April 28, 2009

Problem solving writing exercises

The following exercises will help you practice problem solving writing. Read all of the following writing exercises and then write on the three that interest you most. If another idea occurs to you, write a free entry about it.

  1. As a student assistant for a campus residence hall, you have just listened to the twenty-third student this week complain about noise in the hall. You decide to create a policy that will solve the problem, but before you can implement it, you must present your idea at a student resident-assistant meeting. Write out the proposal you will present to the other student assistants at that meeting.
  2. Read Frank Trippett's analysis of the scofflaw problem. Write a letter to the city council recommending a solution to one of the problems Trippett identifies — a solution that the city council has the power to implement.
  3. Eldridge Cleaver once said, "You're either part of the solution or part of the problem." Examine one of your activities or pastimes — sports, shopping, cruising, eating, drinking, or even studying. How does what you do possibly create a problem, from someone else's point of view? Explain.
  4. After being away from your high school for a while, you can see more clearly its specific problems. Brainstorm or freewrite about the most important problems students faced in your high school. Write a letter to the school principal, explaining one specific problem that could and should be solved. Then propose your solution.
  5. "Let the buyer beware" is a time-honored maxim for all consumers. Unless you are vigilant, you can easily be ripped off. Write a letter to the Better Business Bureau explaining some consumer problem or rip-off you've recently experienced and suggest a solution that will prevent others from being exploited.
  6. Changing the rules of some sports might make them more enjoyable, less violent, or fairer: introducing the 30-second clock in NCAA basketball, using TV instant replays in professional and college football and basketball, imposing stiffer fines for brawls in hockey games, requiring boxers to wear padded helmets, giving equal pay and media coverage for

April 26, 2009

Revision: importance in academic writing

When writers revise a rough draft, they literally "resee" their subject — and then modify the draft to fit the new vision. Revision is more than just tinkering with a word here and there; revision leads to larger changes — new examples or details, a different organization, or a new perspective. You accomplish these changes by adding, deleting, substituting, or reordering words, sentences, and paragraphs.

Although revision begins the moment you get your first idea, most revisions are based on the reactions or anticipated reactions of the audience to your draft. You often play the role of audience yourself by putting the draft aside and rereading it later when you have some distance from your writing. Wherever you feel readers might not get your point, you revise to make it clearer. You may also get feedback from readers in a class workshop, suggesting that you collect more or different information, alter the shape of your draft to improve the flow of ideas, or clarify your terminology.

As a result of your rereading and your readers' suggestions, you may change your thesis or write for an entirely different audience. Revising also includes editing to improve word choice, grammar, usage, or punctuation and proofreading for typos and other surface errors.

April 25, 2009

Recommendation letter writing tips

Any recommendation letter has a clear objective which is to persuade the reader that the recommended candidate possesses the qualifications and experiences required for the job. To be effective, a recommendation letter should include the following:

  • candidate’s full name
  • name of the position, that a candidate wants to get
  • whether a recommendation letter is written upon request or by initiative
  • the nature of relationship between the writer and a candidate
  • facts that directly relate to the position
  • a writer’s general opinion on whether the candidate fits this particular position

Mostly, recommendation letters are confidential, that is, they are sent directly to a person or department who requested them, and are not shown to the candidate. Thus, the writer whose confidentiality is guaranteed tends to be more open and frank, expressing the important negative features along with the positive ones.

A recommendation letter writer should be aware that the presented information should be true and just. Any reader would hesitate relying upon continuous praise for someone’s achievements and strong points. Therefore, a good writer often provides a specific example in arecommendation letter to any general statement to support the candidate’s abilities.

Weaknesses in a recommendation letter

Sooner or later a recommendation letter writer has to deal with a delicate issue, namely, how to present candidate’s weaknesses. A writer may not include candidate’s weak points if they are not related to job requirements. However the writer should realize that providing a recommendation, he/she becomes responsible to some extent for the candidate. Covering serious candidate’s weaknesses may lead to very unpleasant consequences (a candidate may reveal not enough qualifications, or a better-qualified candidate may get a refusal due to a false recommendation of a rival).

Some managers consider it unethical to omit the information that is not in favor of a candidate in a recommendation letter, especially if it is relevant and true. But at the same time, there is a danger of making false judgments that harm candidate’s reputation. The best way to present possible weaknesses is to balance criticism with favorable points and to present only relevant information.

A good recommendation letter usually ends with a supportive personal summery of the writer’s evaluation. Be sure to leave your contact information (telephone, e-mail, etc.) to provide more credibility.

To sum up, a good recommendation letter should provide frank and personal information related to the job and avoid overstating candidate’s abilities or mislead the reader in any other way.

April 16, 2009

Resume writing tricks

The objective of a resume is to get the reader’s attraction to your strong points and to minimize your disadvantage without misrepresenting the facts. But in order to provide the best impression on the reader, you might want to omit some questionable points or information that may not be in your favor. Recruiters claim that around 40 percent of all resumes either exaggerate the candidate’s abilities and skills or do not include potentially damaging information, which means that many people turn to resume tricks, which are actually mistakes.

