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How To Overcome Writer’s Block

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One of the most serious problems that many of us face on an almost daily basis is the one that arises from having to deal with the dreaded writer’s block when faced with a deadline. Writer’s block is definitely not a pleasant experience. Especially, when the due date for one’s business report or project paper is getting closer by the day! I know what that knot in the gut feels like, every time the boss asks you “how’s that project going?” on those occasions when you don’t manage to avoid him/her as you try to slink unnoticed down the hallway.

Writer’s block is fear-based

For various reasons, many of us have an incredible fear of committing ourselves in writing whenever we are faced with a blank page or computer screen. In reality, this is actually an irrational feeling that keeps us from putting pen to paper. We secretly wonder just what exactly is going to come out of this keyboard/pen, and when it does, will we be revealing that we are some kind of incompetent idiot who doesn’t know what they’re talking about?

The good news is that writer’s block can definitely be beaten!

That’s right! I have learned through trial and error over the years that writer’s block can be easily overcome if we do the proper preparation and follow a few simple guidelines.

Below are my personal hard-earned practical tips for overcoming writer’s block:

Don’t Write It Too Soon
Before trying to write, it is important to prepare mentally for a few hours or days (depending on the size of the task and your deadline) by mulling the writing project over in the back of your mind. Once you’ve done the necessary reading, research, and thinking, your sub-conscious mind needs time to process all of that. Let it sit and have your subconscious mind work on it (Just as athletes don’t like to peak too soon, writers shouldn’t write too soon either!).

Preparation Is Important
Prior to writing, read over whatever background material you have so that it is fresh in your mind. I always do a final review of all material gathered, carefully marking the important points with a yellow hi-liter. With this material fresh in your mind, you will find that the writing process flows better once you get started, due to less need to refer to your background.

Develop A Simple Outline
Before sitting down to actually start writing, compile a simple point-form list of all of the key points you want to cover, and then organize them in the order in which you are going to cover them. (I know, I know… your Grade 6 teacher told you the same thing… but it actually does work!).

Keep Research Documents Handy
Once you finally sit down to write, make sure that all of your key background materials are spread out close at hand. This will allow you to quickly refer to them without interrupting the writing flow once you get on a roll. I keep as many of the source documents as possible wide open, and within direct eyesight, for quick and easy access and reference whenever I’m writing something.

Just Start Writing
Yes, that’s exactly what you should do. Once you have prepared mentally and done your homework as discussed in the previous steps, you will be ready to write — even if your writer’s block is saying no. Just start writing any old thing that comes to mind. Go with the natural flow. In no time at all, you will get into a rhythm, and the words will just keep on flowing.

Don’t Worry About Editing the First Draft
Once the words start to flow don’t be concerned about making it perfect the first time around. Remember, it’s your first draft. You will be able to revise it later. The critical thing at the outset is to get those thoughts written down as your mind dictates them to you.

Use an Example or Template
Get an actual sample of the type of document that you need to write. It could be something that you wrote previously, or it could be something from an old working file, or a clipping from a magazine article, or a sales brochure you picked up; as long as it is the same type of document that you are writing. Whatever it is, just post it up in your line-of-sight while you are working. You’ll be amazed at how it helps the words and ideas flow. This example will serve as a sort of visual model for you.

In my experience this last point is the ultimate secret for overcoming writer’s block.

I continue to use this last technique on a daily basis. In fact, I rarely start writing anything anymore from a blank page or screen. I always manage to find an example from somewhere and work from that. Once you’ve used this method for a while you will be able to easily get templates from writing projects that you have done previously.

 

 

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Don’t Forget To Write Goodbye

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I recommend you write a goodbye letter whenever you are leaving one organization to take a position elsewhere. It is a professional gesture to make; one that I believe is worth the extra few minutes that it takes, even though you are leaving and might not expect ever to be back. It is the kind of action that will make you stand out in people’s minds as a sincere person and colleague.

Just the fact that thousands of people from all over the world search out this particular type of sample letter each week, tells me that a lot of folks are looking for ways to leave a positive and lasting impression when they move on in the business world.

Here are a few points to keep in mind when composing a work-related goodbye or farewell letter.

Keep It Short
Two or three short paragraphs will do. Never exceed one page for such a letter.

Make It Sincere
Use simple, sincere and upbeat language. Keep it real — don’t forget that the people who receive it know you; so make sure whatever you say rings genuine and true.

