Are You Write for the Job?

by Jenna Enright

If you’re a student honing your professional writing craft, it’s only a matter of time before a future employer asks you to submit a writing sample.

We live in a sadistically redundant world of e-applications, making the writing sample just one more burden to the already over-burdened modern job seeker.

Really, though, this is your chance to prove your skills, expertise, and understanding of the position to your future employer.

Here are a few simple tips for choosing the optimal writing sample:

1. Be Relevant. Choose a sample relating to the job. If applying for a journalist position, send an article you published. Public relations candidates should submit a press release. Future lawyers and psychologists should showcase their ability to analyze concepts and ideas in a paper. I could go on but I’m sure you get it.

2. Keep Current. Don’t submit samples more than 1 year old. This says you haven’t written anything in a while.

3. Edit. Edit. Edit. Never submit a piece with typos or your professor’s comments.

4. Choose Quality Over Relevance. Or rewrite a relevant sample to improve its quality (see above).

5. Keep it Short. 1-2 pages is ideal. 4-5 pages is the limit. Hiring managers in the digital age can receive hundreds of applications for a single position. A sample that’s too long may deter them from considering it at all.

6. Be Engaging. An engaging sample will be more memorable for the hiring manager and prove that you can keep an audience hooked.

7. Avoid Personal Blogs. A piece published on your university’s professional writing blog, however, is okay.

8. Ask for Clarification. If you are still unsure about what the employer wants from a writing sample, ask. This can show initiative and attention to detail. Better safe than unemployed.

Below are links to some additional sources to help you nail the writing sample portion of the competition:

University of Pennsylvania

University of Maryland Baltimore County

Columbia University

Psychology Today

Writing Professional Emails: Dos and Don’ts


by Stacey Richardson

     Subject line: Report

     Come to my office. This report wasn’t done as I asked and we need to meet NOW!  

Have you ever received an email like this—one with a vague subject line, no greeting, passive-aggressive tone, and use of all capital letters? Emails like this tend to provoke the receiver and cause unnecessary conflict. How do you avoid writing an email like this?

To understand how to communicate more effectively through emails, I set out on a search for tips and tricks. For the “dos” of professionally communicating with colleagues, I found this article informative. These were the more useful points:

  1. Understand the personalities you are dealing with. Consider the personality type of the recipient of the email. Do they prefer to discuss issues as they arise? Or do they prefer to understand the project entirely prior to beginning to avoid future questions? When you understand this about your employees, you will be able to understand how much information to provide them at a time and whether they need primarily email correspondence or face-to-face explanation.
  1. Revise, revise, revise! If you send an email to a client full of typos and grammatical issues, you will lose their confidence. Your writing inspires a vision of how people see you. If you never meet your recipient face-to-face and send them correspondence with errors, their image of you may not be positive. I cannot stress enough the importance of reading and revising emails before inputting the email address for the receiver and hitting the “send” button.
  1. Be clear and concise in your language and avoid using extra words. Do they need multiple adjectives to describe their tone in the last report they submitted? Do they need all of the details concerning the project? The more information you bog the reader down with, the faster you will lose their attention. If words aren’t kept simple and the message isn’t clear in the beginning, the reader will spend more time trying to figure out your meaning. Cut the unnecessary information.

In order to understand what not to do, I found this article’s tips to be the most valuable:

  1. Avoid all capital letters. The use of all capital letters denotes yelling. Yelling at colleagues and employees is frowned upon, so avoid yelling at them.
  1. Avoid text speak, abbreviations, and acronyms. The use of any of these make it easy for the reader to lose your meaning. Also, they’re unprofessional. Would you really say “ROFL” to your boss? Avoid the unprofessional jargon.
  1. Be polite. Don’t underestimate the power of a polite and gracious attitude towards your recipient. But be sure mean your words. Don’t be sarcastic or snarky – this is the one-way ticket to pissing off the recipient of your message. Say “please” and “thank you” but genuinely mean it.

There are four ways, and only four ways, we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it.

