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Do you collect words? Many writers do. I know a writer who carries a notebook with her and records luscious words she encounters so she can use them in the books she writes, and in fact her novels feature such a beautiful vocabulary they are a pleasure to read. Using just the right word in just the right moment provides a thrill for writer and reader alike.
“He was mad.” “He was mad!” “He was very mad.” “He was infuriated.”
“She was sad.” “She was really sad.” “She felt empty.”
Aren’t those bolded sentences stronger than the others? Don’t you understand him, and her, much better? And just as important, aren’t those sentences much more interesting? I want to know why she feels empty! The fact that he is infuriated injects energy into whatever surrounds that sentence.
It also becomes boring to read about red roses, “bright red” lipstick, or mocha skin, when there are so many brilliant color words! Take a trip to a paint store and look at the varied (and sometimes crazy) names of colors, but choose carefully. Sangria lipstick … well, both weird and confusing. Berry lipstick, yes. (See a whole bunch of color words below!)
Find words for specific emotions, evocative colors, and strong verbs to make your sentences alive in your readers’ minds. Another benefit of seeking stronger words is that you step outside cliche; alabaster skin is so commonly used for pale white skin that most people only think of skin when they hear or read the word alabaster, right? Boring, and you do not want to be a boring writer — obviously, because you’ve read this entire post.
Copy editing can not only enrich and elevate your writing, it can also be a kind of teacher! If you study careful, artful copy editing, you’ll learn where your writing tends to go soft and how to make it sing. I care a lot about good writing—I’m enthusiastic about it, exuberant about it—and also about helping my clients learn how to think critically about their own writing. Get in touch today to talk about your work and how we might collaborate to make it sing a little louder. Email me at email@example.com!
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Angle Heart, a Facebook Page fan, requested more information about strong and weak forms. This is so easy to teach in person, and so hard to write about, because strong and weak forms are about sounds, not written words.
You’ll find lots of lessons on the internet describing when to use a strong form and when to use a weak form. I think they’re usually written by English speakers who hope to describe all the forms and generalize them into “rules”.
Perhaps the problem lies, in part, in the terms we use: “strong” and “weak” They really aren’t forms. To my mind, they might be better described as dynamics or strategies, because in English they’re adjustable.
The sound of English relies on contrasts in sound. We create contrasts in our speaking that act like sign-posts, I call them “soundposts” ©™, which signal to the listener what they should pay close attention to and remember, versus what they should hear and understand but not remember as notable. There are at least 5 ways we make adjustments to create clear contrasts of strong and weak sounds:
The vowels in beat, bit, bet, but, boot, bat, bite, bait, bought, and boat all require careful articulation, because the vowels are the only thing that makes these words different. Each word has a different meaning, and each is only different from the other because of its vowel sound. For the sake of your listener, you must make each of these vowels clear enough to be recognized.
But the role of vowels in a multi-syllable word e.g. “accident” is to help create contrast between syllables. This word has a particular soundprint©™ (like a footprint in wet sand, its shape is obvious to our ear); it has a strongly stressed first syllable [aek] in which the vowel must be clear, followed by the second, less-stressed syllable [s?], in which the vowel /i/ is weakened to a schwa; and in the third syllable, the vowel /e/ seems to disappear completely from the sound [dnt]. This creates acoustic contrast: Clear First Syllable vs. Fuzzy Second and Third. Strong First Syllable vs. Weak Second and Third.Stressed First Syllable vs. Unstressed Second and Third.
Remember-this is spoken English, not written English. Native English speakers learn to adjust the contrast of syllables long before they learn to read and write. They learn the tools to signal changes in their messages, that signal importance. These sound signals, or sound-posts©™ as I call them, , are the way we organize our messages for our listeners, when there is no printed word to be read and referenced.
We usually stretch the vowel out longer in a stressed syllable. Look at the word accident again: although the first syllable only has two sounds, [ae, k], it is given a longer duration than either of the following syllables. By stretching it out, and shortening the unstressed syllables, we hear the word’s soundprint©™-it’s characteristic sound shape. When we shorten the unstressed syllables, we often swallow some of the sounds.
We pitch a word or syllable higher if we want to stress it, and we pitch it lower if we want to downplay or weaken it. In the word accident, the first syllable is on a higher pitch than the others. There is a wave to the sound that starts higher and ends lower. This frequent, specific pitch adjustment is difficult for Spanish speakers.
The same is true for volume. We increase the volume or energy of our voice on the first syllable of accident, and lower the volume or energy on the following syllables.