Take the High Road
Even if you were unhappy in your position and are pleased to be leaving, make sure you don’t say anything that would burn your bridges. You never know when you might end up working with some of the recipients again in the future. Nothing good will come out of a negative farewell letter.

Don’t Include Details
I suggest that you do not provide the details about where you will be moving in your letter. Simply offer to give your contact coordinates if anyone wants to stay in touch. Your letter should be focused on the place and people you are leaving. So, don’t give too much information about your destination, except to those who request it from you directly. (That way, you’ll also find out who your friends really are!)

In my opinion, an appropriately sincere goodbye or farewell letter is definitely the most professional way to leave an organization, and is well worth the time and trouble. (As usual, I always recommend a real letter, but if that’s not possible a well-worded e-mail can also work).

 

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Secrets For Writing Better Business Reports

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Writing a business report can be one of the most difficult writing tasks we face, whether it’s for work business or school business. In fact, people often cringe at the thought of writing a business report. Granted, these are somewhat more complicated than business letters, but if approached in the right way, writing a business report can be a straightforward and reasonably painless process. So, to help people with their report writing I have put together a few tips that I have picked up over the years.

There are a number of different generic types of business reports including: general business report, business plan, business proposal, marketing plan, strategic plan, business analysis, project report, project analysis, project proposal, project review, financial plan, financial analysis, and others. Although the technical content and terminology will vary from report to report, depending on the subject and industry context, the actual “report writing process” will be essentially the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s a short 10-pager, or a major 100-plus pager, that process will involve the same fundamental steps.

The following seven points are what I consider to be the essential steps for writing any type of business report; whether it’s for your organization or for a school project. Follow these steps carefully and you won’t go wrong.

Confirm Exactly What the Client Wants

This is a very important initial step. Whether the client is a customer, a teacher, a professor, or someone else, be sure that everyone is talking about the same thing in terms of final outcome and expectations. When determining this, always think specifically in terms of the final deliverable (usually the final report). What issues must it address? What direction/guidance is it expected to give? What exactly will it contain? What bottom line are they looking for?

Determine What Type of Report Is Required

This is another very important initial matter to clarify. There are a number of different types of business reports. Although there is usually overlap among the different types, there are also important differences. For example, do they want: a business plan, a business proposal, a strategic plan, a corporate information management plan, a strategic business plan, a marketing plan, a financial plan, or what? Know exactly what type of final report is expected from the outset.

Conduct the Initial Research

Once you know exactly what the client (or you) wants, and the specific type of report they are looking for, you are ready to conduct your initial pre-report research. This stage may be as simple as collecting and reading a few background documents supplied by the client, or it could involve developing questionnaires and conducting detailed interviews with the appropriate people. It will vary with each situation. The Internet of course, can really simplify and shorten the research process, but don’t forget to double and triple check your sources.

Write the Table of Contents First

In my experience, drafting the Table of Contents (TOC), before you start writing the actual report is the single most important key to developing a successful business report. This document can normally be done before, or in parallel with, the first phase of project information gathering. This should be more than just a rough draft TOC. It should be a carefully thought out breakdown of exactly what you imagine the TOC will look like in the final report. Although this takes a certain amount of time and brain power up-front, it really streamlines the rest of the process. What I do is to actually visualize the final report in my mind’s eye and write the contents down. This really works! This TOC then becomes a step-by-step template for the rest of the process.

Sidebar:
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If you are writing the report for an external client, it’s a good idea to present the draft Table of Contents to them at this point in the process and get their approval. This will force them to think it through and confirm what they really want early on. Once they have agreed to a TOC you will have their buy-in for the rest of the process, therefore significantly reducing chances of any major changes or reversals at the final report phase.
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Do Additional Research

After thinking through the TOC in detail, you will know if any additional research is required. If yes, do this extra information gathering before you sit down and start to actually write the report. That way, once you begin the writing process you will have all of the information needed at hand and you will not have to interrupt the writing process to conduct any further research.

Write the Report by Filling In the Blanks

That’s right, by filling in the blanks. Once the TOC skeleton framework is in-place as per the previous step, writing the actual report becomes almost like filling in the blanks. Just start at the beginning and work your way sequentially through the headings and sub-headings, one at a time, until you get to the end. Really. At that point, with all of the preparation done, it should be a relatively straightforward process.

If you follow the above steps in the “report writing process” you will be amazed at how quickly your reports will come together. Give it a try – it really works.

