Sunday, May 30, 2010

Research, Third of Many Parts: Judging Sources III

So much information exists. Every day, new books appear to explain current events, argue climate change, and evaluate energy and economic policy. History has been told, re-told, revised, and re-considered as values and points of view shift. Which book or version is the true, definitive one? How can consumers sift through it all; how can readers differentiate between the true, factual analysis from distorted, partial ones?

First, search the source for other points of view. Few subjects are simple. Matters of State and policy are complicated. Why then do some writers and speakers pretend that only two extremes exist, that only one of those extremes is the correct choice? For example:

We can save the planet and go broke, or we can slow down until we can afford to make change.

This is the classic either-or persuasive technique. You’ve heard it many times, many ways:

1. Either we save the polar bear, or we continue to use fossil fuels to enrich the quality of our lives.
2. We must prevent all drug use, or we can surrender our streets to gangs.

These extremes should help you realize the either-or fallacy. It prevents us from talking about other options, middle grounds, and reaching consensus. Either-or polarizes and divides us. Either-or usually frightens and misleads. Trust the writer and speaker who grant that the other side has a valid point of view. Trust the writer and speaker who examine both extremes as well as the middle ground. Trust the writer and speaker who know more and share more than the either-or ones.

Second, search the sources for emotional appeals, and if the analysis is purely emotional, be on guard. Facts and reason must appear in order to persuade readers and listeners fairly.

First, a word about emotion: it’s good and should appear in persuasive arguments. Matters of the heart shape matters of State and policy. After all, I am not likely to care about the use of pesticides, chemicals, or additives unless I can put a human face into the argument. Erin Brockavich, starring Julia Roberts, makes this point effectively when the new, impersonal, and large legal firm enters the case. The new lawyers only see numbers: the number of clients, the need for telephone numbers, the number of people with breast cancer or brain tumors. Erin sets them straight, recalling names, faces, every scar that resulted from a surgery, every child buried. Erin again puts the emotion into the case and in doing so, reminds the new attorneys that they are fighting for human life and justice, not just monetary returns.

Now, another word about emotion: be suspicious if the argument is based upon emotion alone and the writer offers no facts or evidence. For example:

Incumbent Talksalot should not be returned to office; he only speaks for Big Business, not the American people.

If the writer or speaker adds evidence that Incumbent Talksalot has received campaign contributions from corporations and lobbyists for special interests, his declaration may have merit. If the writer or speaker also provides proof that Incumbent Talksalot’s voting record mirrors the corporate and lobbyists’ interests, then his claim is even stronger. Finally, if the writer or speaker logically develops an analysis that juxtaposes the corporate and lobbyists’ interests with those of the American people, he may have succeeded in convincing me that he knows the truth.

Sometimes, the emotional appeal is not an attack against a man; sometimes it is purely a matter of diction. Remember last week’s examples: radical versus free-thinker, improved versus unimproved, Heartland and family values? These words resonate because of their emotional appeal. A writer and speaker can manipulate the argument with nothing more than word choices. For example:

“Mr. Family Man will represent our interests in Washington” is a statement that seems to imply that Washington is not a place where families exist, a place where families have no influence whatsoever.

“Sending troops is the right thing to do; it is the patriotic thing to do. We must protect our shores.” This claim pushes buttons that do not irritate. After all, I want to be “in the right.” I believe in “national pride.” “Protection” is a worthy goal.

If either of the statements above is unaccompanied by facts, data, evidence, or logic, I should be suspicious. Critical thinking tells me that Washington’s population includes families, that Congressional representatives are heads of families, that Washington’s residents care about health and safety and the pursuit of happiness as much as anyone. Critical thinking also tells me that military action may not be the first or best option—at least until I have heard all other points of view on the matter. Then, I can make a well-informed decision.

Third, beware of false premises that lead to faulty conclusions. Occasionally, an essay will begin with a claim that has not actually been debated, agreed upon, or proven, yet everything follows from this premise. For example:

All pigs can fly. Miss Piggy is a pig; therefore, Miss Piggy can fly
.

