Featured

Why Becky Rebecca?

“Hi, what’s your name?”

This is one of the most common questions asked when meeting someone new. Thankfully, my name isn’t hard to pronounce, and I don’t have a nickname, but my name is unique (to say the least). When I get asked what my name is, the conversation usually goes something like this:

“Hi, what’s your name?”
“Becky.”
“Is that short for Rebecca?”
“Actually, Rebecca is my middle name.”
“Wait, what? Then what’s your first name?”
“Becky.”
“Your name is Becky Rebecca?”
“Yup.”
“Really?”
“Yup.”
“What were your parents thinking?”

The conversation that follows is some narrative about how my full name just flows off the tongue and my grandpa probably had something to do with it. While I’m glad I don’t have to repeat my name five times for people to remember my name, sometimes people have more fun with my name than I do. However, that’s not a bad thing.

Here’s why I love my name:

It represents me. My name is short and perky, much like me! It’s nearly impossible to sound mad while yelling “Becky Rebecca Banks.”

It’s simple. I don’t enjoy overly complex things. As a technical communicator, my job is to take complex things and make them easy-to-understand.

It’s easy to spell. I hate spelling errors more than any other grammatical error. I can understand why someone uses a comma wrong, but spelling is different. A word is spelled right or wrong, and the answer is a simple google search away.

Much like my name, this blog represents me, is simple, and is hopefully devoid of spelling errors. I’ve always loved the English language and its quirks; I hope you’ll find my thoughts and quirks interesting as well!

Advertisements

English Majors, Have Hope!

If you’re an English major in college, then someone’s probably asked you if you’re going to be an English teacher. Then comes the awkwardness of trying to explain that there’s more to an English major than just teaching. So, English majors, have hope! There are careers available for those who decide to pursue an English degree!

My College Experience

At Utah State University, there is a variety of English emphases you can pursue. You don’t just get an English degree. I personally graduated with an emphasis in Professional and Technical Writing, the most vague of emphases. Even I sometimes don’t know what a technical writer does. Some of the other emphases are English Education, Creative Writing, Folklore, and Literature Studies. You can see the full list USU offers for English here. While some of these programs may prepare their students for grad school or furthering their education in other ways, some English emphases are actually in high demand.

Why Choose Technical Communication?

If there’s one thing I don’t regret, it’s taking the Professional and Technical Communication emphasis. I always wanted to be an editor of some sort, but I wasn’t interested in journalism. I always viewed the Professional and Technical Communication emphasis as the “hodge-podge” of English majors that didn’t want to do any other emphasis. Some of my favorite parts of the program were:

  • Few Essays. As an English major, you would think it consisted of essay after essay, right? Wrong. My roommates were often writing more essays than I was. In fact, I did very little writing for most of my courses.
  • Useable Skills. I currently don’t have evidence for this, but I’ve heard a lot of rumors that many people, if they find a job in their major, often find that the knowledge they gain doesn’t actually help them in the work force. However, as a Professional and Technical Communicator student, college definitely prepared me for my job. My classes focused on creating content that focused on the purpose, and that is exactly what I do for my career.
  • Versatile. Unlike other majors that have classes that need to be taken in a certain order, I had the choice to take whatever I wanted, depending on what was offered that semester. There are actually very few required courses, and I was able to complete a business minor without taking any extra classes. I loved being able to take courses that I was interested in rather than only what I was required to take.

What Can You Do with a Degree in English?

While the careers vary per emphasis, these were some of the careers I ran into while job hunting after college.

