The Artful Recommendation Letter

WORDS YOUR WAY BLOG

The Artful Recommendation Letter

I love to write recommendation letters. It’s an everyday application of my fascination with biography. On occasion I read reference letters that don’t do what they could to make an individual stand out from the pack. Two simple tips: Emphasize the distinct capabilities that the letter’s subject offers. People hiring for lower-level jobs may want information about the candidate’s punctuality or cheerful attitude. For a senior position, paint the portrait of a person who is more than merely well-behaved. Rather than calling her “resourceful,” describe what you mean by that. Is she a rapid learner? Does she possess an encyclopedic memory? Or is she a strong researcher? Give a narrow enough recommendation to be credible. Saying that your former subordinate or coworker “can do anything” is largely a comment about his attitude not about skill or talent. Instead, provide a strong endorsement of his ability to recruit top talent or deliver critical training programs effectively.
Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.

When Content Thinks

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When Content Thinks

“In just a few more years, the current homogenized ‘voice’ of business, the sound of mission statements and brochures, will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.” – The Cluetrain Manifesto

It’s exciting to meet so many English majors at the Intelligent Content Conference 2011.

Underneath all the talk of technology, there are far more compelling themes: how can sophisticated tools lead us back to human-to-human communication? How do old-school arts like rhetoric, critical thinking, communications, and marketing play out once we leave behind the paradigm of the linear book – and then leave behind also the static Web site and the content management system as mere repository?

I’ve worked in many organizations that call their manuals and statements “living documents”, by which they mean that these pieces are written over and over again by multiple authors, with clarity and purpose deteriorating further with every iteration. Fascinating that automated content promises to be less robotic than some of what we read now.

A couple of today’s presenters spoke of content intelligent enough to announce itself when new pieces appear that should repurpose it. A new frontier.

Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.

15 Minutes of Fame: the Orphaned Pet Version

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15 Minutes of Fame: the Orphaned Pet Version

Need to find a new home for your pet? I frequently post to Facebook and Tweet about animal welfare issues (and about my own pets.) As a result, friends (and friends of friends) often write me to ask for advice about finding a new home for a pet. Here are some tips for doing this effectively on Facebook:
  • Post photos! Try to include some that capture the pet’s personality. If your dog loves to play fetch at the dog park, publish a photo of the dog at the park. If your cat is a cuddler, show prospective adopters a cute picture of the cat cuddling with your partner or kids or with you.
  • Write a caption that includes the vitals, such as sex, and age any special considerations, like health issues or the fact that the dog can live with cats.
  • Make the photos shareable. At the bottom of every photo page and every album page, there is a public link.
  • Make it easy for people to contact you. If you’re worried about privacy, set up a dedicated email address.
  • Include information about where you live. Let people know if you can transport the animal long distance or if you will only place the animal with someone local.
In summary: Get that first click with an inviting picture, make the announcement easy to share, anticipate and answer the questions that a busy reader might not take the time to follow up on, and be available to people who reach out to help.
Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.

Down Time, Writer’s Friend or Writer’s Foe?

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Down Time, Writer’s Friend or Writer’s Foe?

I am stranded in New York following the unfortunate choice of an airline that handled Blizzard 2010 with exceptional ineptness. So, it’s time to work on the site, make a blog post, and channel my frustrations into some poetry writing.

Writers tend to fantasize about having big chunks of time, especially in some lovely, isolated setting. The Hudson River Valley, where I am stuck right now, is famous for the bucolic art some of its former residents produced. So, why am I having such a difficult time taking advantage of this windfall?

Years ago, my career counselor told me that every client she’d had who had successfully completed a first book had done it while working a full time job. That was my situation when I wrote the book I published. The pressure was helpful. Rather than having to muster up discipline, I had to give myself objectives. Milestones to reach, daily or weekly goals, and the reminder that I’d have to pay back the advance worked wonders for motivation.

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Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.

Resuscitating Creativity

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Resuscitating Creativity

“Children dance all the time if they’re allowed to. We all do. We all have bodies, don’t we? … As children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up, and then we focus on their heads. And slightly to one side.”

Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.