Back to Basics: Organizing Your Writing like It’s a Hamburger

The "hamburger" scheme for organizing a paragraph.
The “hamburger” scheme for organizing a paragraph.

Last night I was helping my daughter, who is in fourth grade, with her homework. We had completed a math worksheet, a geography worksheet and had moved onto writing. For her paragraph assignment, she was supposed to write about a special place. So I began drawing the concept map that we typically use to help her organize her thoughts. She stopped me before I could get started.

“No Mom, wait,” she grabbed the pencil and paper from my hands, “I have a better idea.”

She drew five shapes on the paper.

“We should write the paragraph like it’s a hamburger. The first sentence is the topic—it’s the top of the burger, tells you what is inside—it makes you hungry to read more. Next comes the juicy, meaty part. Three details—three sentences. Then the bottom bun, the summary that supports the whole paragraph. It’s the hardest to write.” She proudly sat down with her drawing and pencil.

“I LOVE that,” I exclaimed. “That’s a great way to organize a paragraph.”

“Yeah,” my husband looked up from his Suduko that he had been working on, “and the cheese goes right here.” He pointed to one of the three boxes my daughter had drawn underneath the bun.

“And the lettuce over here,” my daughter giggled.

“Well, I like mine with lettuce and tomato,” I chanted with no apologies to Jimmy Buffett, “Heinz 57 and French-fried potato..,”

“A big kosher pickle,” my daughter joined in, and the evening’s homework activities degenerated from there. (Sometimes it’s the parents who are easily distracted.)

My daughter’s hamburger graphic was new to me, but the concept wasn’t. It is a solid method for organizing a piece of writing, and it can be applied all kinds of writing—from a paragraph, to an essay, to a speech and even to a scientific article. Continue reading “Back to Basics: Organizing Your Writing like It’s a Hamburger”

Ghosts

buddhabrot fractal image
Formless, recursive and abstract, it can be tough to wrestle the ghosts of the conscious mind.

Please believe me when I say this is the hardest thing I’ve done. Typing this sentence might as well be lifting a boulder, and the next could be even heavier. Before this, the hardest thing I’d done was say “good morning” to co-workers, and before that, it was simply getting out of bed.

Just about the only thing I find easy is going to bed, but sleeping is a different story. Every night I lie down, unsure if I’ll fall asleep within seconds and wake what seems like moments later, swatting aimlessly at my alarm clock, or if I’ll remain awake, tired beyond belief but some mysterious finger in the dyke preventing a flood of sleep from washing over me.

I’m one of the approximately 21 million people in the United States who suffer from major depression. Let me tell you, it’s kind of a bummer. Lying awake at night might sound terrible, but it’s the easiest thing in the world compared to writing a sentence, saying “hello”, smiling. I live each day negotiating a watery fog, often unsure what people tell me, confused about what comes next, and desperate for the energy to participate in the world.

This isn’t an essay asking for sympathy; receiving pity from others would only make me feel worse. Besides, as a function of suffering from depression, I’m convinced nobody is reading this, that nobody is going to read this. This essay is for me. Only by engaging and grappling with this disease in words and in actions can I ever hope to pin it to the ground.

Continue reading “Ghosts”

The Do’s and Don’t’s of Resume Writing

interviewAs a recruiter, I look at resumes every single day. It’s part of my job. A good resume will get your information passed on to a hiring manager, and a bad one will end up in a rejection pile. A candidate could be a perfect fit for the job, but if the resume does not reflect HOW they are a perfect fit, they will not get moved forward in the interview process.

I write this blog with the caveat that I am not the end-all, be-all for resumes. You can do research and find many different ways to write a resume, advice on what to do, and examples galore. I am writing this with my preference in mind; I have been a recruiter for over a decade and have seen more resumes that you can imagine. I find that these basic do’s and don’ts apply to many different professions.

DO

  1. Change your resume based upon the position that you are applying for. If you have an objective, the objective should somehow tie into the position you are submitting your resume to. If your objective is very broad and can apply to many different areas, that should be fine. However, if your objective reads “To find employment as a Research and Development Scientist” and you are applying for a Production Scientist position, you should change it.
  2. List your work history in reverse chronological order. Your most current job should be at the top.
  3. If you are applying for a position where education is the most important thing to consider for the recruiter/hiring manager, then list it first. This will also apply to a recent graduate. For any other type of resume submission, put your education below your work experience.
  4. Be very specific in your accomplishments. This is your opportunity to brag about your work experience. If you were the #1 sales person in the country, list it on your resume.
  5. Be quantitative. Specifically list numbers in your descriptions. “Increased sales by 10%”, or “Managed a team of 5” sounds a lot better than “Increased sales substantially” or “Managed a team”.

DON’TS

  1. Don’t try to fit it into one page. This is an old guideline that is somehow still being used. If you can’t fit it into one page, don’t try. You want your resume to outline as much as possible about your work experience, so don’t try to limit to fit it all in.
  2. Don’t make it 10 pages either. Recruiters (and most hiring managers) will stop looking after about page 2. Keep it concise.
  3. Don’t write in paragraphs. Write concise statements (bullets are good) with duties and responsibilities at jobs.
  4. Don’t list all the things that you have done in your previous positions at the top of your resume, and then list your work history below it. Your duties and responsibilities should coincide with the places you have worked.
  5. Don’t forget to proofread!

