• Ben Fraser

A Pedant's Guide to the English Language - Part Nine: CV Writing

This week seems something of a deviation from the topical track, as beaten by the eight preceding blogs, all of which offer general writing tips. And yet, the recipients of your CV might well be your most pedantic readers.

The challenges of CV writing are numerous. For example, it seems to necessitate a degree of hubris which far overshoots acceptable, British limits. Conversely, if confidence is no issue for you, you have the corresponding challenge of fitting all of your virtues into a confined space. This, before your CV even lands on the desk of the fastidious checker.

Just recently, I saw a thread on Twitter concerning the “dos” and “don’ts” of the Curriculum Vitae. In such public discourse, CV writing is broadly conceived in these terms, which might be considered interchangeable with “yes” and “no”, “success” and “failure”, “acceptance” and “rejection”.

Expectation, in other words, is rigid. Whilst a perceived stylistic blunder might land you on the blacklist of a linguistic pedant, opening your letter to a prospective employer with an admission of your inexperience will see you struck off altogether. In this climate, gaining employment is as much down to CV wherewithal as occupational competency.

In light of this, I’ve sourced and condensed some general CV advice for your perusal. Though not all employers are as inflexible when it comes to CVs as I might have implied, it is always helpful to be aware of the context within which you are writing.


There are several considerations when it comes to the “layout” of your CV, by which I mean its general appearance and structure. Before all that, it should be recognised why layout is so important; as the cliché goes, a recruiter only spends 3.24 seconds looking over your CV and, as such, it must lend itself to optical snapshot.

In the word-processing era, it’s pretty simple to ensure that your CV is smart. Choose a reasonable font, such as Arial or Calibri, in a suitable size, such as ten or eleven, to ensure your text is legible.

A “Personal Profile” section at the top is standard but, after this, you have a long leash. A chronological CV records your jobs in order and explains each in terms of duties, roles, and accomplishments. A skills-based CV illustrates your key capabilities and experience in bullet points, listing your different employers beneath this.

There is no “best method” of structuring your CV. If you have had a lot of different jobs, which, nonetheless, entailed the same kind of activity, a skills-based CV can help you avoid having to repeat yourself in each summary. You might even use features of both kinds of CV to suit your needs.

What is certainly important is the length of your CV, which should not exceed two sides of A4. In this respect, succinctness is key but also the eradication of any unimportant information. References, for instance, do not need to be included. If you are desperate for space, you can remove the footer or reduce the size of the margins. Equally, you might list items such as GCSE grades on one line, rather than writing each subject individually.

Positive phrasing

Creating a positive first impression is as useful in CV writing as it is in other walks of life. As mentioned, the recruiter leafing through piles of paper, in a torpor of tedium, does not want you to exacerbate their disinterest.

Strive to be enthusiastic and engaging, as you would in an interview. Mention the occasions when you achieved, delivered, exceeded, or improved, boosted, enhanced. As well as assertive verbs, you should also judiciously select your adjectives. Tell the reader where you are proficient or skilled and how you are adaptable or resourceful.

Details and description

Whether expanding on your key skills or your previous job roles, it’s important to briefly outline what you did and what you achieved. This should include your key responsibilities in the role and, certainly, any details you can provide of the particular impact you have had, such as meeting targets or improving company practice. The latter demonstrates that you can provide value to the organisation you are applying to, which is obviously attractive to employers. However, irrespective of whether you achieved 250% of your projected sales or not, the most important thing is to describe how you have experience demonstrating your ability to do the job you are applying for.


This brings us nicely to our final section; it’s pivotal to tailor your CV, in all aspects, to the position you are hoping to attain. Scrutinise the job advertisement and pick out the key words. If it asks for excellent communication skills, you must explain how you are an effective communicator. Your personal profile, your first impression, should seek to encapsulate the ideal candidate, who is the combination of the job descriptors you have read. Similarly, your skill descriptors should reiterate that you are a good fit.

*If you struggle with this topic and others like it, get in touch with Short Proofing: we are here to help!

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