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12 Essay-Writing Hacks from a Professional Editor

Essay-Writing Hacks

Essay-Writing HacksAs a professional editor, I’ve edited all kinds of documents, not the least of which are essays. I’ve seen it all—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Look, it’s easy to write a bad essay when it’s due in less than 24 hours (we’ve all been there), but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult to write a good essay. To write a good essay, you just have to know what to look for to make weak writing stronger.

Simply looking is the number one job of a professional editor (outside of drinking coffee) because looking leads to discovering—and once you find your errors, improvement is just around the corner.

After editing over a million words, I’ve come to understand what makes a good essay and what makes a bad essay, and I have a few practical tips—essay hacks, if you will—for improving your own essay-writing skills.

1. Befriend your argument.

Make sure you know everything there is to know about your argument. That means you should understand exactly what it is you’re arguing and why. If your argument was an elevator pitch and you had to explain it to someone in just a minute or two, could you? If the answer is “No,” revisit the main point of your essay. Do more research to make sure you know the topic inside and out.

The reason you need to be prepared is that, if there’s any proof that can shoot your argument down, you not only need to shield those bullets but also to ricochet them back. Don’t just know your argument—befriend it. Find out its strengths and its weaknesses.

2. Challenge every idea.

If you have any questions about your topic, subject, or field, ask them as soon as you can. Hitting a snag later can stall progress on your essay, so if you can hit all the major weak points early on, you can avoid finding major flaws in your argument later.

Challenge anything that causes questions to sprout and play the devil’s advocate for your own argument. If you’ve identified these weaknesses before, now is the time to investigate further and begin to clarify anything that might still be fuzzy.

3. Select your sources carefully.

When selecting your sources, be picky. Don’t resort to using online sources just because they’re easily accessible. Try to use all kinds of different sources, but only if they’re current. Don’t pick a dusty old book from the library just to have a print source in your references list.

Choose current and relevant sources from trustworthy or notable scholars in the field. If your proof is questionable, your whole argument will fall apart, so choose your sources like you would an all-star team if you want to knock your essay out of the park.

4. Start writing early.

This is important: make sure you start writing early. Don’t put your essay off until the last minute. Do you know what’s waiting for you at the last minute? Regret and sadness.

Kickstart yourself now so you don’t kick yourself later. If you need to set an early deadline for yourself or split the essay writing into manageable chunks, do it. Just make sure you start early so you have time to solve any problems you run into later.

5. Organize for clarity.

The structure of your essay is every bit as important as the argument itself. If you have a flimsy structure, there’s no firm foundation to build the essay on; if there’s no firm foundation, your essay could collapse at any moment.

Focus on structuring your essay before you start writing. How will you arrange your argument and provide evidence in a cohesive and logical way? It’s better to answer that question earlier rather than later. Use transitions to ensure your argument flows logically from one point to the next.

6. Watch your tense and voice.

First, use the active voice when you write your essay (unless otherwise instructed). Second, avoid personal pronouns to maintain objectivity if need be (e.g., in scientific and other formal writing).

Third, you should write in the literary present, meaning that all actions performed in the text should be explained in the present tense rather than the past.

Finally, avoid using clichés. Since you want to present original thoughts, overused phrases need to be cut.

7. Explain everything clearly.

Any time you make a point, explain it clearly—even if you think it’s obvious. Your argument will be obvious to you (since you’ve befriended it), but it’s brand new to the reader. Your argument is meeting your reader for the first time, and like any new friends, they need introducing. If you fail to introduce them properly, things will get very confusing and awkward.

8. Be succinct.

Sentences should be straightforward, communicating one point at a time; cut all unnecessary words. You’ll also want to eliminate any repetition. It’s easy to say the same things over and over again in an essay, but doing so won’t strengthen your argument.

Cut unnecessary phrases and anything wordy or redundant, including phrases that don’t add information, such as “it should be pointed out that” or “due to the fact that.” Similarly, don’t ramble on about the same topic or go off on a tangent in the middle of your essay.

9. Avoid academese at all costs.

Try to keep things simple. While you shouldn’t talk down to your audience or explain every technical term, you should always be concise. Most importantly, don’t ever use words or phrases that you think will make you sound smarter.

It’s always best to be straightforward, so use the right vocabulary to say exactly what you want to say. It’s embarrassing if you try to use a fancy word only to find it doesn’t mean what you thought it meant.

10. Be aware of your word count.

Don’t go over your word count. Most markers will stop marking at the last word within the word count, so it’s crucial that you stay within it if you want to do well.

However, you also don’t want to stay severely lower than the word count provided. While you shouldn’t pad the essay by adding information that isn’t necessary to your argument or relevant to the topic at hand, you should get as close to the word count as possible by thoroughly exploring your topic and elaborating on your argument.

11. Carefully cite everything.

Unless you want to face a failing grade, academic probation, or even expulsion, you need to cite all of your sources. There are many types of plagiarism, but as long as you take good notes during your research and credit your sources, it’s easy to avoid plagiarism.

Your academic integrity is at stake here, so ensure that you are overly cautious in recording the necessary material. Be vigilant in confirming that you’ve documented everything fully and correctly.

12. Revise extensively.

Every good essay has been revised at least once, which means you, too, should tighten your writing. Comb through and ensure that everything is clear, consistent, and flows well. Once you’re happy with the content of your essay, you can sweat the small stuff, like grammar and spelling errors.

Even brilliant essays receive lower grades if simple mistakes are left in the document, so consider getting a second opinion and having an expert look over your writing for both form and content. At the very least, run a spell and grammar check. You’ll be so happy you did.


Essay writing doesn’t have to be hard. Anyone can write a good essay with the proper tools. These essay hacks are part of your toolkit, which you can use to improve your essay writing. Go from good to great by considering these tips and implementing them when writing your next essay.

If you would prefer a step-by-step guide for essay writing and want to improve your skills once and for all, you might want to think about taking a course to organize and write good essays every time.

How to Write an Essay in Five Easy Steps

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That vs. Which: Proper Usage Is the New Black

That vs. Which

That vs. Which

“All problems are boring until they’re your own.”

As pessimistic as that sounds, Red’s right. Maybe you’re in the middle of a sentence and you realize: “Wait! I don’t know if I should use that or which in this instance.” It’s important to pick the right one. You don’t want to go Jessica Simpson when you’ve got Rihanna.

