During my lifetime I have found that long-term friendships are among the most important aspects of life. One critical part of maintaining a long lasting friendship is making sure that you properly and appropriately thank your friends or colleagues after you have spent time with them, especially if they were hosting you.
I’m sorry folks, but even in this age of 24/7 texting, a text is NOT the appropriate or meaningful way to thank someone for anything. That’s because texts are so transient and are largely short blasts of random thoughts that have no long-term meaning or impact, and they disappear into the ether just as soon as they are sent. On the other hand, a properly written, brief thank you note in letter form (or even as an e-mail) will tell your friends that you really do care and appreciate your time with them.
A friendly thank you letter (or note) does not have to be long-winded at all. Two or three short paragraphs and less than one page will do. Just make sure it is sincere and heartfelt.
I recently visited a friend in another city and we had a great time doing things together for a few days. He was at work when I left to return home, so I took the opportunity to jot down a few lines, thanking him for his efforts as a host and guide as we explored his city together. I simply left the note on his kitchen counter when I departed. Two days later when I was back home I received a very nice e-mail from him, thanking me for my note and telling me how much he enjoyed our time together and how much he valued our friendship.
That simple gesture of writing a brief thank you note to my buddy is what lasting long-term friendships are made of, folks. It shows that you care, are truly grateful, and are willing to make a bit of an effort to say thanks. For important things in life you sometimes have to make a tiny bit more effort than simply thumb-typing a text as you wait in line at the airport for your mocha latte. In my opinion, a short friendly thank you letter or note is the only way to treat your true friends with the respect they deserve after they have put themselves out for you.
Bonus tip: Hand written or hard copy notes and letters to people who have done you favours at work, at school, or in any other social interaction are always appreciated. It’s true what they say: people may not remember what you say, but they will remember how you make them feel.
I have often heard it said that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn. I’m not sure how true this; any language that involves an alphabet different than your own would seem to me to be pretty tough. For example, an English speaker learning Spanish only has to deal with the different grammar rules and vocabulary, whereas an English speaker learning Russian or Chinese has a new alphabet to learn on top of the other things. Nevertheless, in the case of English, there are thousands of exceptions and irregular word usage conventions that must be very confusing for anyone trying to learn the language from scratch.
Here’s a list of perfectly correct phrases that must be frustrating for non-native English speakers. For each example cited, I have provided my own brief explanation on the second line that I hope will reduce reader confusion.
1) The bandage was wound around the wound. (The first “wound” is the past tense of the verb “to wind” something in a circular motion; the second “wound” is a noun meaning “cut” or “bruise”, as in “injured”.)
2) The farm was used to produce produce. (The first “produce” is the verb phrase “to produce”, as in “grow something”; the second “produce” is the noun that means “agricultural produce” such as fruits, vegetables, etc.)
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse. (The first “refuse” is the verb meaning “decline to accept”; the second “refuse” is the noun that means “garbage or trash”.)
4) We must polish the Polish furniture. (The first “polish” is the verb phrase “to polish”, as in wax or shine a car; the second “Polish” is an adjective that refers to the furniture as being made in the country of “Poland”.)
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out. (The first “lead” is the verb meaning “to show the way” or “go in front”; the second “lead” is a noun that refers to the heavy metallic element known as “lead”. The colloquial phrase “to get the lead out” means “to hurry up”.)
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert. (The first “desert” is the verb phrase “to desert” or “to leave behind”; “dessert” with a double “s” is the noun for the sweet course after the main meal; the second “desert” is an area of arid land such as the Sahara.)
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present. (The first “present” is the noun that refers to “this time or now”; the second is the verb phrase “to present” as in “to give”; the third “present” is the noun for “gift”.)
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum. (The first “bass” is a noun that refers to a type of fish; a “bass drum” is a percussion instrument that makes low frequency sounds when played.)
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes. (The first “dove” is a noun that refers to a type of bird; the second “dove” is the past participle of “to dive”, meaning “to plunge”.)
10) I did not object to the object. (The first “object” is the intransitive verb meaning “to oppose or disapprove of”; the second “object” is the noun referring to any material thing that can be seen and/or touched.)
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid. (The first “invalid” is an adjective meaning “not officially acceptable”; the second “invalid” is the noun that refers to “a person weakened or disable by an injury or illness”.)
