September 2009 Archives

ON WRITING WELL

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As a writing tutor, I frequently hear confessions. In a whispered tone I'm told, "To tell you the truth, I really don't like to write. I just like science and math." The confessor breathes a sigh of relief and looks to me for absolution. Here's why I can't grant it.

First, it's in your self-interest to write well. It's the skill every employer demands. Almost every job description lists good communication skills. Even in the job search process, you have to write a resume and a cover letter. Most of you realize that no one will take you seriously if you submit ineptly crafted employment messages.

Also after you land a job, you are going to have to write. According to David Shipley and Will Schwalbe in Send (2007), office workers in the U.S. spend at least 25 percent of the day writing emails, and this is just one form of written communication. Add in the time spent writing letters, reports, instant messages, and more, and it's easy to see that most people write a lot at work.

Second, writing shows how you think. And you want to show you think logically. Sometimes, it can even show you how you think. How many times have you lamented, "I know what I want to say, but I'm not sure how to write it"? The process of writing--outline, draft, rewrite, revise, edit, and proofread--is a process of discovery. As a writer you build a logical structure as you construct your sentences and paragraphs. By looking for patterns, you start chunking similar ideas and begin rearranging and seeing connections that you might not have been aware of before you put it to print. In other words, writing helps you know what you think. Furthermore, writing while you conduct your research is a significant aspect of observational science.

I like what the successful novelist Stephen King says writing is: telepathy. In his book, On Writing (2001), he describes his approach to writing. His job as a writer is to send you, his reader, the same mental picture he has in his own head. In other words, the picture is no longer only in his mind, but because of his selection of words, he has "sent" it to you, and it's in your mind too. In this way, writing is one way we share what our brains are cooking up. Once we share our observations, we are participating in a collective effort to describe our universe. Discourse and peer review strengthen the logical structure of our observations and help develop awareness of new patterns and discoveries. In this way, writing allows us to connect to people, to teach us what it means to see from other perspectives, and to record our vision for those who come after us. Writing is our thinking translated into physical form.

Third, writing helps pay the bills. Funding comes to those who write well. In Endurance (1931), F.A. Worsley, the ship's commander tells the story of Sir Ernest Shackelton's 1914-1916 expedition to the Antarctic: "What he concentrated upon with the closest and most intelligent perception was the sea in all its countless forms, the snow, the ice, the currents and the truly appalling winds of those latitudes, far below the Roaring Forties of evil reputation" (xvii). Worsley painstakingly recorded the events of the discovery to kindle curiosity in exploration; he recognized that without public interest in the expedition there would be no future funding. Worsley understood the connection between writing well and money.

The same is true today. Discoveries are expensive. Ask any scientist about the need for funding, and you will hear how research is costly, and without money, labs are quiet and unproductive. Writing research grants and proposals well brings in money. In addition, communicating the results to a diverse audience of journalists, policy-makers, and the public helps direct attention and resources to your laboratory.

Your careers and your pocketbooks are dependent on your ability to communicate. Paying attention to key writing principles will help you become a better writer. Over the next few weeks, I'll post information on these key writing principles. Come in and ask me how you can incorporate them into your writing. I have appointments available throughout the next two weeks.

Now, for the absolution...go in peace and serve your reader by writing well. Praise be to good prose!



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The Solar Decathlon 2009 is holding a Local Day of Tours and a Bon Voyage Event at the end of next week. Members of the Natural Fusion Team will take their entirely solar-powered home to the National Mall from October 8-16 as part of an international competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

But before they go, you can come out and help them celebrate. Tours of the Natural Fusion home begin at 12 p.m. on September 25. (The house is located at the southwest end of Innovation Park.) Ed Begley Jr., actor and environmentalist, will be on hand for a photo shoot at 6 p.m. and an 8 p.m. lecture in the Dean's Hall of the Penn Stater Conference Hotel. A book signing of Ed Begley Jr.'s Guide to Sustainable Living will occur after the lecture.

The event is free, and it is a great way for you to get involved and learn more about a wonderful EMS opportunity. If you'd like more information, contact Thomas Rauch, media liaison at sd2009.media@psu.edu.

 And on another note...appointments are available each week; however, it's a good idea to schedule early. These past few weeks have been busy with many of you coming in for help with your resumes and assignments. The earlier you come in, the more help I can give you. Call or email me for an appointment.


hot air 3.jpgThe upcoming Career Fair (9/15-9/17) has motivated many of you to stop by my office to help make your resume float above your competition. (And yes, this is just a lame excuse of a sentence to allow me to use a photo I took of a hot air balloon floating above my neighborhood last week!) Here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you tweak your resume:

1. Identify what makes you unique. Before you begin composing your most important marketing tool, you have to know why someone should hire you. What do you have to offer an employer? Keep in mind that on average your resume will receive 30 seconds of attention before the prospective employer will move to the next one. What will he/she find on your resume to make you stand out in a positive way?

2. Write with your audience in mind. So many times, resumes are composed from the writer's perspective. For example, an objective that states, "To obtain a position in which I can further develop and utilize my skills," says nothing about what you can do for the prospective employer. As harsh as it sounds, no one really cares (except maybe your mother) about your development. Your audience is thinking, "What's in it for me?" Write every word with your audience in mind.

3. Use design elements and arrangement to engage your reader. Fonts (no smaller than 10-point), emphasis techniques (bold, italics, size), white space (give your reader a break), and parallel structure (patterns) help your reader move through your resume pleasantly and quickly. Hold your resume out at a distance and see what "pops." It should be immediately evident what makes you unique. Arrangement matters. In other words, it's not just what you put on your resume, but it's how and where you put it too.

4. Proofread carefully. It's easy to write principal when you mean principle, or manger when you mean manager. Review each word. Give yourself enough time to proofread carefully. The most important rule to an effective resume is to make sure it's error free.

And if you still need help getting your resume off the ground, schedule an appointment with me. I have appointments available through September.

 





ENTER GRUNDY HAVEN

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Would you like to win $1000.00? Check out the NEW and IMPROVED Grundy Haven Paper Competition Guidelines and find out how.

You don't have to wait until next semester to submit your entry. Right now you can get interested in a topic. Speak with a faculty member to get a sponsor, and then write a short (approximately 1,500 words) entry.

Come see me in the Ryan Family Student Center to learn more. Don't let that $1000.00 go to someone else!

To find out more, click here: http://www.ems.psu.edu/students/haven.html

On another note, I have appointments available every day from 9/14-9/18.





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