Luckily, proper word usage is the new black. If you’re writing in British English, good news: that and which are accepted as interchangeable. However, if you’re writing in American English (or if you want your sentence to be as precise as possible), you need to use that and which correctly.

Before you can decide whether that or which is appropriate for a sentence, it’s important to know the difference between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses.

Restrictive Versus Non-restrictive Clauses

A restrictive clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence. If a restrictive clause were removed, the sentence would not make sense at all, or the meaning of the sentence would be significantly altered.

A non-restrictive clause introduces helpful information, but that information is not necessary for someone to be able to understand the sentence.

Remember: Every sentence is a story. Completing that story requires the correct choice: that or which.

Three Steps: That vs. Which

It’s important to keep restrictive and non-restrictive clauses in mind when considering the three steps for deciding whether to use that or which:

  1. Use that to introduce a restrictive clause and which to introduce a non-restrictive clause.
  2. When writing a restrictive clause, do not place a comma before that. When writing a non-restrictive clause, place a comma before which.
  3. When a non-restrictive clause appears in the middle of a sentence, place commas around it.

O’Neill, scatter the nuns! There’s a van full of examples coming through!

Using That

Sentence Structure“All I wanted was to eat the chicken that is smarter than other chickens and to absorb its power.

With the phrase “smarter than other chickens,” it is important to understand that Red is referring to a specific chicken: the smartest chicken.

“There used to be a sign that said ‘CAUTION! WET FLOOR!’ Really told people what was going on.”

The same can be said here. If the phrase “that said ‘CAUTION! WET FLOOR'” was absent, we would have no detail about the sign itself. The phrase is restrictive, so that is used.

“But it wasn’t my moral instincts that led me to Nicaragua in the summer of ’88. It was a young freedom fighter named Carlos.”

And as stated in Rule 2, that is not preceded by a comma because it is a restrictive clause.

Using Which

Now let’s look at which:

“I tried everything: soap shavings, fox pee, which they sell at the Home Depot for $120 a gallon . . .”

The non-restrictive clause following which reads almost like an addendum; it’s just extra information—a side note.

“So what if he drools a small pond? He takes care of you, doesn’t he? He takes care of your mother, and he’s handsome, and he’s good. And at least he’s trying, which is a lot more than I can say for you!”

As this example shows, which should be preceded by a comma.

“Well, I’ve always thought that agnostic was sort of a cop-out. But you know, if I had to label it, I’d say that I’m a secular humanist, which is not to say I’m not spiritual.”

Piper’s rambling illustrates how non-restrictive clauses simply add more information that is not completely necessary to the creation of a complete sentence. The same can be said for O’Neill’s rant against red velvet cake:

“No, in your heart of hearts, you know as well as I do, red velvet . . . tastes like Play-Doh. It is not velvety. And the only thing that’s good about it is the cream cheese frosting, which is meant to live on top of carrot cake, like God intended.”

The addendum about carrot cake is not imperative to the sentence that explains the only good element of red velvet cake.


Seeing that and which used incorrectly is more depressing than a Tori Amos cover band. Luckily, you have all the tools in your belt to use the correct word without fail. Now you can kick up your feet, relax, and maybe even enjoy a King Cone.

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20 English Idioms with Surprising Origins

English Idioms

Raining Cats and Dogs: English Idioms with Surprising Origins

Idioms are figures of speech that become fixed in a language. Usually, an idiom is figurative in modern contexts but once had a literal meaning. These literal meanings, or idiom origins, can help a learner of English to understand where a phrase originated.

Ever wondered what it means to “turn a blind eye” or “pull out all the stops”? Wonder no more!

Because the English language is full of idioms, we wanted to compile a list of English idioms and their origins to help make better sense of how these idioms work in modern contexts.

Ready? Let’s go!

1. Straight from the horse’s mouth

Meaning: getting information directly from the most reliable source

Origin: This one is said to come from the 1900s, when buyers could determine a horse’s age by examining its teeth. It’s also why you shouldn’t “look a gift horse in the mouth,” as inspecting a gift is considered bad etiquette.

2. Let the cat out of the bag

Meaning: to mistakenly reveal a secret

Origin: Up to and including in the 1700s, a common street fraud included replacing valuable pigs with less valuable cats and selling them in bags. When a cat was let out of a bag, the jig was up.

3. Butter someone up

Meaning: to praise or flatter someone, usually to gain a favor

Origin: A customary religious act in ancient India included throwing butter balls at the statues of gods to seek good fortune and their favor.

4. Pulling someone’s leg

Meaning: teasing someone, usually by lying in a joking manner

Origin: Although pulling someone’s leg is all in good fun nowadays, it originally described the way in which thieves tripped their victims to rob them.

5. Wolf in sheep’s clothing

Meaning: someone who is pretending to be something they are not, usually to the detriment of others

Origin: This one’s attributed to the Bible (Matthew 7:15). The Bible also gave us “rise and shine” (Isaiah 60:1), “seeing eye to eye” (Isaiah 62:8), and a “broken heart” (Psalm 69:20).

6. Hands downHands Down

Meaning: without a lot of effort; by far

Origin: Winning “hands down” once referred to 19th-century horseracing, when a jockey could remove his hands from the reins and still win the race because he was so far ahead.

7. Riding shotgun

Meaning: riding in the front seat of a vehicle next to the driver

Origin: In the Wild West, the person who sat next to the driver was often equipped with a shotgun to kill any robbers that might happen upon the coach.

8. Barking up the wrong tree

Meaning: pursuing a misguided course of action

Origin: Likely referring to hunting, this saying explains when a dog would literally bark at the bottom of the wrong tree after the prey in question moved to the next branch.

9. Flying off the handleFlying Off the Handle

Meaning: suddenly becoming enraged

Origin: This one is said to come from poorly made axes of the 1800s that would literally detach from the handle. Yikes!

10. Cost an arm and a leg

Meaning: extremely expensive

Origin: The story goes that this phrase originated from 18th-century paintings, as famous people like George Washington would have their portraits done without certain limbs showing. Having limbs showing is said to have cost more.

11. Sleep tight

Meaning: used to tell someone to sleep well

Origin: One possible origin of this phrase dates back to when mattresses were supported by ropes; sleeping tight meant sleeping with the ropes pulled tight, which would provide a well-sprung bed.

