Getting Yourself Noticed

I’m a big Denzel Washington fan, and last week I watched The Bone Collector for the second time (it’s that good). If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember that Washington plays a forensics expert confined to bed by a serious injury. Angelina Jolie plays a New York patrol cop who comes across a dead body in an empty train yard. Her quick thinking impresses the forensics expert, who makes her part of his investigative team.

A psychological thriller like The Bone Collector obviously has little in common with actual police work – but there’s one detail in the movie that I’d like to focus on for a moment: Getting noticed.

The Angelina Jolie character is an exceptionally quick-thinking, courageous, and competent officer. But no one notices her special qualities until she successfully deals with an unusual challenge: Stopping a moving train that’s about to destroy valuable evidence.

Many smart, ambitious officers at the beginning of their careers are hungry for a chance to show what they can do. Unfortunately, many of them choose an ineffective way to call attention to themselves: Through pompous, overblown writing. Instead of house, they write residence. For Johnson, they write the abovementioned suspect. The everyday word saw becomes the ridiculous ascertained.

But jargon and wordiness don’t impress – just the opposite. They create confusion and waste time. But there is a way to use words to showcase yourself, and I have an example for you. In April, New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith was fatally shot in connection with a traffic collision. Here’s an excerpt from the police report:

Officer Williams observed a Ruger semiautomatic, SR45 model, .45 auto caliber, serial number 380-09942, with the magazine removed, on the hood of an orange Hummer at the location. Officer Williams, while wearing latex gloves, cleared and secured the firearm.  EFFECTIVE SENTENCES

Did you notice anything?

The report consistently uses a professional sentence pattern that you won’t find in most high-school assignments. It’s called an interrupter, and I would guess that the officer who wrote this report has attended college.

If you read the sentences aloud, you can hear your voice change. Try this one:

Officer Williams, while wearing latex gloves, cleared and secured the firearm.  EFFECTIVE SENTENCE

Notice that there’s no jargon or overblown language. It’s a short, simple sentence – but it sounds sophisticated. Now try contrasting it with this version of the same sentence:

Officer Williams was wearing latex gloves. He cleared and secured the firearm.

That’s a perfectly acceptable sentence – but it doesn’t have the same level of professionalism.

If you’re hoping to climb the career ladder in criminal justice, you need to learn how to write professional sentences that are efficient and clear. Gobbledygook won’t do the job for you. How can you learn how to write at that level?

One possibility is to sign up for college writing courses. Another is to read daily with an eye to sentence patterns and vocabulary choices. Another is to practice writing professional sentence patterns (which you can do, free, at this website: Part I and Part II.)

A few minutes a day doesn’t sound like much, but over time you’ll build new skills that will help your writing stand out. Why not start today? It makes a lot more sense than hoping for an opportunity to stop a moving train!

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