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How To Keep a Letter to One Page

Image Credit: Pixabay

One of the key pieces of advice I include in all of my letter writing kits is that you should always try hard to keep a letter on a single page.

Regardless of the subject of your letter, you should be able to make your key point(s) on one page. That doesn’t mean that you won’t sometimes have supporting documents as attachments. However, even in cases where attachments are necessary, you should always try to make the covering letter a one-pager.

I’m sure you’ve received letters that overflow onto a second page for the sake of a few words or a sentence or two. Such letters tends to look very tacky and unprofessional, and they’re very wasteful to boot. So try to avoid doing that when you are writing your own letters – especially business letters.

Nowadays it’s easy to do this. With standard word processing software there are a number of handy little tricks that you can use to help squeeze your letter (or other document) onto a single page.

So, here are some page squeeze tips:

  • Move both the left and right margins out about 1/4 in. closer to the edge of the page. No more than that, however, as it will look too obvious.
  • Move the top and bottom margins out about 1/4 in. closer to the edge of the page. Again, no more than 1/4 in.
  • Take a good look at your draft letter and see if there are any paragraphs that have an ending sentence that overflows onto an additional line for the sake of one or two words. If so, make a minor edit or two in the paragraph to shorten it a little so that it will no longer overflow onto the following line. Don’t forget to reread to make sure it still makes sense!
  • Another thing you can do is, try reducing the size of the font size by 1 point, say from 12 to 11 points. Note: your font size should never be smaller than 10 points.

If your letter still doesn’t fit, but it is close, there’s one final thing you can try if you are the author of the letter. Go back and edit it one more time. Look for redundant thoughts and phrases, or those that can be combined into one sentence rather than two. Is every word and phrase absolutely essential to your message? You’ll be amazed at the space savings that this final edit process can result in.

Try the above methods in sequence, one-at-a-time, checking each time to see if your latest change has done the trick for you.

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A Good Resume Is Essential: Avoid These Problems

Making sure that you have a well written resume (or curriculum vitae) is always important. If you don’t take the time and trouble required to craft a good resume you will be sabotaging yourself. In fact, your resume or CV is likely to be one of the most important documents of your life; whether you write it yourself, or you have it written for you by a professional. Even in these days of the internet, social media, smart phones, etc., at some point you will still need a traditional resume or CV as you look for a job.

Almost every time we have read “draft” or “old” resumes, we have found the following problems:

Common Resume (or CV) Problems:

  • It is almost always too long
  • It doesn’t focus on what you can do for the new employer today in the job at hand
  • It tends to give equal weight to ancient history with not enough emphasis on recent experience
  • Insufficient focus on actual results achieved in the various job experiences described
  • It does not state clearly up-front what the applicant is looking for job-wise and career-wise

If you spend time searching around online you will find hundreds if not thousands of resume and CV formats you can follow which are promoted by numerous self-proclaimed experts. Of course, it is always good to have a resume format that is pleasing to the eye. However, if you do not address the above five points while creating the content of your resume, the format won’t matter much.

What’s the best way to address these problems? Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. They’ve advertised for a job and they’ve received 300 resumes.

  • Do you think they’re going to read each one of them word for word? No, they don’t have time. They’re going to skim. So if yours is short, punchy, and has key points bolded, that’s what will catch their eye
  • Your key points should be about what you can do for them, and how you can solve their problem
  • Your most recent experience should be first – i.e., your work history should be in reverse chronological order
  • You should talk about results and accomplishments that helped your last employer
  • You should be clear about what you’re looking for in your career trajectory, so they have an idea of what they might do with you long term

With these points in mind, go look at your current resume? Does it need an update?

 

 

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Why You Should Develop Your Practical Writing Skills

Did you know that the ability to write for practical purposes can be a very important and powerful ability? Really! Becoming proficient at letter writing, for both business and personal purposes, can help you advance in many different aspects of your life.

As evidence of this, the following paragraphs describe a real-life example from my recent past.

