The Headhunter's Bookstore
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Improving your life by improving your writing

Readers ask me how I learned to write well. I laugh, because I know my writing needs work, and I work hard at it all the time. But the compliment also reminds me that we are all judged by our writing. Poor writing, speaking, and communication skills are signs of illiteracy. And there's too much illiteracy in business today.

Job candidates don't often realize that employers really do care how good a writer you are, because writing is not just about putting words on paper. It's about organizing your thoughts, creating a message, and articulating your ideas in a clear, compelling, and convincing way. If you can't do that, you reveal yourself to be unclear, uncompelling, and unconvincing. You lose.

If you don't write well, you can (and should) take a good college-level course in English Composition. Even if you are a good writer, try some specialty courses in Business Writing and Creative Writing. (In my opinion, you can't learn to do one well without the other, but that's another discussion.) No matter how good your writing is , you should keep some good reference books handy -- and you should use them often. In this section of The Bookstore, I list the references I have on my shelf, within easy arm's reach. Try them for yourself.

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Garner's Modern American Usage,
by Bryan Garner

(Oxford University Press, 2003)

Next to a good dictionary, this should be the most important reference book in your collection. Garner is a lawyer and lexicographer who writes about words and language with a flair and zeal that make you want to keep reading even after you're done looking something up. He doesn't just answer your questions about usage; he draws you into mini-lessons about how to use English so you can communicate clearly and powerfully. Filled with useful, contemporary examples that reveal how our language really works, Modern American Usage will tune up your brain, make you laugh, and raise your personal standard about doing business. This book is like an annuity. Invest now. Order this book.

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Hodges' Harbrace Handbook,
by Cheryl Glenn et al.

(Heinle, 2003)

You may remember this little book from college. Itís standard issue for English 101. Most students sell it back to the bookstore, glad to be done with their basic composition course. Too bad, because itís indispensable and lasts a lifetime. (I bought my copy in 1977 for a few bucks. Wait until you see what it costs now.) The Handbook will help you quickly find the answer to almost any question about writing and grammar. For the price of a video game (or two) you can learn to win where it matters -- when you have to demonstrate your accuracy with words. Keep it next to your dictionary. Order this book.

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Shorter Oxford English Dictionary,
by William R. Trumble et al.

(Oxford University Press, 2002)

Yep, it's two volumes. No, it's not cheap. Yes, it's absolutely worth it. Think of it as part of the legacy. You'll pass it on to your children and it will be worth lots more by then. This is the alternative to the very pricey, 20-volume, full-length OED. Such a deal -- all those words crammed into two volumes in full-size print. You can fool around with lesser dictionaries, but you won't learn as much about words or usage as you will with these two babies beside your desk. (I doubt your desk is big enough to put them on it.) Would you buy  second-class advice? Then don't pay for a second-class dictionary. Order this book.

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Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,
by Elizabeth Knowles

(Oxford University Press, 2005)

Good writing doesn't start or end with words. It takes good phrases, and many of the most powerful phrases in English come from... well, this is the book that will tell you. Ever encounter an expression that was delivered with power and authority -- but you didn't know what it meant? Have you felt like a parvenu, but don't know what it means? It's all about knowing the context, and being able to express yourself colloquially and powerfully at the same time. Order this book.

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A Dictionary of American Proverbs,
by Wolfgang Mieder

(Oxford University Press, 1996)

This volume is the partner to the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. American wisdom wasn't invented in modern times. The best of it goes way back -- even before podcasts. Sophisticated business people often make references to common wisdom. If you "don't know what it means," you're toast. If you are from another culture and deal with Americans, this book will help you understand the meanings behind our cornpone colloquialisms. Order this book.



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