Writing well can influence your success and position you for professional achievement — in spite of (or perhaps because of) everyone embracing emojis and txt speak.  If you are not convinced, consider the results of a Grammarly study of 100 LinkedIn profiles as explained in a Harvard Business Review article:

“Professionals with fewer grammar errors in their profiles achieved higher positions. Fewer grammar errors correlate with more promotions.  Fewer grammar errors associate with frequent job changes.”

If you’re looking to improve your written communication skills please read the following “5 Ways to 5 Ways to Improve Your Business Writing” and start “writing gooder!”

1. Cut the Clutter: Embrace editing and remove extra words; be mindful of filler words like “very” — they add nothing to your writing.

2. Start Sentences with Verbs: Using verbs to being your sentence makes them active and actionable; get to the point and give your readers a clear idea what you want them to do.

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3. Use Bullets: Business is about doing not about reading; it is not a narrative! Condense your writing and write with bullet points; start your bullet points with verbs and you can move mountains with your memos!

4. Organize for Readers Eyes: Break up your writing into smaller sections; use section headings to make your writing clearer. Remember that we read with our eyes; how your writing looks is as important as what your writing says.

5. It’s About You: No, not you — them: the people reading what you’re writing. Borrow a classic marketing approach and use lots of “you” and “yours” in your business writing. This engages your reader and connects them to your communication.

Catfish fools? Since April 1st is widely celebrated as April Fool’s Day I wanted to share a post that, while not a prank, is a bit out of the ordinary: it’s a case of catfishing and catfighting. So, get your rod and reel ready and prepare to pull in a catfish!

On social media it can be hard to tell who is real… and who has reeled you in. As an example I present the following case of suspected catfishing and catfighting. Can you help solve the mystery?

Image via Flickr; Courtesy of Brent Moore

Two people — let’s call them Mark and Nate — met on Twitter and subsequently became Facebook friends. Nate is a writer known for experimenting with social media as a channel for creative fiction. Keep that in mind for now. They met thereafter in person. They had some mutual business together and discussed a potential partnership.

Nate also had friend — Molly — who became friendly with Mark through Nate’s Facebook page. Mark and Molly soon became Facebook friends.

Mark and Molly developed a strong friendship, but never physically met. However, Mark wondered — and still wonders — if he was being catfished by Molly (with Nate possibly having been Molly). Details include:

  • Absence of Authentication: Molly allegedly worked overseas as a lawyer for the United Nations. However, here was no record of her being a member of the bar in the state from which she claimed to be. There was also no information about her anywhere in association with the United Nations.
  • A Shallow Digital Footprint: Molly has NO digital footprint beyond her Facebook account — despite presumably working in a position of some prominence. Countless Google searches for her name yield no results. Who has no search results on Google?
  • Missed Meeting Opportunities: Molly claimed to have flown back to her home state in the United States, but never contacted Mark during an extended layover while in the city where he lived. She told him of her travels after she had presumably arrived back home.
  • Mysterious Medical Maladies: Molly would occasionally disappear for stretches of time. Usually when she resurfaced, she had some amazing story about almost dying or having some other medical malady. Again, no proof of any kind, just creative storytelling.
  • Odd Area Code: Molly called Mark from an area code in New Jersey — not a number remotely related to her stated overseas location or her home state. Molly explained this as due to her using a prepaid calling card. They did speak on the phone a few times, and her voice was female, but there is no guarantee she was who she claimed to be.
  • Unable to Video Chat: Molly was never available to Skype; there were always technical limitations or issues. She shared some pictures, but they were clearly dated by at least five years; maybe more.

Consider the concerns above in relation to the points in the video below:

Mark and Molly eventually had a falling out and defriended each other on Facebook. Nate later defriended Mark in solidarity with Molly, but never directly discussed the situation with Mark.

A year or so later Mark and Nate reconciled and reconnected on Facebook. A short time later Mark and Molly posted replies right after each other in one of Nate’s Facebook threads, randomly “bumping into each other” in the process.

Wanting to resolve the past issue, Mark messaged Molly with a conciliatory message. Molly replied positively and they agreed to put the past behind them. Mark and Molly were once again Facebook friends.

Mark and Molly began to message each other, catching up in the process. However, Molly had stories about what she had been up to. They all seemed overly dramatic — or at least lacking in some logic and details. Mark overlooked this in an effort to be optimistic.

Strangely, upon realizing Mark and Molly were again connected on Facebook, Nate became incensed and messaged Mark with a very confrontational direct message. The edited exchange follows:

Nate: “Leave Molly alone. You bugged Molly once before. That betrays my trust, and uses my friends for your aims.”