— Dale Carnegie

If we want to be seen by the world as competent, intelligent, and capable beings, we must make sure we showcase our best abilities. Within digital correspondence we can only show what we say and how we say it – be sure that what you say and how you say it projects the image of you that you desire.


Take a Facebook Holiday

by Brennen Smith

 WAIT!! How could I ever give up Facebook?!? bren3

Well, you won’t have to give it up completely, but we are going to run through 5 tips that will improve your happiness by staying off Facebook.

Overcome the anxiety and fear of ‘missing out’ on some random person who posted a cute picture on her way to adopt a new dog (…something you were never once apart of, by the way).Get on the road to personal happiness. Focus on the things that matter. Improve your reading, writing, and social skills outside of the Facebook world. Give this a try on a weekend or for a couple of days. Create your holiday timeframe.



Welcome to the world of real information. Facebook news feeds tend to average out on the same types of news stories (if you want to call them news stories). Don’t LIKE a funny post or video, LIKE a story you are actually interested in reading and gaining more information from REAL news sources. You will be able to read a story written by journalists who are educated in writing, and this will expand your writing comprehension as well.


Talk to the people you care about most by text or phone call. A quick and easy comment on their Facebook page may never grant you a response, and who knows when or if they will ever read it! Although texting is still somewhat distant, it is more personable and ties the communication directly between you and your friend only. Want something better? CALL THEM!



Grandmothers especially love getting letters in the mail. This will show your love and appreciation for her in a personal way. While saying “send a letter” sounds more like a thing from the past, hop in your car, drive to the nearest hallmark store, and get your gma or gpa a card. You will have just as much fun reading and going through all of the cards as they will when they receive one from you! Plus you will end up writing more than the card can hold!


In this crazy world, we all need a “less is more” type of mentality. Facebook adds on a lot of extra baggage to the mind, and starting your day without it in the morning clears your brain for better thinking and processing. It gives you more room to be concerned about other issues – that may have higher priority and require the attention more than checking the 20 new Facebook notifications lighting up your phone. Writing works in this way. You have to remove the clutter and extra jargon – because ultimately, we are trying to get the point across and focus on what is most important.


Get out and do something fun. Call up your family or friends and plan an event. Have little ones that need attention? Take them to a bookstore and read fun books to them they find interesting. You may even end up helping them with their reading and writing skills; perhaps even your own! End this event with more fun by meeting everyone up in the family at Chuck E. Cheese for dinner. Doing something like this will be a reminder of how much more meaningful your life is. It will raise your self-esteem in conversation and in writing. You won’t be as concerned about other people and what they are doing. Comparing your life to everyone else is a baseline for jealously and overall unhappiness. There have also been reports that Facebook can negatively affect your health! So get out and DO something! These memories will far exceed your memories from Facebook. GOOD LUCK!

Finished the Challenge?



The Importance of Digital Headlines in the Billboard Era

By Jessica Clair

Consider a billboard.

Try to picture the ad that immediately comes to your mind. It’s most likely one you pass on a regular basis. It probably has a catchy phrase or an eye-catching image and not much else. For me, I always picture the billboard that I pass every day going home from work. In big, bold letters it says:


Smaller, beneath this, it says:

Along with this smaller phrase are the name and phone number of a local heating and air-conditioning company.

This billboard is an effective advertisement because it catches your attention as you’re zipping past on the highway and engages you enough to read further—it convinces you to engage long enough to also see the important, but seemingly boring, text below it.

Writing anything for the digital sphere is a lot like designing a billboard. Your reader is zipping past with a lot of other noise vying for their attention. Unlike when reading in print, readers in the digital world can rapidly move from place to place, clicking from one thing to the next the minute they get bored.

So why should they care about your advertisement, your company, your blog, social media posting, etc?

The answer is they won’t care at first. You have to draw them in to care by first grabbing them with a fun, catchy, intriguing, confusing, even scandalous title. Think about the links that draw you in when scrolling through your Facebook news feed. BuzzFeed has a knack for catching my eye because they have articles with headlines like “We Can Tell Where You Last Had Sex” or “Here’s How to Get Free Tickets from Ticketmaster.”