Granted, my syllogism is absurd, but it serves to illustrate the problem. If we let a false premise serve as the foundation of an argument, then we have suspended critical thinking and accepted as truth what may not be true. We must scrutinize the bases upon which arguments are built before they enter the public domain and take hold as tightly as urban legends do. Repeated, a false premise takes on the weight of truth. After all, web services such as snopes.com would not, could not exist if there were not vast numbers of untrue stories circulating in break rooms, around water coolers, and on the World Wide Web. Sadly, much of what passes for reasoned arguments these days is little more than opinion, rumor, and claims based upon false premises.

Another version of this fallacy is known as circular reasoning. It simply begins with a claim that has not been proven, then closes with the same claim. For example:

Brand X trucks are built to be tough; therefore, Brand X trucks are tough.

We all know that Brand X may or may not be well-built. Simply saying that it is supposed to be tough does not make it tough. Similarly, simply asserting that Candidate Y is a family man does not make it true. Search for evidence of Candidate Y’s actions in behalf of family: Are his kids in Scouts? Has he served as a Homeroom Parent at his child’s schools? Has he volunteered to coach a Little League team? Is he home for dinner more often than not?

One more version of false premises is a flawed comparison; beware of writers and speakers who use faulty analogies. For example:

Today’s high school student is little more than a convicted felon serving time.

Granted, some high schools resemble a prison—strong, sturdy, fortified and perhaps even surrounded by heavy-duty fencing. Some high school students must also wear uniforms, and many must submit to electronic surveillance and daily searches before entering the premises. Kids and prisoners stand in line for everything, and the foods they eat are high in carbohydrates and sodium. But upon release for the day, teens can drive themselves places without armed guards or shackles on their limbs. They need not go to half-way houses or wear electronic bracelets. They can take off their uniforms and enjoy their freedoms like any other citizen.

The differences outweigh the similarities. The comparison, while amusing perhaps, is false. Examine closely comparisons and analogies. How many differences exist? The differences may nullify the comparison.

One final wrinkle on the faulty comparison is the hasty generalization. If I drive through the State of Oklahoma and do not encounter a single tornado, I may claim that Oklahoma’s stormy weather is overrated, but I have based my conclusion upon a single experience. My knowledge is severely limited and therefore, my conclusion false.

Fourth and finally, beware of red herrings. Most of us are equipped with the “red herring” chip. We use it often and freely when we want to avoid challenges and win arguments. Consider the following exchange between parent and child.

Parent: Where have you been? It’s one hour past your curfew! Why do you think I provide a cell phone for you? You are supposed to use it to call me when you will be late!

Child: I could not get a signal.

Parent: Where were you then? You were supposed to be at John’s house, studying. Anyone can get a signal inside or outside John's house.

Child: You don’t trust me? How can you not trust me? I can’t stand your need for control!

The child has successfully shifted the ground by tossing in a “red herring.” The conversation shifted from the child’s failure to call or be home on time to the parent’s parenting style.

Beware when writers and speakers do not answer questions, shifting the ground instead. Men and women who campaign for offices and causes are adept at tossing out “red herrings.” Instead of answering questions that might prove their culpability, they will re-focus the discussion to an area where they believe they are strong. Instead of daring to offend a constituency, no matter how tiny, they will fly the “red herring.”

So if the truth is hard to find, how will you find it? Read, watch, listen; read, watch, listen; read and watch and listen. Bias and propaganda in your sources cannot deter or mislead you because you:

1. will read all points of view—even those that do not match your own;
2. will read from the left, the right, and in between;
3. will read magazines, newspapers, blogs, and books;
4. will watch documentaries and films based upon true stories;
5. will watch commercial, cable, and public television;
6. will watch domestic and international news programs;
7. will listen to all points of view—even those that do not match your own;
8. will listen to speakers from the left, the right, and in between;
9. will listen to U. S. and foreign broadcasters; and
10. will read, watch, and listen to minority opinions because they need to be heard.

All this reading, writing, and listening will insure that you become knowledgeable. You will be able to discern truths and reason well. However daunting research seems, it is vital if you are going to write well, effectively, and beautifully.