  • Copy/Content Writer. This is actually the career that I landed in. I now work at a digital marketing agency as a content specialist. I never would have described myself as someone who wanted to write for a living, but that’s what I do! Surprisingly, I love it! Writing content for companies is not like writing an essay. It’s a complex, yet fun process to create content that is engaging and fun for potential readers.
  • Social Media Specialist. I saw so many jobs for people who needed people to post on Facebook and other social media platforms for companies. It’s a growing field that I can only see continuing to grow. If you’re someone who is passionate for social media with an English degree, this job is for you. The English degree helps to write content, but the rest is all up to you!
  • Editor. This is what I originally wanted to do with my degree, but I did not find many jobs in my state. I would recommend entering the news industry with a degree in Journalism, but if you have a passion for writing, you may find a position as a news editor. Honestly, if you’re someone who pays attention to every detail, editing may be for you.
  • Technical Writer. This job title is a little harder to describe. Basically, engineers and other fields in science need writers. You can read more about my experience with engineers. If you love to take jargon and translate it into easy-to-understand language, this job is for you.
  • Proposal/Grant Writer. I took a proposals and grants class my last semester at USU. From that class and my job search, it looks like proposal writers are still in high demand. These jobs are a little harder to gain without experience, but it’s also a great field to enter if you want to help charities and non-profits.

Personally, I love the job that I found. Sometimes it can be hard and I sometimes don’t know what I’m doing, but it’s been such a learning experience. It’s fascinating to see why people write the way they do online. If you’re an English major, have hope! You can find a career. I believe in you!

How to Detect a Scam Email

I always wondered if I would be able to detect a scam email. Some of them are quite scary because they look legitimate! Well, today I received one from “PayPal” and here are the clues that let me know it was fake.

Wrong Email Address

I have two email addresses: the one I made when I was 12, and my professional one. For services that I don’t like to attach my professional self to, I use the email address from when I was 12. However, for professional services, such as PayPal, I use my formal email address.

This scam was sent to my NON-PRIMARY account. This was the biggest clue. I don’t receive emails from PayPal on that account. I can completely understand if some people might get mixed up on what email address they are currently using, but make sure that the email received is on the same account you signed up for.

Long Sender List

The mail app on my iPhone always shows the sender information vertically instead of horizontally, like the gmail app does. I had to scroll through a long list of email addresses that this “legitimate” email was sent to. Legitimate PayPal emails are always sent to one person. If any email has a long list of people it was sent to, unless it’s a mass email from a trusted source, it’s probably spam.

Typos

This is probably my favorite clue. The scam has quite a few typos in the body of the text. Easy to miss while skimming, but I’m not someone who likes to skim. Just read the first paragraph to see what I’m talking about!

“We regularly check the activity of your paypal account. Recently, we found that some of the activities you are violating your agreement with us we have limited your account and can not offer the service for you.”

I have no idea what that second sentence is saying, and neither should you. Please be careful with scam emails! They are looking more and more legitimate, and I hope there isn’t someone out there losing their login information to gmail or PayPal because of a scam.

Final tip: If you are unsure whether or not the email is legitimate, log in through the service you are questioning. I logged into my PayPal account through PayPal after receiving this email, and I saw NO indication that I was violating any agreement. Please be safe and be careful!

Active vs Passive Voice

When should you use active voice and when should you use passive voice? I always thought it was easy, but after watching a presentation by a friend at the English Research Symposium at USU, I’m not so sure. (You can check out the abstract of that presentation here.) If you don’t know exactly what the difference between these two writing styles is, here it is.

Active Voice

Active voice is a sentence where the subject comes first, then the verb, and finally an object (if any). Writing in active voice is easy (if you have a subject), direct, and not wordy.

Subject + Verb + Object = Active Voice
I + ate + an apple. = Active Sentence

Passive Voice

Passive voice moves or completely removes the subject of the sentence. When you want to focus on the action rather than the subject, passive voice is a great way to do just that. However, when used excessively, it can become cumbersome to read.

Object + Verb + (Subject) = Passive Voice
An apple + was eaten + (by me). = Passive Sentence

What’s the Big Deal?

I always get frustrated when engineering students are told to only write in active voice or to only write in passive voice. Only after I watched the presentation did I realize why this was a problem. By removing the subject from a sentence, people can shift blame away from themselves.