I own (and live) in a unit in a multi-unit condominium building. As with most condo buildings, mine is managed by an elected committee of co-owners. About two and one-half years ago, I was asked by members of our condo board if I would be interested in running for election to the committee at the annual general meeting. Having never done that before, I thought I would give it a try, so I agreed to run and I was elected. I ended up staying in that position for two years before I decided to resign and move on to other things; about six months ago.

What does this have to do with writing, you might be asking right about now? Everything actually! Early into my two-year term as a member of the condo management board, I realized that writing letters and support documents was one of the most important activities for the efficient day-to-day functioning of our building. These documents include such things as numerous letters and notices to residents, instruction lists and checklists for janitorial staff, as well as letters to contractors and government bodies.

So, after I resigned from the board I compiled a group of the most common types of condo-management letters and notices and turned them into generic examples so that I could post them online. I believe that such “real-life examples will help a lot of people who are involved in the management and administration of their building; whether it’s a condo building, a co-operative, or a rental building.

Even if you aren’t directly involved in such activities, I suggest you take a look at some of the examples I have posted so that you can get a clear idea as to how important practical writing skills can be, and why you should continue to develop yours.

Remember, this is just one example of how strong practical writing skills can be important in your day-to-day life.

Here’s the link to the condo management letters article and samples:
http://www.writinghelp-central.com/condo-letter-samples.html

 

Posted on 28 Comments

Proper Preposition Phrases

Image Credit: Pixabay

On a daily basis, we see improper preposition usage. In fact, it drives us crazy when we hear supposedly well-educated people on national radio and TV misuse common prepositions in their reporting of the news and current events.

Just to be clear as to what we’re talking about here: a “preposition” is a word that is placed before a noun or pronoun to form a phrase by modifying another word in the sentence. The dictionary defines a preposition as: “…a word governing a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element…” In less technical terms, prepositions are those little connector words that join words and/or phrases to other words and/or phrases.

Examples of common prepositions are: about, above, after, as, at, before, behind, between, beyond, but, by, down, during, in, into, of, off, on, under, until, up, upon, with, within, to name a few. These words almost always function as an adjective or adverb.

Below are about a dozen typical preposition phrases misused in the news media and on popular TV shows.

agree (on), agree (to), agree (with)
We now agree on the terms of the contract.
I intend to agree to his proposal after the modifications.
His observations agree with my findings.

answer (for), answer (to)
He will have to answer for what he did last night.
She will have to answer to her boss on that matter.

begin (by), begin (from), begin (with)
I will begin by taking the oath of allegiance.
The race will begin from the parking lot behind the car dealership.
The project will begin with an environmental assessment.

bored (by), bored (with); NOT “bored of”
She was really bored by last night’s concert.
Over time, I became bored with the whole thing.

capable (of); NOT “capable to”
I knew that they were capable of much more.
The coach told me I was capable of playing at a much higher level.

correspond (to), correspond (with)

Once it is repainted it will correspond to mine.
While away on course I made it a habit to correspond with my parents by e-mail.

impressed (by), impressed (with); NOT “impressed of”
Jason was impressed by their new approach to the issue.
Julia was quite impressed with Susan’s behavior.

graduate (from), graduate (to); NOT “graduated college”
When do you expect to graduate from college?
After the initial phase you will graduate to the next level.

invest (in), invest (with)
Once I receive the funds I will invest in a mix of stocks and bonds.
He decided to invest his savings with the bank.

live (off), live (on)
Once they move to the farm they plan to live off the land.
When I turn 65 I will start to live on a pension.

proceed (to), proceed (with)
After that is done, I will proceed to the next step.
Please proceed with what you were doing when we arrived.

report (on), report (to)
After his assessment he will report on the situation.
He will report to the recruitment center next Monday.

suited (to), suited (for)
They seem very suited to each other.
Brad is well suited for that accounting position.

The above are just a few examples of proper preposition usage in some of the more common preposition phrases.  So, here’s a word of warning: if you are trying to improve your English by watching television or listening to the radio, don’t assume that everything you hear is correct. Often it isn’t. Really! So, if you read or hear something that doesn’t seem quite right, look it up.

