The first rule in any written communication is to keep it simple. Sentences composed of more than 22 words will confuse the reader and lose their attention. You need to ask yourself when writing your assignment or filling out an application form if it passes these rules of ‘readability’. To test your written ability invite a friend or colleague to read over it and see if they find it easy to digest. They will also find any spelling mistakes that could cost you dear in term of marks, perhaps the difference between a 2.1 and a first or being selected or rejected from a recruiter’s short list?
The second principle is to make sure what you write is invaluable. Do not just regurgitate from a single source with the same examples or resort to using hackneyed and overworked metaphors.
George Orwell, in his wonderful 1946 essay, “Politics and the English language”, listed some dying metaphors, for example, “…toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, ’ Unfortunately these metaphors are taking a time to die and are still frequently used in articles.
The reason why students do themselves less than justice in assignments or fail to get shortlisted in applications is that they fail to pay attention to the title of the assignment or to the person specification of the role. Students fall into the temptation of pouring out on paper all the learning they can recall in the hope that this will be given credit. In the case of the application, applicants write about experiences not directly related to the role they are applying.
The clue is in the title of in the essay title or the application form that invites candidates to demonstrate relevant learning or experience. This is known as aligning your knowledge of the task or role required of you.
Finally, with access to Google, there is no shortage of information. The skill of the graduate or applicant is to prioritise the most important aspects of their research and convey in a structure that will grab the reader’s attention.
The SNAP principles of keeping it simple, invaluable, aligned and prioritised can apply to presentations as well as assignments and applications. Salespeople use SNAP to grab the attention of busy purchasers as they know they only have minutes if not seconds to make an impression.
See if your most recent written communication passes the SNAP test and consider where else you can apply this principle in your career.
Faculty Employability Consultant