This contrast-building happens at every level of sound in English:
we have strong vowels and weak vowels: we even change strong vowels to make them weaker, if they occur in unstressed syllables of words. This is why you have to study about the schwa. We change vowels that are too strong to schwa or short I if they occur in an unstressed syllable of a word.
we have strong consonants that we keep strong in stressed syllables of words, but we downplay those same consonants when they occur in unstressed syllables of words
we create strong and weak syllables: we stress one or two syllables but downplay the others, depending on the word
we create strong and weak words: we stress new or critical information in a sentence, and downplay the known information or the grammatical markers
we create strong and weak sentences: we stress ideas that introduce and develop our topic, and downplay those statements that merely carry the topic forward without anything new or remarkable.
I’ve spent most of this post talking about vowels, consonants, and syllables because few teachers try to explain strong vs. weak at the pronunciation level, but keep in mind these ideas about “soundprints” and “soundposts” as you look at other material on the internet. We make contrasts using pitch, duration, clarity, volume, and energy.
I hope I haven’t made this harder to understand. It’s not as complex or complicated as you might think. If you have questions, or I can clarify in some way, please ask. I would appreciate your thoughts and feedback, because I’ll be publishing all of this in the near future. Any suggestions or requests would be welcome!
Finally, I came across this question on a forum asking whether to use strong and weak forms when reading a text; quite a few people responded.
Unfortunately, there is no way to acceptably accomplish this task without using macros, in one form or another. The closest non-macro solution is to create a name that determines colors, in this manner:
Select cell A1.
Use a name such as “mycolor” (without the quote marks).
In the Refers To box, enter the following, as a single line:=IF(GET.CELL(38,Sheet1!A1)=10,"GO",IF(GET.CELL(38,Sheet1!A1) =3,"Stop","Neither"))
With this name defined, you can, in any cell, enter the following:=mycolor
The result is that you will see text based upon the color of the cell in which you place this formula. The drawback to this approach, of course, is that it doesn’t allow you to reference cells other than the one in which the formula is placed.
The solution, then, is to use a user-defined function, which is (by definition) a macro. The macro can check the color with which a cell is filled and then return a value. For instance, the following example returns one of the three words, based on the color in a target cell:Function CheckColor1(range) If range.Interior.Color = RGB(256, 0, 0) Then CheckColor1 = "Stop" ElseIf range.Interior.Color = RGB(0, 256, 0) Then CheckColor1 = "Go" Else CheckColor1 = "Neither" End If End Function
This macro evaluates the RGB values of the colors in a cell, and returns a string based on those values. You could use the function in a cell in this manner:=CheckColor1(B5)
If you prefer to check index colors instead of RGB colors, then the following variation will work:Function CheckColor2(range) If range.Interior.ColorIndex = 3 Then CheckColor2 = "Stop" ElseIf range.Interior.ColorIndex = 4 Then CheckColor2 = "Go" Else CheckColor2 = "Neither" End If End Function
Whether you are using the RGB approach or the color index approach, you’ll want to check to make sure that the values used in the macros reflect the actual values used for the colors in the cells you are testing. In other words, Excel allows you to use different shades of green and red, so you’ll want to make sure that the RGB values and color index values used in the macros match those used by the color shades in your cells.
One way you can do this is to use a very simple macro that does nothing but return a color index value:Function GetFillColor(Rng As Range) As Long GetFillColor = Rng.Interior.ColorIndex End Function
Now, in your worksheet, you can use the following:=GetFillColor(B5)
The result is the color index value of cell B5 is displayed. Assuming that cell B5 is formatted using one of the colors you expect (red or green), you can plug the index value back into the earlier macros to get the desired results. You could simply skip that step, however, and rely on the value returned by GetFillColor to put together an IF formula, in this manner:=IF(GetFillColor(B5)=4,"Go", IF(GetFillColor(B5)=3,"Stop", "Neither"))
You’ll want to keep in mind that these functions (whether you look at the RGB color values or the color index values) examine the explicit formatting of a cell. They don’t take into account any implicit formatting, such as that applied through conditional formatting.
For some other good ideas, formulas, and functions on working with colors, refer to this page at Chip Pearson’s website:
Writing a resume is more than just listing out your work experience, dates of employment, and job responsibilities. In fact, an effective resume is much, much more than that. Resume writing is an exercise in persuasive writing in order to market yourself to recruiters and potential employers.
So how can you make your resume stand out from the pack? An important step to help you improve your resume is to stop using passive voice and passive terms on your resume; passive terms dilute the quality and value of what you offer the employer. One of the biggest mistakes people make when writing a resume is using boring words that don’t actually tell an employer or hiring manager anything about what you have achieved, or what you are capable of accomplishing for them should you be hired.
Review your resume, and if you’re using any of the following terminology on your resume, you need to make a change today:
Demonstrated mastery of…Responsibility for…Duties included…Worked with…Familiar with…Knowledge of (or) Knowledgeable in…Qualifications include…Accomplishments include…
These are examples of passive terms that are not action-oriented, and they make for a rather lackluster resume. Instead, show the employer exactly what you’re capable of achieving and bringing to the table!
