Chapter 2: Writing Style

ENC 4293.0001 Technical Communicator's Survival Guide » Chapter 2: Writing Style

Chapter 2 Student Writers:

Lori Pereira
Megan Barrett
Katelyn Marquart
Portia Springer

Writing Style

The Writing Style chapter has been written with the graduating student in mind. Readers will be given valuable tools for proper grammar and punctuation, as well as helpful tips to identify the audience in communication. Additionally, there is a section devoted to proofreading and editing documents. Finally, in order to aid the emerging student embarking upon their career, readers will gain useful advice on the job search process.

Grammar

Many people have difficulties with grammar. There are hundreds of rules to remember and more rules on when to use specific rules. This section will provide a basic grammar overview, demonstrate the proper ways to use punctuation, discuss active and passive voice, diction, mechanics, word choice, and sentence structure and variety. These rules should not dishearten you, but instead be an aid in the writing process.

Basic Grammar Survival Tips

Nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, pronouns and prepositions are what most grammar enthusiasts refer to as “remedial” grammar knowledge. Most everyone in the English-speaking population understands what each of these parts of speech are and how to use them properly.
The above listed parts of speech can be placed into a variety of phrases and sentences. A phrase is an expression that contains a single thought but is not necessarily a complete sentence. Words make up phrases; phrases make up sentences.
The technical writing process is dependent on recognizing different sentence types. Understanding the sentence structure will assist in breaking down data into an easier format. When a writer understands how parts of sentences function, it is easier to write new sentences for readers to comprehend.

Sentences

Sentences are the basic units of writing. A sentence should have a subject and a verb. The noun performs the action or being; the verb shows the action or being.

My cat jumps.

“My” is the possessive pronoun. “Cat” is the subject. “Jumps” is the verb.

There are several types of sentences. The basic sentences include declarative, interrogatory, and imperative. A declarative sentence makes a statement. Most sentences are declarative.

My brother is smart.

Interrogatory sentences ask a question.

Do you understand?

Imperative sentences give a command.

Do the dishes.

Simple Sentences

Simple sentences are the most common type of sentence in the English language. A simple sentence contains an independent clause, with a subject and verb. There are short simple sentences and long simple sentences.

A short simple sentence:

The dog barked.

A long simple sentence:

The large black dog, with a bright red collar, barked at the tall mail carrier.

Compound Sentences

A compound sentence consists of two independent clauses that are joined in one of three ways:

  • Comma, followed by a coordinating conjunction (and, or, but, nor, for, yet, so)

Jack went up the hill, and Jill carried a bucket of water.

  • Semicolon

Jack went up the hill; Jill carried a bucket of water.

  • Comma, but only when the simple sentences are being treated as items in a series

Jack went up the hill, Jill carried a bucket of water, and Bill was right behind them.

Complex Sentences

A complex sentence consists of a combination of independent and dependent clauses.

Jack, who is well coordinated, tripped while going up the hill.

“Jack tripped while going up the hill” is an independent clause, interrupted by the dependent clause, “who is well coordinated.”

Compound-Complex Sentences

Compound-complex sentences are often the most difficult to write. This type of sentence consists of a compound and a complex sentence (hence, the name!).

As Jack walked up the hill, Jill carried the water, and Bill followed closely.

In this example, “Jill carried the water and Bill followed closely behind,” constitutes a compound sentence. “As Jack walked up the hill” is a dependent clause, which makes this sentence a compound-complex sentence.

Common Sentence Construction Errors

Sentences are the basis for written communication. Without phrases, clauses, nouns, and verbs strung together, we wouldn’t have complete thoughts. There are a few bumps a writer can come across when constructing sentences. Run-on sentences, sentence fragments, modifiers, and split infinitives are among the most common issues writers face.

Run-On Sentences

A run-on sentence is a sentence that is too long and usually contains two subjects and two verbs. Run-on sentences can almost always be broken down into two sentences with the use of punctuation and/or a conjunction.

The sky is blue and the grass is green.

This sentence can be broken down two ways.

The sky is blue. The grass is green.

OR

The sky is blue; the grass is green.

Sentence Fragments

Fragmented sentences are incredibly common and somewhat easy to make. A sentence fragment is a phrase that the author treats like a complete thought. It is a dependent clause and, therefore, cannot stand alone. For instance:

My favorite color.

The problem with the example is that there is no predicate. We don’t know what the writer’s favorite color is.

Modifiers

Modifiers can help to clarify parts of sentences. This is a challenging issue for the most skilled writers. Whether single words, phrases, or clauses, modifiers should point clearly to the words they modify. As a rule, related words should be kept together.
Using limiting modifiers can be difficult. Limiting modifiers like only, almost, even, nearly, and just should appear in front of a verb only if they modify the verb. For instance:

At first, I couldn’t even touch my toes, much less grasp them.

