Writing Effective Resumes

Writing a resume can intimidate anyone. How should I start? What should I write? What points should I include? What format should I use? These are just a few of the questions that can bother anyone. But if you keep a few things in mind, you’ll see that it’s not really that daunting a task.

Employers receive hundreds of resumes, so the main thing to keep in mind is to try and make your resume stand out and grab the employer’s attention at first glance. To be able to do this, it should be visually pleasing as well as well written. There are no set rules to writing a good resume, nor are two resumes ever alike. They cannot be, because each resume is structured around a particular job. The only thing all resumes should be is that they should all be as effective as possible, because remember – a resume is supposed to be a selling tool. The more effectively it is written the better your chances of being selected. For a resume to be really effective, tailor it around the particular job that you are applying for, and address the employer’s requirements. So the more you know about the job and the employer, the better you can tailor your resume for that position.

A good resume should include all of the following:

  • Heading – includes your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address.
  • Objective – tells the employer the sort of work you’re hoping to do. The rest should be structured around this objective.
  • Education – tells employers what you’ve learned.
  • Experience – this should be built around the employer’s requirements.
  • Skills and accomplishments – this includes special skills and accomplishments like fluency in a foreign language, proficiency in specific computer programs, leadership experience, a listing of honors and awards, activities that relate to the job, etc.

The contents given above should be written clearly keeping the following points in mind:

  • Keep it free of grammatical and spelling errors.
  • Use bullets and short sentences.
  • Use action words to make the resume stand out.
  • Highlight your strengths, especially those that the employer is looking for
  • Be positive and leave off negative and irrelevant information.
  • Be professional in tone, otherwise you won’t be taken seriously.

There are two basic types of resumes – chronological and functional.

The chronological format highlights your job titles, places of employment, and dates of tenure by presenting them as headings under which your achievements are listed. This format is used when you are staying in the same field, your work history shows growth, your current position is one you are proud of, and there are no gaps in your work history.

The functional format presents your experience under skill headings, so you can list your accomplishments by impact rather than by chronology. In this format, your work history is listed very concisely in a section separate from your achievements. This format is used when you change careers, you need to emphasize skills or experiences, your most recent position is not impressive, or your job titles don’t accurately reflect the level of responsibility you had.

Sometimes the two formats are combined to give what is called a ‘combination’ format.

Which format to use depends on your particular situation.

To get a better idea of what good and effective resumes look like, you may refer to these Sample Resumes.

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When to Italicize

It often confuses new writers as to when to italicize words and when not to. This is natural because there are no set rules for this and much depends on the writer’s own discretion. However, there are certain guidelines that tell you what needs to be italicized. Here they are:

1. Emphasis. When you want to put an emphasis, or want a word or phrase to stand out from the rest.  For example:

You mean to say you wrote this?

Do not write on the wall.

2. Words as separate words. When words in a sentence are used as separate words. For example:

Don’t forget to italicize the word hope.

Committee is a word that is often misspelled.

3. Letters as words. When letters of the alphabet are used as words in a sentence. For example:

Put an X on the spot that needs to be fixed.

Don’t forget to cross your t’s.

4. Reproduced sounds as words.  Sometimes sounds are reproduced to bring effect to the writing. For example:

Thud, the parcel fell on the ground.

Bzzzzzz … the bee buzzed.

5. Foreign words. Foreign words and phrases that are unfamiliar to most readers. For example:

The lawyer says it’s a prima facie case.

Namaste,” the Indian man folded his hands in greeting.

6. Titles. Titles of books, plays, magazines, newspapers, movies, television shows etc. (Holy Books like the Bible, Koran, and others are not italicized.) For example:

Seinfeld is a popular TV program.

He reads the New York Times every morning.

7. Names of vehicles. Names of spaceships, boats, trains etc. that are proper names. For example:

The Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg.

The Orient Express is a fast train.

Keep these points in mind and you will know when to italicize words. If you’re still in doubt, just use standard font.

I hope this has been of help to you. If not, what else would you like to know about italics?

