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Advice for students: Getting details right

Advice for students: Getting details right
Pen

    According to a survey developed by OfficeTeam, 84% of executives polled consider one or two typos in a résumé sufficient to remove a job-candidate from consideration. One or two typos! Translated into academic terms, one or two typos in a paper would equal a failing grade.

    I’m not sure how much I want to trust this poll: the number of executives polled is small, and “no typos” might be a rule that strictly applies only in some Platonic ideal (or nightmare) of a workplace. Still, this poll offers a cautionary reminder to college students thinking about their futures: the world beyond college is a tough place, with standards that are sometimes far more stringent than those of even the strictest professor. Here are a few details to get right, always, when you are writing for a college class. They might be details that no professor or teaching assistant will ever take time to comment on. But they are things to get right, even if no one seems to be watching:

    Use one space after a period. Two spaces were the norm when everyone produced monospaced text with a typewriter. Using one space is a good way to show that you’re at home in print (where additional space after a period now looks like an unnecessary gap) and in html (where the second tap of the spacebar doesn’t register). If you were brought up with “two spaces” and find it a difficult rule to break, use search-and-replace in your word-processor to find and eliminate extra spaces.

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    Two hyphens equal an em dash. If you’re using Microsoft Word, you can get a proper em dash in your text by going to Tools, AutoCorrect Options, AutoFormat As You Type, and checking the box next to “Hyphens (–) with dash (—).” In OpenOffice.org, go to Tools, AutoCorrect, and check both boxes next to “Replace dashes.” In print, the em dash—a really useful mark of punctuation—does its work without additional spaces, as in this sentence. In html, proper dashes (like proper quotation marks) don’t display properly on all systems and sometimes make a mess of line length and word-wrap, so double-hyphens preceded and followed by spaces — like these — seem to be fine.

    Take care with your title. Use the same point-size that you’re using in your essay (a jumbo-sized title looks silly). Type your title without quotation marks (unless the title includes a quotation), and don’t capitalize entire words. Capitalize articles, prepositions, and coordinating conjunctions only if they’re first or last words. Type the words of a quotation just as they appear in the source, adding an initial capital letter if necessary. If you need more than one line, break your title across the lines in a logical way. Not

    “To be or not to be”: Hamlet’s Soliloquy and Modern
    Introspection

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    but

    “To be or not to be”:
    Hamlet’s Soliloquy and Modern Introspection

    Take care with the titles of works you’re referencing. Titles of longer works that stand on their own — a long poem, for instance, or any book — should be underlined or italicized; titles of shorter works such as a short poem, a short story, or a song go in quotation marks: Homer’s Odyssey, Proust’s Swann’s Way, Blake’s “The Tyger,” Eudora Welty’s “Why Live at the P.O.,” Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.” For more complicated title questions, consult a standard source (Chicago Manual of Style, MLA Handbook, Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association). One more small but important point: novel is not a synonym for book. The Chicago Manual of Style, for instance, is not a novel. Swann’s Way is.

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    Take care with spelling proper names. If you’re writing about, say, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, add the author’s last name, properly spelled, to your AutoCorrect entries, so that you can have it appear by typing its first few letters. You especially don’t want a misspelling or typo in your professor’s name or your own name. (I’ve seen that happen several dozen times.)

    Get in the habit of turning in work that’s finished by stapling the pages of an essay in the upper-left corner. Or use a paper clip if one is requested. Loose pages or folded-down corners suggest indifference toward your work and a lack of courtesy toward your reader.

    Some professors and teaching assistants will not notice or correct these sorts of details. Others might notice and simply grumble. And some academics seem to enable carelessness in their students, even bringing a stapler to class when an essay is due. So why bother? By doing so, you cultivate a habit of careful attention that will serve you well in the world beyond the classroom.

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    Michael Leddy has published widely as a poet and critic. He blogs at Orange Crate Art.

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    Last Updated on March 31, 2020

    Why Do I Procrastinate? 5 Root Causes & How To Tackle Them

    Why Do I Procrastinate? 5 Root Causes & How To Tackle Them

    Procrastination is something many people can relate to and I, myself, have been there and done that. Yes, I write all about productivity now, but when I first started out on my career path, I would often put off work I didn’t want to do. And most of the time I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

    So what changed?

    I thought to myself, “why do I procrastinate?” And I started to read a lot of books on productivity, learning a great deal and shifting my mind to the reasons why people procrastinate.

    My understanding brought me a new perspective on how to put an end to the action of procrastination.

    Procrastination slows your goals and dreams way down. It can create stress and feelings of frustration. It rears its ugly head on a regular basis for a lot of people. This is particularly apparent at work with day-to-day projects and tasks.

    But, why do people self-sabotage in this way? Essentially, there are 5 reasons behind procrastination. See if you can identify with any of these in your own work life.

    1. The Perfectionist’s Fear

    Procrastination is sometimes a subconscious fear of failure.