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7 Apps That Can Make You A Better Writer

Writing is one area of life where you can continuously improve. There’s always some little tweak you can make to create an even better piece. However, when you’re strapped for time, how can you find a way to improve your writing? Rather than proofreading the same piece over and over, there are some amazingly handy apps that can take the hard work and time out of getting your content creation just right.

In this article, we take a look at seven of the best apps currently on the market for finessing your work. Through downloading and using a few of the following, you’ll become the best writer you can be.

ProWritingAid

If grammar isn’t your strongest point, you can use ProWritingAid to check everything you write. It provides 25 different reports on spelling and grammar mistakes, style issues, and readabilty issues. It does cost you money though but there are often special offers that enable you to save dollars while making your writing impeccable.

Hemingway

The Hemingway app identifies any sentences that may be difficult to read while also providing simple alternatives. If you have an issue with passive writing or using too many adverbs, the app flags these up too. Using Hemingway, you also get an idea of the reading level of your work. It gauges the lowest education needed to understand your piece.

Flowstate

Flowstate is for you if you constantly get distracted as you write. You set a font and timer and go for it. If you stop to daydream, your work will be lost!

Draft

Draft is a free web app that enables you to control features in word processors such as Google Docs. It’s therefore excellent in terms of collaborative writing. Additionally, its “Ask a Professional” feature lets you get advice and input from others on your writing. You can also keep abreast of any revisions you’ve made to your piece to assess how it’s changed as you’ve rewritten or tweaked it.

Scrivener

Scrivener is a tool with robust features that take time to get to grips with. However, this is a crucial app for many writers and is known as a complete writing studio. The app provides you with one single place to store all your writing and ideas. It’s perfect for you if you want to keep everything in the one place in terms of writing and organization

Microsoft Word

An oldie but still a goodie, Microsoft Word is still a very valid and valuable tool for any writer. You can do almost everything in Word with its app-specific keyboard shortcuts, formatting options, collaboration, draft versions, customizable toolbars and more.

Inspiration Maps

If you tend to come up with random ideas and find these difficult to organize, Inspiration Maps could be the app you’re looking for. You can simply utilize a template to collate your thoughts, images and ideas. You can then even convert these into a Word document.

There are hundreds of writing software apps on the market today. Not all will appeal to everyone. However, this list of seven will help get you started. Good luck!

Jen Starr is part of the community team at Next Day PC. Jen enjoys staying on top of the latest tech trends and sharing how new tech can positively impact people’s lives.

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8 Questions to Answer Before You Start Writing Your First Book

Image Credit: Freepick

“Start writing, no matter what,” novelist Louis L’Amour once said. “The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” And while no one would argue with L’Amour, who wrote more than 100 well-known books, there’s nothing wrong with creating a little method to the madness. Or better yet, you should develop one.

Don’t worry. Pondering strategy won’t hamper your creativity. Here’s a few questions you can consider before getting started:

  1. Why is this book important to you?

Yes, you have a “why.” Every great author starts with the why. Really think about this question. Dig deep, without fear, to unveil your inspiration and drive. It’s equivalent to a company’s mission and values statement. How honestly you answer this question will roadmap and guide you through your writing journey. It will affect the type of book you will write, publishing plans, and even how’ll market and create buzz.

For example, it’s common for people to write books with the sole purpose of generating new prospects and leads for their business. Take Hubspot, for example. It is well-known for releasing comprehensive books on marketing best practices. However, their end goal is to eventually snag the reader as a new customer. If content marketing is your goal, you may even choose to go for a non-traditional form of publishing, such as releasing the book as a downloadable PDF.

Some aspiring authors want sustainable income through book advances and royalties. This goal also could heavily influence your publishing process. You’ll probably spend a great amount of time soliciting the assistance of an agent, and certainly aim to work with an established publisher.

And others are inspired by the story that’s burning inside of them.

Find out your why and clearly outline your motivations. Then, as you embark on this journey, you can refer to your underlying motivation to help you make decisions along the way.