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American English versus British English

There are some variations in American and British English spellings which sometimes confuse readers who are not aware of this fact. The British (and those of the Commonwealth countries) spell words as they have always been spelling them. The Americans, on the other hand, tend to spell words as they sound… often by omitting some letters. The most common difference –

1. Nouns that end in –or in American English, end in –our in British English. Examples:

American English British English
color colour
neighbor neighbour
favor favour

2. Nouns that end in –er in American English, end in –re in British English. Examples:

American English British English
meter metre
center centre
theater theatre

3. Nouns that end in –g in American English, end in –gue in British English. Examples:

American English British English
catalog catalogue
dialog dialogue
analog analogue

4. Some other examples of nouns:

American English British English
program programme
draft draught
check cheque
jewelry jewellery
tire tyre

5. Verbs that end in –ze in American English, end in –se in British English. Examples:

American English British English
criticize criticise
memorize memorise
organize organise

6. –ll versus –l: In American English, verbs that end in –l preceded by a vowel, form their past by keeping the l singular when the suffixes –ed or –ing are added; but in British English the l is doubled. Examples:

American English British English
traveled/traveling travelled/travelling
quarreled/quarreling quarrelled/quarrelling

But – in American English, the l is doubled when the last syllable of a word that ends in –l is stressed; whereas, in British English it is not. Examples:

American English British English
fulfill fulfil
enrollment enrolment
skillful skilful

7. Some other differences when suffixes are added:

American English British English
aging ageing
kidnaping kidnapping
argument arguement
judgment judgement

These are just some of the differences in American and British English spellings. There are others, but it’s not possible to give them all here in one post. (We have already written about the differences in spellings when forming the past of some verbs :– those ending in –ed or –t.)

There is another thing that must be mentioned here. As a result of modern trends in the pop scene, scientific and technical advances, as well as the fast growth and reach of the media, American spellings are fast gaining ground. Their influence can also be seen in British English which is now slowly adopting American spellings as standard. This is why you will often see American spellings in British English.

Both the American and British spellings are correct and any may be used, but consistency is important.

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What Is Writing Style?

We often hear of the term ‘writing style’ – the ‘writing style’ of this writer is good, but the ‘style’ of that writer is not. What is this ‘style’ that we talk about?

‘Writing style’ refers to the manner in which writers express themselves. This manner is based on the choices they make in selecting their syntactical structures, diction, and figures of speech. It is these unique and personal choices that give identity to a writer. Generally style evolves from two things – naturally over a period of time; and the choices a writer makes consciously keeping in mind the audience and the purpose of writing.

If you are a new writer and would like to develop a style of your own, keep these points in mind:

1. Read. Read voraciously and broadly. The more you read on a wide range of topics by a variety of writers, the better you’ll be able to understand what style is, and as a result, the better your own style will evolve into.

2. Write. Write as much as possible on as many topics as possible. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or bad… just write. Before long you’ll see your style evolving.

3. Choose words wisely. Select your words judiciously. Don’t try to use difficult words just to impress your readers. Trying to use difficult words just to sound intelligent only leads to their wrong use, and as a result spoiling your whole piece of writing. If you’re stuck on the right choice of words, use a good thesaurus.

4. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. Say what you have to say clearly and precisely in as few words as possible. Writing long sentences and paragraphs can lead to writing irrelevant things and as a result moving away from your main topic.

5. Get acquainted with figures of speech. Don’t use figures of speech – like metaphors, similes, clichés, and so on – unless you know them well, and know when and how to use or not use them. Not understanding them fully, can lead to their wrong use, and as a result making your writing sound awkward.

6. Be clear. Write whatever you write with clarity and as simply and logically as possible. The important thing here is to get your point across in a way that anyone who reads it – not just a few – can easily understand it.

7. Be yourself. Try and do all the above in your own way and as naturally as possible. Any deliberate attempt can make your writing sound fake and stilted.

These points are just a guide to developing your own writing style – a style which reflects your own individual personality.

Have I mentioned all the points or do you think something else should (or should not) be done to develop a writing style?

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Common Writing Error – the Misplaced Modifier

One of the most common writing errors is the misplaced modifier. Just like the dangling participle, it not only confuses the reader but can also be quite funny because of the meaning it gives to the sentence. What exactly is a misplaced modifier?

A modifier is a word or phrase that describes something else; and, therefore, should be placed as close as possible to what it describes. Sometimes this modifier is misplaced – that is, it is not placed close enough, thus giving the sentence a different meaning, usually an illogical one.  For example:

He had a hot bowl of soup.