List of most frequent resume tricks

The most frequent resume tricks that candidates turn to are:

  • claiming nonexistent educational credits. Sometimes candidates state that they earned a degree when they just attended a school but, actually, did not complete the required courses
  • claiming to be engaged in his/her own business. This trick is used to cover the periods of unemployment. Very often a candidate asserts that he/she runs own business from a home office
  • stretching periods of employment to cover gaps. This is another technique to conceal the true reasons for unemployment periods. Unemployment gaps raise many questions, and potential employees are not always willing to answer fully
  • concealing reference to jobs that may cause embarrassment. A candidate would prefer to hide the fact of being fired from several jobs in a quick succession, as it will characterize him/her as a bad employee. To eliminate the gap, a candidate will stretch the dates of previous employments
  • exaggerating experience and accomplishments. Sometimes candidates appropriate group project achievements to their own results
  • stating to have worked for the companies that are out of business. Usually candidates with lack of working experience turn to this method to fill in a blank work experience section

Thus, when composing your resume, remember that experienced recruiters and human resource managers are aware of these frequent resume tricks, so be careful not to get into your own trap. It is very effective to present your strongest and most impressive points and to minimize shortcomings. But do not exaggerate or claim to have skills or expertise you do not have.

April 07, 2009

Time reference in writing

Whenever mentioning dates or time in your writing, be sure to refer to these absolutely, not relatively. Always remember that the moment of writing passes away as the writer stops writing, and the written piece enters the domain of readers. When the readers see reference to time in the absolute form (e.g. in 1990), he or she accepts it fine. However, whenever the reader encounters a relative date or time (e.g. yesterday), he or she might get confused. So be sure to refer to time correctly, using absolute points of reference.

Here are comparative lists of examples of relative vs. absolute date and time references:

  • Absolute: on May 5, 2000; first saturday of August, 1709; 1-1-01; 21:20, 13-02-2006; in 1999.
  • Relative: yesterday; several years ago; on May 5; last year.

Note that the main difference between the two types is that relative time reference has to have some origin, or point where to start. For the writer, that origin is the moment of writing, but for the readers this is very inconvenient. Readers have to either find out when the text was written or have to guess. Careful writers would provide the origin for the readers’ convenience, if they opt for relative time/date reference. However, it is much better to use absolute timing. The main reason for this necessity is the dynamic nature of time; the “now” changes every moment. Thus, the writer’s “now” is far earlier than the readers’ “nows”. Even more, the reader’s “nows” are very different. The authors must be careful and think in advance about the readers, addressing to time and date in the absolute form, but not relative to the perpetually-changing “now.”

Even more, careful writers never address to the “now” of writing as present; they address is as it is past, regardless of the writer’s present.

Consider: “As I write this, … ” vs. “When the author was writing this.”

The first example is egoistic, while the second one shows care for the reader, considering the person and the time of access.

Of course, these are only general rules, which are applicable to most cases. However, there are exceptions, when this relative use of time would, for example, project the reader into some event purposefully, to create the feeling of presence, and so on. These cases, however, are rare and must be used only by experienced writers. In 99.6% of cases, however, use absolute time and date reference!

April 03, 2009

Audience analysis before writing

If you are writing to communicate to other readers, analyzing your probable audience will help you answer some basic questions:

  • How much information or evidence is enough? What should I assume my audience already knows? What should I not tell them? What do they believe? Will they readily agree with me or will they be antagonistic?
  • How should I organize my writing? How can I get my reader's attention? Can I just describe my subject and tell a story or should I analyze everything in a logical order? Should I put my best examples or arguments first or last?
  • Should I write informally, with simple sentences and easy vocabulary, or should I write in a more elaborate or specialized style, with technical vocabulary?

Analyze your audience by considering the following questions. As you learn more about your audience, the possibilities for your own role as a writer will become clearer.

  1. Audience profile. How narrow or broad is your audience? Is it a narrow and defined audience — a single person, such as your Aunt Mary, or a group with clear common interests, such as the zoning board in your city or the readers of Organic Gardening? Is it a broad and diverse audience: educated readers who wish to be informed on current events, American voters as a whole, or residents of your state? Do your readers have identifiable roles? Can you determine their age, sex, economic status, ethnic background, or occupational category?
  2. Audience-subject relationship. Consider what your readers know about your subject. If they know very little about it, you'll need to explain the basics; if they already know quite a bit, you can get right to more difficult or complex issues. Also estimate their probable attitude toward this subject. Are they likely to be sympathetic or hostile?
  3. Audience-writer relationship. What is your relationship with the readers? Do you know each other personally? Do you have anything in common? Will your audience be likely to trust what you say or will they be skeptical about your judgments? Are you the expert on this particular subject and the reader a novice? Or are you a novice and your reader the expert? (If you're a novice writing to an expert, absolute honesty and careful reliance on evidence will help win you a hearing.)
  4. Writer's role. To communicate effectively with your audience, you should also consider your own role or perspective. Of the many roles that you could play (friend, big sister or brother, student of psychology, music fan, employee of a fast-food restaurant, and so on), choose one that will be effective for your purpose and audience. If, for example, you are writing to sixth-graders about nutrition, you could choose the perspective of a concerned older brother or sister, but your writing might be more effective if you assume the role of a person who has worked in fast-food restaurants for three years and knows what goes into hamburgers, French fries, and milkshakes.

Writers may write to a real audience, or they may create an audience. Sometimes the relationship between writer and reader is real (sister writing to brother), and so the writer starts with a known audience and writes accordingly. Sometimes, however, writers begin writing and gradually discover or create an audience in the process of writing. Knowing the audience guides the writing, but the writing may create an audience as well.