12) There was a row among the oarsmen in the first row about how to row. (The first “row” is the noun meaning “a disagreement”; the second “row” is the noun meaning “a line of seats”; the third “row” is the noun that means “to propel a boat with oars”.)
13) They were too close to the door to close it. (The term “too close” means “situated a very short distance from”; the second “to close” is the transitive verb meaning “to shut” something.)
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present. The first “does” is the third person singular of the verb “to do”; the second “does” is the plural form of the noun “doe”, which means “a female deer”.)
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line. (Both “a seamstress” and “a sewer” are people who make and/or repair clothing by “sewing” the material; a “sewer line” is a trench or pipe that channels unwanted water and sewage to other locations.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow. (The first “sow” is the noun for “a female adult pig”; the second “sow” is a verb that means “to plant”, as in “plant some seeds”. Yes, pigs are smart but this statement is unlikely in reality!)
17) The wind was too strong for him to wind the sail. (The first “wind” is the noun that means “air in rapid motion”; the phrase “to wind” is the verb phrase that means “to move something in a circular or spiral motion”.)
18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear. (The first “tear” is a noun that means “a rip”, “a hole”, or “a rent” in something; the second “tear” is the noun that refers to the salty liquid that can flow from the human eye in emotional situations.)
19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests. (The verb phrase “to subject” means “to expose”; the second “subject” is a noun that refers to the person to be tested.)
20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friends? (The first “intimate” is a verb that means “to state” or “to make known” something; the second “intimate” is an adjective that means “closely acquainted” or “very familiar”.)
This post is my third in the current series. The previous article covered words/terms beginning with the letters “d” to “f”; this one covers the letters “g” through “I”. I will continue to post articles from this series every three or four months over the next year or so.
So, here are some frequently confused and/or misused words beginning with letters (“g” through “i”).
goods, good There is often confusion whether to use singular or plural. Generally, the plural form should be used. However, the singular is sometimes used to simplify, as per the example. Examples: The goods will arrive by ocean container next week. All goods received from China will be subject to that new tax. That charge applies to any good or service originating in Mexico.
hardly “hardly” means “scarcely” or “only just”. It is often used incorrectly as a double negative, as in: “He can’t hardly do it…”, which is incorrect. Examples: I was so exhausted I could hardly make it back to camp. After the accident, she could hardly remember anything that had taken place before.
has got, have got “got” is unnecessary when used with have/has in such phrases as: “We’ve got twelve days until the deadline.” Examples: We have only twelve days left until the deadline. They have six months to go before their membership expires.
healthful, healthy “healthful” means that something is conducive to good health. “healthy” means that something possesses good health. Examples: That was a very healthful meal that they served us. If you continue to follow that program you will be very healthy.
hisself “Hisself” is non-standard. DON’T use it. INSTEAD use “himself”. Examples: He went to the game by himself. He did it all himself.
historical, historic “historical” means something is related to history. “historic” means that something is famous or notable in history. Examples: That voyage was of great historical significance. Gandhi is considered by most historians to be a major historical figure. Her historic speech broke down many barriers for the first time.
hung, hanged “hanged” is only used in the context of capital punishment. “hung” is used in all other cases. Examples: In that country, all people convicted of murder are hanged. He hung from the branch by the tips of his fingers. She hung her degree directly above and behind her desk. They hung out at their favorite hang-out, the corner store.
i.e., e.g. These two abbreviations are often confused and/or used interchangeably. “i.e.” means “that is to say…”. [from the Latin: “id est”] “e.g.” means “for example…” [from the Latin “exempli gratia”] Examples: Conference attendees should assemble quickly (i.e., within five minutes). To belong, you need to hold an accreditation with a professional society (e.g., CA, RN, MD). [Note: with e.g. DO NOT add “etc.” at the end of the list. It is a given that these are just examples and there will be others.]
imply, infer “imply” means to indicate a particular point or meaning in speech or in writing. “infer” means to make a conclusion based on something that had been said or written. Examples: His statement is expected to clearly imply our future priorities. Based on the thrust of her speech, we can infer that she is giving us the green light to proceed.