12. Bite the bullet

Meaning: to perform a painful task or endure an unpleasant situation

Origin: In the 1800s, patients would literally bite on a bullet to cope with the pain of having surgery before anesthesia was common.

13. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water

Meaning: look for avoidable errors so you don’t remove something good with the bad

Origin: This idiom allegedly comes from a time when the household bathed in the same water; first, the lord would bathe, then the men, the lady, the women, the children, and the babies last. The bath water is said to have been so dirty that there was a risk of throwing the baby out with the water once everyone was done bathing!

14. Jump the sharkJump the Shark

Meaning: the moment when a form of entertainment reaches a decline in quality by including gimmicks to maintain interest.

Origin: In the show Happy Days, the character Fonzie literally jumps over a shark while water skiing; afterward, radio personality Jon Hein popularized the phrase “jump the shark” to describe the decline of the show.

15. Minding your Ps and Qs

Meaning: being on your best behavior

Origin: There are many origin stories for this one, but perhaps the one that is most fun is that bartenders would keep track of the pints and quarts consumed by their patrons with the letters “P” and “Q.”

16. Turn a blind eye

Meaning: to consciously ignore unwanted information

Origin: The phrase “to turn a blind eye” is said to originate with Admiral Horatio Nelson, who allegedly looked through his telescope using his blind eye to avoid signals from his superior telling him to withdraw from battle.

17. Armed to the teeth

Meaning: to be extremely well equipped

Origin: The idea behind being “armed to the teeth” is that the weapon wielder would carry the maximum number of weapons, so many that he or she would be forced to carry some between his or her teeth.

18. Get one’s goatGet One's Goat

Meaning: to irritate or annoy someone

Origin: This one also comes from horseracing. Jockeys placed goats in the stables with their horses as this was said to relax the horses. However, competitors would remove the goats of their rivals to spook their competitors’ horses, hoping they would consequently lose the race.

19. Pull out all the stops

Meaning: to do everything you can to make something successful

Origin: Alluding to the piano-like instrument the organ, this phrase refers to when the stops are pulled out to turn on all the sounds in an organ, allowing the organ to play all the sounds at once and, therefore, be as loud as possible.

20. Dish fit for the gods

Meaning: a very scrumptious or delectable meal

Origin: We can thank Shakespeare for this expression (found in Julius Caesar), but we can also thank him for “foaming at the mouth” (Julius Caesar), “hot blooded” (The Merry Wives of Windsor), “in stitches” (Twelfth Night), “green-eyed monster” (Othello), “wearing your heart on your sleeve” (Othello), and “one fell swoop” (Macbeth).


Did any of these idiom origins surprise you? Do you know of any other English idioms with surprising origin stories? Alternatively, do you know of any other idioms in other languages that you think are interesting or funny? Share them with us on Facebook or Twitter!

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What to Do after Graduation

What to Do After Graduation

What to do after graduation The final notes of Pomp and Circumstance fade into the background. The last graduate cap hits the ground with an anticlimactic thud. The final whoops and hollers diminish as you shuffle from the auditorium and into the Real World.

After the celebrations and the partying (oh, the partying), you’re left with a hollow question ringing in your mind: “Now what?” This question is the bane of all recent graduates as relatives, friends, and possibly coworkers sound off all around, echoing back the same question as if it hasn’t already been running through your mind ceaselessly.

Now what? Maybe the options feel too numerous; perhaps the world is too big but feels too small. However, the possibilities for which direction you should now take are endless. After so many years of school and for the first time ever, you finally get to decide what it is you want to do on your own.

No pressure, right? So, what is it you want to do? How can you possibly decide when there are so many different criteria to consider? By looking at your options and goals and carefully considering the decisions that need to be made in advance, the choice about what to do after graduation can be a happy one.

Option 1: Go Back to School

What? But I just emphasized how free you finally are! You were stuck in school for so many years, and you just finished! Why on earth would you ever want to go back?

Going back to school is a good option if you’ve already been struggling in the job market. If you’ve found that no positions are available in your field or that you don’t have enough schooling to land your target job, then you should consider packing your backpack again. Chances are you should give another career path a try or get more schooling (like your Ph.D.).

However, you should consider your financial situation. You probably have a ton of student debt to pay off as it is, so considering your financial situation is important before you sharpen your pencils again. If you can’t afford to go back to school, it’s probably a good idea to work outside your field or even in a job you feel overqualified for so you can earn some extra cash. You could also look into getting help through loans or scholarships.

Option 2: Enter the Workforce

You don’t want to go back to school. You’ve been there and done that so you could get the job you’ve always wanted. Let’s look at another possibility.

Entering the workforce is a good option if you’re looking to take the next step in your career. To work in your field, you probably went to school to take the appropriate program and earn the necessary qualifications. Now that you have them, you can finally get to work! Plus, you’ll be making that hard-earned money, which means you’ll be able to support yourself and work toward other goals.

However, you should consider your qualifications. Are you qualified enough to work in your field, or is more schooling necessary? You might not want to go back to school, but sometimes there’s no other choice. You should also consider your mental state. Are you totally worn down from school? If you’re burnt out and need a break, you probably won’t last long in the professional world, so it’s important to consider how you’re feeling before you dive into the next big thing.

Option 3: See the WorldNew York

You don’t have classes to work around anymore. You don’t have a job yet that you need to schedule time off from. You’re free—so free, you can travel the world!

Seeing the world is a good option if you’re looking to make the most of your freedom while you still have it. Because you have nobody to answer to but yourself now that you’ve graduated, you might want to travel somewhere you’ve never been, visit family or friends in another place, or revisit a spot you love. Now’s your chance to book that flight!

However, you should consider your financial situation once again. Do you have the extra money to go gallivanting around the world? Look at cheap destinations, find flight deals, and ask about staying with people you know. If you don’t have the money, you can work a temporary job before taking off for your vacation.

Option 4: Move Back Home

Maybe you’re tired. You just want to relax now that you’re finally done and take a mental break from study notes, teaching assistants, and exam questions. A familiar face is just what you need.

Moving back home is a good option if you’re looking to turn your brain off for a while and build some much-needed stamina. If you’re able to take a break and have a staycation, you’ll be able to breathe for a while and figure out exactly what direction you’ll take after your break. You can also save money by living at home.