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Crafting a Writing Portfolio That Will Build You a Dedicated List Of Clients

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“Be specific to attract your ideal client” – Wendy Nicole Anderson

So you’re finally ready to take the plunge and work as a freelance writer full time? Congratulations! You are in for an interesting and, hopefully, rewarding journey.

One thing that can save you a lot of stress, money and time is getting the right type of clients. And this is something that can happen before you even talk to a potential client. It starts with how you present your work: your portfolio.

But if you’ve never made a portfolio before, you probably have questions. How much do your clients need to know about you? How open and general can your topics be? This post will answer all that and more, and help you create the perfect portfolio to catch the ideal client.

Crafting the perfect writing portfolio can mean a huge difference in the clients you get and the money you make. It manages not only their expectations of the type and quality of your writing, but can also inform them how you work, and what you expect from them.

1. Determine Your Why

Writing is all about self-motivation. So think about what keeps you motivated. Having a clear idea of where you want to take your business from the start will help give your career a clear direction. When you have determined what drives you in your business, think about your ideal client. They should align with your goals. Who are you trying to help, and how will you help them?

2. Building A Flexible Portfolio

Specializing allows you to make more money and make a name for yourself by writing in a particular field. Choose no more than two specialties to highlight at one time.

Though specializing can help you make a name for yourself, it’s essential to keep your portfolio flexible. Ideally, you’ll always be working to find new areas of income. Some of your subspecialties may connect to your specialty, but they don’t have to.

Maybe you’ve got several years experience in finance writing, but you’ve always had an interest in travel. You could add some pieces which reflect your interest in finance, combined with a love of travel, with topics about how to invest so you can spend more time traveling. Or, you might choose to create multiple portfolios, for different client personas. Keep these small, simple, and not too disconnected from each other.

3. Getting The Details Right

Professionalism in writing means clear, concise writing, no typos, grammar, or spelling issues to worry about. Familiarize yourself with common mistakes. Brush up on your grammar and spelling and always read aloud to fix clunky sentences, repetitive words, and typos.

You want the writing in your portfolio to reflect your best. You’ll also want to spend some time thinking about templates. You need something simple and streamlined, with an easy-to-read font and layout. You’d be surprised how much design comes at the cost of quick and straightforward readability. Keep your font at least 12-point, in something simple and readable.

4. Find The Right Portfolio Service

The great thing about our online, interconnected world: it’s easy for clients to find you. There are plenty of portfolio services available to choose from, and what you choose depends on your specific needs. Here are some general considerations to help you make a decision:

You want to find a place that allows you to highlight your writing, without leaving it dull on the page. It should be easy to navigate and reflect your writing voice. If you’re a technical writer or copywriter, you might want something more streamlined or modern. If you’re a ghost blogger who writes relationship and mommy blogs, you might want something more approachable or playful.

While you’re looking for a hosting service, don’t forget to consider the practical elements. How much space will you need? How many unique emails? Will you add multimedia components? Is it easy to navigate social media, add newsletter sign-ups, and other forms of promotion? What are you willing to spend? Remember, this is a client’s first look at you, as a writer, and a business.

5. Get Personal – But Don’t Overdo It

Your portfolio’s About Me section is where you can get personal. Use a tone consistent with the pieces you select. Talk about your hobbies and interests, but be mindful of your audience. This is where you can afford to get a little more informal. But don’t get too personal.

Talk about how long you’ve been writing, but not your age. Talk about your childhood interest in an obscure topic you love writing about, but less about your childhood hopes and fears. Keep the tone positive and upbeat. But stay away from anything cutesy or quirky. Using text talk might be okay in your private messages, but the About Me on your website or portfolio is still all about what you can offer potential clients. So keep it polite, professional, and focused on your work.

6. Get Some Feedback

As a writer, you’re mainly working in a vacuum. You procure your own clients, produce your own pages, and you hit that submit button, and read all those rejection letters by yourself. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need anyone, or even that you have to go it alone.

Get some feedback. Find a mentor, or writing partner friend who can help you choose the right pieces to fit your writing goals, and the type of projects you’re looking to tackle. Get a trusted editor to check your portfolio or website before it goes live, for readability. If you have a friend who knows coding or graphic design, talk to them about how to create something simple and unique, and how to maintain it. There’s plenty of help out there when you need it.