It’s not obvious when people choose to use passive voice, but once you’re aware, you’ll see how people take advantage of passive voice everywhere. For example, take a sentence like this: This problem could have been avoided if this was done. Now, change it to active voice: This problem could have been avoided if I did this. While this is a vague example, I still believe this sentence shows how deliberately using passive voice can remove oneself from the problem.

While choosing passive voice can have this effect, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use passive voice. There are some sentences where the action is clearly more important and should be written using passive voice. This blog post was completed. (It doesn’t matter that I completed the post.)

Working with Engineers

I worked in the Engineering Writing Center (EWC) at Utah State University (USU). The EWC had just opened, and there was a bit of a learning curve, both for the Writing Consultants and the students. As someone who’s never written a lab report, I was suddenly helping students write and format lab reports, proposals, and other technical documents.

Not only did I not know what I was doing, the engineering students didn’t know what they were doing, either. Whenever I told someone I worked with engineers for writing assignments, there was almost always a chuckle and a comment that engineers aren’t the best writers and it’s great they have an extra resource to help them.

Here’s what I think: Engineers are surprisingly good writers!

The Reason Why
Engineers have it rough. Not only are they writing about complex systems, complete with an entirely separate vocabulary, but they have to focus on format and writing style, too. The hardest part for engineering students is that no style is consistent.

While working in the EWC, I heard that some professors only accepted active voice while others refused to see anything but passive voice. Do you know how hard it is to use active voice while emphasizing the action rather than the subject? It’s impossible! And yet, engineers are asked to do this and more according to the demands of their professors and jobs.

What I Saw
The engineering students I worked with were surprisingly receptive to the demands made of them from professors. While some students didn’t understand the differences between active voice and passive voice or why a comma should or shouldn’t be used, they were willing to learn.

I had a student come in with a proposal. He made more corrections than I did! From a previous appointment at the EWC, he learned from the Writing Consultant the differences between active and passive voice. Not only did he know what to look for, he knew how to change the sentence from passive to active voice.

I believe people should give engineers more credit on their writing abilities. As a Writing Consultant, I was not asked to understand the complex vocabulary or concepts engineering students were learning in their classes. I only had to focus on the grammar, content, and style of their documents. However, engineers are expected to understand something complex and write about it, too.

Engineering students don’t want to become engineers because they like to write, yet they write more than I do. I think they do a pretty good job at it, too.

The Subjective View of Commas

“Let’s eat, Grandpa!”

“Let’s eat Grandpa.”

These sentences are iconic examples of why commas are important. One, simple comma changed the entire meaning of the sentence. Sentences like the ones above are used to show just how important commas (and grammar rules in general) are. However, are all commas really necessary?

As someone who absolutely adores commas, I’ve realized the answer to this question is “No.” Not all commas are necessary. Commas are subjective, not objective. This phenomenon is what makes commas so hard to use.

Sentences with “that” or “which” show just how hard it is to figure out if a comma is necessary or not. The following sentences only have one minor difference. One uses “that,” and one uses “which.” Can you tell which one is correct?

Grab my wallet, which is in my purse.

Grab my wallet that is in my purse.

The answer to this question, surprisingly enough, is both sentences are correct depending on the context. In the first case, the writer assumes the reader already knows where the wallet is. “Which” signifies a non-essential element to a sentence, so the last part of the sentence, “which is in my purse,” can be taken out without removing meaning to the sentence.

In contrast, the writer of the second sentence assumes the reader doesn’t know where the wallet is. The word “that” shows the following information is essential for the reader. If the last part of the sentence, “that is in my purse,” is left out, readers might not have the information they need to accomplish their task.

Quick Guide to Essential and Non-Essential Phrases
A quick and easy way to decide if something is essential or not is to take the part of the sentence out. Does the sentence still make sense without the extra information? Then the phrase is non-essential and often uses a comma and “which” to show that it’s just extra information. Does the reader ask “so what?” or expects more information? Then the phrase is essential and “that” is used without a comma.

It’s important to remember as the author, you are the one who controls the commas. If you can justify why a phrase is essential or non-essential, then you are correct! It’s your writing, so own it! You control commas; commas don’t control you.