    If you put off a task enough, then you can’t face up to the potential (and usually imagined) negative results. If you’re a stickler for minor details, the stress of getting things ‘just right’ may be too much and cause you to delay continuing the task.

    Either way, fear is at the root cause and can sabotage your desire to move forward.

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    How to Tackle It?

    Try visualizing the completion of your task in a positive way.

    For example, you have a presentation that your boss wants you to conduct for a potential client. Visualize yourself standing in the meeting room confident, meeting the eyes of the client and seeing them light up as you explain the concept simply and concisely.

    Imagine your boss telling you how great you did and you were the best person for the job. Think about how it would feel to you and focus on this as you move forward with the task.

    2. A Dreamer’s Lack of Action

    This is a person who is highly creative and has many brilliant ideas but can’t quite seem to bring them to fruition.

    The main reason for this is because there’s usually no structure or goal setting involved once the idea has been created. This aimless approach ends up manifesting as a lack of decision-making and significant delays on a project.

    How to Tackle It?

    Write down a timeline of what you want to achieve and by when. Ideally, do this daily to keep yourself on track and accountable for progression. Creative minds tend to jump from one idea to the next, so cultivating focus is essential.

    If you’re designing and creating a new product at work, set out a task list for the week ahead with the steps you want to focus on each day. Doing this ahead of time will stop your mind from wandering across to different ideas.

    Learn about how to plan your time and take actions from some of the successful people: 8 Ways Highly Successful People Plan Their Time

    3. An Overwhelmed Avoider

    This is one of the most common reasons for procrastination; the sheer overwhelm of a daunting task.

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    The complexity of a task can cause the brain to lose motivation and avoid doing it altogether choosing instead to stay in its comfort zone.

    The search then starts for a more enjoyable task and the harder tasks are put off. This can cause stress and dread when the task inevitably comes up to be completed.

    How to Tackle It?

    Break the challenge down into smaller tasks and tackle each one individually.

    For example, if you have a project that has technical elements to it that you know you’ll find challenging, list each step you need to take in order to complete these difficult elements. Think of ways you can resolve potential hurdles. Perhaps you have a coworker that may have time to help or even consider that the solution may be easier than you initially think. Put each task in order of most daunting to least daunting. Ideally, try to deal with the more challenging parts of each task in the morning so that momentum is created as the tasks get easier through the day.

    A reward system will also help you stay motivated so, once completed, you can enjoy your treat of choice.

    If you want to know how to better handle your feelings and stay motivated, take a look at my other article: Procrastination Is a Matter of Emotion, Here’s How to Stop It

    4. The Busy Bee Who Lacks Prioritization

    Either you have too many tasks or don’t truly acknowledge the differing importance of each task. The result? Getting nothing done.

    Time is spent switching constantly from one task to another or spending too much time deciding what to do.

    How to Tackle It?

    It’s all about priorities and choosing important tasks over urgent ones.

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    Make sure to question the value and purpose of each task and make a list in order of importance.

    For example, throughout your work day, you can waste a lot of time dealing with ‘urgent’ emails from colleagues but, you need to ask yourself if these are more important than working on a task that will affect, say, several office projects at once.

    Help yourself to prioritize and set a goal of working through your list over the next few hours reassessing the situation once the time is up.

    In my other article, I talk about an effective way to prioritze and achieve more in less time: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    5. The One with Shiny Object Syndrome (Distraction-Prone)

    This is another common cause for procrastination; just simple distraction.

    Our brains aren’t wired to focus for long periods of time and it looks for something else. So throw in a bunch of colleagues equally looking for distractions or checking your phone mindlessly, and you’ve got a recipe for ultimate procrastination.

    However, this type of procrastination may not always be an unconscious decision to sabotage and put off work. It’s simply a result of your work setup or types of coworkers you have. Only you know the answer to that.

    How to Tackle It?

    Be mindful of your workspace and potential distractions. Schedule a specific time to converse with your coworkers, put headphones on to minimize listening to what’s going on around you, and switch your phone off.

    Aim to do this for 20-30 minutes at a time and then take a break. This will be a much more efficient way of working and getting what you need done. This is also why scheduling down time is so important for productivity.

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    Whether this type of procrastination is self-sabotage or being a victim of a distracting environment, either way you can take control.

    If you need a little more guidance on how to stay focus, this guide can help you: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    Bottom Line

    I’m going to be bold and assume you identified with at least one of these procrastination pitfalls.

    You could be trapped in the endless cycle of procrastination like I was, that is, until I decided to find out my why behind putting off tasks and projects. It was only then that I could implement strategies and move forward in a positive and productive way.

    I killed the procrastination monster and so can you. I now complete my tasks more efficiently and completely killed that feeling of stress and falling behind with work that procrastination brings.

    I know it’s not easy to stop procrastinating right away, so I also have this complete guide to help you stop it once and for all: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

    Featured photo credit: Luke Chesser via unsplash.com

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