7. Keep Updating

The most important part of being a professional writer is to remember to write! Running a business for yourself can be tough, and it’s easy to lose sight of your goals. Updating doesn’t have to mean a big overhaul every few months. Instead, take regular stock of what you’re working on, what you’re excited about, and where your goals are. Make it a habit to check in with yourself. Don’t be afraid to take pieces out of your portfolio as they’re no longer relevant to your personal goals.

8. Include Your Pricing And Terms

This is a little more controversial than other elements you might want to include. Many writers don’t like to publish their prices before they talk to a lead, as it can differ per project what they charge.

That said, being completely transparent about your pricing and terms can save you a lot of negotiation time and, if you’re like me, having to discuss that icky “money” thing. It can also ward off anyone looking for a “good deal”, and prevent any misunderstandings around payment and delivery terms.

So if possible, state your pricing and terms on your portfolio. You can offer different packages to cater to the different types of projects. And the last piece of advice on this: ask for (partial) upfront payment. It will take the sting out of worrying about getting paid after your work is done.

An excellent writing portfolio can elevate your career. It gets you the right exposure, to the right people. This is the difference between taking the jobs you actually want and scrambling to keep yourself afloat with one bad client after another. Build a portfolio that filters your leads, and start your business right with an ideal set of clients.

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Never Write A Proposal From Scratch

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A very important lesson I have learned over the years is that one should never write any type of proposal document from scratch. It’s way too hard and just not necessary anymore. This is something I learned the hard way many years ago, after slaving away to write my first few proposals from a blank page. Since then, I have written thousands of business documents, including hundreds of proposals for many different situations without ever having to work from scratch.

In fact, the most effective way to develop a proposal is to work from a model that has already been created for another proposal submission situation. It also doesn’t need to be for the exact same situation; as long as it is along similar lines. I know from my various writing-related websites that there are five main proposal types that people seek help with online: grant proposals, business proposals, technical proposals, project proposals and sales proposals. Nevertheless, it turns out that it doesn’t matter very much (if at all) what type of proposal you are writing; the approach and basic structure will be very similar.

The important thing is to be able to use the approach and structure of the sample template that you work with as your guide for the new proposal that you need to draft. Using an already-proven template that matches your situation as closely as possible can have numerous benefits as follows:

• You will save significant time by not having to start from scratch.
• The template will act as a “checklist” to ensure you cover everything.
• A template will tend to stimulate your thinking and give you new ideas.
• You will know you are using an approach already used successfully by others.

In the end, using a previously developed proposal should give you a result that is even better than the model from which you are working.

Take a few minutes to do a web search for “free ____ proposal template,” where the blank is your specific project need. Bonus: switch your default search engine to use the Ecosia search engine and you’ll help the Earth by planting trees with every search you make.

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How To Write A Reference Letter

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At some point in life, many of us are asked by someone we know to write a general character reference letter on their behalf. If you haven’t been asked yet, it is likely you will be at some point. In fact, keyword searches and direct requests for information and samples on “how to write reference letters” are among the most common online writing queries.

LETTERS OF REFERENCE DEFINED

As opposed to a “letter of recommendation,” which is normally very specific in subject and purpose, a “letter of reference” or “reference letter” is typically more general in nature and IS NOT addressed to a specific requester. Usually, “letters of reference” are addressed as; “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam.”

The most common letters of reference are:

  • Employment-related — general reference letter
  • College-related — general reference letter
  • Character reference letter — general-purpose personal reference
  • General reference letter — various subjects

In addition to standard letter-writing dos and don’ts, there are a number of basic guidelines that apply specifically to most situations related to the writing of letters of reference. These are usually more “situational” than “how-to” in nature. These reference letter guidelines are important to both note and apply, since writing letters of reference is always a somewhat tricky and delicate matter. That’s because they almost always affect the reputation and future of the writer or that of another person.

REFERENCE LETTERS — TIPS & STRATEGIES

The following tips and strategies apply primarily to the writing of letters of reference in their various forms (i.e. reference letters, character reference letters, employment reference letters, college reference letters, and general reference letters).

Write It Only If You Want To
If you are asked by someone to write a reference letter about them, you don’t have to say yes automatically. If it’s someone you respect for their work, and you have mostly positive things to say, by all means write the letter. There is no point saying yes and then writing a letter that says nothing good about the person, or worse still, concocting a misleading positive assessment of someone. So, whatever you do, don’t get sucked into writing a reference inappropriately out of feelings of guilt or obligation.

