to overcome writers’ block which is something I have struggled with a few times.

As a poet, most of my writing is emotive and has the liberty to be informal and casual. Academic writing is more formal, structured and connected to literature. The latter is a few steps out of my comfort zone having been out of University for almost three years now. However, I have realized there is a creative element to academic writing, as it is a form of expression as well. I believe I can leverage my creative writing skills to enhance the quality of my academic writing.

To me, the workshop was like being given a tool box filled with familiar and unfamiliar tools to use in our Oxford journey and beyond. However, like all tools, they will gather dust if not used. I thus challenged myself to take every opportunity to practice the craft of writing. This way, I will keep improving and eventually learn to handle my tools with greater finesse and confidence.

The workshop reminded me of something my father once said which was “the purpose of communication is to get a message across”. I believe, as future leaders, that communication will be very important in conveying our message of change and improvement and that skills such as writing will help amplify our messages and ultimately our influence.

I have realized there is a creative element to academic writing, as it is a form of expression as well. I believe I can leverage my creative writing skills to enhance the quality of my academic writing.

I know I speak for the entire cohort when I say thank you to Professor Nik Kirby and the WHT team for organizing the workshop and continuing to add more tools in our tool box.

Finally, a word to my fellow scholars. Let this year be the embodiment of increasing your “21st Century Literacy”. In the classroom and even more so outside the classroom, be open to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Happy Writing!

About the Scholar

Nsuku Nxumalo

South Africa
Water Science, Policy and Management (MSc), 2020
St Peter's College, Oxford
Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening-Lewis Scholar
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