Eva van Emden, Freelance Editor

Certified Copy Editor and Proofreader


June 26, 2010

Technology for job seekers, part 2: Email for business communication

In “Technology for job seekers, part 1,” I talked about how to send out a nice-looking resumé in digital form. This time I’d like to share a few techniques for saving yourself from silly email mistakes in business communication.

Good email practice for really important messages

For truly important messages such as job applications and mass mail-outs, don’t compose the message in the email client itself. The habit of hitting “send” as soon as you finish typing but before you check for errors and omissions is too ingrained. Instead, write the message in a text editor or word processor, spell-check it, proofread it (if it’s a really important message, print it out and proofread it on paper, and get someone else to read it too), and then copy and paste it into the email client. In fact, if you’re really serious about getting it right, use a checklist to make sure that the email contains the right information, is addressed to all the appropriate people, and has all the necessary attachments.

Moderately important emails

For messages that aren’t of the highest importance—for instance, messages to business associates who will forgive the odd typo but whom you generally want to impress—I have a lower level of email vigilance. Here’s what I usually do:
  1. Leave the address field blank. An addressed email is like a gun with a bullet in the chamber: one little slip and it’ll go off, whether you’re ready or not.
  2. Attach the attachments first, or as soon as you see yourself writing the words “I am attaching.”
  3. Write the body of the message as usual.
  4. When you hit “send” and find that the message won’t go because there’s nothing in the address field, use this as your reminder to check the message for errors before you fill in the address and send for real.

A useful Gmail feature: undo send

One day, when I was working for the Ministry of Forests, I accidentally sent a personal email to the entire Columbia Forest District distribution list. My friend’s email address contained the word “columbia” and the system’s autocomplete kicked in and made this something I didn’t intend. I clicked “ok” without checking what I was agreeing to, and voilà! I watched in horror as a long list of sent-mail notifications for complete strangers scrolled down my screen.

I galloped down the hall to the system administrator’s office. “Kelly!” I gasped, “Is there any way to get an email back?”

Well no, there isn’t. Once you send your message out into the wide world, you can’t get it back. However, some of the people at Google have decided to take a crack at this problem, and one of the developers has created an experimental feature called “Undo Send.” You may have noticed that 99% of the times that you send something that shouldn’t have been sent, you realize it within seconds (which is part of the reason it’s so infuriating). With the undo send feature enabled, you’ll see a “cancel” option for a few seconds after you hit “send.” If you do nothing, the message goes out as usual. But if you have a last-second change of heart and cancel, the message will appear back in its editing textbox, where you choose whether to edit and re-send it or discard the message altogether.

You can find this feature among the Google Labs features by clicking on the green flask icon or going to “Settings -> Labs.” Once you’ve turned the feature on you can choose a 5-, 10-, or 20-second delay in the configuration options under “Settings -> General.”

As for the time I spammed the Columbia Forest District, there was a happy ending. My administrator friend explained calmly—I don't think I was the first jittering person he’d explained this to—that in fact, the MoF system wasn’t true internet email but rather a proprietary intranet system, and it was possible to recall a message as long as the receiver hadn’t opened it yet. To my relief, I got back almost all of my mis-sent messages.

Technology for job seekers, part 1: How to send your resumé

I realized during a recent resumé-writing workshop I attended that there are a few simple things that you can do with the tools you’re probably already using to make applying for jobs through email run more smoothly.

In part 1, I’ll talk about why you shouldn’t send your resumé out as a Word document and how to produce a PDF instead. In part 2, I’ll talk about a few nice features in Gmail that can make your business communication go more smoothly.

Send your resumé as a PDF

Send your resumé in PDF form, not as a Word document. Word documents are the wrong format to use for a document that 1) has to be easily accessible to as many people as possible 2) has to look good and 3) should be read-only (not editable).

First, if you send someone a Word document, you’re expecting them to have MS Word installed, and that’s not a good assumption to make. Furthermore, assuming that they do have Word and they fire it up and open your resumé, they’re going to see it in editable form, possibly laid out in draft view, possibly rendering your fonts incorrectly, and perhaps even with squiggly underlines showing all the places where the spelling and grammar checker disagrees with your carefully thought out and well-founded stylistic choices. Or possibly even pointing out a real mistake, god forbid that there should be one. In any case, this is not the first impression you want to make. Finally, the recipient now has the option of printing out your carefully formatted resumé in a way that makes it (and therefore you) look terrible.

So what should you do instead? Save your document as a PDF. PDF, if you’re not familiar with it, is a format created by Adobe. It’s viewable with Adobe Reader, which is free and easily downloadable. Just about anybody who solicits a resumé in digital format from you will be able to view a PDF. When the recipient opens the PDF, it will look exactly the way it did when you created it: same fonts, same font size, same layout. When they print it, it will come out looking good.