Reading Challenge:

Pick a topic—any topic—and read at least three different points of view on the same topic. Search for bias and propaganda. Identify it and decide how it shapes the argument. Choose the one essay, article, film, or speech that best represents the whole topic honestly and critically. Be sure that any online source you choose includes the file extension .gov or .edu. These are more likely to be objective rather than subjective.

Writing Challenge:

After completing your Reading Challenge, write your own “editorial” on the topic, avoiding the fallacies described in this week’s blog and integrating at least two points of view.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Research, Second of Many Parts: Judging Sources II

Reflect upon last week’s lessons about the steps necessary as you begin research. Some of those steps are tedious, yet each step essential. They include: choosing or accepting the topic, adjusting your attitude, and persevering when you experience frustration.

Step 3: Thinking Critically

One more step is absolutely essential as you begin: turn on your critical thinking. Remember that some sources have agendas, often hidden, and you must, to the best of your ability, uncover them. Remember also that your information needs to be timely; i.e., current. As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast;” information changes pretty quickly, too.

Last week, I used a research topic about buying a new car as an example. In that research project, I suggested that a reasonable, useful step would be to visit car dealerships and pick up brochures about the cars you can afford. Would the car-maker have a bias? Would the company’s desire to make a profit alter its presentation? Would the company reveal any deficits or problems with the car?

The answers to those three questions above are: Of course, the company has a bias. Yes, the company’s desire for profit would affect its presentation of the car’s features. And no, the company will not reveal deficits and problems; the company will most likely “spin” any perceived weaknesses of the car into perceived strengths. Advertising or marketing campaigns exist to “spin” the public perception, and they do it well.

Advertisers manipulate color to persuade us. Against blacks, white, and grays, vibrant red stands out, draws our eye, and focuses our attention. Blues tend to be soothing and connote peaceful, serene settings. Blue also signifies depth, wisdom and status; therefore, many colleges and universities “spin” their message using blue. Diamond dealers and car-makers also use blue to appeal to the public’s desire for status.

Advertisers also manipulate lines to persuade us. If all directional lines lead to one place, our attention goes to that place. Vertical lines suggest energy; horizontal lines suggest stability and rest. Jagged lines add tension, even chaos.

Advertisers and publicity campaigns also manipulate words to persuade us. Consider the choices below:

1. Are you more likely to wear the name radical or free-thinker with pride?

A radical often “thinks outside the box” and holds strong opinions, but today, a radical is also associated with extremism whereas free-thinkers, we believe, are not easily duped or led. They base their opinions on reason, not emotion, so we prefer the badge reading free-thinker because Americans admire independence. If a marketer labels a man as a radical, we are not likely to support him, but a free-thinker may earn our vote or other endorsement.

2. Are you more likely to buy a product advertised as improved or the same product without the word improved on the label?

Most of us will buy the improved version even if no change has been made—except, of course, to add the word improved to the label. Americans are innovators; we like to think of ourselves as progressive, always finding ways to improve the quality of our lives. We like improvement.

3. Are you more likely to trust someone who claims to be from the Heartland, one who upholds family values than you are to trust some Ivy-leaguer who lives on the East or West coast?

Well, for this one, so much depends upon where you happen to live. People from the Heartland tend to distrust people from the coasts, and people on the coasts tend to think themselves superior to people in the Heartland. Moreover, the truth is that family values are rarely listed or defined by the people who claim to have them, and people everywhere are quite capable of having family values. Still, the terms stir something in us, and that something tends to be positive.

In conclusion, language has life and spirit. Advertisers study language and use it to their advantage. So do all writers, including those whom you will read and research.

Be aware of the “spin,” the manipulation—what once was known as propaganda. Everyone does it! Everyone! The left, the right, the in-between; the marketers, the speech-writers, bloggers, and politicians. Everyman prefers to be known as a sanitation engineer instead of a garbage man. Few men or women like to think, much less say, that their loved one died. We “spin” the reality of mortality, choosing euphemisms such as “passed on,” “passed over,” and “crossed the bar” (Tennyson). “Spin” is everywhere.