If You Must Refuse, Do It Right Up Front
On the other hand, if someone asks you to write a reference letter for them, and you know you’ll be hard-pressed to keep it positive, say no right away. There is no point in hesitating and leading the person on to believe that the answer might eventually be yes. A gentle but firm no will usually get the message across to the person. Explain that you don’t think that you are the best (or most qualified) person to do it.

Suggest Someone Else
If you feel you should refuse, for whatever reason, it may be helpful for you to suggest someone else who you think might have a more positive and/or accurate assessment of the person. That other person may be in a better position to do the assessment. Usually there are a number of possible candidates, and you may not actually be the best one. In fact, I have seen a number of cases over the years in which people requesting reference letters have not requested the letter from the obvious or logical choice. This usually happens when the requestor doesn’t like the person who is the obvious choice, and/or they are worried about what that person will have to say about them.

Write It As You See It
Writing a less than honest letter of reference does no one a favor in the end. It is likely to backfire on all involved: you the recommender, the person being recommended, and the new employer. Also, most employers and head-hunting agencies check references these days. How would you like to be called up and have to mislead people due to questionable things you may have written in a less that forthright reference letter?

Be Honest and Fair
Honesty is always the best policy when it comes to writing reference letters. At the same time, try to be fair and balanced in your approach. If, in your estimation a person has five strengths and one glaring weakness, but that weakness really bothers you, make sure you don’t over-emphasize the weak point in the letter based on your personal bias. Just mention it in passing as a weakness and then move on.

Balanced Is Best
An overall balanced approach is the best one for a letter of reference. Even if your letter generally raves about how excellent the person is, some balance on the other side of the ledger will make it more credible. After all, nobody’s perfect. There must be some area where the person being recommended needs to improve. A bit of constructive criticism never hurts and it will make your letter appear to be more objective in nature.

Bottom Line:
The most important point to take away from the above tips and strategies is that it is your choice as to whether, and how, you will write a letter of reference.

It’s an important type of letter that will have a definite impact on the future of the person about whom it is being written, so don’t agree to write one unless you are willing to be totally objective and give it your utmost attention and effort.

Reference Letter Definition and Samples:
For more on the differences between reference letters and recommendation letters and links to a few reference letter samples, click on the following link:
http://writinghelp-central.com/reference-letter-definition.html

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Words Commonly Confused and/or Misused (2)

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This current post is the second in my latest series of articles about commonly confused and/or misused words. The previous article covered words/terms beginning with the letters “a” to “c”; this one covers the letters “d” through “f”.

decision (make or take)
“make a decision” is the traditional phrase that was (and still is) used.
“take a decision” has become common in popular usage and is generally accepted.
They both mean “to decide about something”.
Examples:
I believe that he has made a wise career decision.
The review committee is expected to take a decision later today.
But…
Use “decision making” NOT “decision taking”

defective, deficient
“defective” refers to something lacking in quality.
“deficient” refers to something lacking in quantity.
Examples:
The transformer was found to be defective and had to be replaced.
The study showed that 70% of subjects tested had deficient iron levels.

dependant, dependent
In British English, dependent means reliant on. A dependant is a person that relies upon another person. In American English, you can use dependent for both.

different, various
“different” implies uniqueness and/or separateness.
“various” implies number and diversity.
Examples:
Each of the three proposals offered a different approach to the project.
After the meeting, various attendees signed the petition.

disinterested, uninterested
“disinterested” means unbiased or impartial.
“uninterested” means not interested, or unconcerned, or indifferent.
Examples:
The panel of judges was asked to provide a disinterested opinion on the matter.
My boss seems to be uninterested in any of the plans proposed so far.

each
“each” should be treated as singular and used with a singular verb.
Examples:
Each of them is now free to choose sides on his/her own.
Each municipality administers its own road maintenance program.

economic, economical
“economic” relates to the economy or economic system.
“economical” refers to a person who is thrifty and tends to avoid waste.
Examples:
Things have improved since the economic crisis eight years ago.
He is economical about all things, including his choice of a small hybrid car.

effective, efficient
“effective” refers to producing a good or desired result.
“effective” can also be used to indicate that something is “in effect” or “in force”.
“efficient” refers to the skillful use of time, effort, energy, and/or money to produce desired results.
Examples:
Despite her inexperience, the new president proved to be highly effective in her job.
That new law will become effective on January 1st of next year.
Pressure to reduce carbon emissions has forced manufacturers to produce more efficient engines.

