• Customer Experience

What Is Effective Professional Writing and How Can It Improve Team Productivity?

writing at work

Employees from C-suite executives to administrative coordinators write to instruct, inform, persuade, or complete a transaction. Regardless of the objective, all writing requires the same essentials to fulfill its designated purpose and communicate clear, concise ideas. 

Obstacles to productive, effective professional writing include errors, extraneous words, jargon, and unnecessary information—essentially anything that hinders the readers’ ability to gain value upon finishing the text. 

Get hands-on with Grammarly Business To empower your team with effective and efficient communication Start Free Trial

Advanced writing assistant tools are geared toward helping business writers more confidently identify these common pitfalls and persevere with context-based suggestions. Committing to mastering the fundamentals of professional writing will lead to substantial gains in productivity that make the time and effort worthwhile. 

What is effective professional writing?

Effective professional writing is clear, relevant, persuasive, and results-oriented to achieve specific business goals. The following characteristics will support managers, supervisors, and team leaders by increasing confidence, currying greater respect, and driving measurable productivity among teams: 

Clarity and conciseness

Objective: You only have 15 seconds to capture a reader’s attention. All too often, writing is meandering and veers off course, rather than being initiated with a clear objective in mind. Audiences better resonate with writing that gets to the point. One can’t assume readers have time to wade into a novel-length piece of content trying to convey a single message. The best writers aim for quick, easy, and memorable reads. 

Content should be: 

  • Simple: In his 1991 book, The Miracle of Language , Richard Lederer instructed, “When you speak and write, there is no law that says you have to use big words. Short words are as good as long ones, and short, old words—like sun and grass and home—are best of all. A lot of small words, more than you might think, can meet your needs with a strength, grace, and charm that large words do not have.” 

Leaders often feel they need to use complex jargon, industry acronyms, and lofty words to sound intellectual. Yet, they end up talking over the heads of their audiences. Communicating in short sentences with ordinary words conveys the clearest thought. Instead of saying “close proximity,” a writer can use “near,” or “use” instead of “utilize.” Grammarly Business understands this principle and can analyze content in real-time, providing suggestions for improvement. 

  • Logical: Sentences should be arranged logically, with an introduction, body, and conclusion. Paragraphs should contain no more than seven lines as a general rule—not sentences, but lines. Bullet points, subheadings, bolded text, and visual graphics can be used judiciously to support the main body text while aiding in quick skimmability.  
  • Active: Clarity demands active voice rather than passive. For instance, “The researcher analyzed the data” is much clearer than “The data was analyzed.” 
  • Succinct: Editing for bloat requires careful consideration, but it is the hallmark of a truly effective professional writer. Every sentence must convey an original and essential message. Traditionally, business leaders allocated up to 30% of their time for editing. New writing assistant tools greatly cut down on time spent editing and reviewing, freeing managers to work on other tasks. In turn, putting forth this extra effort before hitting “send” or “publish” saves teams a considerable deal of time in reading, interpreting, and clarifying.  
  • Precise: Think of each word as costing a dollar. Suddenly, it becomes easy to cut extraneous words like “definitely,” “somewhat,” “quite,” and “very,” as none of these obscurities add to the integrity of a sentence. Vague words should be used with caution, as they are so overused they tend to lose meaning. Instead, use specific measurements to demonstrate change and efficacy. 
  • Instead of as plain as day, try apparent.
  • Instead of ballpark figure, try approximately.
  • Instead of few and far between, try infrequent.
  • Instead of needless to say, try obviously.
  • Instead of last but not least, try finally.  

Ensuring every piece of company-owned content is original and brand-aligned is simple with Grammarly Business. Employing a built-in style guide that you can customize to your company’s preferences, Grammarly will scan content in seconds and compare it to the style guide, making recommendations based on the set preferences. 

  • Credible: Citing sources and using qualifiers as necessary creates better transparency, accountability, and goodwill among the team. For instance, phrases like “we recommend,” “we believe,” or “in our opinion” explain that the company is acting on the best available knowledge at the time. Avoiding words like “never,” “always,” “all,” and “none” maintains accuracy in writing.  