  1. What is your book’s structure?

Many authors, especially first-timers, jump straight into the writing process, expecting their free-flow of ideas to float them to the finish line. But structuring and formatting will play a major role in your finished work, whether you like it or not. And if it’s not prioritized in your writing process, it certainly will be tackled by your editor in preparation for publishing.

Get in front of it. Think about your book’s structure and any major content you know up front will be included in it. You don’t need to try to outline the book’s flow, just broad parameters to give your writing process a bit of definition. Is it a collection of short pieces, such as recipes or essays? Are you the sole author or will you be collecting stories from others? What other forms of media do you want included, like photos or illustrations? Just think about it.

  1. Who is your ideal reader?

Keeping the reader’s experience in mind is also a debatable point among artists. Do you write for your audience, or do you write for your narrative’s sake? It truly depends on the goal of your book. However, it can’t hurt to know your reader so you can truly spark their interest, connect with them, meet their needs and provoke their emotions. “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,” advised Robert Frost. “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

Of course, your emotional connection to your story is unshakeable — especially if you’ve dreamt of writing your book for years. But your book is not about you. It’s about your story. It’s about your readers.

Tell a story they want to hear. Share facts and advice that they’re searching for. Make them feel or think what they want to feel and think. Unless you’re already Kardashian-level famous, no one will read your book because of you.

To do this well, create a profile for your reader. Imagine what their life looks like. What motivates them? How long will it take them to finish your book? What are their hobbies and interests? What challenges are your readers trying to solve?

Keep this profile in mind as you jot your outline. This will affect your voice and tone, your structure, and how you communicate your story.

  1. What’s your budget?

Your budget will depend on your answers to the previous three questions. For example, every author needs an editor and proofreader. However, depending on your motivation for writing and the book’s structure, you might also need an illustrator, a fact checker, even an attorney. Whether you have an agent or you’re going it alone, plan out your costs and begin building your budget so you don’t panic at the amount of money spent at the end of your writing process.

  1. Do you have competition?

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison. In the modern era of Amazon, savvy authors know they need to research their niche to confirm that the story they want to write hasn’t been written already.

Competitor research can be easy. Browse Amazon or head to a local bookstore. Check out the top titles in your genre or field. Look at what other best sellers are positioned near them. Check out the authors of these top books and scan their bio to see what else they’ve written. Scan Amazon reviews to see readers’ praise or criticism of these top books.

Be prepared. You might find that what you want to write has already been extensively covered. If so, pivot.  Think of a new approach to the topic. Often times, competitive research can be inspirational in and of itself, broadening your approach to a topic beyond the boundaries of your own ideas. And if that doesn’t work, think of a new topic.

  1. How will you prove your book’s value?

Never judge a book by its cover. But that’s literally what all of us do when deciding what book to buy from the store or borrow from a friend. The title could attract us, or the endorsements, or the quirky descriptions on the inside of the book jacket. Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and come up with a plan to visually convey your book’s value.

  1. What’s your deadline (realistically)?

Even if this is simply a passion project, you need to have a clear timeline to hold yourself accountable. Don’t be that author who takes their manuscript to their grave. The world wants your story. The readers need your passion. So, set a timeline and stick with it.

  1. What tools will you need?

Every author is different, but writers have often identified several key tools that have helped them to be successful at the craft:

  • A physical notebook: Jot down quick ideas and inspiration on the go.
  • A smart word processing tool or app: Get one that’s specifically for writers. This saves you time, headache, and helps you write more efficiently. If you’re writing on a Mac, Mellel may be just what you need.
  • A printer: In this digital age, more and more people, opt out of buying a printer. But it’s one of the best ways to proofread your work.

These 8 steps are only the beginning, but they certainly set you in the right direction towards contributing your masterpiece to the world of ideas.

Amber Massey is a wordsmith and communications enthusiast with over 10 years of experience. Editing is her passion. New media is her medium. She is currently the CEO of Mellel, a powerful app redefining word processing for Mac.

Posted on 26 Comments

Be Very Careful How You Post Online

Image Credit: Pixabay

These days, with social media being a major part of our everyday lives, how you present yourself in writing is increasingly important. If you don’t pay careful attention to the quality of the posts you make online you could be hurting yourself in ways you haven’t even thought of, or can’t even imagine.