emigrate, immigrate, migrate
“emigrate” means to leave one country or region and move to another.
“immigrate” means to enter and settle in a new country or region.
“migrate” means to move from one place to another. (people or animals)
Examples:
A large number of Irish people emigrated to Canada during the potato famine.
Last year, this country accepted more than 150,000 immigrants from African countries.
Hunters tend to migrate from one forest area to another in search of migrating herds.

fewer, lesser, less
“fewer” always refers to a number of things that can be counted.
“lesser” or “less” usually refer to quantity, amount or size.
“Less” can also refer to number, when it can be thought of as an amount.
Examples:
They sold fewer cars this year than last.
He chose that option because it was the lesser of two evils.
Your workload is expected to be less from now on.
When searched, she had less than $200 in her purse.

figuratively, literally, virtually
“figuratively” means “not really” or “not literally”; in an abstract sense.
“literally” means “really” or “actually”; in actual fact.
“virtually” means “almost entirely” or “for all practical purposes”.
Examples:
Figuratively speaking, he was over the moon about it.
It was determined that they were literally minutes away from death when found.
As far as we could tell, it was virtually a dead heat as they crossed the line.

financial, fiscal
“financial” refers to money matters or transactions in general.
“fiscal” refers to public finances derived from tax revenues.
Examples:
The company’s financial performance was better this year than last.
The central bank has recommended the adoption of a policy of fiscal restraint.

flaunt, flout
“flaunt” means to “display boastfully”.
“flout” means to “treat with contempt and disregard”.
Examples:
She made a point to flaunt her new engagement ring to everyone she encountered.
He has a tendency to flout the highway traffic laws.

flounder, founder
“flounder” means to struggle awkwardly, without making progress.
“founder” as a noun refers to a person who founded an institution.
“founder” as a verb; refers to: a ship filling with water, or a building collapse, or a horse falling down lame.
Examples:
After six months, the business was already seriously floundering.
His father was the founder of that college.
After the collision, the ship quickly foundered.
As soon as they depressed the plunger the building foundered.
Right after crossing the finish line the horse foundered and then buckled to the ground.

forego, forgo
“forego” means to “go before” or “precede”.
“forgo” is an accepted variant spelling of “forego”.
Examples:
By the last week of the campaign her election was a foregone conclusion.
Members were not willing to forego/forgo their dining room privileges that evening.

former, latter
“former” refers to the first mentioned in a series.
“latter” refers to the last mentioned in a series.
Examples:
Of the two on the list, I tend to favor the former. (For more than two, use “first-mentioned”).
Of the two mentioned, I prefer the latter. (For more than two use “last-named”).

 

 

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Don’t Neglect Your Resume Cover Letter

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Recently, I was helping out both my daughter and a friend with the job application process. During this period, I was reminded of how the focus among most job applicants is almost entirely on the resume or CV. Most often, the cover letter gets lost in the rush to apply, treated as an annoying last minute must-have afterthought. I think this is a fundamental mistake that a lot of job applicants make.

After all, the cover letter is normally placed on top of the resume or CV; it’s the first thing the recipient sees. So, if yours is poorly written, shoddily formatted, or obviously deficient in any other way, you have already sabotaged yourself before the reader even glances at your resume. By submitting a weak cover letter, you’ve already told them something about yourself that is less than complimentary.

Remember: resume cover letters are used for one purpose only — to introduce yourself to a prospective employer. The most common mistake I see in cover letters that are sent to me for editing is that many tend to repeat verbatim almost exactly what the attached resume or CV already contains.

A resume cover letter should be a concise one-page summary that introduces you, explains why you are writing, summarizes your key skills, abilities and experience (as they relate to the specific job at hand), and asks the recipient to get back to you. Its main purpose is to capture the attention of the recipient enough to get that person to look at the attached resume with interest. Let’s look at some important tips:

1. Address It To A Specific Person
Even when sending an unsolicited resume to a company you should take the time to find out the name of the appropriate person and write the letter to that person. At least it will reach their office. Resumes sent to “Dear Human Resources Manager” or “To Whom It May Concern” are almost always a waste of time. Name someone specifically and it will at least make it into an in-basket. Sometimes you will be given a specific name or title to which you should address your letter. Use it — and make sure you spell it correctly! If you’re not sure about gender, avoid guessing, and leave off the Mr. or Ms.

2. Keep It Short and Focused
Remember, your resume already says it all. Keep the letter short and focused and don’t repeat verbatim what is already in the attached resume or CV. NEVER exceed one page in a cover letter.