These titles work on many levels. They are, first and foremost, eye-catching. Words like “Free” and “Sex” catch our eye because they are things we all in one way or another desire, have ideas about, are curious about, or have an interest in.

They also work well because they are straight forward enough that you instantly know your level of interest in the link, while leaving you questioning enough to still need to click for more information.

If you type the words “your wife is hot” into a Google search, one of the top search suggestions it gives is “your wife is hot billboard.” That means that this phrase is well-known enough in connection to advertising that it beats out countless other phrases that people could be searching.

Your headlines need to do the same.

Why do we write?

By BJ Lewis

I guess I can’t answer the question of why “we” write. I can only speak for myself. I can speculate about the rest of the community from reading, watching, and listening for the last 50 years. It seems to me, there are a lot more writers these days. Based on the fact that the number of writing programs in colleges, writing conferences and blogs have exploded and the ways in which you can publish your work are now unlimited, it seems easy to conclude people want to write and to be heard, but why this interest?

Enter the question “why do I write?” into any search engine and there are plenty of sites willing to answer. Angel Fire has reasons from many writers, and you can add your own to the list.

Creation has always been a human desire. Watch a child at play and you can see they love to create. They build things, they tell stories and their imaginations are in constant motion. Later in life this is still who we are at our core. Sit at the feet of a grandparent and listen while they tell their stories. Everyone has a compelling story to tell. We all want there to be a reason we lived. Our creations become part of our legacy. Our writing is a creation and will be part of that legacy. As kids, our words, whether written or spoken, were usually a result of an active imagination. All these years later, we have more substantive reasons why we write.

lewisWould you like to hear stories from people all over the country? Try Story Corps.

One of the most important reasons in today’s world to be a good writer is we are moving away from face-to-face interactions and depending more on the written word. People would rather dash off a quick e-mail or text than pick up the phone or walk down the hall. Part of this is due to technology which allows us to have teammates in remote locations. I work with people who are 16 times zones ahead of me. No matter where we are, we need to be able to write and communicate effectively and clearly across time zones and cultures. Once you press “send” there’s no way to know how far that message will travel, how many will read it or how long it will last. You should endeavor to make it a good one.

A good site for business writing is Business Writing Blog.

Words have the ability to move the world. We must only bring to mind the words of Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, or Hitler to know how much words can change our world view. Most will never write something as profound as the “I have a dream” speech but we can still influence our world with a well-shaped message. If we write from curiosity to educate ourselves, we will likely educate someone else. The most moving writing is usually the most personal. We are always better when we are passionate about a topic. I have read accounts describing a personal experience which will help the next person having to travel down the same road. Personal memoirs of abuse, death, or some other poignant event in a person’s life always touch me deeply. We are usually at our best when it is a topic we are passionate about. Mark Twain said it best “Write what you know.”

So, why do I write? I write to leave a legacy, to be heard, to share experiences, to communicate, to learn, to feel alive and maybe one day I will change the world.

Why do you write?



Technology, Globalization, and Why We Still Suck at Communication

By Shiraz M. Nelson

Technology is rapidly changing our planet, but how is it affecting our communication? It was only twenty years ago when a phone call or a letter connected business. Today, we can communicate instantly with any person, anywhere. A global digital marketplace is propelling our remote cultures into a global economy. Depending on who you ask, it is happening too fast or not fast enough. Despite the speed at which technology is changing our world, communication has the same old problems with some serious benefits.


Collaboration Happens

With a global economy brought on by a globalization of communication, we saw some very distinct problems in the early 2000’s. Information could travel quickly, meaning business could happen rapidly. But this means that new, global teams had to communicate just as fast as business did. Over the last ten years, we have witnessed technology creating problems of productivity within teams, but almost as soon, enterprising startups and tech moguls alike provided answers.

In the dark ages, it was a telephone, no we have email. In the dark ages, we had a meeting room with stale bagels, now we have numerous virtual meeting spaces and software. To collaborate on a project, we used to send files by courier or mail, now we simply work together in Google Docs – at the same time.