So, when you have turned on your critical thinking, pay attention to color, line and language. Are you being manipulated? Probably—but manipulation can be gentle persuasion or outright distortion. You simply need to be aware, and when you are aware, you will be armed against some of propaganda’s impact.

Spinning the message may also affect the facts. Some folks just make up stuff. They intend to mislead you. The classic example is the tobacco industry. It employed doctors and scientists to reach different conclusions about the addictive properties and harms of tobacco. The industry employed lobbyists to influence legislation; it hired spokesmen and women to represent the industry’s interests even if those interests negatively affected yours.

Tobacco companies are not alone. Bankers, insurance companies, realtors, Chambers of Commerce, teachers, makers of planes, trains, and automobiles, and ordinary citizens have a vested interest in regulation, law, policy, and tax codes. They try to influence public opinion, elections, and Congress. Sometimes they omit facts not in their favor; sometimes they embellish the facts in their favor, and sometimes they simply make up stuff. You must think critically and ask yourself if the claims are reasonable and credible. You must judge the ethos of the written and spoken word, of the writer and speaker of the word. Is the messenger fair, well-informed, and trustworthy? Is the message genuinely fair and balanced? That is the topic for next week’s analysis: how can the researcher determine truth from distortions?

Reading Challenge:

Use a search engine or a good library to research the history of tobacco. You may tackle the entire history or focus upon one of several more narrow topics such as tobacco litigation, governmental regulation of tobacco, advertising for and about tobacco, or tobacco product development and placement. If you are a fan of Russell Crowe, rent and watch the film The Insider, the story of a man who “blew the whistle” on seven tobacco companies.

Writing Challenge:

Read a magazine, skipping all the articles and studying the advertising instead. Watch several hours of television, but only the Public Service announcements and ads. Make notes about the use of color, line, and language. Consider also how music persuades. Become an aware “reader” of print and non-print media as you do.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Research, the First of Many Parts: The Topic

Writing well requires knowledge. What a luxury never to be asked to write about anything except your first-hand, personal experiences. How delightful if one could simply reply, as Bartleby did, “I prefer not to,” when the boss says, “Give me two pages on the best telephones available” or if one could ignore his teacher when she says, “Complete a cost-benefit analysis of the space program in ten pages.” In real workplaces and classrooms, “I prefer not to” will result in pink slips, final notices, and grade point averages that lead to doors marked “Do Not Enter.”

You must become knowledgeable to write well about subjects that your boss and teacher assign. This stage of the writing process, the pre-writing stage, can be frustrating so be patient and persevere.

Step 1: A Subject and Illustration.

I need a new car. My old one is unreliable and unsafe because it may break down, leaving me stranded. I must begin the research for a new car, but I do not mind at all. After all, the research is all about me, and who among us is not interested in ourselves?

I start with a lender. I need to know what I can afford to buy, and I need to be able to seize a good deal when I find it.

Next, aware of my budgetary constraints, I make a list of my needs, taking into consideration the body type and maintenance costs. For this list, I will conduct even more research and select the body type, make, model, and style. I will search online, read magazines such as Car and Driver or Consumer Reports, and collect brochures from car companies.

Now, I will refine my list, focusing upon the similarities and differences between the cars that meet my needs. Then, armed and ready to meet salesmen, I set out to negotiate the best deal and drive home in a new car.

An Assigned Subject.

What if the subject you must research is not your own new car? What if the teacher requires you to recommend changes in entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare so that the U. S. budget deficit shrinks to zero in twenty years? You know little about the deficit—except that it’s huge; you care even less about it. How can you write well under such circumstances?

Step 2: Attitude
.

Accept the basic fact of school and work: we are often called upon to complete tasks that do not immediately delight us. The business of living, learning, and laboring frequently involves mundane tasks. For example, I do not enjoy dusting, but I love the results. I hate ironing, but I like to look clean and crisp.