Spelling and grammar

Objective: U.S. businesses with spelling and grammar errors on their websites will lose almost twice as many customers as U.S. businesses with error-free websites, according to research. While it may seem like just forgetting a comma, or accidentally writing “there” instead of “their” wouldn’t have that great of an effect on your business, error-free content conveys that careful thought, consideration, and time was spent during the writing process. Page after page of flawlessly executed content organically builds a sense of authority and credibility that the reader immediately trusts. 

Content should: 

  • Be free of typos: It’s easy to miss a beat, and routine spellcheckers don’t pick up specific errors. The most common mistypes include words like: out (our), form (from), he (the), and off (of). A tool like Grammarly can instantly identify these common typos and provide alternative solutions.    
  • Have proper punctuation: Without the right punctuation, a chunk of writing devolves into word salad. Ideally, you want readers flying through your content, skimming and digesting effortlessly. Grammarly provides a helpful style guide for punctuation that includes details on apostrophes, commas, exclamation points, hyphens, parentheses, quotation marks, and more. 
  • Use correct forms of capitalization: Common missteps include the failure to capitalize items like proper nouns, days of the week or months of the year, geographic names, job titles, industry acronyms, and names of specific departments. 

Introducing Company Style Guides from Grammarly Business

A company-wide style guide is a must-have for any organization. This document covers topics like capitalization, tone, phrasing, grammar, spelling, logo/image/color choice, and other rules for consistent branding. Our tool helps you create, edit, maintain, and enforce a style guide that puts the entire team on the same page, while increasing brand trust.

Give it a try today  

  • Sentence fragments: Every sentence must contain a subject (person, place, or thing) and a verb (action word). Sentences should rarely ever begin with words ending in “-ing”; however, there are few exceptions to this rule.
  • Nonagreement of subject and verb: Example: “Each person did their assignments independently.” Each is singular, while their is plural. Instead, it might be said, “Each person completed his or her assignments independently” or “Everyone completed their assignments independently.”
  • Incorrect word usage: Homophones are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently to convey different meanings, like compliment/complement. Commonly confused words also include I vs. me, less vs. fewer, that vs. who, their/there/they’re, and your/you’re.

Objective: Tone refers to the writer’s attitude toward the reader. A misinterpreted message can quickly deter current and prospective customers, as well as create employee disgruntlement. On the other hand, striking the right tone welcomes readers like an informative friend and conveys the message in a respectable, professional manner. Tone shows that you relate to the reader’s wants, needs, interests, feelings, and struggles. Word choice is crucial in establishing a tone that achieves your end goals. 

  • Approachable yet formal: Jokes, personal anecdotes, colloquial expressions, and “water cooler talk” have their own place and context, but they are not generally used in professional writing. It’s possible to strike the right balance between friendly and professional and write in a tone that conveys confidence and empathy. Messages delivered from a manager or executive should deliver authority and leadership, but they shouldn’t intimidate or put off readers.
  • Inclusive: The utmost sensitivity should be practiced when professionally communicating. Every member of the audience should feel addressed and respected. For example, instead of “chairman,” a gender-neutral term like “chairperson” would be preferable. Instead of “Dear Sirs and Madams,” an inclusive phrase like “Dear Retail Managers” may work better.
  • Confident: Professional writers often use weak qualifiers like “sort of,” “kind of,” or “pretty much” that dilute the message due to a reluctance to take authority. Yet, this manner of writing also conveys a lack of confidence. Business writers also tend to overuse “and” or “of” in longer sentences. Saying “Training with us is easy, and you can count on us to take care of you” sounds far less confident than simply saying “Training with us is easy. We take care of you.” 

While it may seem challenging to incorporate all of these qualities into your writing, Grammarly Business has the ability to analyze tone in real-time. This feature offers employees guidance when their content needs some reworking, or assurance that their content is on the right track. 

These tips and guidelines can seem overwhelming to someone who isn’t a trained writer or generally doesn’t enjoy writing. Yet, there are so many reasons why effective professional writing is a worthwhile objective. For starters, team productivity.

How can effective professional writing improve team productivity?

