Now that I’ve set the stage around why I’m on something of a “writing crusade” this month, let’s get down, dirty, and tactical. Here’s a specific breakdown of some tips and techniques I’ve learned that can help you take your writing/editing skills to the next level:
— Pay attention to the words you tend to overuse and take steps to vigorously guard against them; for example, I know for a fact that I tend to fall back on the words potential, however, virtually, and likely way too much, so now I hunt for these in my written drafts and remove or substitute them with other language, whenever possible
— Don’t put words and phrases in quotes when they are actually now part of the modern lexicon and readily understood by the average reader; one client of mine pointed out my tendency to do this and I now catch myself all the time quoting words like “social networking”, “conventional wisdom”, “status quo”, and “change agent” when it’s not necessary and only interrupts the flow of the sentence
— More white space in documents is almost always better, especially on resumes, so don’t make your margins too small and try to break up any long blocks of text with bullets, border lines, and line breaks; another useful trick is to take your current resume, bump all of the text up a font size, and then go through the process of editing it down until everything fits again; it’s not easy, at first, but the finished result is usually worth it!
— Avoid repeating the same words over and over or using “empty” words that might sound good, but don’t really add any value; the same rule applies when it comes to the content elements you include on your resume; if you’ve already proven you have a certain skill set on one area of your presentation, there’s no need to prove it again in another section, such as in a separate work history listing
— On a related note to the above tip, keep asking yourself whether your resume (or your written materials in general) are dangerously generic or whether they truly set you apart as a unique entity; I recently read an article on corporate branding, in fact, that suggested you should try putting somebody else’s logo on your advertising materials and then seeing if they still make perfect sense; if they do, this means they are too generic, and that you should scrap them; you could apply this same test to your resume, it seems, by putting somebody else’s name at the top of your document; if the majority of the text you’ve included in your resume still seems to work, your piece may not be personal, distinct, or differentiated enough
— If time permits, revisit and revamp your important written materials every day for a entire week before deciding on the final version; it’s amazing how many mistakes and areas of improvement you’ll be able to spot, simply by looking at the document with fresh eyes on several different occasions!
In the end, my newfound respect for writing leads me to view it as a skill set quite similar to sculpture, woodworking, or any other creative form of expression. You start with a blank slate and then keep sanding the piece down, going from rough-grit to fine-grit, until the final product is as good as you can make it. It takes a lot of patience and discipline, but the results usually speak for themselves!