Like dusting or ironing, some paper work is absolute drudgery, but I like the rewards that come from meeting deadlines and fulfilling responsibilities. In other words, I have learned I do not have to be entertained or even interested to experience satisfaction from having done well a job, especially an onerous or burdensome one.


Step 3. Research
.

With this in mind, whether the task is one you know little, nothing, or everything about, begin in earnest. Research, research, research.

Reading Challenge, the First
.

Read “Bartleby, the Scrivener” by Herman Melville. Bartleby is the paradigm for “I prefer not to” workers. Take time to enjoy Melville’s gift for specific, concrete detail.

Reading Challenge, the Second
.

Read at least five sources on a subject. For example, if you research the U. S. economy, rent, watch and take notes about I.O.U.S.A., a documentary about our deficit. In addition, search online for an overview of the budget, trying to determine how much of each tax dollar goes to Social Security, national defense, and the deficit. Finally, read three articles about the U. S. and world economies from The Economist, selecting from the years 2008-2010.

Writing Challenge.

Take effective notes as you complete research. Make sure you know where the information came from by author, the title of the film or article, the publication date, and page number. Be sure to use quotation marks around words, phrases, sentences, and whole passages that you copy exactly from the original.

Be thorough and persevere through your frustration. If you know little about the subject, you will not know what is important enough to write down. You will feel as if you need everything. That impulse is normal.

As you become more and more knowledgeable, you will become more discerning. You will be able to separate important from unimportant so push on, write everything, and grow in your knowledge.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Resume Cover Letters

The cover letter is an essential element of applications. A letter is the first document that prospective employers will read so make it count, take it seriously, and be sure it is error-free.

Cover letters are also important when applying for admission to college because the person you ask to write a letter of recommendation for you needs and deserves comprehensive information about you. A résumé alone or transcript will not help him write an excellent letter, but these documents plus a cover letter will (more about this below).

First, formatting a cover letter is easy today. Word processing programs have templates available. Simply choose one and fill in the information to create an attractive format.

Be sure that the contact information from the résumé is the same and that your name is easy to find and read. Do not rely upon the signature line to present your name; incorporate your name in the letterhead.

In addition, conduct some research so that you address your letter to a real manager, personnel officer, scholarship committee member, or college admissions officer. “To Whom It May Concern” is impersonal and suggests that you have not given your undivided, personal attention to the position, college, or scholarship.

If it is simply impossible to discover the name of a single person to whom you address the letter, then use a logical title such as Personnel Officer, Scholarship Committee Member, or Admissions Officer. These titles suggest you have given some thought to the target audience.

Second, remember that cover letters are formal business letters. Be sure to show attention to detail by using a colon (:) after the greeting as in "Dear Personnel Officer:"

Third, the opening paragraph should be factual. Declare your purpose, using the examples below.

1. I hereby submit an application for the position of_________ (Advertised Job Title) with ______________ (Name of Company). I believe I possess the necessary skills to be an asset.
2. I hereby invite you to write a letter of recommendation for me as part of my application for admission to ___________________________ (Name of College or University or Technical School). I have attached a résumé for you to use as you prepare the letter and will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Fourth, the second body paragraph is the one that counts, the one in which you will market yourself. In this paragraph, you will select and elaborate upon at least two honors or achievements. In doing so, you will shape the impression that your reader receives.

To begin this paragraph, read your own résumé. Identify the items that match the needs of the company to which you will apply or the needs of the university for which you need a recommendation. Ask yourself how you can communicate the significance of these items.

For example, your résumé may show a long-term commitment to music study and participation in the band throughout high school. How can you explain this fully so that the reader truly understands what you have gained from music and band? Consider the example below:

Throughout high school, I contributed to the school community while honing my musical talent as a member of the school’s nationally competitive marching band, an extracurricular activity that extends the school year and day. Band members rehearse during school holidays and compete for first-chair honors immediately upon return to school. In addition, in order to be ready for the competitive marching season and performances at football games, band members practice when school is not in session, even during hot summer months. They also arrive at school one hour early and stay one hour later than other students to practice. When called upon for local parades or athletic events, band members go; in some ways, they are the heart of school spirit.