What is hot? The bowl? The modifier hot is placed before bowl, so it’s as if it’s modifying bowl. But what was actually meant was  –

He had a bowl of hot soup.

Another example:

The stolen man’s bag was found the next day.

Stolen man? Sounds funny doesn’t it? What the writer really meant was that the bag was stolen. So the correct way of saying this should be:

The man’s stolen bag was found the next day.

See the difference in the meaning of the sentence when the modifier ‘stolen’ was misplaced?

The most commonly misplaced modifiers are only, barely, just, nearly, and the like.  Why? Take a look at these examples:

The girl only drank milk.

The girl drank only milk.

Both these sentences are correct, but they mean two different things. The first one means that all that the girl did with milk was drink it. The second sentence means that the girl drank nothing but milk. If both the sentences are correct, then what is the problem? The problem is confusion. Confusion because very often when the writer wants to say one thing, he says the other … just by misplacing the modifier ‘only’, and it doesn’t fit into the context. When something doesn’t fit into the context as a whole, it becomes confusing.

So, what does this mean? This means that we have to be very careful in placing a modifier. We should place it as close as possible to the word (or words) it modifies.

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The Correct Word – Learned or Learnt

I have often been asked this question: Which is the correct past tense of learnlearned or learnt? Well, the answer is simple. Both are correct. Yes, both learned and learnt may be used as the past of learn depending on which form of English you’re using. Learned is used in American English, and learnt in British English. But these days, due to the influence of American English, learned is also being written in Britain.  So, in short, both the forms are correct. The only thing to remember is – whichever form you use, be consistent. Don’t use both learned and learnt together.

There’s just one case where only learned is used – whether British or American English. This is when used as an adjective meaning “possessing or demonstrating profound knowledge”. For example, ‘a learned person’ or ‘a learned response’. In this case, learned is pronounced with two syllables – “learn” and “ed”, unlike learned as a verb where it’s just one syllable.

There are some other verbs that have both ‘ed’ (American) and ‘t’ (British) endings for past tense:

Spell – spelled, spelt

Leap – leaped, leapt

Burn – burned, burnt

Spill – spilled, spilt

Spoil – spoiled, spoilt

Dream – dreamed, dreamt

Kneel – kneeled, knelt

Can you think of any more?

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What is Confident Writing?

We often hear the term ‘confident writing’. What is confident writing? Don’t we all write confidently? Well, this depends – depends on how we write.  First let us define ‘confident writing’, then we’ll go on to the ‘how’.

Confident writing is when we have full faith in ourselves as writers. We write because we want to write and not because we want to please others. In other words, we don’t try to impress our readers by using fancy words or phrases. Instead, we write with the words that come naturally to us, just like in speech. In short, we are just us, no one else.

So, how can you tell if a writing is confident? Here are the tell-tale signs of confident writing:

1. The language is simple and direct. That is, the words flow as naturally as in speech. If long and hard words have been used and the language is too formal, it is obvious that a lot of effort has been put in to impress the reader. And if effort has been put in, then naturally the writer has no confidence in his natural words and style. So, what does this mean? That the writing is not confident.

If for some reason you find yourself struggling with words or ways to say things, change the topic. Write about something that you feel at ease with, something that you feel strongly about, or have personally experienced. If it’s creative writing and you’re describing a scene, think of a scene that you have personally seen and describe that. This will bring confidence in your writing.

2. There is conviction in what is being said.  Whatever the topic, it should show the writer’s conviction and confidence in it. If references have been used – like “according to experts” if it’s non-fiction, and “it seemed like” in fiction – it shows that the writer is not sure of what he/she is writing so is shifting the responsibility elsewhere. Shifting responsibilities is a sign of no confidence.

Again, if you find yourself unsure of your topic, change it to something that you’re sure of. If you want to keep to the same topic, research well before embarking on your project. Write only after you know the topic well, and can write without words like “probably”, “usually”, or “very often”.

3. A point is being made. Everything that is written should make a point. There should be proper evidence, explanation, and description of whatever is being said. Writing without a point is aimless writing, and aimless writing shows lack of confidence.

Before you start writing, make sure that you know what point you’re going to make. Do you have enough evidence to prove your point? If not, do some studying and gather enough information. Then write with confidence and be prepared to be accountable for what you say.

These three points constitute confident writing. Or have I missed a point? What else do you think constitutes confident writing?

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