If they limit the meaning of some other word in the sentence, they should be placed in front of the word.

The turtle only makes progress when it sticks its neck out.

In this example, only should be placed after “progress.” “Only” limits the meaning of the “when” clause.

A trick to using modifiers correctly is to place it by the phrase or clause so that readers can see at a glance what they modify. Sometimes phrases and clauses can appear at some distance from the words they modify, so make sure your meaning is clear. When phrases and clauses are oddly placed, absurd misunderstandings can result.

For example:

The soccer player returned to the clinic where he had undergone emergency surgery in 2004 in a limousine sent by Adidas.

The same sentence revised:

Traveling in a limousine sent by Adidas, the soccer player returned to the clinic where he had undergone emergency surgery in 2004.

The revision corrects the false impression that the soccer player underwent surgery in a limousine.

Split Infinitives

Always avoid split infinitives. An infinitive consists of to plus a verb, such as: to think, to breathe, to dance. When a modifier appears between to and the verb, an infinitive is said to be “split:” to carefully balance, to completely understand.

When a long word or phrase appears between the parts of the infinitive, the result is a split infinitive.

For instance:

The patient should try to if possible avoid going up and down stairs.

The same sentence revised:

If possible, the patient should try to avoid going up and down stairs.

Dangling Modifiers

Dangling modifiers are usually word groups (such as verbal phrases) that suggest but do not name an actor. When a sentence opens with such a modifier, readers expect the subject of the next clause to name the actor. If it does not, the modifier “dangles.”

For instance:

Opening the window to let out a huge bumblebee, the car accidently swerved into oncoming traffic.

The same sentence revised:

When the driver opened the window to let out a huge bumblebee, the car accidently swerved into oncoming traffic.

The car didn’t open the window; the driver did.

To correct a dangling modifier, you can revise the sentence in one of two ways.

1. Name the actor in the beginning of the sentence, or
2. Name the actor in the modifier.

Depending on your sentence, one of these revision strategies may be more appropriate than the other.

Punctuation

Deciding whether or not to put a comma, how to use a semicolon or a colon, and other types of punctuation like the dash, parentheses, brackets, the ellipsis mark and the slash can be a daunting task. Never fear! This guide will help you easily decide where to place those punctuation marks.

Commas

The comma was invented to help readers. Without it, sentence parts can collide into one another unexpectedly, causing misunderstandings.

If you cook Elmer will do the dishes.

If a comma is placed after “cook” the sentence becomes much clearer. Without the comma, it looks as though they are cooking Elmer. When reading a sentence, place a comma where you think there should be a pause. If the example sentence above is said aloud, it does not make sense. Once the comma is added in, there is a pause to indicate they are cooking and Elmer will clean up afterwards.

Commas should be placed after coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. When a coordinating conjunction connects two or more independent clauses, a comma must precede it. A comma tells readers that one independent clause has come to a close and that another is about to begin.
Nearly everyone has heard of love at first sight, but I fell in love at first dance.

However, there is an exception to this rule. If the two independent clauses are short and there is no danger of misreading, the comma may be omitted.
The plane took off, and we were on our way.

If the clauses that make up the sentence are not independent, a comma is not needed.

A good money manager controls expenses and invests surplus dollars to meet future needs.

Semicolons

The semicolon is used to connect major sentence elements of equal grammatical standing. Semicolons should be used between closed related independent clauses not joined with a coordinating conjunction. When related independent clauses appear in one sentence, they are ordinarily linked with a comma and a coordinating conjunction. The coordinating conjunction signals the relation between the clauses. If the clauses are closely related and the relation is clear without a conjunction, they may be linked with a semicolon instead.

I am going home; I intend to stay there.

Colons

The colon is used primarily to call attention to the words that follow it. Colons are typically used when the writer wants to direct the reader’s attention to a list or a quotation.

An example using a list:

The colors I want to use include at least the following: red, blue, orange, green, and purple.

An example using a quotation:

Consider the words of Robert Frost: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.”

Dashes

When typing, use two hyphens to form a dash (—). Do not put spaces before or after the dash. Dashes are used for a few purposes.
A dash can be used to set off parenthetical material that needs emphasis. For example:

Everything that went wrong—from the peeping Tom at her window last night to the head-on collision today—we blamed on our move.

Dashes can also be used to set off appositives that contain commas. An appositive is a noun or noun phrase that renames a nearby noun. Ordinarily most appositives are set off with commas, but when the appositive itself contains commas, a pair of dashes helps readers see the relative importance of all the pauses.