Mark: “I bugged Molly once before? Please, Nate; Molly is an adult who can make their own decisions. Why do you feel it is your place to intervene if you don’t know or understand the specifics of our previous interactions?”

Nate: “Buzz off, predator.”

Nate then blocked Mark on Facebook; Mark disconnected from Nate on Twitter and LinkedIn. Mark defriended Molly on Facebook as well.

Consider the case above and share your answers the questions below:

  1. Was Mark being catfished by Molly — and was Nate possibly involved?
  2. Should Mark have asked Nate for permission to re-friend Molly?
  3. Was Nate justified in his communication to Mark?

On Saturday, September 2, 2006 I “officially” enrolled in my second career: teaching. It was on that date that I taught — of all subjects — my first traffic school class! Crammed with 40 students into the meeting room of a motel in Woodland Hills, CA without working air conditioning on a 100+ degree day —  it was almost literally trial by fire!

After Teaching a Public Speaking Class at National University in Los Angeles, CA (10/29/2010)In the five years that followed I have matured immeasurably as an instructor and managed to forge my own path into the world of academia. I now teach a variety of on-line and on-campus marketing, management, communication and writing classes (in addition to the occasional traffic school class).

The schools for which I now teach include UC Santa Barbara (Extension), UCLA (Extension), National University, Strayer University, and Axia College of University of Phoenix.

While teaching at these (and other) schools, I’ve had the privilege of learning with students from countries including Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kuwait,  Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, Norway, Paraguay, Russia, Spain, Taiwain, the Philippines, and Turkey.

For those of you curious about how I have found my way to teaching opportunities, my most common methods are through personal referrals, social media relationships, postings in the Education/Teaching Jobs section of Craigslist, HigherEdJobs.com and the jobs section of the Chronicle of Higher Education website.

Although I am dedicated to continually improving, I am confident in my abilities to create curriculum, inspire my students and manage a classroom. My students respond positively to my methods and I appreciate their consistently positive reviews. I’ve also become quite adept at driving all over Southern California to teach! On a related note, I am grateful for having taught traffic school: it helped me develop a casual, yet professional style in my classes.

Feeling Content Before Teaching a Class at DeVry University in Bakersfield, CA (1/27/2009)Numerically speaking, by my estimation, I have taught more than 150 classes (roughly 115 college level classes and 39 traffic school classes) and have learned with approximately 2,200 students! I am honored to have shared a learning experience with so many students and look forward to the individuals with whom I will have an opportunity to learn in the next five years!

Speaking of which, as a lifelong learner, I embrace Søren Kierkegaard’s idea that “to be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner.” I join with my students on a journey towards generative learning which, according to Peter Senge, “enhances our capacity to create.” Learning generatively connects existing knowledge about a subject with emerging ideas about it, resulting in a more personalized understanding. In a classroom, a generative learning approach encourages students to individually engage material rather than passively listen to lectures.

It is for this reason that I am motivated by the motto “semper discens, semper faciens,” which translates to “learn continuously, live generatively.” To help my students learn generatively, I avoid assignments that require repetition of information in deference to papers, presentations and projects that provide a platform with which they can confront personal or professional issues. When possible, I customize curriculum to meet the needs of each class and am responsive to change throughout the term.

Acting as a “guide on the side” and not a “sage on the stage,” I combine learning with laughter and encourage students to pursue their individual ideas. Having taught students of various ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, I am especially sensitive to the diverse challenges with which my students might be contending. Considering this, I believe an educational environment should encourage students to compete with themselves, not with each other. Learning should create community, not competition. When one of us succeeds, all of us succeed.

After Teaching a Marketing Class at UC Santa Barbara (10/28/2010)Interdisciplinary by nature, I teach courses in business, communication, English, technology and traffic safety. While each discipline is distinct, I consider their common intersection with humanity, technology and industry. I often include elements of one or more of them in every class, regardless of its primary focus. I encourage my students to shatter preconceptions and create meaningful knowledge.

In summary, although it can be as challenging as it is rewarding, teaching allows me to help shape the lives of others while giving my life greater meaning.

On December 1, 2008 I blogged about my doctoral dreams and how I plan to apply for programs starting on December 1, 2009 — my “PhD-Day.” I also featured photos and a video of a graffiti-laden delivery truck on which the letters “P-H-D” are spray painted on the roll-top door. I have decided to call this truck the “PhD-Mobile” (like “Batmobile” but for academics).

