Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sentence Edit of the Day

We started with this sentence:

Before going on your informational interview, it is crucial to be prepared for it.

I see a couple of problems in this sentence. First, it's redundant: preparation always happens before something, so you needn't tell a reader to prepare before an interviewyou can just tell her to prepare.

Second, I dislike the repeated pronoun it, because it stands in for two things: "interview" and "to be prepared for it." Sentences like this can often be shortened. "It is nice to eat cake" can be "Eating cake is nice"which is shorter and seems more vivid (because the subject is at the beginning of the sentence).

These two problems conspire to make the sentence needlessly long. A few quick keystrokes returned this edited sentence:

Properly preparing for your interview is crucial.

I cut informational because the title of the article is "The Art of Informational Interviewing"so the reader already knows what we're talking about. I added properly because I liked the sound of it (and it is possible to prepare poorly for something).

I think this sentence says what the writer wants to say, without a lot of unnecessary guff.

Among other small edits, I changed the recommended interview question "Who do you work with?" to "Who works with you?" (to avoid the whom morass altogether).

Read "The Art of Informational Interviewing."


I just returned from the Society for Human Resource Management conference in San Diego--my first big conference of this type--here's the welcome video I created and sent out on Twitter.

The conference was a lot of fun--and interesting. It's great to see how hard HR folks and recruiters are working to get the right people into jobs. I think that's a key takeaway for job seekers: Employers are looking for you. Make yourself easy to find. These days, you've got to be active in social networks and so on. I'm going to try to take my own advice, and update this blog more frequently!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Em Dashes

I recently participated in a fiction-writing class in which students were encouraged to write comments on one another’s work. Most of the comments were helpful (or at least food for thought)one story I submitted to the class was told from the point of view of a teenage girl, and getting feedback from people who had been teenage girls was necessary. (I may post that story in this space one day.)

But there was one comment from a fellow student that made me roll my eyes and discard all of his comments. That comment was “You use too many em dashes.” This statement does three things I hate:

  1. It questions my authority in the area of using punctuation (one of the few areas in which I feel confident of my expertise).
  2. It authoritatively states a “rule” of grammar and usage while displaying an incomplete understanding of the complexities of grammar and usage.
  3. It maligns the poetic, versatile, and lovely em dasha glorious and noble punctuation mark. Too many? Pish.

I admit that too many (that is, more than two) in one sentence can confuse a reader—because it can be hard to discern which em dashes are related. But beyond that commonsensical rule, I say (and I’ll acknowledge that some people whom I admire disagree with me) that there should be no limit on the number of em dashes a writer uses, as long as he or she uses them properly.

They come in so handyfor interpolation, asides, showing a close relationship between two clauses, abrupt changes of thought, and more.

OK, OK, OK—I'll allow that they are frowned on in formal writing (for reasons that make little sense) and should perhaps be avoided for that reason. But I think many people should use more of them. I often see writers using an ellipsis (dot, dot, dot) where an em dash would be more appropriatein many cases, the writer is trying to indicate an abrupt change of thought, but the ellipsis gives the preceding phrase a "trailing off into silence" sort of feeling. ...

If you're trying to convey the conversation of two teenagers (as I was in my story), you're going to need a lot of em dashes.