In my hometown, the basic needs of people—food, clothing, and shelter—are less costly than in a big city like Los Angeles.

Parentheses

Use parentheses to enclose supplemental material, minor digressions, and afterthoughts.
After taking his vital signs (temperature, pulse, and blood pressure), the nurse made Billy as comfortable as possible.

Be careful not to overuse parentheses. Rough drafts are likely to contain more afterthoughts than necessary. As writers head into a sentence, they often think of additional details, occasionally working them in as best they can with parentheses. Usually such sentences should be revised so that the additional details no longer seem to be afterthoughts.

Brackets

Use brackets to enclose any words or phrases that you have inserted into an otherwise word-for-word quotation.

She wore her bling [gaudy jewelry] to the school dance.

Ellipsis marks

The ellipsis mark consists of three spaced periods. Use an ellipsis mark to indicate that you have deleted words from an otherwise word-for-word quotation.

The man looked above … all he could see were three black silhouettes against the bright blue sky.

Active and Passive Voice

Writing in active voice can be incredibly difficult for those who aren’t sure why the difference between active and passive voice matters. The first step in correcting the problem is learning the differences between active and passive voice.

Active Voice

In most English sentences, there is a subject and a verb. When writing in active voice, the subject is performing the verb.

Jenny is sleeping.

In this example, Jenny is the subject and is sleeping is the verb. Jenny is performing the action, therefore, the sentence is written in active voice.

Passive Voice

Passive voice is more difficult to understand and catch when writing. In a sentence that is written in passive voice, the action verb is promoted to the subject position.

Sleeping is what Jenny is doing.

In the example, sleeping appears to be the subject and doing is now the verb. Jenny is completely forgotten about and is no longer part of the subject.

Common Misconceptions

Many writers believe that sentences that contain the verb form “to be” will make a sentence passive.

I am eating dinner.

This sentence contains “am”, which is a form of “to be”. However, the sentence is written in active voice. A passive voice version of this sentence would be…

Eating is what I am doing.

Again, the verb has been moved to the subject position and the sentence instantly becomes passive.

Verb Tense

Shifting verb tense is a problem young, beginning writers often encounter. The two main verb tenses that are used are past and present. When writing a technical document, one should always write in present tense. Avoid switching tense within the document as well. This can confuse the reader and cause misunderstandings.

Mechanics

Grammar mechanics are often overlooked and forgotten about. The truth is mechanics are the little details that can make a piece of writing perfect. There are varying opinions about when to spell out numbers in a document and when to use the actual number and when to use affect vs. effect, and how to distinguish between words that sound alike.

Numbers

As a rule of thumb, spell out numbers of one of two words or those that begin a sentence. If the number requires more than two words to spell it out, use the figure instead.
For instance:

It’s been eight years since I visited Peru.

OR

I counted 176 DVDs on the shelf.

If a sentence begins with a number, spell out the number or rewrite the sentence. For instance:

One hundred fifty seniors will be attending our annual Thanksgiving banquet dinner.

As with many grammar rules, there are exceptions and this one is not excluded. In technical and some business writing, figures are preferred even when spellings would be brief, but usage varies. When in doubt, consult the style guide of the organization for which you are writing.

When several numbers appear in the same passage, many writers choose consistency rather than strict adherence to the rule.

When one number immediately follows another, spell out one and use figures for the other: three 100-meter events, 25 four-poster beds.

Homophones

Words that sound alike or nearly alike but have different meanings and spellings are called homophones. The following sets of words are so commonly confused that a good proofreader will double-check their every use.

  • Affect (verb: to exert an influence)
  • Effect (verb: to accomplish; noun: result)
  • Its (possessive pronoun: of or belonging to it)
  • It’s (contraction for it is)
  • Loose (adjective: free, not securely attached)
  • Lose (verb: to fail to keep, to be deprived of)
  • Principal (adjective: most important; noun: head of a school)
  • Principle (noun: a general or fundamental truth)
  • Their (possessive pronoun: belonging to them)
  • They’re (contraction for they are)
  • There (adverb: that place or position)
  • Who’s (contraction of who is)
  • Whose (possessive form of who)
  • Your (possessive form of you)
  • You’re (contraction of you are)
  • Then (adverb: at that time)
  • Than: (conjunction: used to compare two items)

Be alert to these and many more homophones. When in doubt, always double-check and make sure you are using the proper word.

Identify the Audience

Every technical document is user-centered. In other words, the audience comes first. The information in a document consists of what the audience expects and what they think is important. Every word, sentence, and paragraph must be chosen with the audience in mind. Avoid concentrating too much on the subject and what to say about it. When identifying the audience, there are three elements to consider that may improve the audience understanding: culture, education, and interests within the discourse community.