Technology has spawned a world without borders. It can carry information quickly and efficiently to whatever screen needs to see it (and some that don’t). We live in a connected world, where geopolitical borders mean less than they ever have before. But none of this technological innovation can make the user better.

Communication Complaintsmel

Communication has always been and, it seems, will always be the number one complaint from hiring managers about new hires. With all our technology and ingenuity, we still fail to learn basic grammar, speech, and communication basics. But why? The research seems split on the issue so I won’t bother you with the details. Well, besides that teachers seem convinced technology is encouraging students to write quickly and carelessly. But that’s just Pew Research, what do they know?

That’s the thing then. You give all the tech to a student you want, but what you have to give them is knowledge. Technology may make it easier to do that, but that’s it. Essentially, Google is just one big encyclopedia full of 90% lies and made up statistics. Searching through that mass of crap is the role of educators and students alike.

As technology continually shifts us from a face to face business world to an almost entirely written one, the professional writer’s time blossoms. But again, getting paid to write doesn’t mean you write well. Still, many professional writers take pride in their craft. They learn, they practice, they work. They write the stuff that technology just can’t do. We’ll never fully automate business because you can’t teach a computer how to write with passion, elegance, and wit. You’ll always need a professional writer. Next week: “How to Waste 15 Minutes of Your Work Day Without Noticing.”

Technology is a beautiful thing, but it has its drawbacks, the headaches, the frustration, the eye strain, the loss of sleep. And don’t forget tech support.

Why Can’t I Write?

By Lois Willis

Like most writers, I have been writing in some form since I was a kid. I remember writing scripts, short stories, and essays about a myriad of topics. I didn’t need an excuse to write, I just did it. Since I am older and find myself writing under deadlines and often about uninteresting topics, I find it more difficult to write. What gives? Why can’t I write when it is one of the things I like to do most? One reason: procrastination.

“Procrastinator, procrastinator, why do it now, when you can do it later?”

I’m sure you have heard this little ditty and if you’re anything like me, then you have embraced this quirk, even though procrastination can cause be a source of an overwhelming amount of stress. According to Wikipedia, procrastination is defined as “…the avoidance of doing a task which needs to be accomplished.” I procrastinate because I work best under tight deadlines. At least that is what I tell myself. But, as I put off writing, the fact that I HAVE to write hangs gloomily over my head. I won’t talk about the psychology behind procrastination; however, I did read this interesting article on why writers are the worst procrastinators.

“I’m a lazy perfectionist.”

Procrastination is nothing to celebrate as it often leads to less than desired results. You can read this article on common reasons why people procrastinate, but the two I connected with most are:

  • I’m a perfectionist—I want everything I write to be perfect, so this high expectation I have placed on myself leads to the opposite result: writing that seems rushed and definitely less than perfect
  • I’m lazy—I hate to admit this, but I can usually think of a zillion more things more entertaining than writing. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time searching for the right picture to go with this post.

I figured out that writing as an adult means something different than it did when I was a teenager. Then, I wrote for the fun of it. Now, writing is my livelihood as well as being a creative outlet. I still have challenges when it comes to tackling different writing assignments in a timely fashion. Tomorrow, I will work on making writing as fun as I remember.

Social Media in Professional Writing

by Jennifer Carter

How much time do you personally spend on social media sites? If you’re anything like me the answer is as much as possible. The uses are countless: store hours and specials, tips on what to cook tonight, adorable kitten/puppy/polar bear videos, pictures from a recent wedding, information from family members you don’t talk to frequently. As a professional writer it is in your company’s best interest to utilize your talents to keep up with this digital world.


In order to capitalize on the heavy traffic these forums afford your business, you must put yourself in the readers shoes. As a consumer, what do you look for in social media posts? “The average digital reader has an attention span of 3-5 seconds,” says Jenna Wandrisco, Professor in Chatham University’s Professional Writing Program.  This means your post or photo caption must pull the reader in before the dozens of distractions on the web page do. Sure, a photo or meme can do this as well, but the content posted alongside the image must be present and attention-grabbing.