A Good Example of This on Facebook

A post appeared recently wherein the author had decided to go into some sort of rant about how they were very upset with people who used animal and cartoon images as their Facebook profile picture. This person wanted only photos of the actual person to be used, and they were therefore going to “unfriend” anyone on  who used an image other than their own photo. In this case that the person’s little rant also made numerous disparaging remarks about the characters and motives of the people who don’t use their own photo on Facebook.

The real kicker was that the individual’s rant was absolutely riddled with errors in basic English spelling and grammar.

What would your reaction to this post be? Exactly.

When a post seems to be bordering on illiterate, it loses all credibility. Whatever point they were trying to make about the FB profile photos suddenly became meaningless at best, and hypocritical at worst. And you wouldn’t be the only one to dismiss this person based on the poor quality of that post.

But here’s the most important part: whether you intend for it or not, your post may well be seen by thousands of people worldwide.

Yes, thousands. Even if you have your settings updated to maximum privacy. Anyone within your approved circle of friends can screenshot what you say and post it anywhere else.

Employers are Watching

Prospective employers routinely check out the Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin profiles of job applicants. If you have a habit of making posts with spelling and grammar errors (because it’s only social media, right?), chances are that this will be noticed and taken into account by hiring managers. Any job that requires at least high school graduation will require good writing skills.

College Admission Staff Are Watching

Admissions staff at universities and colleges also check out the online posts of applicants. Do you want to present yourself as semi-illiterate to a college or university? The worst thing about this is that if you get “screened out” by applications staff for your poor social media posts, you’ll never even know that this was the main reason you didn’t make the cut!

Prospective Dates Are Watching (Really!)

In Aziz Ansari’s book “Modern Romance” (Penguin Press, 2015), he states that poorly written text messages are a turn-off and sometimes a deal-breaker for many people during the initial phases of dating.

Why?

First, you would be surprised as to how many people claim to have college-level education and then post a profile that is rife with errors in spelling or grammar. So it makes the prospective date wonder: are you telling the truth about your education? If not, what else are you lying about?

 

Second, if you’re not willing to put your best foot forward when you’re actively trying to impress a date – whether it be for a short-term relationship or a spouse for life – it indicates you’re unlikely to put any effort into the relationship. And who wants to waste time on that?

Always, always have a grammar and spell checker program installed and running whenever you compose any type of social media post or text. Also, after drafting even the shortest of messages, STOP and read it over BEFORE you send it. Correct any errors and edit it for clarity if necessary.

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In Business Writing, Make Sure You Keep It Simple…

Something we notice on a regular basis when we read business letters, memos, reports, and other such documents is the use of unnecessary words to over-describe a situation or condition. These are known as redundant or superfluous words. It’s very easy to get into this bad habit when writing.

In fact, using two or three words when one will suffice can weaken your point rather than strengthen it. For effective written communication, we recommend that you make every effort to avoid using unnecessary words and phrases.

The following is a short sample list of some of the more common redundant words and phrases that we often see, alongside shorter alternatives:

absolutely essential ………………… essential
accounted for ………………………….. caused by
actual experience …………………… experience
attached please find ……………….. attached is
at your earliest convenience …… soon
consequent results …………………… results
despite the fact that ……………….. although
few in number …………………………. few
for the purpose of ………………….. for
free of charge …………………………. free
in advance of …………………………… before
in the process of being …………….. being
in the near future ……………………. soon
is suggestive of ………………………. suggests
make a decision to ………………….. decide
make the acquaintance of ……….. meet
mutual cooperation ………………….. cooperation
on behalf of ………………………………. for
on the grounds that …………………. since
perform an analysis of ……………… analyze
provided that ……………………………… if
take under advisement …………….. consider
under no circumstances ……………. never
until such time as ………………………. until
within the realm of possibility …… possible

We should mention that the words and phrases shown on the left-hand side above are not wrong. They are just a more cumbersome way of saying something that can be stated more simply. Nevertheless, for style reasons, there may be situations where the phrase shown on the left is more appropriate in a particular context. Or, there can be situations where one may choose to alternate between the two approaches, in order to avoid repetition.