How do I make a PDF?

  • Using Word 2008: Under “Save As...” choose the “PDF” option.
  • Using an older version of Word on a Mac: on Mac Os X, printing to PDF should be built in. Choose “Print” and then look for a PDF option in your list of printers.
  • Using an older version of Word on Windows: look for a free PDF creation tool or here, or save as a Word file and then use OpenOffice to save it as a PDF.
  • Not using Word at all: I recommend OpenOffice Writer. OpenOffice is a free tool suite that does most of what MS Office does. It will read Word documents (and write them) and export to PDF. You can either create your resumé in OpenOffice in the first place, or just use it to create a PDF.

A privacy hint that has nothing to do with editing

Firefox privacy hint that has nothing to do with editing

Lately, every time I enter something in a textbox on the web, Firefox has been helpfully suggesting autocompletions for me. This was tolerable when it was my email address, but yesterday I was registering for a triathlon and darned if my browser didn’t already know all the answers. First it filled in my full street address and phone number, and when it followed up with my full credit card number, I knew something had to be done.

The concern I have about this is that I sometimes carry my laptop around while it’s running and I’m even logged in. If someone stole it, they could figure out my credit card number by opening Firefox and typing the digits 0 through 9 into a textbox until something that looked like a credit card number showed up in the autocomplete box. A lesser concern is that even if I secured the machine by logging out or locking my screen, if Firefox were storing my credit card number in any way, there would always be the possibility that that information could be extracted. Unlikely, but I’d rather not risk it.

The fix is simple: go to Firefox -> Preferences -> Privacy. Under History, choose “Use custom settings for history.” Uncheck “Remember search and form history.” To flush any form history that’s already stored, go to Tools -> Clear Recent History and then check “Search and form history” and click “Clear.”

June 25, 2010

Editing for companies in the US: Getting paid

If you have US clients who pay by cheque, it may be worth getting a US dollar bank account. I have a no-fee, no-interest US dollar account that I use to deposit my US cheques. The advantage is that I don’t pay the $5.00 service charge that would otherwise apply. As a bonus, the 30-day hold that is put on most foreign cheques might be more likely to be waived.

The 30-day hold policy for foreign cheques explains why people often use other methods to get paid by foreign clients (bank transfer, PayPal, money order). Out of these methods, I’ve only used PayPal, which is easy and convenient. If you have a PayPal account, you can request money from someone via their email address, even if they don’t have a PayPal account. It’s quick and simple, but the transaction fee is significant: 2.9%, and when you use PayPal’s “send an invoice” feature, it seems to be impossible to get the sender to pay the fee.

June 23, 2010

How to configure your Blogger blog to point to your own domain on Dreamhost

I’m using Blogger for this editing blog because it’s about the easiest thing ever, but I wanted to change the domain from “severely-limited-choice.blogspot.com” to “any-name-I-want.vanemden.com.”

The Blogger site had some good documentation, but nothing specific for Dreamhost users, and although Dreamhost has some fantastic help on their site, I didn’t find any help for this right away. I thought I’d just jot down what I did in case it helps anyone else.

On the Dreamhost end

  1. Go to dreamhost.com and click on “Customer Login” in the top right-hand corner of the page. Log in.
  2. You’re now in your settings page. Click on “Manage Domains” in the “Toolbox” section of the page.
  3. Click on the “DNS” link below the domain that you want your blog to appear as a subdomain of: e.g., to set up my blog at “blog.mydomain.com” I click on the DNS link on “mydomain.com.”
  4. Read warning message. Resolve to act with care and not to delete anything frivolously.
  5. In the blank space at “Name,” enter the name of the blog: “blog” if you want the final address to be “blog.mydomain.com.” (You must enter something here so that your blog will have a different name than just “mydomain.com.” If you actually want it to be right there under the base domain name you can do that too, but it’s slightly more complicated.)
  6. Fill in the fields. As explained in 5, for the name field, enter the name of the blog. Under type, choose “CNAME,” and under value, enter “ghs.google.com.”

On the Blogger end

  1. Go to Settings->Publishing. You should see “You’re publishing on blogspot.com.” Click on “Switch to custom domain.”
  2. Choose “Switch to advanced settings.”
  3. Enter the domain you just created in the Dreamhost configuration and save your settings.

June 16, 2010

Characterization from Justin Cronin

“When somebody steps on the stage for any important amount of time, I try to figure out who they are. One thing that is a barometer for me is that I ask them what they are not telling anybody. That’s my door into who they are. Everybody’s got a secret.”

Interview with Justin Cronin.

Neil Gaiman on horror and comedy

“Writing in this manner helped him come to a conclusion about the fundamental difference between comedy and horror: In comedy, people tend to get what they need, and in horror, people tend to get what they deserve.”

From Prince of Stories: the Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman by Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden, & Stephen R. Bissette.