Think about what attracts your readership. A long-winded post with 18 hashtags I will breeze right over. One that offers me ½ price drinks at happy hour? That will have me texting colleagues directions to where to meet me. A quick and easy tip about cooking dinner? I will start reading if it involves 1-2 steps only.


Once your readers attention had been grabbed quickly, you face the challenge of keeping them on your social media page. Engaging a potential customer on the page can come in the form of contests, breaking research, a study that was just published; the options are endless. However, the reader must be kept in mind while choosing content. On a medical instrument page readers will not be interested in a Real Housewives of Atlanta recap. A chef will not generally click on an article about the recent Iowa caucus while looking for recipe inspiration or meat pricing. Subject matter must stay relevant to the readers.
According to Facebook’s newsroom page, there are 1 billion daily users. Instagram’s press page touts 400 million users. 974 million accounts. Businesses cannot ignore numbers that large. And those numbers are only trending upwards, as presented below by The Next Web.

The only thing worse than no social media presence may be overwhelming social media presence. If a company completely fills their followers threads with posts, they will likely be unfollowed. Users want to see a variety of authors as they scroll down their feed, not the same one over and over. A good rule of thumb is 1-5 posts per day, which can vary depending on contests going on, live tweeting a relevant event, or critical updates as news happens. The chart below, from Chloe Adlington’s website development blog is a good jumping point to begin social media writing.

Over 2 billion users. Reach out to these potential customers! You may be able to offer them products and services they didn’t even know they needed. Simple, effective and timely posting can make all the difference and keep them coming back for more.

Some tools to help:

  • The app Hootsuite allows you to write all your posts for the week and the app will automatically post on multiple platforms at the time you have designated. Very user friendly and an effective tool for small businesses where social media writers have many other roles as well, in your experience.

  • The CDC’s guide to social media writing. With a ridiculous amount of users following their social media outlets, the CDC knows a thing or two about catching people’s attention and providing them with useful information, or even Zombiepocolypse precautions.

  • A quick and easy guide with easy to understand examples. You’ll involuntarily think of effective posts you have seen while reading their hypothetical posts.

Minus-jectives (Or, making do without precious adjectives)

by Carolyn Morrison


Long ago, in high school, I had a writerly friend. Together, we would share poems we had written, exchanging notebooks in a breathless moment; he took my crazy, cursive loping stanzas that leapt across margins, I accepted his stark blocks of prose, looking rubberstamped except for the extremely distinctive character of his hard-pressed, penciled, all-capital lettering.


blog14His advice was merciless – Kill the adjectives.


I was always most incensed when he rallied against my adjectives. What harm did they do, adding life and color (or, more likely, a miserable mood befitting adolescence) to nouns in need of support?

An article by writing coach Daphne Gray-Grant found in the latest Conversion Chronicles newsletter, a website dedicated to helping people write highly-effective content for their own websites, suggests that adjectives themselves may help to kill off your audience if you let them run amok in your writing.


Gray-Grant’s 3 Adjective Pitfalls

  1. Adjectives are imprecise.

“Stunning” is a much-overused example of an adjective with a broad meaning. Especially common in social media, this is the go-to kudos comment for a great posted photograph. But, with some in-depth analytical thinking, stunning just sounds shocking, electrifying, and downright painful…and a great macro-shot of a gerbera daisy shouldn’t hurt.


  1. Adjectives mean different things to different people

This problem is similar to number one, but advances the vagary of many adjectives to account for different social and cultural perceptions. Take for example the emotional state of someone feeling “blue.” Considering emotive and psychological color representations are not the same the world over, this state of being is sure to cause confusion somewhere as digital writing travels around the globe.


  1. Adjectives sound too hype-y and sales-y

In many situations, overuse or misuse of adjectives leaves an audience with a bad taste in their mouth. Take redundant food descriptors for example, like “doughy”, “cheesy”, “rich” and “creamy.” All of these tasty tidbits may be true to the product, but they are so standard, the product has no chance of standing out if standing by its written bio alone.

blog15So, how do you add pizazz to your writing without bedazzling the pants off of it? Gray-Grant chooses to highlight a sentence’s verbs in a powerful way, while limiting the baggage that comes with the adjective + noun relationship.