3. Be Enthusiastic
Express your interest in the job and the new company with enthusiasm. Show that you really want the job, and that you would really like to work for that particular company.

4. Focus On Needs Of the Employer
Throughout your cover letter make it clear that you are interested in the needs of the employer. You are there to help them. You are part of the solution. Try to make this the message of your entire letter.

5. Show That You’ve Done Your Homework
Demonstrate a good knowledge of the company and industry for which you are applying. A one-liner, or a phrase or two in the appropriate place in your letter that shows you are interested in that company, and you understand the problems it faces, will give you instant credibility (i.e. do some simple Internet research).

6. Use the Appropriate Buzzwords
Every organization has its own ways of doing things and its own lingo. Look through key documents such as annual reports, corporate websites, etc. Try to spot key words, terms, and phrases that are often repeated. Every company has them. Use as many of these hot buttons as you can in your cover letter – where appropriate, of course. For example, if the “Message From the CEO” in the annual report mentions the phrase “action plan for the future” three times, make sure you work that term into your cover letter in an appropriate place. Don’t overdo it, of course. Just demonstrate that you’ve done your homework.

7. Summarize Your Skills and Abilities

If possible, without making the letter too long, summarize your overall skills and abilities as strengths as they relate to the company you’re applying to. Try to relate them directly to the requirements listed in the job ad or poster. This can make them stand out in a way that they wouldn’t, if they were buried in the resume or CV.

8. Get It Right
Make sure that your cover letter is free of spelling and grammatical errors. Allowing those types of mistakes to creep into your one page cover letter is a major credibility destroyer. Sloppy and unprofessional are NOT the first impressions you want to give to the reader before they even look at your resume.

The challenge of course, is to try to address all of these points in a four or five paragraph letter. It can be done!

To see a fully-formatted “real-life template” of a resume cover letter, click on the following link:
http://www.writinghelp-central.com/cover-letter.html

 

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Academic Writing Style – APA and MLA Set the Standards

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As we all know, school (at any level) is a place where the ability to write reasonably well is very important if one is to succeed. This would explain why thousands of visitors to this site are seeking information and templates to help them with their academic writing projects such as book reports, term papers, essays, and research papers.

Once one reaches the college or university level, it is not good enough to write a paper in just any old format that one chooses. At that level, students are almost always required to use certain accepted international standards for formatting and referencing sources in a paper. Even at the high school level, many teachers now require the use of one of the well-known writing style standards.

At universities and colleges in most Western countries, one of two major international writing style standards are used as follows:

1. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
The APA’s Publication Manual covers all aspects of the writing and publishing process including organizing, writing, formatting, keying, and submitting a manuscript for publication. It provides detailed guidance on editorial style as well as on the appropriate standards for publishing research in accordance with ethical principles of scientific publishing.

2. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
The MLA documentation style covers all aspects of scholarly writing, beginning with the mechanics of writing and publishing, through the basics of writing style, to guidelines for the preparation of theses and dissertations. Although the MLA guidelines cover all aspects of writing and publishing a paper, MLA documentation style places special emphasis on the proper citing of sources of information in one’s written work, and how to properly and consistently cite them throughout a paper or manuscript.

Both of these style documents are lengthy technical manuals designed to cover every possible situation that one could encounter when writing a paper. To assist those who would rather not wade through hundreds of pages that may not be relevant to them, I have broken down and summarized the APA and MLA Rules for the Preparation of Manuscripts into three distinct sections as follows:

1. Overall Paper Format Rules (APA and MLA)
2. Rules For In-Text Citation of Sources (APA and MLA)
3. Compiling and Formatting the Reference List (APA and MLA)

You can access a summary of the APA Rules at this page:
http://www.writinghelp-central.com/apa-format-rules.html

The MLA Rules are summarized on this page:
http://www.writinghelp-central.com/mla-format-rules.html

Each of the above pages contains links to actual sample pages of the formats being discussed.

 

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Make Sure Your Words and Phrases Flow

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A common weakness we see almost everywhere in day-to-day writing is poor logical flow from one idea or point to the next. This usually takes the form of a bunch of seemingly unrelated phrases thrown together with little or no sense of sequence, continuity, logic, or relativity. Not only can you see this problem in articles and blogs all over the Web, reporters for your local newspaper and TV outlets are often guilty of this same transgression.

We see letters, articles and reports in which each phrase seems to be independent of the one before and the one after; when in reality there is an actual sequential and/or logical flow. When we read these, we often find ourselves asking obvious questions that don’t get answered, such as: “So why did they do that?”, or “What happened next…?”, or “How does that relate to…?”

