May 22, 2009

Explaining "Why": cause and effect writing

"Why?" may be the question most commonly asked by human beings. We are fascinated by the reasons for everything we experience in life. We ask questions about natural phenomena: Why is the sky blue? Why does a teakettle whistle? Why do some materials act as superconductors? We also find human attitudes and behavior intriguing: Why is chocolate so popular? Why do some people hit small leather balls with big sticks and then run around a field stomping on little white pillows? Why are America's farms economically depressed? Why did the United States go to war in Vietnam?

Explaining why something occurs can be the most fascinating — and difficult — kind of expository writing. Answering the question "why" usually requires analyzing cause-and-effect relationships, but the causes maybe too complex or intangible to identify precisely. We are on comparatively secure ground when we ask why about physical phenomena than can be weighed, measured, and replicated under laboratory conditions. Under those conditions, we can determine cause and effect with precision. Fire, for example, has three necessary and sufficient causes: combustible material, oxygen, and ignition temperature. Without each of these causes, fire will not occur (each cause is "necessary"); these three causes are, taken together, enough to cause fire (all three are "sufficient"). The cause-and-effect relationship, in this case, can be illustrated by an equation:

  • cause 1: combustible substance
  • cause 2: oxygen
  • cause 3: ignition temperature
  • effect: fire

Analyzing both necessary and sufficient causes is essential to explaining an effect. You may say, for example, that wind shear (an abrupt downdraft in a storm) "caused" an airplane crash. In fact, wind shear may have helped cause the crash (been necessary), but by itself wind shear was not the total (sufficient) cause of the crash: An airplane with enough power may be able to overcome wind shear forces in certain circumstances. An explanation of the crash is not complete until you analyze the full range of necessary and sufficient causes, which may include wind shear, lack of power, mechanical failure, and even pilot error.

Sometimes, explanations for physical phenomena are beyond our analytical powers. Astrophysicists, for example, have good theoretical reasons for believing that black holes cause gigantic gravitational whirlpools in outer space, but they have difficulty explaining why black holes exist — or whether they exist at all.

In the realm of human cause and effect, determining causes and effects can be as tricky as explaining why black holes exist. Why do some children learn math easily, while others fail? What effect does failing at math have on a child? What are necessary and sufficient causes for divorce? What are the effects of divorce on parents and children? You may not be able to explain all the causes or effects of something, but you should not be satisfied until you have considered a wide range of possible causes and effects. Even then, you need to qualify or modify your statements, using such words as might," "Usually," "often," "seldom," "many," or "most," and then giving as much support and evidence as you can.

May 17, 2009

Writing about investigations

Investigating begins with questions. What causes the greenhouse effect? How does illiteracy affect a person's life? How does rape affect the lives of women in America? How is AIDS transmitted? How do TV rating systems work? How do colleges recruit applicants? What can you find out about a famous person's personality, background, and achievements? At what age do children first acquire simple mathematical abilities? What kind of employee is most likely to be promoted? Why are sunsets yellow, then orange, red, and finally purple?

Investigating also carries an assumption that probing for answers to such questions — by observing and remembering, reading sources, interviewing key people, or conducting surveys — will uncover truths not generally known or accepted. As you dig for information, you learn who, what, where, and when. You may even learn how and why.

The purpose of investigating is to uncover or discover facts, opinions, and reactions for yourself and then to report that information to other people who want to know. A report strives to be as objective and informative as possible. It may summarize other people's judgments, but it does not editorialize. It may represent opposing viewpoints or arguments, but it does not argue for one side or the other. A report is a window on the world, allowing readers to see the information for themselves.

May 13, 2009

Keep a journal (blog): practice your writing

Many writers keep some kind of notebook or journal in which they write down their thoughts for later use. Some writers call it a journal, a place for their day-to-day thoughts. Other writers call it a daybook, a place to record ideas, collected information, possible outlines, titles, questions — anything related to the process of writing, thinking, and learning.

Scientists keep daily logs in which they record data or describe behavior. The word "journal" is the general term referring to "a place for daily writing." Whatever you call it, it should become part of your writing ritual. In it should go all kinds of anting. Bits and pieces of experience or memory that might come in handy later. Reactions to what you're reading. A log of the problems you face as you write. Memorable sayings or quotations. Short summaries of what you're reading in your classes. Your journal is a place to practice, a closet where all your "fish paintings" go.