Now you’re probably wondering if those are bad terms, what are good, relevant, action words for a resume?
Below you’ll find a list of 50+ strong action verbs that you can put on your resume NOW to spice things up and stand out to employers!
Why These Are Some of the Best Resume Words
Included in the action verb list above are words that not only sound a little more polished than the old standbys of “qualified,” “proficient,” “experienced,” etc., but are words that push you to improve the entire phrase or sentence that you are using it in. For example, if you currently just have your skills listed under a section that says “Skills” and then list things like:
*Strong Leader *Problem-solving *Effective Communicator
…you’re not actually telling an employer why any of those things matter, or showing that you actually do have those skills and have accomplished something using those skills. Chances are an employer is also seeing these words listed under nearly every other applicant’s skill set section.
But, when you take action verbs from the list above and incorporate them into your Skills section, you automatically need to reshape the writing in a way that better provides insight into your unique achievements and your career history. For example, your Skills section may now read something like this:
*Fostering an environment for the optimal use of staff talents
*Devising efficient, practical solutions to problems large and small
*Conveying ideas to internal staff and external partners
See how those sound much more professional-and more worthwhile-than those buzzwords anyone can just copy off a list of resume skills you find on the internet?
When you take the time to incorporate action verbs as you write a resume, you will find that your writing on the whole transforms and forces you to dive a little deeper into what you are trying to tell hiring managers about yourself.
Why Does Word Choice Matter?
We kind of delved into this a bit at the beginning of the article, but let’s go a little deeper-it matters because you don’t want to be just another resume and cover letter at the bottom of a recruiter’s pile. You want them to read your resume, pay attention to it, and go “Wow! This person has the experience and the skills we are looking for-and they sound motivated to work here!”
If you write a resume that just has the same old buzzwords as everyone else, it’s not actually saying anything. It’s not saying anything about your experience, and it’s not saying anything about what you can bring to an employer.
Your resume needs to SHOW what you are capable of. Word choice matters in doing this. Employers don’t want to just see soft skills listed because that’s what you think they want to hear-they want a demonstration of how you put those skills to use.
Action verbs do this. Passive buzzwords don’t.
STRONG action verbs do this well. Lazy action verbs don’t.
When you’re writing a resume, remember that a strong resume has strong words. Strong words often means verbs. Use the action verbs list above as a resource to find such words, and help you avoid weaker ones.
Here are some more examples of how word choice can make a difference in the marketing document that is your resume:
Current phrase: Manager of 10 employees
Improved phrase: Unified team of 10 employees behind company goals, resulting in improved sales
Current phrase: Switched company to using new technology
Improved phrase: Championed implementation of new technology at company, resulting in improved efficiency
Current phrase: Used data to discover underlying problem
Improved Phrase: Deciphered pattern in data to solve underlying problem
Doesn’t each of those changes convey a stronger role and a more impressive achievement? And, it does so without falling into the trap of writing your resume entirely using clichés.
If you’re starting a new resume from scratch, just start using these action verbs as you write! However, if you’re going through an old resume and trying to strengthen it by replacing words and phrases, STOP.
You cannot just take this action verbs list and swap out words on your resume. Instead, you need to use these to help reshape the entire way your resume is written. Your resume is a marketing document-do not forget that.
I recommend taking your old resume, pulling out the most important information on it, and making a list of hard skills, technical skills, accomplishments, responsibilities, etc. that you want to include on a new resume. Then, think about each item you have listed and how you want to convey it to a potential employer. Jot down one or two words from this list of action verbs beside each one that you think would be best suited for it.
From here, you now have a good base to reshape your writing. It might take a little longer than just getting out the thesaurus to replace words with a simple new word, but the results will be worth the time investment.
A professional resume needs to demonstrate your investment in the position and company you are applying to. Hiring managers can tell when someone has taken the time to really focus on their resume and to convey their value through the right words. They can also tell when someone has just taken a template and filled it out, or just googled “resume keywords” and plugged those words in.
The suggested resume action verbs in this article are developed from my years working in human resources and working as a professional resume writer, and includes some of the most effective words and phrases I have seen used and that I regularly use on resumes. Use them well, and you will likely start seeing a better response to your revitalized resume-perhaps even landing an interview for your dream job.
For even more examples of how to use strong language, peruse a sample resume or two on the Great Resumes Fast samples page.
Are you tired of your resume being rejected by applicant tracking systems? I know how frustrating it is to submit your resume and receive no response. I hate seeing qualified people never break through the screening process. It shouldn’t be that way. That’s why I created this guide and I encourage you to download the FREE PDF so you can start seeing better resume response rates!
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