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Writing and Grammar Tips (beta)

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Category : Writing Tips


Resumes serve two purposes: 1) To present important information and 2) to present that information succinctly.

When writing a resume, as when writing anything, think of your audience: The person reading your resume first will probably be a hiring manager. She or he will read through dozens – perhaps hundreds – of resumes, before inviting a handful of people in to interview for a job. Think of your resume as a first step. Along with a strong cover letter, it can get you in for a solid face-to-face talk that lands you your desired job – or, at least, another interview. Very rarely are people hired on resumes alone, but resumes are first impressions, and there’s some truth to the saying that “first impressions are everything.”

Try to follow the following format when writing your resume:

Personal information



Cell phone


Then, in separate sections:


Put this after your name and contact information if you’re a recent graduate; otherwise, education can follow work experience. The lengthier your work history, the less important your education is generally considered to be. Typically, employers are most concerned with what you’ve been doing recently. Education is always important, but if you completed college 15 or 20 years ago, it probably doesn’t make sense to place your collegiate credentials at the top of your resume.

Work experience

List your professional experience from most to least recent. Include the name of your employer, your title, the location of your workplace (e.g. city, state), and the dates between which you held each position. Provide a brief description of the duties you performed, taking care to highlight the skills and experiences that are most important to your potential employer. Do not, however, point out in your resume that these skills are important or relevant. This can be done in a cover letter, and in any case, your qualifications should speak for themselves.

A word of caution: Do not provide too-lengthy descriptions. Resumes should be, at most, two pages – but ideally one page. To limit the length of your resume, consider excluding experience that is not recent enough to be relevant (e.g. the job you worked in high school) or experience that is not qualitatively relevant to your potential position (e.g. don’t include a retail job if you’re applying to be an engineer).

Volunteer experience

Volunteering shows commitment and, in some cases, social awareness. List your volunteer experiences as you do your paid experiences – in order of most to least recent. Also, include the names of the organizations you assisted, the locations of these organizations, the dates of your involvement, and the nature of your responsibilities.


Use this section to highlight abilities not covered elsewhere. Do not list generic, abstract skills (e.g. communication skills, organizational ability). Rather, focus on specific, concrete skills, such as language proficiency (indicate both language and level of facility) and computer training (e.g. knowledge of certain operating systems or software).


A brief list of interests (e.g. hiking, photography) reveals more about you as an individual. Many employers recognize that non-work interests and accomplishments positively affect work performance, and some employers would rather not hire people who don’t have “balanced” interests (i.e. interests outside work).

A word about formatting:

Keep your margins at 1 inch and your font at 11 or 12 point.

Do not use multiple fonts; use fonts of multiple colors or sizes; use underlining, bold, and/or italics to excess or inconsistently (they may be used in moderation and so long as their use follows a predictable pattern).

Also, pay attention to verb tenses. If you currently hold a position, use the present tense to describe your activities. If you no longer hold a position, be sure to use the past tense.

The bottom line is to make your resume easily readable. Could a hiring manager scan it in less than a minute, without rereading it; glean your strengths; and make a decision?

Exam English

Exam English can be especially difficult for non-native English speakers. It requires a lot of self-editing – on the spot and under pressure. Here, some tips to organize your thoughts before you start writing:

Don’t get too creative. Most exams – both standardized (e.g. the GRE) and university – expect your essay to follow a given format. Exam graders are usually looking for three things:

  • Principle thesis and supporting theses
  • Evidence and/or premises for theses
  • Discussion of evidence and/or premises

They are also looking for:

  1. Organization
  2. Punctuality
  3. Coherence

Don’t waste time when writing. Begin with a bold thesis (a statement of your position – what you are arguing). For example, if responding to a question on why the United States entered World War II, do not begin with a statement such as, “World War II began when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.” Answer the question directly: “The United States entered World War II after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and because it had strategic interests in sending troops to Europe and the Pacific.” Expound on your opening statement with several supporting sentences: “While the U.S. had provided tacit support to European allies in the form, for example, of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease Program, it anticipated becoming more directly involved in the conflict that had roiled Europe and Asia since the mid-1930s. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Roosevelt launched a three-pronged offensive that was designed to end the war by pushing back Axis forces in the Pacific, European, and North African theaters.”

Follow your opening paragraph with a series of three or four paragraphs (or more, if you have time and space), each with its own sub-thesis. In the case of the current example, you might devote one paragraph to a discussion of the imperative that the U.S. respond to the attack on Pearl Harbor; one paragraph to Roosevelt’s belief that the U.S. would enter the war eventually and to his efforts to assist U.S. allies in Europe, even before the attack on Pearl Harbor; and one paragraph to why the U.S. did not enter the war (e.g. because of popular pressure). Note that one way to lengthen an essay is to strengthen your argument by giving – and then debunking – counter-arguments. For example, in your third supporting paragraph, you might say something like, “Contrary to popular retrospective interpretations of U.S. entry into World War II, public pressure did not play a significant role in policymakers’ decisions to declare war on Japan. In fact, prior to Pearl Harbor, the American public had been primarily non-interventionist, content to let Europe and Asia solve their own problems. Though public opinion was in favor of responding to Pearl Harbor, Washington was influenced in this direction primarily by pre-existing factors, such as strategic necessity, rather than newly-emergent pro-war popular pressure.”