Culture

It is important to know if the document is going to be viewed by different cultures. If so, then the writer needs to understand global communication. For instance, many cultures consider a direct, straightforward communication style as offensive. Also, different cultures give colors different meanings. Determining what a specific color means to a specific person in a specific culture can be a hard issue. For example, red in U.S. culture usually means warning or danger, but in Japan red means good luck. The values associated with colors are different between so many cultures. It makes sense to pay attention to the audiences’ preferences before making color specifications for a document.

This table compares and contrasts differences among the United States and Japan.

Examples United States Japan
The color red Means "warning" or "danger" Means "good luck" or "joy"
The color white Worn as a wedding dress Commonly worn at funerals
Style of communication Direct Indirect
Context Rely less on explicit documents and more on social relationships Rely more on rules and extensive documentation
Text Arranged in a horizontal orientation from left to right Arranged in a vertical orientation from top to bottom

Education

Determine the audience’s knowledge of the subject. Audiences have different education levels. They may not understand certain vocabulary used. If a technical vocabulary needs to be used, be certain every word is used correctly. It is important to explain content in a clear and concise manner. This is achieved by this approach:

  • Be certain to include an appropriate amount of important details.
  • Anticipate the audience’s comprehension level in a given context.
  • Adjust the style to the audience.

Discourse Community

Figuring out the discourse community to which the audience belongs to is a good way to help identify the audience. A discourse community is a group of people who have the same interests and similar educational backgrounds. These groups of people can be described as experts, paraprofessionals, and laypersons. Experts have a high amount of knowledge on the subject, paraprofessionals understand most technical terms but not all, and laypersons are unfamiliar with the topic.

Another aspect to consider is whether or not the audience is expecting this document and if they are motivated to read it. In other words, what will the audience use the document for? Will it be instructions on how to play a game, or how to assemble an office chair? Different levels of formality can be used for the document, as long as the audience finds it appropriate.

MLA Citation

MLA format can be a complicated technique to learn. There are numerous ways to cite your sources in MLA format. The four main methods are in-text citations, works cited, bibliography, and annotated bibliography. It is important to distinguish between each of these styles. The following sections will describe the importance of MLA format and how to cite in MLA correctly.

Why learn MLA?

In the fields of humanities and English, college professors require documents to be formatted in MLA style. In order to be successful, it is important to know and understand how to use this format.

In-text citations

In-text citations are parenthetical references used in the text from the source where the information is found. In-text citations typically consist of the author’s name and the page number. Make sure that the period is on the outside of the parentheses, even if the sentence being quoted ends in a period.

“Good design can change the world” (Pink 81).

It is also important to know how to introduce the source within the text. If the author’s name or the title of the source is being introduced, it is not needed in the parenthetical reference. This is an example of a scholarly article citation.

In the article “The Economy of Recognition in Howards End,” Kim Shirkhani claims, “It is Mr. Wilcox, the new imperialist business-man, articulating his classical liberal economic principle of laissez-faire" (1).

When ideas from the book are cited but not direct quotes, it is still important to include the author, the title of the book, and the page number.

For instance:

Daniel H. Pink discusses automation in chapter 2 of A Whole New Mind (45).

If the source has more than one author, list the author’s last names in the same order they appear on the title page.

Works Cited

The Works Cited contains an alphabetical list of all the sources cited and should be placed as the last page of the document. It is an alphabetical listing of all the sources cited in the research paper. Double-space within and between each entry on the list.

Also make sure that the second line of each entry is indented, as well as any other lines that follow. This is called a hanging indent. Do this electronically so the spacing is consistent. Check that the title Works Cited is centered and begins on its own separate page.

Each entry contains the author’s full name, the last name first, the title of the source, the edition of the book, the publishing city followed by a colon, then the publisher’s name, followed by a comma, then the year of publication, and what medium the source is in. All of these are separated by one space after the period. Italicize the title of the source, if it is considered a title of a book or other publication.

Pink, Daniel H. A Whole New Mind. 1st. New York: Penguin Group, 2005. Print.

A source with two or more authors is written differently. The authors are written in alphabetical order but only the first author’s last name is written before the first. Also, if the publishing company is a University Press, abbreviate it to UP.

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. 2nd. Chicago: UP of Chicago, 2003. Print.

Citations of periodicals like magazine, newspaper, or scholarly journal articles are similar to citing books. First begin with the author’s name, then the title of the article, then the name of the periodical. The next three parts are only written if applicable to the source. After the name of the periodical are the series number or name, the volume number, and the issue number. After any or all of that information, then the date of publication, the page number(s), and the medium of the publication follows. The next citation is an example of a magazine article.

