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Looking Good on Paper Lesson 1: Creating a Strong First Impression

Welcome to Looking Good on Paper, a series of blogs on how to use writing, grammar, and vocabulary skills to give yourself a leg up in the professional and academic worlds. In this installment of Looking Good on Paper, we'll be examining the importance of that first e-mail, letter, or telephone call.

In this highly competitive age, making a good first impression on college admissions officers, potential employers, and others can mean the difference between success and failure. What's more, with the increasing importance of e-mail and cell phone communication, you don't always get the chance to create first impressions in person like your parents and grandparents might have done. This means that how you present yourself verbally - that is, with how you speak and write - plays a huge role in determining what others think of you and, consequently, whether you will succeed.

Employing a varied vocabulary that is appropriate for your age and situation is one of the best things you can do to improve your chances of making a good first impression. The following are some tips to help you build such a vocabulary and know when and how to use it:

1. Avoid slang, profanity, and nicknames. You might use them when hanging out with your friends, but they can negatively impact how others perceive you in academic or work-related correspondence. This includes setting up an e-mail address that is appropriate. You may be sweetiepie234@blah.com or manningrulz@pats.net when talking to your friends, but a potential employer or college admissions advisor would look at these as signs of immaturity. Your best bet is to create an e-mail account just for professional and academic communication that includes your real name to make identifying the sender easy (e.g. bob.smith@school.com).

2. To get a better idea of what is appropriate, ask your parents or teachers for examples of their own professional communications or do an online search for templates. Your word-processing program might also include templates for the proper format for an e-mail or business letter. Pay special attention to the greeting and closing of your letter or e-mail, as these set the tone for the relationship between the sender and yourself. Be cordial, but don't be too familiar at first.

3. Read! What you read can impact the way you talk and write. While it's great to read comics, young adult novels, and tabloids in your spare time, it is also a good idea to read things like newspapers, news or culture websites, and more informational magazines (think National Geographic or Newsweek). These tend to be rated at a higher lexile level, which means they include more complex language and vocabulary words. By keeping and studying a list of the unfamiliar words you find in a magazine/website/newspaper with a higher lexile level, you can build a more impressive vocabulary. The higher the lexile level at which you write and speak, the more professional and educated you will sound. Of course, you should also be careful not to go too far. Don't use a word if you're not sure what it means or how to use it correctly.

With these three tips, you're ready to make a fantastic first impression that will open the doors to future success. Good luck!

That's it for this installment of Looking Good on Paper. Don't forget to check back soon for more tips for building the vocabulary and writing skills you'll need to succeed!