Gray-Grant reminds us that verbs don’t have to be lackluster:

Strengthen your verbs by making them as specific as possible. Eat, for example, could also be nibble, devour and gobble, depending on what you want to convey. Likewise, sit could be slouch, spread out or recline.”

Sometimes, it’s just about role reversal to add a new dynamic to the sentence. Instead of “whispering pines”, let the pines actually do the whispering, as in “the pines whisper in the breeze.”

Did I mention my writerly friend was always, first and foremost, a young man of action? When he wasn’t exasperating me with his plea to sacrifice my fluffy, lambs-woolen adjectives, he was aggravating me with his persistent life motto:

Don’t “try,” just “do.”

Words to live by…or, rather, living words.


For more adjective admonitions, try guidance from Writer’s Digest, a list of the internet’s most played-out adjectives from Motherboard, and adjectives to avoid professionally.


Still passionately attached to adjectives? Let’s hear your argument…

Seeing Red? Seven Tips for Working with Editors

by Amanda Bernhardt

“Why did you change this?!”

A researcher had just stormed into my office. He was holding an issue brief I recently edited and sent back to him.

“Because it’s jargon. This brief is for laypeople. They’re not going know what ‘substantial gainful activity’ is.”

“But our client—the guy paying our bills—likes that language. Shouldn’t we do what he likes?”

As editorial disagreements go, this one was minor—mostly because we have a corporate rule about it. But writers and editors always seem to be butting heads over something. And if you’re a writer, eventually you’ll be dealing with this, too.

I can hear you groaning already. Writers don’t love the idea of having their work napalmed by an editor.

But editors aren’t the enemy. In fact, their goal is to make you and your writing look great. A good editor sees your work as your readers will see it. She can tell you what to cut, add, and correct to get the attention and response you want.

But what if you disagree with the edits? What if the editor doesn’t catch everything or changes your intended meaning? Here are some tips for minimizing the amount of red ink spilled:


Before the edit

  1. Revise your work. Just because you’re working with an editor doesn’t mean you can skip your own revision. Get your draft into good shape before editing. Have someone else read it, if needed.


  1. Get your facts straight. A good editor will catch things like simple math errors or that Austin (not Dallas) is the capital of Texas. But if your standard deviation is off by 2 points or you cited the wrong source, that may be on you. Find out how much, if any, fact checking your editor does.


  1. Know your style guide. Save yourself and your editor time by learning your style. It’s easier to put in the serial comma yourself than to have your editor do it and have to accept a ton of commas in Track Changes.


  1. Have a pre-edit chat. Tell your editor the purpose of your document, your audience, the style guide you’re using, and your deadline. Be sure to ask any questions you have about the editing process. Chat with him in person, if possible, to establish a rapport.



After the edit


  1. Don’t take it personally. Getting a red-inked document back can make you feel like a fifth-grader getting an F on a paper. Don’t worry, you’re not grounded. Many writers, including great ones, get heavily edited—it’s a normal part of the process. Your editor’s goal is not to punish you but to make you look great and to make your writing shine.
  2. Have a post-edit chat. Review the edits and note any you disagree with or have questions about. Go over those with your editor. There’s a lot of give and take in editing, and not every edit is set in stone.


  1. Take another look. If you revise your work post-editing, you may introduce errors. Feel free to ask for a follow-up edit or a proofread to catch any typos. (Remember to budget time for this.)


The document lifecycle doesn’t end with editing, of course. Layout is typically up next. Next week, we’ll talk about tips for dealing with graphic artists and desktop publishers.


Further reading:

5 Simple Ways to Build Great Writer-Editor Relationships, Carol Tice (Make a Living Writing)

11 Best Practices for Working with an Editor, Alexandra Samuel

How Working with an Editor Can Help You Find Your Voice, Kevin Anderson & Associates