Amelar, Sarah. “Restoration on 42nd Street.” Architecture Mar. 1998: 146-150. Print.

Bibliography

The difference between a Bibliography page and a Works Cited page is that a Bibliography contains all the sources researched, not just what is cited within the document. The Bibliography will go after the Works Cited list. Check that the title Bibliography is centered and starts on its own separate page.

Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography organizes all the sources reviewed for research. It contains two parts: the citation and the annotation. The citation includes the bibliographic information of the source. Citations are organized alphabetically. The annotation is one or two paragraph explanations for each source. Depending on the professor, each annotation can contain a variety of things.

  • Summary of the content of the source
  • If the source was helpful or not
  • Who the intended audience is
  • The credibility of the source
  • The writer’s professional background
  • Your reaction to the source

An Annotated Bibliography follows the Works Cited and the Bibliography pages if both are included. Make sure that the title “Annotated Bibliography” is centered and started on its own separate page.

Other Helpful MLA Sources

If MLA citation is still too difficult, there are other options available to help. Be careful about copying and pasting a citation that is already displayed from a website; it may not follow the correct MLA format. There are multiple websites to consult that explain how to cite in MLA format.

UCF has a free citation utility as well. In the “How Do I” section, there is the option on how to cite. Two programs that UCF uses are Endnote and RefWorks. The website allows users to choose between MLA style or APA style and the different sources to cite.

http://library.ucf.edu/Reference/Guides/Citation.asp

Another helpful website is the “Son of Citation Machine.”

http://citationmachine.net/

This website allows the user to select what type of source is cited. The following steps explain the process:

  1. 1. Select the style of the format.
  2. 2. Select the source of the document
  3. 3. Complete the form with the correct information
  4. 4. Click the “Make Citation” button to generate the citation
  5. 5. Copy and paste the product into the document

Purdue University has is the most comprehensive online website. It thoroughly guides students how to use MLA correctly. The website covers different sources from books, periodicals, and electronic sources. Consult Purdue Online Writing Lab for more information.

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/

Recent upgraded versions of Microsoft Word now have options to insert citations, works cited, and bibliography. Similar to the Son of Citation Machine website, Microsoft Word allows the users to select MLA style and then plug in the information correctly. It will generate the work cited and insert it into the appropriate citation paper.

For a better example of what the first page of an MLA formatted paper should look like, refer to Figure XX.
(Example from Purdue Online Writing Lab.)

Editing a Document

Many people have misconceptions about editing and editors. Some people think editing is merely light proofreading, catching typos, transposed letters, problems in punctuation and spelling. Editors bring an objective view in order to help their authors become better writers, and become a fresh pair of eyes to a document.
There are three stages to editing a document:

1.Substantive Editing
2.Copyediting
3.Proofreading

Substantive Editing

In this phase, the editor thoroughly checks the substance or the content and meaning of the document. The editor will be looking at:

  • The purpose
  • Scope
  • Accuracy of the information
  • Organization
  • Design and layout
  • Style
  • Logic of the document

Substantive editing may occur with each successive draft of a document to ensure the information remains accurate.

Copyediting

The copyeditor checks for:

  • Punctuation
  • Spelling errors
  • Correctness
  • Consistency
  • Accuracy
  • Completeness

It is necessary to make sure that every document is free of spelling and grammar errors; this will add to the professionalism of the finished document. Copyediting prepares the text for printing.

Proofreading

Proofreading occurs at the end of the editing process. Proofreading verifies that the text has been printed according to specifications, and can be completed by a single individual, or by a group of two people reading aloud to each other.

How to Mark Changes on a Hard Copy

It is necessary to edit every document before publication.

  1. The editor marks the hard copy of a document using proofreader’s marks which must be legible to the author, the word processor or typesetter, and the proofreader.
  2. The author must then approve the changes
  3. The typesetter must key in the changes
  4. Finally, the proofreader must read the proofs against the hard copy.

To accommodate the needs of these different people, the marks made on the hard copy must be universal and legible. See Figure 3.1 for a list of proofreader's marks and their description.
While working on a hard copy, the corrections are marked in the text proper (or the body of the text). The margins are left for questions to the author. See Figure 3.2 for an example. If the hard copy is going to a typesetter, the marks can be made with a pencil; however, if the hard copy is going to a proofreader, the marks must be made in red or another colored pen.