I have intermittently encountered the “PhD-Mobile” and interpret it as a sign that pursuing a doctorate is the right path for me. I started seeing this truck in March 2008 when I was driving to and from the DeVry Center in Bakersfield, CA where I have been an adjunct professor since October 2007.

I am sure these letters are just some tagger’s initials, but to me they represents my dream of earning a PhD by studying the impact of social media on the management and marketing of knowledge (possibly with a focus in the health care industry).

With regard to that process, I am now evaluating disciplines in which to conduct my research. The leading contender is Communication, although Marketing and Information Science remain possibilities. You can track my progress in my PhD-Day Diary.

After a long period during which I did not see the “PhD-Mobile” I saw it again during the morning of February 24, 2009! I happened upon it while driving on Interstate 5 North (near Pyramid Lake) from my home in Santa Clarita, CA to DeVry University (as has been the case in the past).

Here’s a video of the truck (in slow motion and intentionally without sound):

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A photo of the same truck follows. Note that the truck was driving so slowly in order to get this picture (after initially getting the video, above) I had to exit Interstate 5 at Pyramid Lake, wait for approximately five minutes and then, once I saw the truck pass by, re-enter the freeway.

PhDMV Take Two?

The timing of the sighting was auspicious as it was two days after my birthday and right after I had been evaluating my options. I had also taken a practice GRE on Sunday (my actual birthday) so my mind was very pre-occupied with thoughts related to the doctorate.

I guess this was a reminder that I am headed in the right direction!

After twice trying to find a doctoral program that satisfied my intellectual curiosity while giving me the tools and credentials I need to become a university-level researcher and teacher, I’ve decided that the time is now for me to finally make it happen.

pic_phd_degreeTo anchor this desire to a tangible goal, I will give myself until Tuesday, December 1, 2009 to prepare and submit all of my applications to doctoral programs.

From this point forward I will refer to this date is my “PhD-Day.”

Why this date?

Simple: of all the doctoral programs that interest me, December 1, 2009 is the first application deadline for fall 2010 enrollment. This is the date on which I will finally take that “one giant leap” into my long awaited career in academia.

Although circumstances beyond my control were partially the reason behind my pulling away from my doctoral pursuits, I know now that I was also not clear enough about my goals. I just wanted a doctorate and did not give any meaningful consideration to the discipline in which it was anchored and how that would impact my future career options.

Previously I thought having a PhD qualified you to teach any subject, but I now realize that, with rare exceptions, the discipline in which you earn you PhD is the discipline in which you will concentrate your research and teaching.

Knowing the purpose of a PhD is to, as one of my colleagues comically suggests, know more about less, I must start with a question of “what” first, then determine “how.” I have therefore stopped first looking for a program (the “how”) that I will then try to make work with my interests (the “what”).

Instead I will take the opposite approach and first determine the topics I want to research and teach (the “what”) and then find a program that offered opportunities to study it (the “how”).

After evaluating what most interests me, I realized it had been staring me in the face the entire time: social media. I have previously mentioned my interest in this burgeoning topic in previous posts and in my list of research interests, so this is not breaking news by any means.

However, I have finally embraced the idea of studying it academically so I can understand it as a researcher and not just as a user.  Specifically, my research interest is to investigate the impact of social media on the creation and distribution of information.

What is social media?

I define social media as follows:

Social media includes information generated with and shared by individuals using various web-based tools including blogs, message boards, video sharing sites, wikis, chat, IM and similar technology.

I also feel it is related to concepts such as crowdsourcing and collective individualism.  Social media also touches on the idea of distributed computing, though in the case of social media the “nodes” are human and not computers.

In a more abstract interpretation, social media could also cross into the realm of artificial intelligence — especially as the tools we use to connect socially online continue to become more intuitive and personalized to each user.

The main use of social media is knowledge sharing among individuals for the greater good. However, it can also be leveraged (or exploited, depending on how you look at it) for commercial gain. Of course, marketing in this medium is not without its challenges and it certainly can’t be done in a traditional way (e.g. forced and artificial vs. the natural, organic feel of true social media).

Beyond products, people who participate in social media often market ideas or even products by the information they share (consider the metoric rise of Barack Obama who, despite your political persuasion, was impressively effective at using social media in his presidential campaign).

Social media can also be used as a training and development tool.  As a father to a child diagnosed with autism, I also wonder how social media might help my son learn social skills and share information in a virtual environment. As a parent, I have already been impressed by the power of social media to connect me with important information and individuals focused on autism.