From all of this extra effort, I have acquired outstanding organizational and teamwork skills. I must find the time to study my music and complete homework even when my schedule is full. I must also lead by being excellent for the other members of the band; its success depends upon the responsibility and preparedness of every member.


Through music and band, I believe I have developed skills that will facilitate my success in college. . . .

The band member who goes to the trouble of writing the information above into his cover letter has insured that his résumé will be interpreted correctly, that college admissions officers will appreciate his reflective abilities, and that writers of his recommendation letter will make use of the information. In fact, the band member has effectively spun his own record. This is what your second and subsequent paragraphs should do: spin your record so that readers recognize your assets.

On the other hand, you may see deficits as you look at your résumé. Cover letter writers may use the second and subsequent paragraphs to transform perceived deficits into assets. For example, what if, try as you might, you have no honors or achievements. Indeed, you have few activities. A reader may dismiss you unless you explain:

Perhaps you were simply too busy to join and excel in extracurricular activities. Perhaps you worked immediately after school and on weekends because your family needed the extra income. Perhaps, on occasion, you were the sole support for the family. You must tell your reader these facts so that he knows your perceived deficits are instead evidence of good work habits and personal responsibility.

Finally, the closing paragraph of your cover letter should be strong and positive. Avoid any appearance of doubt. Instead of writing “I hope to hear from you,” write “I look forward to hearing from you.” The difference is subtle but clear. The second example implies that you believe you are indeed qualified and have earned an interview or immediate admission.

GUM: Grammar, Usage and Mechanics

Let word processing programs work. Use the spell check feature, but remember, the machine will not recognize that “if” should actually be “is” in context because both words are spelled correctly. There is no substitute for slow, labored proofreading so do both. Use the spell-check feature and proofread; good writers even ask a third-party to read the document before a writer sends it. Mistakes are easy to make. I have made them all because our hands and eyes move a bit slower than our brains so read and re-read, check and double-check.

Reading Challenge:

Use a search engine to find and read sample business letters. Make notes about the phrasing and details you find most persuasive.

Writing Challenge:

Select at least two items from your sample résumés, written last week for last week’s writing challenge. Write body paragraphs that spin those items into recognizable assets. Provide details that are specific and concrete so that any reader will appreciate you and what you offer.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Resumes

In previous entries (March 28 and April 4, 2010), I have discussed word economy. The résumé is a formal document that demands the best word choices, a document that demands economy. Each word should count and be both specific and concrete.

First, a word about formatting the résumé: word processing programs offer templates for a variety of career and college purposes. You may simply choose a template and fill in the information requested.

Keep in mind a few general principles, however.

•Readers remember best what they read first and last; therefore, for academic purposes, list your educational achievements, including honors, near the top, and for work purposes, list your experience near the top.

•Within each category such as Education or Experience, organize the items in reverse chronological order, from present to past.

•Be ruthless in selection so that your résumé does not exceed two pages.

•Design the presentation so that your reader can easily find contact information for you and specific categories of interest.

•Choose quality stationery. Manuscript and résumé stationery, available in office supply stores, feel heavier when lifted and have texture. You can also select a color other than white—the color everyone uses. Choose a pale gray or tan or ivory to set your documents apart from the pack. Be sure you buy envelopes to match.

•Remember that formal documents often deliver the first impression of you. Make it count by proofreading closely. Better yet, ask someone knowledgeable to proofread and offer suggestions.

Contact Information. Make it easy to find you. Colleges and employers receive more applications and résumés than they need so be sure that your contact information is complete and current. In addition, avoid high school and online social networking e-mail addresses. “PrettyinPink@” does not seem serious or professional. Elle Woods was remarkably successful, but her story is a fairy tale.

Categories. You need

• Objective
• Education
• Honors and Achievements
• Community Service
• Activities
• References

You may also include Special Training, Licenses, and Professional Memberships if one of these categories is relevant for your purpose.