However, you should consider your goals. Once you’ve put on the brakes, it’s easy to stay parked and not move again. Have an exit strategy for when you’re ready to leave. You’ll want to give yourself a time frame, and your parents will likely want you to have one, too. When do you want to be out on your own? You’ll have to have a game plan once you get there. Why exactly did you go to school? What’s next? Answering these questions will ensure that you stay motivated after your break.

Option 5: Help Someone Else

You didn’t pursue higher education to party in another country or to laze around at home! You went to school so you could better yourself. With a little work, you could help to better the world, too.

Volunteering is a good option if you want to give back. You can volunteer locally to give back to your community or volunteer abroad to better the world one step at a time. Helping other people is rewarding, and it’s always a good idea to volunteer if you can. You’ll also be able to add to any qualifications you need for job hunting with the appropriate volunteer work, so say hello to an improved resume.

However, you should consider your financial situation. While it’s nice to volunteer, it’s not always possible if you’re broke. You might want to consider working part-time while you volunteer so you can support yourself. If all else fails, living at home might help you to pursue your goal of volunteering, so say thank you to your accommodators and continue improving the lives of those around you!

Option 6: Pursue a Dream

You’ve got an idea in the back of your mind, a dream you’ve had for a long time but have never had the time to pursue. There’s nothing stopping you now!

Pursuing a dream is a good option if you want to cross a goal off your list. Now’s the perfect time for you to chase that dream you’ve always had. Whether you’ve always wanted to write a novel, be in a movie, get in shape, learn how to sword fight, or bowl a perfect 300, now is your chance! You have the time and the freedom to follow that dream of yours, and you’ll love yourself for using that time and freedom so wisely.

However, you should consider your financial situation. If you can’t afford to buy sword-fighting equipment or spend all your time at the bowling alley, your dream may have to wait until you can advance your professional career. The good news is that you can always pursue a dream after work hours, so don’t give up just yet!


Deciding what to do after graduation is a lot of pressure, but it should be exciting. After all, you’ve worked so hard to get to this point, and you’ve finally done it. Now that the celebrating’s over, it’s time to remember why you did it.

Image source: Juan Ramos/, Steve Richey/ 

How to Write a Resume

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How to Distinguish between Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

If you speak English (and if you’re reading this, you presumably do), you’ve probably confused two words that are pronounced or spelled the same but have different meanings. This is extremely easy to do, because English contains many homonyms, homophones, and homographs.

Hold on a minute—more words that are similar-looking and easy to confuse? I’m supposed to be helping you, not making this more complicated! While homonyms, homophones, and homographs make English much more difficult, that complexity also makes the language very interesting, and occasionally, very funny.

Understanding the difference between homonyms, homophones, and homographs is vital for communicating properly, so let’s dive in!

Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs


Homonyms (homo meaning same and nym meaning name) are words that sound alike but are different in meaning. They can be spelled the same or differently. It’s important not to misuse homonyms, though, because the meaning of what you want to say can change drastically if you confuse the word’s meaning.

For example, if your friend tells you that he saw a murder on the way home from work, you’ll probably want to clarify whether he means that he witnessed a violent crime or whether he saw a group of crows. This is because it will be difficult to tell which he means over the phone or in a text message, as the words are spelled the same and pronounced the same. (However, it will probably be easy to tell which he means in person, as you’ll be able to see what kind of facial expression he’s making!)


There, their, and they’re are probably the most misused words in the English language. They’ve been misused on restaurant signs, in Internet comments, and across bumper stickers. What is it about these words that makes their usage so tricky? The answer: they’re homophones.

Homophones (homo meaning same and phone meaning sound) are words that are pronounced the same but are different in meaning. They differ from homonyms because they are not spelled the same, as you can see in the example of there (indicating a place or idea), their (indicating possession), and they’re (indicating a contraction of they are).


Homographs (homo meaning same and graph meaning writing) differ from homonyms and homophones in that homographs are not pronounced the same. They are spelled the same, however, and are different in meaning. They are not so easily confused in spoken English, but they can be tricky to spot in written English.

Consider the word bow. Did you picture a tied-up ribbon? The front of a boat? The device used to play a string instrument? An actor lowering his upper body? The word bow is a homograph with different pronunciations and many different meanings. So you’ll have to consider the sentence’s context to determine the intended meaning.


By considering the differences between the words themselves—nym, phone, and graph—it’s easier to grasp and remember their definitions. Looking at common examples of homonyms, homophones, and homographs helps to display their differences.

While the English language doesn’t make it easy, understanding the differences between words that look or sound the same is important for getting your point across and for understanding others, both of which are key to successful communication.

Image sources: karolyn83/, TheDalleyLama/


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6 Things to Learn Outside the Classroom During University

University Life

We’re going to let you in on a little secret: most of what you learn in university you’ll learn outside the classroom.

Sure, the research professor you’ve spoken to twice is going to fill a great spot on your reference list. And, okay, I guess it is kind of nice to have a degree so you can do the thing you want to do for the rest of your life.

But the lessons learned about Anglo-Saxon coins in your Old English class will pale in comparison to the moment when you realize that your Old English professor is actually cooler than anybody else in the class. (Thanks for the pub night, M.J.)

In the end, the things you remember about university life will almost always occur outside of the classroom. Here’s a list of things to learn outside of the classroom during your university career.

1. Who to go to when you need help

So, you had a terrible day. It’s inevitable. You failed your midterm, you missed the bus, or you got splashed by a car on the way home. Maybe it’s even worse, like the guy you were seeing won’t answer your texts, your brother is in the hospital, or you feel desperately homesick. You need to vent.

Christmas CatBut your roommate is busy complaining about a ten-page research paper that’s due in the morning. Your parents aren’t answering your calls. (Why doesn’t Mom ever charge her phone?) Even the cat that used to visit your house is nowhere to be seen (just because you tried to dress him up like Santa for Christmas that one time . . .).

Where do you go?

It’s important to learn who to go to when you need help. Go to your friend who will always listen, not the one that’s always too busy to hang out. If that’s not enough, there are endless resources that nobody talks about. Most schools have student health services, and most will be happy to book an appointment for you. Even if there’s a waiting list, they should be able to provide you with a helpline or a group class.