 

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Get That Application Letter Right

Application Letter

There are two main types of application letters; job application letters and college admission application letters. These letters are very important because they are the first thing about you that the addressee of the letter will see. That’s right; they will see your application cover letter before they have had a chance to review the detailed application support material that is normally attached or enclosed. So, if you mess up the covering application letter you already have one strike against you even before they look at your support material.

Also known as letters of application, or application cover letters, these letters should normally be short one-pagers that do three key things:

  1. Introduce the applicant by name and title.
  2. State clearly and specifically, the position or program for which the applicant is applying.
  3. Briefly summarize the primary reason(s) why the applicant should be accepted for the job or program for which they are applying.

Although one page is ideal, in some situations a second page may be needed to cover all of the relevant information. For example, some college and university programs may dictate a number of specific points they want covered in the application letter, making a slightly longer letter unavoidable. Nevertheless, except whenever impossible, an application cover letter should not exceed two pages.

Job-related application letters are usually accompanied by a resume or CV. In college admission situations, the application letter normally covers an overall application package, as per the requirements of the institution.

Important:
Over the years we have been asked to review/revise many different application letters for both employment and college program admission. The single biggest strategic mistake that we see in many of the letters  is that the writer has not made a point to find out the specific individual (and/or position) to whom the letter should be addressed. If it is a serious application letter, you need to take the time and trouble and find out exactly to whom you should be writing. Generally speaking, an application letter addressed “To Whom It May Concern” just won’t cut it. If you do that, you will be shooting yourself in the foot.

Image credit: Pixabay.

 

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Words Commonly Confused and/or Misused (1)

Confused?

A couple of years ago we posted a series of articles about words that are often used incorrectly. This is the beginning of another multi-part series on a similar subject but with even more confused and/or misused words than before. We’ll start the list of words in alphabetical order and expect to cover three or four letters per post.

So, here are some more frequently confused and/or misused words to add to your list.

accuracy, precision
“accuracy” is how close something is to the true value and to what degree it is free of error.
“precision” is the measure of the “fineness” of a value; usually measured in numeric terms.
Examples:
His shooting was very accurate in tonight’s game.
The laser-cut the diamond to a precision of .005.

affect, effect
“affect” is usually used as a verb, to mean “influence”.
“effect” as a verb means to “cause” or “bring about” something. As a noun it means “impact” or “result”.
Examples:
The cost of prescription drugs has seriously affected the cost of public healthcare.
His new strategy will certainly have an effect on the company’s bottom line.

allusion, illusion, delusion
“allusion” is an indirect reference to something.
“illusion” is when something appears to be real but isn’t.
“delusion” is a persistent belief in something that is contrary to fact or reality.
Examples:
Her allusion to the manager’s wife was completely unfounded.
The mist hanging over the river created an optical illusion.
The delusion that all doctors are infallible still persists in some quarters.

alternate(ly), alternative(ly)
To “alternate”, means to do something in turns, one after another.
“alternative” refers to one or more choices or options.
Examples:
When training, every two minutes we alternate between wind sprints and jogging.
Our only alternative at this point is to go back the way we came.
(“alternate” can sometimes be used as a noun; e.g. we took the alternate route).

amount, number
“amount” refers to a quantity of something.
“number” is when something can be counted.
Examples:
A significant amount of snow fell last night.
A large number of snow plows are out on the road today.

anyone, any one
“anyone”, as one word, can only refer to people.
“any one”, as two words, is used when referring to things.
Examples:
Anyone here is eligible for the draw.
He couldn’t blame her illness on any one factor.

appraise, apprise
“appraise” means to “assign a value” to something.
“apprise” means to “make aware of” something.
Examples:
The mortgage broker appraised my house at well over $300,000.
You should apprise him of what happened last night at the embassy.

approve, approve of
“approve” means “to ratify” or “sanction” something.
“approve of” means “to accept something” or “to think well of” something.
Examples:
Once they add the paragraph I requested, I intend to approve the agreement.
The Mayor enthusiastically approved of the two new appointees.