When the Writing Gets Tough, the Tough Write about Semicarbazide-Sensitive Amine Oxidases

These are the cranes I saw while walking and thinking about SSAOs.
When you hold a position as a scientific communication specialist at a biotech company, you never know what you are going to need to write. Most of the time I really like the fact that I have to master new subject matter on a daily basis. I’m using my degree and my brain, and articulating science in a way that connects with the reader is incredibly rewarding. It’s why I do what I do.

However, when I was asked to write about a new assay for semicarbazide-sensitive amine oxidases (SSAOs), my enthusiasm waned. This is a subject about which I know nothing, so I searched the literature to learn as much as I could. After reading several review articles I was able to write this scintillating paragraph: Continue reading “When the Writing Gets Tough, the Tough Write about Semicarbazide-Sensitive Amine Oxidases”

Lessons Learned From A Mediocre Résumé

A crumpled piece of paperWhen I think back to the résumé and cover letter that I submitted when I applied for my first real job, frankly, I am a bit surprised that I got an interview. I think I was qualified for the job as Promega Technical Services Scientist, but honestly, my résumé and cover letter were unequivocally and unapologetically mediocre. Looking back now, with eight years of editing experience under my belt, I can think of quite a few things that I would have done differently. Of course, I must have done a few things right too, or my résumé would have gone straight into the bin, and I would have never been interviewed. I am sharing my experiences so that you can learn from my mistakes.
Continue reading “Lessons Learned From A Mediocre Résumé”

Writing Better With Oatmeal

Yes, okay, I admit it. For as casual and conversational as I try to keep my writing, I’m a bit of a grammar geek*. I’m not a cantankerous stickler for a technically perfect phrase, and I’m certainly not exempt from grammatical blunders, but I do put my back into it a little bit. It’s one of the ways I extend a measure of respect to language, along with things like saying “croissant” correctly (I’m not French, but it’s one of my biggest pet peeves). Sure, maybe I go a little overboard sometimes and find myself sitting in silent, festering judgment of misplaced apostrophes. Maybe seeing “alot” shimmering like grammatical polyester on a page makes me want to flick someone’s ear. And maybe it hit just a little too close to home when a college classmate told me, “Caroline, you’d proofread a love letter.” Humph. You say that like it’s a bad thing.

As much as I enjoy the pursuit of grammatical excellence, I recognize it’s not as natural for everyone. Grammar may even be your sworn nemesis. I know exactly how it is — I have the same antagonistic relationship with math. Stupid math, making me feel all dumb. But enough of my issues, back to the point at hand: Grammar isn’t always intuitive, it isn’t always easy and, let’s face it, it’s not generally considered a lot of fun. Or so I thought until I found The Oatmeal. Continue reading “Writing Better With Oatmeal”

Reflections on Write by the Lake: Lessons Learned for Science Writers

This week I attended the Write by the Lake Retreat at UW-Madison, and I will be genuinely sad to see it end. The magic in the nonfiction session led by Amy Lou Jenkins has been incredible.

I want to share a few of the writing tips I have picked up from this week, even though this wasn’t a “science writing” workshop. What I have found as a writer is that what I work to improve in one type of writing ends up improving every other type of writing that I do. I have heard so many scientific writers claim that science writing is different from all other types of writing. Not necessarily.

So what are some of the things that I picked up at this workshop that I think can easily apply to scientific writing? Continue reading “Reflections on Write by the Lake: Lessons Learned for Science Writers”

Use Parallel Structure to Guide the Reader

Getting What You Want from Your Science Writing Part X

computer_keyboardParallel construction signals to the reader that two ideas are of equal importance. If two or more ideas or items are connected by a coordinating conjunction such as “and”, “but” or “or”, then those ideas should be expressed in parallel or equivalent grammatical constructs. Items and ideas of equal importance should be presented using equivalent grammatical structures. Items in a list should be parallel: all verbal phrases, all nouns, etc. Parallel construction guides your reader and helps your reader organize concepts on a first read of your text. Continue reading “Use Parallel Structure to Guide the Reader”

Playing to Foster Creativity and Innovation

My three-year-old daughter runs into the kitchen where I am preparing tonight’s dinner. “Can we go play now?”

“Not right now, I need to get dinner ready.”

I set the famous family pasta sauce to simmer, giving it one more quick stir, fill the heavy duty pasta pot with water to boil and start slicing bread to make garlic toast.

“Now?” She comes back in and asks.

“No, not now. I’m still working. Do you want to help?”

“Yes. I spread butter.” So she takes her finger, pokes it into the softened butter, and runs away eating the clump of butter on her finger.

———–
I am the youngest, with older siblings who introduced me to Monty Python at an early age, but I really didn’t gain an appreciation for the work of John Cleese until my husband introduced me to the British comedy Faulty Towers. I have never laughed so hard—what a good cardiac workout . So, when my supervisor told me about an online video clip of John Cleese talking about creativity as I was preparing a workshop on writers block, I was interested. Continue reading “Playing to Foster Creativity and Innovation”

Help – The Squirrels Have Given Me Writer’s Block!

Anyone who has ever had to write anything has probably experienced something they considered “writer’s block”. Term papers, creative writing assignments, grant applications, papers for publication, Christmas letters, monthly reports, blog entries, grocery lists – the potential victims of writer’s block are never ending.

Recently, fellow blogger and writing advice-giver extraordinaire, Michele, presented a brief workshop on writer’s block to a group of Promega bloggers. Part of her presentation focused on personality-type centered causes and cures of writer’s block. Continue reading “Help – The Squirrels Have Given Me Writer’s Block!”