By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Identify factors that influence the ways that work is designed, documented, and disseminated.
- Apply methods and technologies commonly used for communication in various fields.
- Write an effective résumé and accompanying cover letter.
- Interpret legal language and rewrite it in plain English.
In the business and legal worlds, written and spoken rhetoric is crucial to successful outcomes and the internal workings of an organization.
Rhetoric in Business
Application Letters and Résumés
Keep these ideas in mind when writing an application letter. Because you are focusing on your value to a company, do not start like this student did:
My name is Brett Ellison. I am graduating this spring and would like to apply for the position you have advertised. It looks interesting and would suit me well.
It will take exciting and convincing writing to build interest after such a generic introduction. Your name, graduation date, and opinion of the job are of little interest to a future employer. Consider the difference with this opening:
For the job opening you have advertised online in data management, you have asked for a recent graduate with skills in. . . . Four years of college with a major in computer science and an internship with Coverall Insurance have given me the skills you require.
The applicant mentions the required skills and follows with a statement indicating they possess the skills. When you begin this way, you emphasize the company’s needs, not your own. The first paragraph should then end with a statement that you are attaching your current résumé and that you request the company’s consideration.
In the next paragraph, highlight a specific achievement connected to that skill and your abilities. Include other aspects of your background as relevant. Try to keep each paragraph to no more than six lines. If possible, continue to focus on the company and its needs, showing that you know something about them. Keep it short; one page will be sufficient to highlight your skills. Avoid mentioning areas of weakness or skills you do not have. Conclude with an expression of gratitude for their consideration.
If you have a recommendation or lead for the job, you can naturally begin with that, as this student did in the following letter:
A current résumé should always accompany your application letter. Try to tailor your résumé to highlight unique credentials you may have and ones that may set you apart from other applicants. Your résumé should complement the letter, meaning the two parts should fit together and not contradict each other. A good idea is to edit the résumé to fit the job you want by adding or highlighting parts that pertain specifically to the position; changing the order of details; or using italics, boldface type, or bullets for listing facts or dates. The résumé should not be a one-size-fits-all product or give the impression that it is a standard statement with no real pertinence to the specific job. Use your résumé as a selling tool to persuade a company or organization to grant you an interview. Actually getting the job comes later.
A key element in any résumé, following your identifying information, is a statement of your career goal. Although it is inevitable that others will have similar plans, try to stand out by sounding decisive or presenting a vision of what you can accomplish. Imagine being the reader of your résumé rather than the writer. That person may devote only seconds to skimming it, and the first thing they will notice is the career goal, which you can change each time you send out a résumé. Your personal aim or goal gives you the chance to indicate something in one line that would make the reader want to continue. The following are effective statements:
- To use my programming skills to create innovative and useful content for a growing company
- To use what I have learned in management classes for the progress of a growing firm
- To contribute to a sales force based on best practices of marketing
- To work in the public sector for personal as well as social progress
- To combine a productive work ethic with openness to change and travel
Below is Mikaela Rodgers’s résumé:
Previewing a wide variety of sample résumés will give you plenty of ideas.
Language in Law
American legal English has its roots in history. It was adopted from England, where Roman rulers and later French invaders left an inheritance of terminology still used today. Many familiar legal terms are hundreds of years old. For example, the verb shall replaces must or have to (“The plaintiff shall . . .”). The word is an imperative, binding and unconditional, unlike its uncertain use in modern English (“Shall I do that?”). Also, the word consideration indicates a sum of money or settlement to be paid, not “the act of caring” (“The land shall be transferred for a consideration of . . .”). Antiquated expressions appear frequently—heretofore, forthwith, until such time that, party of the first part, party of the second part, due process—as do Latin expressions—pro bono, pro se, ad hoc, bona fide, de facto. Doubling of concepts is also common: null and void, breaking and entering, pain and suffering, legal and binding.
However, the linguistic situation has changed somewhat with the move toward “plain English,” meaning avoidance of the jargon and excesses of legal writing. Rather than long sentences and paragraphs with minimal punctuation and spacing of text, “plain English” reforms and simplifies the terminology to make it readily understandable for people outside the legal profession.
As an example, the following regulations from the New Jersey state office for overseeing real estate transactions are unclear and confusing. Despite the capital letters, the text consists of long, dense paragraphs that actually discourage reading and understanding. Because a situation in which someone breaks a lease is likely to be stressful, language such as this, with long sentences and legal terms, only worsens the possible confrontation. The assumption is that the tenant will have to either wade through the language independently or rely on a lawyer as a paid guide.
On the other hand, the following document explains in plain English, with short sentences and paragraphs, the procedures for securing federal student aid. Not only are the instructions clear, but they also explain some of the reasoning for them.
The plain language of this document aims to make information easily comprehensible. It is broken into brief, concise paragraphs with short, clear sentences. Punctuation is basic and emphatic. Students already uncertain about financial security are made to feel welcome and have the sense that the procedure can be done without their becoming mired in dense language and regulations.
Legal. With the Plain Writing Act of 2010 in mind, rewrite the section of the New Jersey rental agreement reproduced in this section. Change sentence and paragraph length when appropriate to simplify language and clarify meaning. Remember that your readers consist of average people looking to rent an apartment.