Consider the following three sentence example:

1. The entire building had to be searched.

2. They started the search on the third floor.

3. It took three hours to complete the search.

Notice that the three separate statements are all valid sentences. They convey the bare essential facts of a situation or event, but nothing more. In fact, they raise almost more questions than they answer. For example:

– Why was the building being searched?
– What building was it?
– Was it a serious incident?
– Had it ever happened before?
– Why did they start on the third floor?
– What about the first two floors?
– Is three hours a long time for that?
– How long does it usually take?

Now, let’s transform these three statements, using transition or bridge words and phrases, as follows:

“UNLIKE a minor incident at the Customs Headquarters last October, this time the entire building had to be searched for trapped occupants. BECAUSE the fire was still smoking on the first two floors, they started on the third, working upwards to the tenth, covering the first two floors last. CONSEQUENTLY, it took them a full three hours before they finally completed the typical one-hour job.”

Notice the use of the transition words: UNLIKE, BECAUSE, and CONSEQUENTLY. Using these three words has allowed us to easily connect the three independent sentences and give them a sense of chronological order and logical flow. They also allow us to answer ALL of the obvious questions, either with the transition word itself, or by adding a couple more words.

In short, transition words/phrases have turned three dry independent phrases into a little story that makes sense to the reader.

These types of words/phrases are ideal for allowing one to easily connect thoughts, and create logical sequences between sentences and paragraphs. They are usually inserted at the beginning of a sentence and normally refer directly back to the previous sentence and/or paragraph without repeating the specific subject.

The following paragraphs list some of the more common transition words and phrases that will help make your text more understandable and interesting to the reader. For each one, I have included a typical example of how the word/phrase might be used in a typical sentence. (Note that we have capitalized the transition words/phrases for emphasis and easy identification).

CAUSE AND EFFECT…
THEN, he moved on to the next work station.
AS A RESULT, the team lost the game.
FOR THIS REASON, she always went home for the weekend.
THE RESULT WAS always predictable.
WHAT FOLLOWED was as painful as it was inevitable.
IN RESPONSE, he quickly upped the ante.
THEREFORE, the aircraft overshot the runway.
THUS, it was just a matter of time.
BECAUSE OF THIS, the results were always the same.
CONSEQUENTLY, he was no longer friends with Frank.
THE REACTION to this event was swift and decisive.

IN CONTRAST TO…
UNLIKE last year, this one was highly profitable.
DIFFERENT from this, was our approach to manufacturing.
IN SPITE OF the dot com bust, the company prospered.
ON THE OTHER HAND, earnings per share have increased.
ON THE CONTRARY, the impact was less than expected.
OPPOSING that idea was the move to new technologies.
HOWEVER, that approach may actually prove better.
CONTRARY to his findings, the revenue picture is good.
NEVERTHELESS, something still appears to be missing.

SEQUENCE AND RELATIVITY…
THEN, each one followed in numerical sequence.
IN ADDITION, a fourth material was added to the mix.
TO ENUMERATE, first was the car, second was the boat, third…
NEXT in line for cuts was the marketing division.
NEXT IN THE SERIES was the “outrigger” brand line.
BESIDES THAT, there were two other possible sources.
SUBSEQUENTLY they moved on to the next polling station.
FOLLOWING the concert, there was a reception in the atrium.

SIMILARITY AND COMPARISON…
LIKE always, he took the company on a risky course.
SAME as before, he managed to meet all of the requirements.
SIMILAR things were known to happen at certain times.
CLOSE to that was the result of the second round of voting.
LIKEWISE, they made similar changes in the factory.
ALSO, there were the worker’s families to consider.
NEAR that one, was where we found the faulty component.

EXPLANATION AND EXAMPLE…
FOR EXAMPLE, last year’s model was under-powered.
ONE SUCH occurrence was last week’s power outage.
FOR INSTANCE, earnings this year are higher than last.
TO ILLUSTRATE, he went to Chicago just to make his point.
ALSO, there is a new approach to sheet-metal molding.
THAT TOO, just goes to make my point even stronger.
TO DEMONSTRATE, I will use the new model throughout.

Bottom line: Smooth, orderly and logical transitions from one thought to the other, one sentence to the next, and one paragraph to another, are key to creating clear meaning and flow in any document. Appropriate use of transition words and phrases will achieve this for you.