For maximum flexibility, your journal should be a loose-leaf notebook, so you can add, take out, or rearrange materials. Some writers, though, prefer a spiral notebook, a manila folder with pockets, or a computer disk. Whatever format you choose, make sure that you feel comfortable with it. As the following list indicates, there are many kinds of journal entries.

  • Warm-up writing. Writing, like any other kind of activity, improves when you loosen up, stretch, get the kinks out, practice a few lines. Any daybook or journal entry gives you a chance towarm up.
  • Collecting and shaping exercises. Some journal entries will help youcollect information by observing, remembering or investigating people, places, events, or objects. You can also record quotationsor startling statistics for a future writing topic. Other entries will give you a chance to practice organizing your information. Strategies of development, such as comparison/contrast, definition, classification, process analysis, and casual analysis will help you discover and shape ideas.
  • Practice in writing for a specified audience. In some entries, you need to play a role, to imagine you are in a specific situation and writing for a defined audience. For example, you might write a letter of application to a college admissions officer or a letter to your employer asking for a week's vacation.
  • Identifying and solving writing problems. Your journal is also the place to keep a log, a running account of your writing plans and problems. The log helps you record your progress and identify and solve problems as they occur.
  • Summarizing, responding, and recording vocabulary entries. A journal is an excellent place to summarize articles for other courses, respond to class discussions, or record definitions of words you look up in the dictionary.

For most journal entries, try to let your ideas flow easily. Don't stop to fix spelling or punctuation. Focus on your train of thought.

May 10, 2009

Cover letter writing tips

Understanding the importance of an effective resume is crucial for every job seeker. However they should not underestimate the significance of a cover letter as well. A cover letter usually complements every resume, and it is the cover letter that strikes a manager’s eyes first.

The objective of every cover letter is to provide to the reader the reasons why you choose this specific company, present your relevant skills and abilities, and as a result get you an interview or some other response from potential employer. Please remember that just like with a resume, a cover letter must be unique for every recipient.

Contents of a cover letter

The first paragraph of a cover letter should precisely state the position you want to apply to, provide the source (where you learned about the vacancy), and concisely explain why you fit this particular position.

The next paragraph of a cover letter clearly explains how your skills, experience, and educational background relate to the company’s needs. Emphasize the points, work experience, achievements which prove you are an ideal candidate for the position. This way, you will show that you have examined the company, and you possess the required skills, knowledge, and experience.

To finalize a cover letter, you should request an interview or some other response (a telephone call, etc.). Be sure to leave you contact information. And finally thank a reader for his/her time.

May 07, 2009

Academic essays do's & dont's

The key to success lies in focusing in each academic essay on a few illustrative incidents as opposed to giving a superficial overview. Remember that detail, specificity, and concrete examples will make your academic essay distinctive and interesting. Generalities and platitudes that could apply to every other business school applicant will bore. If you use the latter, you will just blend into the crowd.

Following Ten Do's and Don'ts for your academic essay will help you write compelling, focused academic essays that will transform you from a collection of numbers and classes into an interesting human being.

The do's of academic essays

  • Unite your essay and give it direction with a theme or thesis. The thesis is the main point you want to communicate. Make sure in answers the question.
  • Before you begin writing, choose what you want to discuss and the order in which you want to discuss it.
  • Use concrete examples from your life experience to support your thesis and distinguish yourself from other applicants.
  • Write about what interests you, excites you. That's what the admissions staff wants to read.
  • Start your essay with an attention-grabbing lead: an anecdote, quote, surprising statement, question, or engaging description of a scene.
  • End your essay with a conclusion that refers back to the lead and restates your thesis.
  • Revise your essay at least three times.
  • In addition to your editing, ask someone else to critique your personal statement for you.
  • Proofread your essays by reading them out loud or reading it into a tape recorder and playing back the tape.
  • Write clearly, succinctly.

