Too Clever by Half


Last week, I heard the expression “Too Clever by Half” on All Things Considered (NPR). I have been eager to use that expression in this blog since hearing it. That is one problem with people who have degrees in English; we have a real fondness for words and figures of speech which is not shared by most people.

When people learn that I have a degree in English, they often perk up a bit and ask, “How interesting. And what did you do with that?” My response is usually, “I did the same thing everyone I know did with their English degree. I went back to school and got a degree in Computer Science so I could get a job.”

The rest of the story, however, is that I was a poor software engineer, so I went back to school, yet again, and got a degree in Marketing. Finally I found something I could do.

More recently, I have reflected on my disparate degrees and have concluded that the one degree which would not get me a job, has turned out to be my most valuable one. I never used a bit of the math I took for my Computer Science degree, but I had to write daily. From documenting code to writing the users guide, good writing was helpful. If I could get all CS departments to change one thing, I would get them to drop one math requirement and add a semester of technical writing.

In marketing, good writing is essential. Press releases, collateral, ads, presentations, web pages….the list goes on forever. I have never used the Accounting I had to take for my MBA. A course in Business Writing would have been much better.

So, what does this have to do with social media and the job search? Let me encourage you to use your time out of work to improve your writing skills. All your efforts in keeping your various social media sites updated will be for naught, if you can not figure out if the comma goes inside the quotation marks or if you consistently use the wrong “your/you’re.”

I am particularly fond of http://www.grammarbook.com/ when I am a little uncertain.

You don’t have to become a total prig, but all of us can use some improvement. Despite my affection for words and writing, you will find errors all over my blog. I revisit each post 10 or 20 times, adding or removing commas, rewriting poorly worded sentences and substituting better words. Good writing is important but it requires work….and rework.

Get your PMP and Black Belt….study the effective use of Twitter…finish that degree…but in your learning, learn to write clearly, improve your spelling, add some vocabulary words and finally learn the difference between “effect and affect.”

James Snider
Business Development Director
817 203 4944
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About jamessnider

James Snider is the Vice President of Business Development for Engstrom Trading, LLC. Engstrom imports products from Scandinavian countries and builds a market for them in the USA and Canada. http://TFXNonStickUSA.com View all posts by jamessnider

4 responses to “Too Clever by Half

  • James Byrne

    The term too clever by half actually means, the person mentioned took his cleverness a step too far and outsmarted himself. It follows that he was found out, hence the charge.

  • Jim Howard

    I’m a software engineer, but I had the great good fortune to have taken Air Force ROTC in college. AFROTC put huge emphasis on effective speaking and writing throughout our four years of military training.

    That training was more valuable than most of the math and engineering I took as part of my regular major.

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