How to Mark Changes On-Screen

When a document is given to the editor as an on-screen format, it is important that the editor makes a copy of the original document and uses the copy to mark changes, while keeping the original in a safe place. When making changes to an electronic copy of the original document, one may find it necessary to refer back to the unedited document. The two types of on-screen changes are

  • Redline Files
  • Querying

Redlined Files

It may be good to compare both the author’s original text and the copyeditor’s insertions and deletions; this will require the editor to have both unedited and edited files. When using this system, the software compares the unedited and edited documents and generates the redlined copy as a third, separate document. The redlined file will have the editor’s changes put in the right margin of the original text. This will allow authors to see the difference between what they wrote, and what the editor thinks should be changed.

Queries

Often editors need to address a question, comment, or explanation to the author. Some questions are so important – they pertain to the entire manuscript or to a large chunk of it – that the editor must raise them with the author before completing the editing. In these cases, a phone call, fax, or email is warranted. Other questions, comments, or explanations pertain only to a sentence or paragraph, or small section of the document. These types of communications are collectively called queries, and will accompany the edited document when it is returned to the author for review.

For an editor, knowing when to query and how to query effectively are as important as a solid grasp of punctuation and grammar. If an editor queries too often, the author may become frustrated with the amount of time needed to read and respond to all the questions, comments, and explanations. If an editor does not query enough, the author may not understand the problem the editor is trying to fix and may ignore necessary changes. Queries need to be brought up for

  • Factual inconsistencies within the document
  • Point of fact that is definitely incorrect
  • Inconsistencies between the evidence presented and the author’s interpretation of that evidence
  • Inconsistencies between the document and the accompanying diagrams, figures, or photographs
  • Incomplete or missing source notes, footnotes or endnotes, or bibliographical items

Editors bring an objective view in order to help their authors become better writers. Editors help authors change the focus, tone, and even find weaknesses in the logic of a document. Editors must also be invisible; whatever they change must sound like the writer’s words. Ultimately the relationship between a writer and an editor must be one of negotiation and trust. The editing process is one in which the writer and the editor proceed through the manuscript together, finding for every problem the solution that best serves the finished document.

Proofreadersmarks.gif?t=1290142207

Figure 3.1– Proofreaders’ Marks

Figure 3.2 – Format for questions to the author

Job Search Process

This section covers useful tips and insider secrets for a writing an effective resume, as well as a professional cover letter and follow-up thank you letter. Also included is helpful advice for phone etiquette and interview behavior. By mastering the skills necessary for the job search process, it will only be just a matter of time before landing the ideal job.

Resume and Job Application

Resumes should be limited to one page, if at all possible. Human Resource (HR) Representatives can receive hundreds of resumes a day. They are looking for thorough, yet concise resumes from candidates. However, if a particular type of position requires an in-depth resume, design an alternate format as well.

The most important section of the resume is the contact information. Place your name, address, email, and phone numbers at the top of the resume, using a bold or larger font.
There are two types of resumes:

  • Functional resume
  • Chronological resume

The functional resume highlights an objective, accomplishments, core strengths or skills, professional experiences, and affiliations. Instead of listing duties or responsibilities under each respective employer, attention is drawn to the accomplishments on an overall basis. This type of resume is particularly helpful for candidates entering the work force where most of the skills gained have been in a classroom setting, collaborative projects, or an internship/externship basis.

The chronological resume is the most widely used format for resumes, listing an objective, skills, education, and work experience. When listing work experience, always start with the most recent job first, then list any other jobs in reverse chronological order. However, if there is limited job experience, list education and degrees obtained first. Expand upon any specialized training or courses, which can serve as a valuable asset to resume qualifications.

If at all possible, obtain the job description for the job opening. Resumes should be custom fit for each particular job opening in which application is being made. Exercise caution, however, and do not make false claims on the resume. Integrity is one of the most important traits for any candidate. Additionally, if a candidate is hired for a position and the Human Resource department discovers misrepresentation/falsification on a resume, this can be terms for immediate dismissal.

When highlighting work experiences and skills, use a variety of verbs. For instance, if you were responsible for leading a particular task, consider verbs such as motivated or managed.

Instead of Consider using a power verb such as
Planning administered, determined, prioritized
Organizing coordinated, arranged, delegated
Executing administered, collected, completed
Supervising developed, analyzed, measured
Leading motivated, initiated, managed
Getting results accomplished, demonstrated, contributed
Problem solving collaborated, formulated, created

Explain any gaps in employment. If a candidate was a primary care giver for a child or an ill relative, or attended college, list this with the appropriate timeframe. Otherwise, an HR Representative might assume that a job has been withheld due to a bad work experience.