I am also fascinated by the thought of using social media to enable many individuals to complete parts of a larger task (what first piqued my interest in this was when Steve Fossett went missing and there was an attempt to find him using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, even though that effort was not successful in finding him).

Clearly, social media can be both a communication tool and a marketing channel. I am interested in social media in both of its forms. It intrigues me that technology can so intensely enhance our human experience.

How will I study social media?

My investigation into current doctoral programs that include social media revealed it is relevant to several disciplines. Information Technology/Computer Science and Communication are the two I have most frequently found. Social media is also relevant to the disciplines of Psychology, Marketing and Sociology. Given the impact social media has had on the workplaces, Management is also a reasonable discipline in which to study it.

It makes sense that social media crosses into several disciplines — it is quite pervasive, but can also be investigated from many different angles. Perhaps what angles I want to study, or maybe how I want to study social media, will ultimately dictate the discipline within which I will investigate it further.

At the moment my assumption is that I will most likely be studying social media either within a Communication or Marketing program.

Where will I study social media?

Given my practitioner mindset and entrepreneurial orientation I would like to be able to teach in a business school. To do that I will need a PhD from an AACSB-accredited program.

However, given my background in communications and journalism I wonder if Communications would be a more suitable environment (especially since I am not as interested in traditional business subjects like finance and economics)?

I am still evaluating my options, but right now my top choices include the following (in alphabetical order):

  • Claremont: PhD in Management and Information Systems (Interfield)
  • Claremont: PhD in Management and Organizational Behavior (Interfield)
  • UCLA: PhD in Marketing (Anderson School of Management)
  • UCSB: PhD in Communication (Technology and Society Emphasis)
  • USC: PhD in Marketing (Marshall School of Business)
  • USC: PhD in Management (Marshall School of Business)
  • USC: PhD in Communication (Annenberg School for Communication)

Aside from the obvious criteria of being accepted into a program is the issue of funding. Having already borrowed my way through an MBA program, my goal with the PhD is to get the cost of the program covered while also earning additional income through fellowships and other related methods.

Why do I want to earn a PhD?

I have always wanted to understand why and how certain things work (or don’t work). Whether I am contrarian by nature or unquenchably inquisitive, I was never satisfied with a surface level answer about anything. My problem was, and remains, not having the proper “tools” with which to conduct proper inquiry.

I also fundamentally enjoy creating and sharing knowledge. Looking back to my years in journalism, I think the desire to craft a story and share it with readers is related to the same idea. Notably, I recently learned the first academic paper I wrote and presented was referenced in a book called “MBA in a Day” and an article I wrote about non-profit fundraising five years ago in Marketing News (the bi-weekly trade paper of the American Marketing Association) was cited in a recent academic paper.

I was energized knowing that something I wrote helped someone else create something of their own. I want to be an active part of this process. On a related note, my experiences at academic conferences were unquestionably positive and motivating. I relished those opportunities to exchange ideas and information with difference people, creating knowledge in the process. This is why I am so endeared to the concept of “generative learning,” which Peter Senge defines as learning that “enhances our capacity to create.”

My long term purpose in embarking on this undertaking is to secure a position at a university where I can engage in active research while still teaching. I have been adjuncting online and in person for roughly 18 months now and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It has been a very liberating and affirming time for me, especially when I continue to get positive reviews and comments from students. But I also want to be adding to the academic dialogue, not just guiding students to a basic understanding of what has already been produced.

Also, although I have no pressing desire to go back to the corporate world, I am open to partnering with industry on research and also potentially consulting on the side. I just really don’t want to have to worry about red staplers and TPS reports! Even when I was in industry I tended to approach things in a more intellectual way than most. I even had two managers with whom I had good relationships tell me I was definitely “an academic” and would do well in that world.

I am a thinker and a tinkerer, but not a hard-core corporate type. I enjoy discussing and debating a topic sometimes more than “doing” whatever that topic is related to. For example, I enjoy the concept of branding and understanding how people develop allegiance to a brand, but don’t necessarily want to go launch a branding campaign.

How will I stay focused on my goal?

Staying focused on achieving my goal of earning a PhD will be challenging, given the various personal and professional obstacles I will need to overcome to see it through. At the same time, I find myself thinking about a PhD with increasing frequency: it is something I must do, not just something I want to do.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of distractions. Ironically, during the past eight months, I have repeatedly encountered one kind of distraction while driving to and from my adjunct teaching job: a delivery truck with graffiti on the roll top door that reads “PhD.” I am sure this is some tagger’s initials, but for me it represents and reminds me of my dream: a PhD.