Objective. Avoid generic objectives such as “to gain admission to college” or “to become employed.” These show little research or thought. Be specific and concrete instead. For example:

To join the Class of 2014 at the University of Texas, College of Engineering
To secure a position in the Personnel Division at Human Resources International

Education is a factual category. Simply be accurate and thorough, providing the name of the institution, its location by city and state, the degree earned there, and the date that the degree was granted. You may also wish to include the web address for the institution. Your grade point average (GPA) will be listed on a transcript that you usually must provide, but if your GPA is 3.0 or better, you may wish to draw attention to it by adding it to the entry.

Honors and Achievements (You may use one word or both). Search your memory and records so that you can list something in this category. The goal is to let the college admissions officer or prospective employer that you are above average.
Some possibilities include:

1.Offices you have held. Many are members, but fewer become leaders.

2.Athletic Letters. Athletes letter and become captains of the team. List such achievements because they suggest that you are accustomed to teamwork and/or criticism. They also suggest that you accept challenges and test your skills in competitive arenas.

3.Certificates, Plaques, and Medals. High achievers often earn recognition delivered in the form of a certificate, an inscribed plaque, or medal. List these also because they reveal your drive to excel.

Often honors and achievements need explanations. Once, I earned an award for an excellent grade point average in graduate school and for excellence in the classroom where I served as a teaching assistant. The name of the award was insufficient to demonstrate why I qualified for it so I added information. Be aware of the need to elaborate on the résumé or in the cover letter that will accompany the résumé.

Sometimes, the achievement may not be immediately relevant to the reader. Be aware of the need to “think” for the reader and place the achievement in a context he recognizes. For example, as a high school student and again as an undergraduate student, I was named Best Actress. In order to appreciate this listing as more than a mere curiosity, I added an explanation: evidence of my abilities to perform under pressure and before large groups. With the addition, prospective employers could recognize the arts as relevant to the work place.

Community Service. As I have said elsewhere in this blog, admissions officers and employers appreciate those who think beyond their own needs and contribute to the greater community. Demonstrate that you enrich the community beyond your pocket by listing your volunteer efforts.

Activities. Just as employers value candidates who have held a job long-term, colleges appreciate applicants who have pursued interests and talents long-term. Thus, serial joiners are not as impressive as candidates who began studying piano or playing soccer in grade school and continued to study and compete well into high school and beyond. The number of activities matters less than the demonstration of commitment.

Remember to provide details for activities. If you are a member of a book club or the Math League, for example, readers may not fully appreciate what you have gained from the activity or what you will offer as a result. Let the reader know if your book club reads a new book monthly and what the nature of the reading is. Do club members read light and popular best-sellers or rigorous non-fiction? Similarly, Math League may seem to be a collection of math nerds unless you explain that league members compete against other leagues in the State or challenge themselves to prove equations that have baffled scholars. Such information suggests disciplined minds and a true spirit of inquiry.

Experience
. Provide the facts accurately and briefly; i. e., list the place of employment, complete contact information, the job title, and dates of employment. Remember, however, that you need to think for your reader. What might he assume about your work? What more does he need to know to fully appreciate your talent and expertise? Offer this information succinctly and effectively, choosing the best language to convey your worth.

References. This is another factual category. Be accurate, thorough, and ethical. Do not list Uncle Harry. Choose at least three people unrelated to you. You must also ask people in advance for permission to list their names and contact information. Not to do so is unwise because the person may not be willing to give you a good recommendation, and you are more likely to realize this in a face-to-face conversation.

Finally, choose people who logically relate to the Objective. If you are applying for admission to college, list at least two educators. If you are applying for employment, list at least two employers or co-workers.

GUM: Grammar, Usage and Mechanics.

Last week, I suggested that you buy, read and use Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style in order to write correctly and effectively. Another excellent resource is Stephen King. In the opening pages of a book entitled On Writing, King offers good advice.

Reading Challenge.

Use an online search engine to search for sample résumés. Make notes about the most persuasive elements of those you read.

Writing Challenge.

Use a template or create your own to prepare at least two different résumés for your own educational and/or work history. Return to these documents in order to update them as you add honors, activities, and experience.