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Are Your Writing Skills Up To Snuff? Basic English Language and Grammar Rules

By Wendy Enelow, CCM, MRW, JCTC, CPRW with Louise Kursmark, MRW, CPRW, CEIP, JCTC, CCM

Louise Kursmark and I always talk about the fact that one of the best things about writing the “Expert” series of resume books for JIST Publishing is getting to read all of the great resumes that our members contribute! As we start each book, you’ll find us on the floor, resumes spread all about, looking, reading, and saying to each other, “Wow! Look at this resume!” And, for that, we thank you!

HOWEVER … you knew that was coming (!) … we also find some consistent types of errors that many writers are making. What follows are some basic English language and grammar rules that you should pay special attention to.

HYPHENATION

Rule: When you are using two words to describe a noun, those two words act as an adjective and must be hyphenated.

Examples:
high-performance career … low-cost manufacturing … market-driven sales programs … problem-solving skills

Exception: DO NOT hyphenate when the first of those two words ends in the letters “ly.”

Examples:
highly successful executive … consistently superior performance … remotely controlled device

PARALLELISM

Rule: When you are writing serial items, they must all be written in a parallel voice.

Correct:
Directed all manufacturing operations including training and supervising staff, scheduling production, purchasing materials, managing inventory, troubleshooting operations, installing new technology, and coordinating all budgeting. (Note that all of the phrases start with an “ing” verb.)

Incorrect:
Directed all manufacturing operations including training and supervising staff, scheduling production, materials management, inventory control, troubleshooting operations, installing new technology, and budget management. (Note the inconsistency in the list of serial items - some starting with the “ing” verb and others using noun phrases.)

COMMA CONSISTENCY

Rule: Pick a method and stick with it where you either consistently use or not use a comma before the word “and” in a list of serial items.

Correct:
Trained all newly hired personnel in the sales, customer-service and customer-support departments of Macy’s Stores, Macy’s Outlet Malls and Macy’s Online Shops.

Correct:
Trained all newly hired personnel in the sales, customer-service, and customer-support departments of Macy’s Stores, Macy’s Outlet Malls, and Macy’s Online Shops.

(Note that either of the two examples above is correct and consistent. In the first example, a comma is not use before the word “and” in each of the two serial item lists in the sentence. In the second example, the comma is used.)

Incorrect:
Trained all newly hired personnel in the sales, customer-service and customer support-departments of Macy’s Stores, Macy’s Outlet Malls, and Macy’s Online Shops.

(Note the inconsistency of the sentence above where the first list of serial items does not use a comma before the word “and” while the second list of items does. This is incorrect because it is inconsistent.)

Exception: It is recommended that you use a comma before the word “and” when the final item in a serial list has the word “and” in the clause.

Example:
Coordinating materials movement, inventory planning, and shipping and receiving operations.

BULLET CONSISTENCY

Rule: Bullet-point items must be consistent and use the same verb or noun tense.

Correct:
* Budget Management
* Staff Training & Leadership
* Customer Service
* New Product Introduction
* Sales Territory Management
* New Market Development

Incorrect:
* Budget Management
* Trainer & Leader
* Customer Service Representative
* New Product Introduction
* Managing Sales Territories
* New Market Development

(Note the tremendous inconsistency in the use of nouns and verbs in the incorrect example.)

CONSISTENCY WITH TITLES & DEGREES

Rule: Pick a format and be consistent in how you present job titles and college degrees.

Correct:
Retail Sales Associate (1999 to Present)
Sales Associate (1996 to 1999)
Inventory Clerk (1995 to 1996)

Incorrect:
Retail Sales (1999 to Present) - This is NOT a title!
Sales Associate (1996 to 1999)
Inventory Clerk (1995 to 1996)

Correct:
Master of Arts Degree in Education, 2003
Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology, 2001

Incorrect:
Master’s, Education, 2003
Bachelor of Arts, Psychology, 2001

I hope you’ve picked up some good English language and grammar rules and solid writing tips from this article that you’ll immediately start integrating into all of your writing projects!

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