assume, presume
“assume” means to believe something based on a theory or hypothesis, without actual evidence.
“presume” means to believe that something is true unless it is proven to the contrary.
Examples:
Let’s assume that he will do the right thing and appear at the preliminary hearing.
I presume this cutback will result in significant reductions to plant output.

assure, ensure, insure
“assure” means “to guarantee” or “be convinced” that something will happen.
“ensure” means “to make sure” that something will happen.
“insure” is used to describe covering something with insurance.
Examples:
I can assure you that the increase will be more than the rate of inflation.
Fill your tank now to ensure that you can make the trip without having to stop.
I plan to insure my new car for both collision and public liability.

attentiveness, attention
“attentiveness” refers to the state of being attentive or considerate.
“attention” refers to the act of focusing or concentrating the mind on something.
Examples:
The nurse’s exceptional attentiveness to her patients was noticed by her superiors.
We appreciate your attention to this pressing matter.

beside, besides
“beside” is a preposition that means “immediately adjacent” or “by the side of” something.
“besides” can mean “moreover” or “in addition to” something.
Examples:
The man sat beside his daughter while they waited.
He’s not eligible for coverage. Besides he’ll be changing jobs next month in any case.

biannual, biennial, semi-annual
“biannual” means for something to occur “twice a year”.
“biennial” means for something to occur “every two years”; or to last for two years.
“semi-annual” means for something to occur “twice a year” or once “every six months”.
Examples:
We conduct a mini-audit of the business on a biannual basis.
I believe that environmental conference is a biennial event.
We review our hardware inventory levels semi-annually.

characteristic, distinctive, typical
“characteristic” is a quality that distinguishes and identifies.
“distinctive” is a feature that sets a person or thing apart from others in its group.
“typical” is a characteristic specific to a group, type or species to which a person or thing belongs.
Examples:
Novak always made his characteristic fist pump and bow after winning a match.
That designer has a distinctive style when working with recycled wood.
That long-winded letter was typical of a government bureaucratic.

cite, quote
To “cite” something is to refer to it or repeat it as proof of what was said.
To “quote” something is to repeat it, verbatim. (enclosed in quotation marks).
Examples:
He cited numerous legal precedents while making his argument.
To quote John Lennon on that, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

common, mutual
“common” means belonging to many or to all.
“mutual” means “reciprocal”; feelings or actions felt or done by two or more parties with reference to the other parties in the group.
Examples:
Miscommunication is a common problem among online users.
Their feelings for each other were mutual.

compare, contrast
“compare” should be used when referring to likenesses or similarities.
“contrast” is correctly used when pointing out differences.
Examples:
Those numbers compare favorably with those of last quarter.
In contrast to my measured approach, his is to rush forward, full steam ahead.

compliment, complement
“compliment” is an expression of praise, admiration or flattery.
“complement” is when one person or thing is combined with another, they form a complete unit.
Examples:
Frank complimented Sharon on her new hair style.
The addition of the new pergola really complements the patio.

comprise, constitute, compose
“comprise” means “to consist of” or “to be made up of” something.
“constitute” and “compose” are equivalent; and mean “to make up” or “account for” something.
Examples:
A baseball game comprises nine innings.
The land mass of Canada constitutes more than 60% of North America.
Those ten provinces and three territories constitute the country of Canada.

continual, continuous
“continual” implies a close recurrence in time; a rapid succession of events or constant repetition.
“continuous” uninterrupted in time or sequence.
Examples:
His partner’s continual complaining eventually drove him away from the business.
The continuous barrage of heavy metal music eventually broke him down.

council, counsel
“council” is a decision-making governing body, advisory board, or board of directors.
“counsel” refers to the provision of advice or guidance.
Examples:
Last night, City Council rendered its decision on garbage pick-up days during the summer.
I sought him out in order to seek his counsel on these latest developments.

Okay, that’s enough for the first installment. As I mentioned above, I’ll be making additional posts like this one — three or four letters of the alphabet at a time — every few months over the next year or so.