Getting It Right

I can’t stop thinking about an article I read online yesterday. It’s about resumes – not a stimulating topic. I was going to skip it, and then I decided to read it anyway. I occasionally conduct workshops about resumes, and I’m always looking for fresh material.

And then I got excited about what I was reading The writer says that she automatically stops reading resumes that have faults like these: capitalizing random words, punctuating bullet points inconsistently, ignoring parallel structure, and switching tenses unnecessarily. Bravo!

And yet I find myself wondering if she’s wrong in her breezy dismissal of the offending resumes. Even many professional writers don’t get parallel structure right, for heaven’s sake. If we denied jobs to everyone who committed the sins she mentioned, hardly anyone would be employed. I used to know a Harvard graduate who was a professional writer – a wonderful one – even though he never learned how to use a semicolon. (He had a secretary who was a punctuation whiz.)

On the other hand – none of the sins listed in the resume article are difficult to eradicate. Why do intelligent people keep committing them – and on  resumes, of all things – documents that serve as the first step towards a job?

Yesterday I also read – enraptured – a New Yorker article about copyediting – meticulous copyediting. The feeling I had while I was reading must be akin to what mountain climbers experience when they reach a high altitude and someone hooks them up to an oxygen mask: Suddenly I feel alive again.

I think that “alive” feeling I had is the key to something terribly important that has nothing to do with the usual things that people say about English usage (“Good writing showcases your professionalism,” “Proper usage makes your writing easier to understand,” etc.)

Those things are true. But I think something else is going on here. I think you can classify people into two categories – those who have a passion for life, and those who have settled into “This is what life has dealt me, and I’m learning to accept it.” I also think the categories are fluid – I’ve spent time in both of them.

And I’m thinking about people who hire me as an editor and keep sending me work with the same mistakes. I would place them in Category 2, and I’d never hire them for a job.

Recently someone resent me a piece I’d corrected six months ago, with all her original mistakes still there. I know someone else who keeps ignoring my pleas to put some warmth into his professional correspondence, for heaven’s sake. (Incredibly, he works in one of the caring professions.)

What kind of person sends out a resume with with inconsistent punctuation and messy sentences – a Category 1 or a Category 2?

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