Use every resource you can get your hands on. Book a yoga class. Try meditating at home. Keep a journal. Just know that you are never alone and that somebody, somewhere, will be able to help you.

2. What to do when you don’t know what to do

“Oh no, I should have taken biology. Why the heck am I a double major in vocals and political science?” This battle cry of confused students can be heard in schools everywhere. This is bigger than academics—this is your entire life! What do you do when you don’t know what to do? How do you decide?

Flip a coin. (No, I’m joking. Sort of.)

Make a list of everything you like to do. Make a list of everything you’re good at. Cross out anything that won’t support you financially.

Do you not have a list anymore? Welcome to adulthood.

Again, I’m joking!

Here’s the real secret: very few of us actually know what we’re doing. Anybody with a plan is really just hoping that plan will actually work out. Most people with a career path had a simple passion and chose a related field.

Nobody gets through four years of vocals and political science without some sort of desire to do so. Maybe you love something in there. Maybe you’re good at something in one of those fields. Maybe you thought you’d make a fortune being the world’s first operatic lawyer.

If not, then it’s time to regroup. Pick something you love, that you’re good at, or that will make you financially stable. If your choice happens to fit more than one of those categories, then great!

In the end, you might choose a path that you’re not totally certain about. Could it hurt you in the future? Might you regret your choice? Sure, of course. Eventually, though, you’ll just have to flip a coin. If all else fails, at least you tried something, and you won’t know you don’t like it unless you try it first.

Aha! Your mother was right all along. So maybe you will like broccoli when you get older. You just have to give it a chance.

3. When you’ve reached your limit

It might be drinking an entire mini-keg yourself on St. Patty’s Day. Or it might be taking on five classes, four clubs, three roommates, two part-time jobs, and the meanest professor in the world (in other words, the worst version of The 12 Days of Christmas ever). Either way, you’re going to wake up regretting biting off more than you can chew.

Recognizing your limit is the sign of being a grown-up. If you don’t think you can handle four clubs and two part-time jobs on top of all of your classes, drop something. Drop three things. Do whatever you need to do to stay happy and healthy. You are not Superman (and you don’t need that whole bottle of wine to yourself).

4. Where to get anything and everything cheaper

Surprise! It will often feel like your school wants to take all of your money. (I know, don’t fall over in shock.) Sometimes, the bursar’s office can feel like that bully on the school ground that shakes you by your shoes even though you only have three dollars. Just take my three dollars, and leave me alone, right?!

Used BooksWrong! Those are your three dollars. Yours. Spend them like they are magic beans.

Plant one in your local used bookstore and find your course books cheaper than a box of Ramen. The owner has probably already set up a bookshelf containing everything on your syllabus because he or she is expecting your arrival. Plant one in an off-campus clinic to get a discount on medication prices for students (and beauty products that are cheaper than the ones on campus). Plant one in a shared Netflix account with your roommates. Sure, you could just give them your password, but if you all split it, you’ll only pay a fraction, and you’ll get more magic beans in return to spend elsewhere.

See? Now you’re working the system. Time to climb that beanstalk!

5. Why your ridiculous roommate does the things he/she does

Maybe your roommate showers ten times a day. Or uses an entire roll of toilet paper every time he goes to the bathroom. Or refuses to share his frying pan with you and only speaks on the phone at three in the morning. Maybe she’s never held a broom, takes a cab everywhere she goes, and, you swear, only slams the cupboard doors to make you angry.

It’s so annoying that you can barely focus on anything else. You tell your mom about her antics every day. You and your roommates are going absolutely mad, and nobody knows what to do. She does all these terrible things!

But do you know why?

One of my past roommates was from a place where cleanliness was very important. She could only make phone calls late at night because of time zone differences. She cabbed everywhere because, back at home, it wasn’t safe to walk at night.

Okay, there’s no need to use an entire roll of toilet paper or scream so loudly on the phone. Still, understanding why somebody can be so frustrating is the first step to forgiveness. (Closing the cupboard doors more gently wouldn’t hurt anybody, though. Just talk to her about it!)

6. How to thrive looking less-than-cool

You’ll never have more fun than the time you wear a light-up Rudolph nose out to the bar for Christmas or the time that you and your roommates dress up as giant birthday bags for Halloween (even when the costumes melt off in the rain). Looking like an absolute fool is the first step to having an excellent time all throughout university, guaranteed.

People will stare at you. People will talk about you and roll their eyes and make faces. Guess what? It’s because they’re mad that they’re not having as much fun as you are. Ask them if they want to join you! If not, just keep doing you. That Rudolph nose your roommate bought you at the dollar store is going to be carefully stored with your other prized possessions, and nothing anybody says can ever destroy the fun you had that night.

So go to everything you can, and try to be the most ridiculous person there.

The guy who gives out Mardi Gras beads at the bar, the Stormtrooper riding a unicycle on the busiest street in the city, and the girl with the giant horse painted on her face at the big football game? Those people are always the ones that have the most fun.


Truly taking care of yourself during this wild time in your life is important. In the end, only you know what it is that will help you. If dressing up your roommate’s cat as Santa will bring you Christmas cheer, then it’s just going to have to deal with the jingle bells.

What’s important is that your university life be a series of ridiculous moments that you remember for the rest of your life.

Don’t focus only on classes, or you won’t notice when a life lesson speeds by you on a unicycle.

Image source: thelester/, Henry Lorenzatto/, Freddie Marriage/

How to Write an Essay in Five Easy Steps

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Understanding Verb Moods with 15 Hilarious Tweets

Understanding Verb Moods

Understanding Verb MoodsVerb moods are not unlike the moods of people (happy, sad, angry, etc.) in that they indicate the manner in which an action or condition is intended or conceived. Unlike people’s moods, though, which have an endless variety, a verb may only occur in one of three verb moods: the indicative mood, the imperative mood, or the subjunctive mood. Using funny tweets, we can begin to understand the different verb moods and how they function in English.

Also, as a disclaimer, we’re not saying that these tweets are flawless in terms of grammar and punctuation. They are, after all, just tweets. However, we hope they’ll help you understand the various verb moods in a way that is more entertaining than that of a typical grammar article!

The Indicative Mood

The indicative mood is used to express an assertion or denial or to ask a question. Since it’s the most common verb mood, most of the statements you make or read will be in the indicative mood. The tweets below all use the indicative mood, each one asserting a statement:

Although this tweet doesn’t make a statement, it does ask a question, meaning it also uses the indicative mood:

The Imperative Mood

The imperative mood is also a common mood, but it is used to give orders or to make requests. Take a look at the demands presented in the tweets below.

