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February, 2003


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Don't be taken in by the myths of correct writing or speaking. Each month, we "de-mythtify" effective business communication, saving you from public embarrassment caused by twisted, tangled sentences, by misconceptions, or by major oversights in your use of language. Read on to gain insight into speaking and writing precisely and concisely in the business world.


Resume, Resumé, or Résumé? That Is the Question . . .

You certainly don't want to make spelling or grammar errors on your resume (should you doubt this, make sure to read this month's Foul Language article). But what is the answer — how should one spell résumé — with both accent marks, no accent marks, or just one? Many people are confused by this and, after reading this, you will know why. Even among scholarly resources, there is discord. For example, Bryan Garner, author of A Dictionary of Modern American Usage (1998 edition) says that résumé should have both accent marks, always. That settles it, right?

But wait -- Kenneth G. Wilson in The Columbia Guide to Standard American English (1993 version) explains that accent marks, usually found in words that come from other languages, are often dropped over time and usage. This happens as words become "naturalized by long or heavy having use." Thus, it is common and acceptable in American English to use no accent marks in the word resume.

So, take your pick. But not so fast; let's first check with Paul Brians, Professor of English at Washington State University. He has created a site dedicated to errors in usage (http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/accent.html). According to Brians, many words adopted into our language from foreign languages bring their accent marks with them ("fiancé" and "café" for example). Brians supports Wilson's theories of words losing accent marks with time. However, he goes on to suggest that the word resume should never be spelled with a single accent mark, as it often is.

Confused yet? Let me digress further. If you go to http://desktoppub.about.com/library/weekly/aa062199.htm, freelance desktop publisher Jacci Bear states in an article at about.com that: “Many "Americanized" foreign words may be found written with or without their accent marks, such as cafe, naive, or facade.” But then, she goes on to give examples of words with accent marks and openly uses resumé — with a single accent mark! So, it is acceptable to spell resume with just a single accent mark — resumé — right?

One more contradictory perspective: the Microsoft Word dictionary, that paragon of all that is right (yes, this is sarcasm), does not recognize as correct the spelling of résumé with a single accent mark. It suggests that you put it in twice or not at all (which probably means it actually wants you to put the accent mark in twice, since it may be assuming that you meant “to resume” something - using the word as a verb).

Finally, it matters how one plans to use the word as well. According to the MIT Careers Handbook (which you can find online at <http://web.mit.edu/career/www/handbook/>), scanning technology is more likely than ever to be used to read a resume submitted for employment before any human eyes read it. Thus, it advises you to avoid the use of accent marks, , citing specifically the word "resume" because the scanning software used by human resources department cannot scan these marks correctly.

No wonder there is so much confusion regarding this word! To make matters worse, neither the AP Style Manual nor the Chicago Manual of Style bring up the subject at all.

One thing is sure. On one thing all sources agree; consistency is the key to correctness. In other words, you are guaranteed to be incorrect if you spell the word differently in the same document.

At WriteWorks, we favor dropping the accent mark completely, since that appears to be where our language is going with it. Plus, getting HTML to display accent marks is a lot more work!

So remember: though myths abound on correct spelling of resume, you are the final judge. And you are correct in your judgment as long as you are consistent in your spelling.





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