Note that this sample paragraph contains a subthesis (“Contrary to popular retrospective interpretations …”), evidence/a premise (“In fact, prior to Pearl Harbor, the American public …”), and discussion of the evidence/premise given (“Though public opinion was in favor …”). On exams, always give a subthesis first, then evidence/a premise. Evidence is factual. A premise is an assumption on which a broader statement or assertion rests. Both evidence and premises should explain why a subthesis is true. Discussion of evidence or a premise shows understanding on your, the writer’s part, of how the evidence or premise is connected to your subthesis.

Do not bury your thesis or subtheses amongst your evidence. When in doubt, aim for clarity. Obviousness is more important than fancy language on exams. Graders are more impressed by logicality than by big vocabularies and intricacy of expression. To that end, remember rules one through three: 1) Be organized (subthesis, evidence/premise, explanation of evidence/premise). 2) Be punctual (precise). 3) Be coherent (clear, not too fancy).

Always, ALWAYS stop at least once while writing your essay – and certainly after you’ve finished – to check that you’ve answered the question asked. Also, make sure that the argument in your conclusion, which should recap your introduction, does not contradict your introduction. This gets to point 3) coherency.

Also, try to memorize a few transitional phrases. These are key to creating coherency, organization, and punctuality. Here’s a helpful list:

However                                                 Irrespective of

Though/although                                   In addition

While                                                      Moreover

Nevertheless                                          Furthermore

Despite                                                   What is more

In spite of                                           In regard to/with regard to/as regards

As concerns

Even More Idioms

Once again, more idioms. Idioms are a great way to spice up your writing with expressions that are commonly used by native speakers. (Note that “spice up” is an idiom; it means “to make more exciting or livelier”, just as adding spices to a dish makes the dish taste more “exciting” or “lively”.)

  • Paula was excited when she found a piece of pottery, until Jim explained that archaeological artifacts were a dime a dozen in that area.

Paula thinks the piece of pottery she finds is rare – a real treasure – until Jim explains that such artifacts are actually commonplace and easy to come by and, therefore, not so valuable. Items that are “a dime are dozen” are relatively cheap and easy to buy in large quantities, since a dime is only ten cents – or one tenth of a dollar.

  • Clara’s conversation with her boss was strictly off the record, since her boss didn’t want to be known for revealing that the company was laying off employees.

In official records of events, people’s names may be provided with descriptions of their actions or comments. Records of court proceedings, for example, include witnesses’ names with their testimonies. Newspaper articles include informants’ or interviewees’ names with their quotes. Both court proceedings and newspapers are “records”, in that they provide an official and (ostensibly) verifiable account of what was said and happened. Clara’s boss doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s the person who told her that the company is laying off employees. In other words, he doesn’t want his name to be associated with bad news. He wants their conversation to be “off the record”.

  • Victor’s colleagues agreed that his habit of dressing in polka-dotted suits and big clown shoes was over the top.

Victor’s choice of clothes goes way beyond what’s normal. In a sense, it overflows or over-steps the bounds of normality, as a substance might overflow its container; his dress is, therefore, “over the top”.

  • Treating others as you want to be treated is a good rule of thumb.

Measuring something with one’s thumb is an easy and generally reliable way of taking a measurement (“rule”, in this sense, is used in the sense of “rulers”). If something is a “rule of thumb” or is done “as a rule of thumb”, it is considered a generally reliable way of accomplishing a specified end or, even more broadly, of conducting oneself. Treating others as you want to be treated (often called “the golden rule”) is generally a good way to act.

  • Johnny tolerated many of Bonny’s irresponsible behaviors, but when Bonny borrowed Johnny’s car and crashed it into a tree, that was the last straw.

Johnny has been willing to overlook the fact that Bonny is irresponsible. When she borrows his car and crashes it, though, he’s had enough. Think of Bonny’s many little slights as straws (plastic straws or hay, both of which are light). Piled up, they could be heavy enough to break or crush whatever they’re on. The last straw is the straw that makes the pile come crashing down. Another expression heard less often is “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Think of a camel carrying a bale of hay. The last straw is the piece of hay that makes the bale so heavy that the camel’s back breaks.

  • Dorothy laughed when Greg told her that he had been promoted, since not by any stretch of the imagination could she imagine him in a management position.

Dorothy might have a pretty big or broad imagination, capable of seeing many scenarios as plausible. However, her imagination isn’t big enough to see Greg as a manager. Even if she tries to stretch her imagination to accommodate the idea, she still finds it improbable. So, “not by any stretch of the imagination” can Dorothy see Greg in a management position.

  • Although Jeff was concerned about his ability to do well in his new job, he learned the ropes quite quickly and was promoted within a week.

Good sailors have to learn to handle the ropes that tie the sheets on ships to masts – i.e. they have to learn how ships work. Likewise, new employees have to learn the rules that govern how their new workplaces operate. They, too, have to “learn the ropes”.