The Subjunctive Mood

Of the three moods, the subjunctive mood is the one that causes the most problems because it rarely appears in everyday conversation or writing. It is only used in a set of specific circumstances.

It is used in in contrary-to-fact clauses beginning with if:

It is used in wish statements:

It is used in “that” clauses following verbs such as ask, insist, recommend, request, and suggest:

It is used in certain set expressions such as be that as it may, as it were, come rain or shine, or far be it from me:

Finally, it is used in a dependent clause attached to an independent clause utilizing an adjective that expresses urgency (such as crucial, essential, important, imperative, necessary, or urgent):

Whatever your mood, follow Inklyo on Twitter for more great grammar-related content!

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4 Writing Styles to Help You Ace Every Essay

Writing Styles

Writing Styles

Writing styles are like fashion styles. How you dress helps others understand who you are, describes a particular sentiment to those who see you, and signals a subconscious message to be interpreted by others. How you write will give similar signals to others that help them understand what you’re trying to communicate. Also, like fashion styles, writing styles have particular times and places in which they should be employed or restrained. It’s inappropriate to wear white to a wedding if you’re not the bride; similarly, it’s inappropriate to use certain writing styles for specific types of writing.

Luckily, writing styles are a little more cut and dried than fashion styles. There are four main types of writing: expository, descriptive, persuasive, and narrative. Each serves a specific purpose and differs from the others in particular ways. Knowing the difference between the writing styles is useful in essay writing because your essay must serve a precise purpose. By understanding the subtleties of the writing styles, it will be a lot easier to determine which style to employ based on the purpose of your essay.

Expository Writing

Expository Writing ExplainsExpository writing is used when you want to explain or inform, making it a very popular writing style for essays. Generally, the writer must first formulate a topic, outline the evidence, and further explain the idea to demonstrate a particular point about the topic at hand. A thesis statement is utilized to outline the topic, followed by body paragraphs held together by transitions. Often, evidence is stated in the paragraphs, and an introduction and conclusion are provided.

Very simply, this style is employed in academic writing to outline the main points of a topic. The writer explains a specific subject from beginning to end. The writing should be clear, supported by facts and logical reasoning. A common form of expository writing is the compare-and-contrast essay, which outlines the similarities and differences between two subjects. The writer can either alternate explaining similarities and differences in separate paragraphs or explain all the similarities in several consecutive paragraphs, followed by all the differences.

Descriptive Writing

Descriptive Writing DescribesThe main purpose of descriptive writing is to describe a subject to form a clear idea in the reader’s mind. This writing style draws attention to details to outline the topic. Writing a descriptive essay requires clear and vivid language to accurately describe the subject. The senses become very important in descriptive writing because they help to bring ordinary moments to life. The reader should be left with a vibrant understanding of the topic at hand.

Students are often required to write descriptive essays to explain a particular experience they may have had or an event that has taken place. This type of essay is a little bit more creative than the expository essay, allowing the writer to draw on lived experience and lively language rather than relying on dry facts. Here, the more specific and detailed the writing is, the better, and wordiness is not frowned upon as it is in expository writing.

Persuasive Writing

Persuasive Writing PersuadesThis type of writing allows the writer to take a stance. Rather than objectively explaining a topic or painting a picture for the reader, persuasive writing is used to demonstrate a very specific opinion on a topic. That means attention to word choice is imperative, as weak or incorrect word usage can make or break a persuasive essay. In this style, authors attempt to get the readers to side with them, share their particular opinion, and even sometimes take action on it.

Often, this type of writing is used for controversial topics that split people into groups based on their opinions. This allows writers to take a specific stance and outline their particular opinions. Even though the writing can and should be biased, the outlined arguments must all be logical and must be feasibly proven. Therefore, persuasive writing requires extensive research so that the writer can back up an opinion with reputable sources.

Narrative Writing

Narrative Writing NarratesGenerally, narrative writing is less common in the academic world because the narrative style exists to tell stories. Whether it’s a true story or not is irrelevant; fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry are all types of narrative writing. In reality, all types of writing exist to argue a specific point. So even though narrative writing is a more creative type of writing, it is still an argument and should be treated as such.

What do you want the reader to believe? That’s what you should ask when writing a narrative essay.

Narrative essays are generally used when writing anecdotal or personal essays. In the academic world, this usually takes the form of creative nonfiction. The writer should introduce the topic and lead the reader through the story by explaining what happened next until the story comes to a logical conclusion. That means it should have a clear structure. This type of writing is also used for book reports, outlining the story from beginning to end.


Really, the four types of writing are named aptly: expository writing explains, descriptive writing describes, persuasive writing persuades, and narrative writing narrates. All the different writing styles serve their own purposes and are thus useful for different types of essay writing. That means they never go out style (pun intended).

How to Write an Essay

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How to Get Your Business Email Read Past the Subject Line

Business Email

Learning how to structure and write a business email is vital if you want the recipient to read it and respond. You probably want to come across as assertive but polite, comprehensive but to the point, and urgent but not annoying. Finding such a balance in business writing can be tricky, but it’s by no means impossible. We’re here to help.

To help you master business email writing, we’re providing you with a simple structure to follow. Outlines are an immensely helpful tool to use in any kind of writing because all you have to do is fill in the blanks. Using our eight-step process, your email should generally adhere to the following format:

  1. Subject line
  2. Greeting
  3. Introduction
  4. Reason for contacting the recipient
  5. Call to action
  6. Gratitude
  7. Sign-off
  8. Editing

This clear outline will help you write your email quickly and effectively. With our business email writing process, you’ll get your email read past the subject line and your foot in whichever door you choose.

1. Provide enough information in the subject line

To get your email read past the subject line, the first thing you will need is an engaging subject line. Most important, it should be informational. Make sure your subject line correctly summarizes the email’s message. That means no spammy-sounding clickbait. You want your email to be read, but false advertising in the subject line will result in the loss of your recipients’ respect after the initial read-through.

It’s also important that your subject line isn’t too long. Be succinct! I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to log on to a computer because the sender’s subject line was too long to read on my smartphone. Don’t make the same mistake; some people won’t even go out of their way to read your whole subject line, let alone your email.