Keep the following recommendations in mind when creating resumes:

  • Be certain of dates of employment. HR Representatives are looking for a consistent work history.
  • Do not list salary requirements or expectations on the resume.
  • Compile a list of references, but it is not necessary to place references on the resume. Do not write “References upon request.”
  • Do not list non-essentials on your resume such as: marital status, number of children, your age, religion, or irrelevant hobbies. (Prospective employers are not permitted to ask such questions.)

If a candidate does not have any “real world” work experience, supplement the resume to include academic courses and special college assignments which are relevant to the job opening. While “white space” is advisable on a resume, too much “white space” can be a deterrent. Relevant volunteer positions or internships/externships can also serve as valuable experience.

Set up a separate email address that is professional. Do not use email addresses that will categorize you as unprofessional. Email addresses such as Sexxxykittenatabc.com or Partyguyatabc.com are not professional.

Survival Tip
Complete job applications (online or paper) in their entirety. Do not write “See Resume.” These simple two words speak loudly that the candidate might have a tendency to be lazy or lack motivation. If a question is not applicable, place “N/A” in the blank.

Cover Letter

A cover letter is a brief introduction of the resume. Cover letters typically are two or three brief paragraphs, highlighting why you are the best candidate for the job opening.

Be sure to address the letter to the appropriate corporation and contact person. Avoid writing “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” Research the company website for a specific HR Representative or Director. If a contact name cannot be located, either address the letter to “Dear Human Resource Manager,” or simply eliminate the “Dear” or “To Whom” salutation line.

Often, employers have multiple job openings; reference the specific job opening for which application is being made. This can be accomplished by including a “Reference” section in the heading of the letter or listing the specific job opening in the first sentence of the cover letter.

In the closing paragraph of the cover letter, be sure to thank the representative for their time and consideration. It is a good idea to list your contact phone number again in the closing line.

Performing a Job Search

Keep a notebook or spreadsheet listing all of the companies/organizations where applications have been submitted. When an HR Representative contacts candidates, they want to hear that the potential candidate recognizes the name of the company who is calling. HR Representatives do not want to hear, “What kind of company is this?” Keep a professional tone during the conversation.

Not all job openings are advertised. As Felix Daniels, UCF Assistant Director of First Year Students, explains that the “Open Market” consists of jobs advertised on the Internet, in newspapers, professional journals and associations, and KnightLink. According to Daniels, “Only 20% of jobs are advertised and less than 15% of job seekers obtain employment through these means.”

The “Hidden Market” is comprised of the following: networking (professional contacts); friends, relatives, professors, supervisors, colleagues; information gained through internships, co-ops, or volunteer experiences. Daniels estimates that eighty percent (80%) of all jobs are found in the “Hidden Job Market.”

For additional information, please visit UCF's Career Services link at
http://www.career.ucf.edu/categories/students/13_0.aspx

HR Phone Call

The phone call from a prospective employer could come at any time. Do not answer a cell phone or home phone if there are loud noises in the background. It would be better to allow the call to go to voicemail, rather than the HR Representative struggle to hear your voice.

Make sure your outgoing voicemail is professional. Do not have loud music playing in the background of your message. Answer every call pleasant and professional. That dream job call might occur at any time.

Be certain of the time, date, and location of interview. Repeat the information back to the HR representative for confirmation.

Ask for the address and if there is a suite number. Show initiative by stating directions will be obtained by using MapQuest. At this point, HR will be impressed that initiative is shown; at the same time, if MapQuest does not reflect accurate directions to the business location, the HR Representative will reply with accurate directions.

Keep all interview appointments, and do not become a “No Call, No Show.” Most HR Representatives have a great memory and/or databases which document all job candidates. With a few simple clicks, an HR Representative can easily identify if a candidate has previously been a “No Show.” Once such an event occurs, it is highly unlikely that a second chance will be granted for an interview. Do not burn bridges.

Preparing for the Interview

This step is crucial in setting the tone for the interview. A job candidate’s appearance is the first item that an HR Representative will see. Be sure to start off on the right foot.

Clothing choice should reflect a professional, sharp, and “Dressed for Success” mentality. Do not underestimate the value of first impressions.

Candidates should never wear:

  • Shorts
  • Tank tops
  • T-shirts
  • Mini-skirts
  • Flip-flops
  • Jeans

Regardless of whether the interview is with a retail store, restaurant, or corporation, candidates must dress professionally. Appropriate clothing choices are the following:

  • Men: a suit, dress pants and collared shirt, and a tie
  • Women: a professional-style dress, suit, loose-fitting dress pants or skirt and blouse

Conduct research on the company or organization with which the interview is scheduled. This information will be valuable during the interview. If a candidate is aware of the services or products provided by the potential employer, reference can be made to these details when responding to specific interview questions.