The don'ts of academic essays

  • Don't include information that doesn't support your thesis.
  • Don't start your academic essay with "I was born in...," or "My parents came from..."
  • Don't write an autobiography, itinerary, or resume in prose.
  • Don't try to be a clown (but gentle humor is OK).
  • Don't be afraid to start over if the essay just isn't working or doesn't answer the essay question.
  • Don't try to impress your reader with your vocabulary.
  • Don't rely exclusively on your computer to check your spelling.
  • Don't provide a collection of generic statements and platitudes.
  • Don't give mealy-mouthed, weak excuses for your GPA or test scores.
  • Don't make things up.

May 05, 2009

Sales letters writing mistakes

Sales letters are an effective marketing tool, and the ability to write sales letters effectively can have a dramatic influence on the degree of response and the ultimate profit. However, there are several general mistakes and dangers sales letter writers often make. In this article we will focus on the legal dangers; remembering these simple rules will help you avoid problems with the law. So here are the …

Frequent sales letters mistakes


Providing false information about the product (or service) price, performance, or quality are examples of fraud. False testimonies from people misrepresented as specialists in the field is also considered fraud. To be more precise, any statement in a sales letter is considered fraud if the recipient can prove that:

  • it was made regarding a fact, rather than an opinion
  • he or she was demanded by it
  • he or she relied on it and was justified in doing so
  • the statement was made with the attempt to deceive

Thousands of fraudulent sales letters hurtle around the United States every year. They range from self-improvement and get-rich-quick to charity appeals and business opportunities. Do not join trash, and only write true facts in your sales letters.


Remember that in many states, sales letters are considered legal contracts. In these states, any promise made in a sales letter must be fulfilled regardless of whether the recipient responded or not. Therefore, avoid making any promises or even implications about promises when writing sales letters.


Avoid using someone’s private data in sales letters, including photos, names, and any personal background data might be considered invasion of privacy. Putting someone's photo in sales letters is a mistake, unless the person is a model or permitted placing the picture. You can't use anything you want in a sales letter; putting a photo or mentioning someone’s background (e.g. confinement, drunk driving, drug use) might also be considered invasion of privacy. Thus, be neutral; write or use information about others with care and vigilance to avoid lawsuit.

To sum up, know the laws of your area, and avoid these frequent dangers and mistakes in writing sales letters. Any of these mistakes could result in a problem with the law. Always be ethical when writing your sales letters. Ethics, care, candor, and quality product or idea are those things that would make your sales letter effective!

May 03, 2009

Writing about memories: effective techniques

Writing vividly about memories includes all the skills of careful observing, but it adds additional techniques that are described below. Not all writing about memories uses all five techniques, but often one or two of them will transform a lifeless or boring account into an effective narrative.

  1. Using detailed observation of people, places, and events. Writing vividly about memories requires many of the skills of careful observation. Give actual dialogue where appropriate.
  2. Creating specific scenes set in time and space. Show your reader the actual events, don't just tell about events. Narrate specific incidents as they actually happened. Avoid monotonously summarizing events or presenting just the conclusions (for instance, "those experiences really changed my life").
  3. Noting changes, contrasts, or conflicts. Changes in people or places, contrasts between two different memories or between memories of expectations and the reality, or conflicts between people or ideas will often lead to the meaning or importance of a remembered person, place, or event.
  4. Making connections between past events, people, or places and the present. The main idea of a narrative often grows out of the changes and conflicts or arises from the connections you make between past and present.
  5. Discovering and focusing on a main idea. A remembering essay is not a random narrative of the writer's favorite memories. A narrative should have a clear main point, focus on a main idea, or make a discovery. The essay should clearly show why the memories are important.

Using details, creating scenes, noting conflicts, making connections between past and present, and focusing on a main idea are all important techniques, but you should also keep several other points in mind. Normally, you should write in the first person, using "I" or "we" throughout the narrative. Usually, you will write in past tense, but sometimes you may wish to lend immediacy to the events by retelling them in the present tense, as though they are happening now. Finally, you may stick with a straightforward chronological order, or you may begin near the end and use a flashback to tell the beginning of the story.

The key to effective remembering, though, is to get beyond generalities and conclusions about your experiences ("I had a lot of fun — those days really changed my life") to specific incidents set in time and place which show how and why those days changed your life. The specific incidents should show your main point or dominant idea.