2. Be friendly and formal in the greeting

Make sure your greeting is friendly yet formal. It’s important that you address the recipient by name whenever possible. You should hunt for the correct name and verify that you’ve spelled it right. If you don’t know the name, a simple “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Committee” will suffice.

Ensure that you know the person’s gender for certain before you ever use gendered language. Avoiding these embarrassing mistakes is important in business email writing; one small mistake can secure your email a spot in the trash bin with a simple click.

3. Make sure they know who you are immediately

Making a good first impression is a two-step process: impress the person on the other end, and flatter him or her. First, you’ll want to introduce yourself as soon as you possibly can in the email. The introduction step should only need one line containing your name and what you do (but only what you do as it is relevant to the email). You’ll also want to mention any mutual friends or experiences here, if applicable.

You may also wish to employ some flattery early on. If they don’t know you and you have nothing in common, perhaps they can know you as an admirer. You should explain what motivated you to contact them specifically, such as an inspiring paper or an impressive accomplishment listed on LinkedIn. However, if it’s obvious why you’re contacting them (like a call for submissions) or the person on the other end is anonymous, feel free to skip this part.

All this might seem excessive, but remember: write one sentence for the introduction and maybe one to butter them up a bit. That’s it! Don’t completely overwhelm the recipient with paragraphs of information outlining your biography and every little accomplishment. You also shouldn’t drone on and on about how great they are, as people can smell insincerity a mile away! If you’re being honest in your compliments, any flattery you employ should blend in quite nicely.

4. Provide a clear and succinct reason for contacting them

Now you can get to the real meat of the email. Why are you writing? Explain, as concisely as possible, what it is you want or how they can help you. If it helps, outline the reasons for contacting them beforehand to ensure a clear and concise email. Email is generally a short format, so there should be no overwhelming blocks of text.

5. Ensure an obvious call to action

What is it that you want the recipient to do by the end of your email? If it’s a simple response, make an easy call to action (e.g., “Please feel free to reply to this email address with your answer”). If it’s a request for them to look at your webpage or portfolio, provide a link (e.g., “Please click here to view more of my work”). If you would like them to open an attachment, direct the recipient’s attention to its existence (e.g., “Please see the attached file for more information”).

It doesn’t matter if it’s more concrete, like meeting somewhere or performing a specific task. Just make sure that what you want them to do is clear and that your request is polite. Think of business relationships in terms of symbiosis: both parties have something to offer, so ask for what you want but be nice about it. On that same note . . .

6. Be polite and thank them for their time

You know that advertising campaign by Dos Equis, The Most Interesting Man in the World? You need to be The Most Polite Person in the World. Generally, this means being a little less direct. If you want something, you probably shouldn’t just say “I want . . .” Instead, try “I was hoping I could have . . .” or “Would you mind if I had . . .” Because the language is a little bit softer, it sounds more polite.

Remember that recipients cannot see your expressions when reading your email. All they have to go on to determine your demeanor is your words. That’s why even direct language that isn’t intended to be rude at all can come across as abrasive in text format. You need to be aware of that while you’re writing.

You should also thank recipients for their time at the end of your email. If they’ve gotten that far, it means they’ve read your email, and that deserves your gratitude, indeed.

7. Sign off (and don’t forget to include your contact information)

Now it’s time to sign off. There’s a lot of debate about the best way to end an email, so we’ll leave it to you to decide which way best suits your email’s tone and purpose. Consider how formal you want to come across and how friendly you want to sound, and find what you need on the spectrum.

Try not to overthink it. Use something you might say in real life, and be respectful. Chances are that the person on the other end won’t think about your sign off as much as you do, unless you completely miss the mark. You’ll also want to include your name, once again, and your contact information. Make sure everything is clear and accurate before you hit Send.

8. Edit and proofread

Your email is fully written. You’ve typed your name and contact information, and you’re scrolling up to the top. Your hand is hovering over the Send button. With a simple click, your email will be flying through the Internet, never to be seen again. After you send it, though, you notice a glaring error.

It is absolutely vital that your business email is completely error-free. That goes for grammar, spelling, clarity, sentence structure, and tone. Read over your email a few times to be absolutely sure it is all correct. president Chandra Clarke suggests changing the font size and color to get a fresh perspective on your words.

However, if you need an objective pair of eyes, or if you want to save yourself the frustration, you could always hire a professional editor or proofreader. It might seem like overkill, but business emails can greatly affect your professional persona; ensuring clarity and accuracy will demonstrate your commitment to professionalism and attention to detail.


Using our simple business email writing process, you’ve written your email from the subject line to the call to action to the sign-off. You’ve had the whole thing professionally edited and proofread, and you’ve employed all the necessary changes. It’s perfect, just perfect! You almost don’t want to send it, because that would mean saying goodbye.

Well, take a deep breath, because it’s finally time to hit Send! I know it’s hard. But before you know it, you’ll have a shiny new email response in your inbox. So pat yourself on the back because you’ve just sharpened your business writing skills, and who knows how far you’ll go now? There’s no email in the world you can’t handle!

Image source: Lia Leslie/

Effective Business Communication

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23 Practical Resume Tips to Help You Get Hired (Plus a Resume Example)

A resume file folder.

Resume Tips

I’m just going to say this outright: resume tips are not going to get you hired. That is, resume tips won’t get you hired, but they will help get you hired.

The first step to landing a job is having a great resume, and having a great resume requires a lot of thought and effort put into every little detail. Tips are great for nailing down all of the details, and implementing many resume tips can add up to an overall better resume.

To help you put these tips into practice, the resume example below has been designed using the same tips offered in this article. Use this article and the resume example to guide you in creating a document that will land on the hiring manager’s desk instead of in the trash.

The Resume Tips

1. Choose the right format

There are four main types of resumes: chronological, functional, combination, and targeted. If you have a lot of experience in your field, you should use a chronological resume, but if your career path has been irregular or erratic, you should go with a functional resume. A combination resume lists both your experience and your skills, and the targeted resume is geared toward specific job requirements. You’ll want to choose the one that’s best for your background before you even begin writing your resume.