What makes it more significant to me is that I have seen it numerous times — driving north or south, in the morning or afternoon. Usually I encounter it on or near the Grapevine portion of Interstate 5. I am unsure where it is driving to or coming from, all I know is I have seen it numerous times — at least a half dozen.

Perhaps this truck is my albatross — or maybe its just coincidence? Maybe it was sent by the “PhDMV” to keep me on track?

Below are two photos I took of the truck on March 25, 2008 while heading home from DeVry (southbound on Interstate 5). Following the photos is a short video clip I filmed the morning of October 6, 2008 while heading north between the base of the Grapevine and the split between Interstate 5 and Highway 99 North (near Lebec, CA):

What are my next steps?

Now that I have defined and committed to this ambitious goal, how do I intend to achieve it? My next steps include the following:

  • Thoroughly research the PhD programs at the aforementioned schools.
  • Read “The Craft of Research” and write a specific research statement.
  • Begin reviewing the academic theories relevant to social media.
  • Speak with colleagues and mentors to understand my options.
  • Start writing my statement of purpose.
  • Explore grants and scholarships.

See you in a year on PhD-Day!

A short article titled “Dear Students With Unprofessional E-Mail Handles: Your Professors Notice,” in the Wired Campus section of the Chronicle of Higher Education website calls attention to the importance of e-mail: not just what you say, but the account from which you send your message.

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The article highlights an entertaining thread in the Chronicle of Higher Education Forum in which professors share both the often inappropriate and error-filled content of the messages and the peculiar address from which the messages are sent — one post elaborates on receiving an e-mail from an address titled “Shortysexy!”

This article caught my eye because I’ve experienced my share of odd e-mails from students. Mostly they are harmless oversights, but I have also  received some more “interesting” messages.

Once a student invited me to read his/her blog  (gender obscured to protect the innocent), telling me I would think it was funny. However, when I got there, I found several expletive-filled rants berating this person’s significant other for repeatedly cheating on him/her with someone my student proclaimed was a drug addict.

The posts were full of obscenities, uncomfortable personal details and description, on the injuries my student had and intended to inflict on his/her significant other. I was shocked and have since felt very awkward around this student.

Generally, I get what I call “ghost mail,” which is mail with no clear identification of who sent it, what school the sender attends or the class about which they are inquiring. Usually a “ghost mail” will include a message that reads something like “Mr. G : How come I didn’t get credit for that assignment from the other week?” — which of course does nothing to help that student receive points where they might be due.

Aside from forgetting some basic rules of written communication, I don’t think the senders of these “ghost messages” fully realize that, as an individual earning my income entirely as an adjunct instructor, I could potentially be teaching several classes in addition to theirs. Usually I am simultaneously juggling anywhere from four to eight on-line courses and two to four traditional classroom-based courses — so things can get a little confusing!

To minimize the occurrence of these misguided missives, I stress to my students the importance of not overlooking the obvious when sending an e-mail or even leaving a voicemail for someone. I tell them to always include their name and contact information while making sure to identify the school they attend and the course in which they are enrolled. Usually that helps, but I still get an errant e-mail now and then.

I also encourage students to think about what their e-mail address says about who they are — and to realize that on some level it communicates their “personal brand.” With e-mail commanding such a vital role in how we communicate with each other, having an immature or otherwise inappropriate e-mail can sometimes cause a problem — while a student is in school or, worse, when they are making the transition to a job in the “real world.”

I remember that e-mail was just starting to become more widely used during my undergraduate days at UC Santa Barbara (1992 to 1996). Back then the school automatically assigned e-mail address to students — with undergraduate accounts starting with a “u” and graduate accounts starting with a “g.”

Eventually the naming convention was standardized with some amalgamation of a student’s first and last name, but early-on you could request a specific name (though the “u” and the “g” were still used).

A friend of mine who has a sarcastic sense of humor requested the name “suck” so that his account was “usuck@…” Of course, this sounded funny when he gave his e-mail address to friends, but when a professor asked him for his e-mail address and he had to say what sounded like “you suck,” suddenly the joke was on him.

Likewise, during my tenure in human resources recruiting, I’ve seen some questionable e-mail addresses. I remember one address in particular: the applicant’s last name was “Kaul,” which by itself is just a typical-sounding surname.

However, this candidate wanted to be clever and, leveraging the phonetics of his/her last name used the e-mail address “kaul girl@…” – which is humorous when used with family and friends, but not as agreeable in a professional setting (well, aside from the “oldest profession” I suppose!).

So, what is the moral of this story? Simple: when it comes to e-mail, watch what you say and the address from which you say it!