Survival Tip
"Qualifications get you the interview. Initial impressions get you the job. Impressions are based upon: personal appearance, grooming, eye contact, articulation, personality, and handshake" (Brown).

Interview Time

This is the opportunity for a job candidate to shine.

  • Plan to arrive 5-10 minutes early; leave plenty of time for travel, traffic jams, and parking.
  • Be pleasant to the receptionist. HR Representatives have “friends” in the company who enjoy sharing opinions.
  • Come to the interview alone. Do not bring a friend, mom or dad, or even the baby.
  • Extend a hand for a firm handshake to the HR Representative or Interviewer.

Be aware of your posture, facial expressions, and body language. While “arms crossed” may be a comfortable position, a negative attitude can be communicated to the interviewer. Sit comfortably, without slouching, and be sure to make eye contact with the interviewer.

It is acceptable to display a confident attitude; however, it is not permissible to be aggressive or overbearing.

Bring two copies of your resume to the interview: a copy for the interviewer and a copy to glance at in the event that a specific date is requested when discussing prior experience.

Survival Tip
The UCF Career Center has compiled a list of websites to assist job seekers in researching prospective employers. Visit the office of the UCF Career Center for more information, training, and valuable job search techniques.

Sample Questions to Answer

“Tell me about yourself.”

  • Do not say, “Well, I’m in the process of a divorce, I had to move away from my ex, my car got repossessed, and I really need this job!” This type of response is melodramatic, irrelevant, and will not convey the professional attitude vital to an interview.
  • Do list a few positive traits about yourself and any recent accomplishments.

“What circumstances have led you to our meeting today?”

  • Highlight specific educational or career goals that have prepared the way for this particular job opening.
  • Keep response professional and sincere.
  • This question is designed to be a probing question. Do not share any negative information in response to this question.

“What do you enjoy doing in your free time?”

  • Think of appropriate responses beforehand.
  • Remember, these questions are designed to break the ice, but will also provide valuable information to HR Representatives.
  • It is acceptable to say that you enjoy a particular hobby, as long as that hobby is appropriate.

“Tell me about your last job or boss.”

  • Do not speak poorly about a previous boss.
  • Find a way to communicate the reason for leaving without lying.
  • Demonstrate the value of integrity.

“Give an example of when you had set a goal and were able to achieve it.”

  • Respond with a specific goal. Do not make a “general” statement.
  • An acceptable response could be from an academic goal or a previous work goal which was met.

Listen for the cues that your interview is winding down.

  • At this point of the meeting, it is acceptable to say, “I would really like to work for [insert name of company]” or “I feel that I would be an asset to this organization, due to my [insert a skill/strength].”
  • Ask for the interviewer’s business card for your own notes and records.
  • Thank the interviewer for their time.
  • Ask if it is permissible to check back on the status of the open position, but be sure to follow through if you ask.

Sample Questions to Ask

Most interviewers will ask candidates if they have any questions. This is another opportunity to show initiative in the interview. It is perfectly acceptable to bring a written list of questions to the interview. Some questions to consider asking:

  • “What are the opportunities for growth and advancement for this position?”
  • “What are the most important attributes in order to be successful in this position?”
  • “What do you like most about working for this company?”
  • “When will a decision be made about this position?”

Follow Up Thank You Letter

Thank you letters are a valuable tool for job seekers. HR Representatives rarely receive such letters. Ultimately, the purpose of the thank you letter is to remind the HR Representative of your qualifications, in addition to extending appreciation for selecting you for an interview.

A well-timed letter could arrive at just the moment when HR Representatives are making a decision to extend a job offer. However, do not prepare a letter prior to the interview and then hand the letter to the HR Representative at the conclusion of the interview.

Be sure to address the letter to the HR Representative or Interviewer. Use the information from the business card for this purpose. Make the letter brief, but make a reference to one or two key items from the actual interview. Thank the representative for their time and include your contact phone number again.

Final Survival Tip
Representatives are very busy and oftentimes are delayed in extending job offers, due to other responsibilities. Never underestimate the significance of a phone call to follow up on an interview. Lori Pereira, former HR Administrator, explains, “In the past, I have had two excellent candidates, but could only hire one person. I would often offer the position to the candidate who pursued me. After all, they’ve saved me a step, and I count that as initiative.”

Summary

The information presented in the Writing Style chapter will equip readers with the tools necessary in the professional workplace environment. By applying grammar and punctuation rules and tips in identifying the audience, readers will feel confident in their finished documents. Also, by utilizing the proper methods of citation, plagiarism will be avoided. The editing and proofreading section will serve as a reference tool when needed. Finally, the job search portion of this chapter will prepare job seekers in creating an effective resume, composing cover and follow-up letters, and preparing for the interview.