2. Make sure the style suits your background

Similarly, your resume should fit your background. There are a number of styles you can choose from, but three of the most common are classic, creative, and modern. A classic resume is best suited for professional jobs, as it provides a clean and simple format with information that is easy to find. A creative resume will help demonstrate your visual capabilities in an original and expressive way. Finally, a modern resume shows that you are up to date with current trends by providing a neat and refreshing document that avoids the outdated look of traditional resumes.

3. Know your audience

In any kind of writing, the best way to ensure you will write well is to know your audience. You should have a very good idea of what your potential employers do, how you can help them do what they do, and what you can get from doing something with them. Once you know these points, you’ll be able to begin writing your resume.

4. Look over your contact information

Write down your contact information at the top of the resume, where it will be easy for hiring managers to spot. Make sure you look it over several times. It’s a good idea to have somebody else look it over, too, because the last thing you want is to have written down the wrong information or to have left anything out.

5. List your experience, achievements, education, and skills

This is obvious, but outlining your resume in major sections will provide a clean document that is easy to follow and understand while providing all of the necessary information. You’ll need to include contact information, key skills, awards and achievements, education, employment, volunteering, and anything else that may be relevant for your prospective employer to know.

6. Only include what’s relevant

On that note, you should include only relevant information in your resume. If it doesn’t apply to the job at hand, that’s okay, but if it also doesn’t share any of the same skill sets, objectives, roles, responsibilities, or environment, you may not wish to include it on your resume. Conversely, if you don’t have a lot to include, be smart about how you use your time so you can include volunteer work or online courses that are relevant where nothing else is.

7. Use action verbs to describe your past roles

Action verbs draw the attention of your reader. However, avoid being too repetitive in your word choices. For creative jobs, you may wish to include verbs like brainstormed or designed. Similarly, if you are applying to a job with a leadership role, you’ll want to include words like established or improved.

8. Take keywords from the job description

If you’re struggling to come up with action verbs, you may want to take a look at the job description. Employers often, consciously or not, include action verbs that best suit the prospective employee’s skill sets. Since they know what they’re looking for, you can use these verbs to your advantage to come across as the perfect candidate.

9. Maintain a consistent tense

It’s important that you maintain a consistent tense in your action statements. You’ll use past tense for any jobs from the past and the present tense for anything you are still in the process of completing. Make sure you don’t switch tenses from bullet point to bullet point; doing so isn’t just wrong, it also gets confusing very quickly!

10. Avoid personal pronouns

Rather than using personal pronouns to describe your experiences, use strong, direct action statements to show potential employers what you have accomplished throughout your career and to give your main accomplishments the most attention.

11. Keep away from buzzwords

Stay away from overused descriptors like hardworking or team player. You can be hardworking and a team player, but instead of using watered-down, blanket terms, describe the accomplishments you’ve achieved through your dedication and ability to work with others.

12. Limit yourself to short and straightforward statements

Keep everything as brief as possible without losing context or necessary information. Include your core responsibilities in a detailed and concrete way. This will help you avoid generic statements (and the aforementioned personal pronouns and buzzwords). You should also try to remove any words that serve as filler, like unnecessary adjectives.

13. Only include what you can prove

For example, only list tangible skills or attributes, and avoid listing personal skills like adaptable or organized. Though these qualities are important, they are less impactful than tangible occupational skills because personal skills are much more difficult to prove.

Never lie on your resume.

14. Don’t lie

Never lie, exaggerate, or otherwise stretch the truth on a resume. Even if lying gets you to the interview stage, if employers discover that someone they have hired has lied about his or her academic or professional history, they will very likely terminate the employee immediately.

15. Choose or design a visually appropriate resume

An applicant may have impressive credentials and an extensive professional history, but without proper resume formatting, these credentials may be buried in an impenetrable block of text. You have worked hard to compile your resume’s content, so take care to ensure that you use proper formatting to grab a potential employer’s attention quickly.

16. Let the content speak for itself

Since your achievements and skills are the focus of your resume, you shouldn’t let its format consume the actual content. It is easy to get carried away with visuals, whether they’re colors, objects or fonts. However, your resume should be legible and professional rather than flashy or distracting.

17. Allow white space

Incorporating white space in a resume can be difficult; after all, you have a lot of information to include in a limited area. How can you make sure your resume is balanced? Use the quadrant test. Divide your resume into four equal sections, and make sure the text is evenly distributed in each section.

18. Customize your resume for every job

It’s a good idea to edit and revise your resume for every position you apply to, unless the resume will be submitted to several similar organizations with the same job requirements. This may seem tedious, but the more effort you put into creating your resume, the more you will gain from the entire job-seeking process.

19. Have references ready

You typically don’t have to provide your references on your resume, but you should prepare a list of references and their contact information so that they are available upon request. Ask the appropriate parties, and be sure that you notify your references when you are applying for a position so they can expect to be contacted in the near future.

20. Make sure nothing is missing

Ensure that all of the required sections are present, especially any information that is asked for in the job description or by the employer. In addition, make sure your name and contact information are there so the hiring manager can find you! When applying online, make sure you’ve completed all elements of the online application form, as the failure to do so demonstrates an inability to follow instructions.

21. Optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems

Applicant tracking systems automatically scan hundreds of applications for information related to job postings, including keywords, employment history, past employers, and educational background. So embed your resume with terms or phrases that represent the qualifications that are required for a position.

22. Think clean and simple

Look over your resume once it’s filled out. Are your name and contact information easy to find? Do the headings stand out from the body of the text? Is everything uniform? Is the formatting consistent? Have you used your white space efficiently? Are your statements short? Is everything legible? Are all of the fonts and visuals appropriate? Revise and make sure everything is clean and simple, from formatting to the actual content.

23. Have your resume professionally edited and proofread

It’s one thing to look over your resume for typos and errors; it’s another entirely to have a professional editor edit your resume. An editor doesn’t just catch spelling and grammar problems. He or she will also ensure that your biggest strengths are highlighted, everything is relevant, your resume is tailored specifically for the job at hand, the formatting is consistent, etc.

The Resume Example

The numbers in this resume example (the subject of which is Fight Club‘s own Tyler Durden, to keep it interesting) correspond with the above tips to show you how they can be implemented in your own resume.

Resume Example
Click to enlarge.


A resume on the hiring manager’s desk means your foot is in the door. After looking at the resume example and implementing these practical resume tips, you have a document that’s ready to land you a job!

How to Write a Resume

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