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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 January 2, 2020

    How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

    How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

    Over time, we all gather a set of constricting habits around us—ones that trap us in a zone of supposed comfort, well below what our potential would allow us to attain. Pretty soon, such habits slip below the level of our consciousness, but they still determine what we think that we can and cannot do—and what we cannot even bring ourselves to try. As long as you let these habits rule you, you’ll be stuck in a rut.

    Like the tiny, soft bodied creatures that build coral reefs, habits start off small and flexible, and end up by building massive barriers of rock all around your mind. Inside the reefs, the water feels quiet and friendly. Outside, you think it’s going to be rough and stormy. There may be sharks. But if you’re to develop in any direction from where you are today, you must go outside that reef of habits that marks the boundaries of your comfort zone. There’s no other way. There’s even nothing specially wrong with those habits as such. They probably worked for you in the past.

    But now, it’s time to step over them and go into the wider world of your unused potential. Your fears don’t know what’s going to be out there, so they invent monsters and scary beasts to keep you inside.

    Nobody’s born with an instruction manual for life. Despite all the helpful advice from parents, teachers and elders, each of us must make our own way in the world, doing the best we can and quite often getting things wrong.

    Messing up a few times isn’t that big a deal. But if you get scared and try to avoid all mistakes by sticking with just a few “tried and true” behaviors, you’ll miss out on most opportunities as well.

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    Lots of people who suffer from boredom at work are doing it to themselves. They’re bored and frustrated because that’s what their choices have caused them to be. They’re stuck in ruts they’ve dug for themselves while trying to avoid making mistakes and taking risks. People who never make mistakes never make anything else either.

    It’s time to pin down the habits that have become unconscious and are running your life for you, and get rid of them. Here’s how to do it:

    1. Understand the Truth about Your Habits

    They always represent past successes. You have formed habitual, automatic behaviors because you once dealt with something successfully, tried the same response next time, and found it worked again. That’s how habits grow and why they feel so useful.

    To get away from what’s causing your unhappiness and workplace blues, you must give up on many of your most fondly held (and formerly successful) habits. and try new ways of thinking and acting. There truly isn’t any alternative. Those habits are going to block you from finding new and creative ideas. No new ideas, no learning. No learning, no access to successful change.

    2. Do Something—Almost Anything—Differently and See What Happens

    Even the most successful habits eventually lose their usefulness as events change the world and fresh responses are called for. Yet we cling on to them long after their benefit has gone.

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    Past strategies are bound to fail sometime. Letting them become automatic habits that take the controls is a sure road to self-inflicted harm.

    3. Take Some Time out and Have a Detailed Look at Yourself—With No Holds Barred

    Discovering your unconscious habits can be tough. For a start, they’re unconscious, right? Then they fight back.

    Ask anyone who has ever given up smoking if habits are tough to break. You’ve got used to them—and they’re at least as addictive as nicotine or crack cocaine.

    4. Be Who You Are

    It’s easy to assume that you always have to fit in to get on in the world; that you must conform to be liked and respected by others or face exclusion. Because most people want to please, they try to become what they believe others expect, even if it means forcing themselves to be the kind of person they aren’t, deep down.

    You need to start by putting yourself first. You’re unique. We’re all unique, so saying this doesn’t suggest that you’re better than others or deserve more than they do.

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    You need to put yourself first because no one else has as much interest in your life as you do; and because if you don’t, no one else will. Putting others second means giving them their due respect, not ignoring them totally.

    Keeping up a self-image can be a burden. Hanging on to an inflated, unrealistic one is a curse. Give yourself a break.

    5. Slow Down and Let Go

    Most of us want to think of ourselves as good, kind, intelligent and caring people. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it isn’t.

    Reality is complex. We can’t function at all without constant input and support from other people.

    Everything we have, everything we’ve learned, came to us through someone else’s hands. At our best, we pass on this borrowed existence to others, enhanced by our contribution. At our worst, we waste and squander it.

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    So recognize that you’re a rich mixture of thoughts and feelings that come and go, some useful, some not. There’s no need to keep up a façade; no need to pretend; no need to fear of what you know to be true.

    When you face your own truth, you’ll find it’s an enormous relief. If you’re maybe not as wonderful as you’d like to be, you aren’t nearly as bad as you fear either.

    The truth really does set you free; free to work on being better and to forgive yourself for being human; free to express your gratitude to others and recognize what you owe them; free to acknowledge your feelings without letting them dominate your life. Above all, you’ll be free to understand the truth of living: that much of what happens to you is no more than chance. It can’t be avoided and is not your fault. There’s no point in beating yourself up about it.

    Final Thoughts

    What is holding you in situations and actions that no longer work for you often isn’t inertia or procrastination. It’s the power of habitual ways of seeing the world and thinking about events. Until you can let go of those old, worn-out habits, they’ll continue to hold you prisoner.

    To stay in your comfort zone through mere habit, or—worse still—to stay there because of irrational fears of what may lie outside, will condemn you to a life of frustration and regret.

    If you can accept the truth about the world and yourself, change whatever is holding you back, and get on with a fresh view on life, you’ll find that single action lets you open the door of your self-imposed prison and walk free. There’s a marvelous world out there. You’ll see, if you try it!

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    Featured photo credit: teigan rodger via unsplash.com

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