include, comprise “include” refers to part of a whole. “comprise” refers to all parts of something. Examples: The Cabinet includes five newly elected representatives. The committee is comprised of eight members; one from each corporate region. in regard to “in regard to” [NOT “in regards to”]; means “with reference to” something. Equivalent phrases are: “with respect to” or “with regard to” or “as regards”. Examples: He questioned her in regard to her whereabouts that night. That decision was made with regard to historical religious practices. With respect to the first paragraph, you are absolutely correct. As regards our previous discussion, my position has not changed on that matter.
intense, intensive “intense” means “to a high degree” or “in an extreme way”. “intensive” means to do something thoroughly; in a concentrated manner. Examples: His focus on the task at hand was very intense. Their training program was quite intensive.
irregardless This is non-standard and redundant. DO NOT use it. Instead, use “regardless”. Examples: We are leaving tomorrow, regardless of the weather. Regardless of her opinion, I am still going ahead with our plan.
There is an old expression that states “the squeaky wheel always gets the grease”. My overwhelming experience over the years proves that this is absolutely true! If you don’t express your concern about a problem or issue to someone in charge, things will never change. I have also found that by far the most powerful way to express one’s concerns about an issue is via a polite formal complaint letter. This is especially true if you are dealing with a large company or government organization.
Although complaint letters aren’t always fun, they usually need to be written
In most cases, if people don’t complain, the problem agency at fault (e.g., company or government) won’t even know that the problem that you and others may have experienced even exists. Legitimate complaints, by even a few people, can (and often do) result in better service for everyone. Not only that, writing complaints down can be personally beneficial for the writer too!
That’s right. Writing complaint letters can be an empowering and therapeutic experience! It allows one to take action instead of playing the role of a victim and nursing an ongoing resentment towards a company about poor service or treatment that you received. Once the complaint letter is written and in the mail, you can let it go knowing that you have done something tangible and constructive about the situation.
In fact, properly written and handled complaint letters almost always get action!
Once I started writing complaint letters, I began receiving gracious letters of apology and contrition from senior executives including bank vice-presidents and directors of marketing for giant corporations. Getting those felt one heck of a lot better than polishing an ongoing resentment and getting even angrier the next time something bad happened. Sometimes I even received discount coupons and free merchandise!
Over the years, many people have contacted me about writing complaint letters for them. I always request that they at least give me a draft in their own words so that I can get some idea of the essence of the situation. More often than not, what they send me is an angry and rambling diatribe that just confuses the situation or issue.
If you want your complaint letter to have impact and to elicit action, there is a way to structure and write them that I have found will work without fail. I documented this in an article a few years ago titled “10 Secrets for Writing Killer Complaint Letters”. Here’s the link: http://www.writinghelp-central.com/article-complaint-letter.html
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.
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.
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”).
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!
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.
Did you know that the ability to write for practical purposes can be a very important and powerful ability? Really! Becoming proficient at letter writing, for both business and personal purposes, can help you advance in many different aspects of your life.
As evidence of this, the following paragraphs describe a real-life example from my recent past.
I own (and live) in a unit in a multi-unit condominium building. As with most condo buildings, mine is managed by an elected committee of co-owners. About two and one-half years ago, I was asked by members of our condo board if I would be interested in running for election to the committee at the annual general meeting. Having never done that before, I thought I would give it a try, so I agreed to run and I was elected. I ended up staying in that position for two years before I decided to resign and move on to other things; about six months ago.
What does this have to do with writing, you might be asking right about now? Everything actually! Early into my two-year term as a member of the condo management board, I realized that writing letters and support documents was one of the most important activities for the efficient day-to-day functioning of our building. These documents include such things as numerous letters and notices to residents, instruction lists and checklists for janitorial staff, as well as letters to contractors and government bodies.
So, after I resigned from the board I compiled a group of the most common types of condo-management letters and notices and turned them into generic examples so that I could post them online. I believe that such “real-life examples will help a lot of people who are involved in the management and administration of their building; whether it’s a condo building, a co-operative, or a rental building.
Even if you aren’t directly involved in such activities, I suggest you take a look at some of the examples I have posted so that you can get a clear idea as to how important practical writing skills can be, and why you should continue to develop yours.
Remember, this is just one example of how strong practical writing skills can be important in your day-to-day life.