Teams thrive on lightning-quick communication when there are clear directives and few misunderstandings. In a perfect world, all employees would receive well-executed directives, know precisely what’s expected of them, and perform their duties to the best of their abilities. In reality, poor professional writing causes costly, wasteful workplace failures. 

New employees fail to receive much-needed training

Josh Bernoff of the Harvard Business Review , painted this picture after surveying 547 business professionals: 

“Entry-level employees get little training in how to write in a brief, clear, and incisive way. Instead, they’re immersed in first-draft emails from their managers, poorly edited reports, and jargon-filled employee manuals. Their own flabby writing habits fit right in. And the whole organization drowns in productivity-draining blather.” 

Productivity suffers due to poor business communications.

Bernoff found the average worker spends 25.5 hours reading for work each week, including about 121 emails per day . That’s nearly half of each workday spent reading! Worse yet, 81% of those surveyed agreed that poorly written material wastes a lot of their time. 

Most of the emails, memos, and other documents the professionals read are ineffective due to length, poor organization, unclear sentences, jargon, imprecise language, and grammatical errors. Consider this: spending just one extra minute deciphering each email per day results in unnecessary time loss exceeding two hours.

Wasted time reading at work means lost revenue

Other research supports the notion that ineffective professional writing is causing much-wasted productivity. According to Salesforce , 86% of professionals agree that poor communication results in workplace failures. Furthermore, Siemens found that a 100-person small business devotes 17 hours per week correcting poor communication, which amounts to $528,443 in wasted productivity by the year’s end. 

Other studies have found productivity losses of approximately $26,041 per worker per year arising from communication barriers. U.K. private equity firm Manchester Companies estimates miscommunication can cost an organization anywhere from 25% to 40% of its annual budget . 

Effective writing leads to a workplace that attracts and retains talent

At the most basic level, effective professional writing saves time on training by communicating the correct information to the right people, eliminating confusion, and outlining the full scope of the project. Going one step further, effective professional writing can convey appreciation, highlight successes, and increase motivation that improves team morale, job satisfaction, and performance. This, in turn, reduces turnover and retains highly engaged employees who boost the company’s bottom line. 

Businesses with effective communication are 50% more likely to have low employee turnover. Not only that, but companies that communicate with efficiency are 4.5 times more likely to retain the best employees. These “connected, engaged employees” give organizations a 20% to 25% increase in productivity, according to a study by McKinsey . The Workplace Research Foundation also found that “highly engaged employees” are 38% more likely to report above-average productivity. Cumulatively, a business with highly engaged employees can outperform competitors without such a workforce with 202% higher performance .

Effective professional writing with Grammarly Business

So the question is not so much if a business professional should invest in improving professional writing skills, but how to best achieve that goal. There is no shortage of educational training courses, business development coaches, and consultants offering assistance. Yet, the answer can be much simpler than that. Using a digital communication tool like Grammarly can increase personal productivity while simultaneously improving one’s business writing quality across all platforms.

Grammarly Business can support the goal of increasing effectiveness in professional writing by:

  • Identifying spelling and punctuation errors automatically.
  • Offering grammatical suggestions to improve correctness, clarity, and engagement.
  • Enlivening messages with vivid words that may not immediately come to mind.
  • Monitoring tone to exude confidence, competency, and appropriateness.
  • Integrating across different channels, including email, collaborative platforms, social media, productivity platforms, CRM software, and more.

Grammarly Business functions as an “AI-powered writing assistant” that helps business teams sound more polished and professional in their written words while taking into account every team member’s personal expertise, learning, and growing alongside them. 

The application of natural language processing and machine learning to develop constructive feedback and improvements landed Grammarly on Fast Company’s list of “The World’s Most Innovative Companies” in 2019 .

Contact us to learn more about the emerging role of digital writing assistants in the workplace. Take a fast, affordable, and almost effortless step toward more effective professional writing with Grammarly Business . 

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The Science of Strong Business Writing

  • Bill Birchard

writing at work

Lessons from neurobiology

Brain scans are showing us in new detail exactly what entices readers. Scientists can see a group of midbrain neurons—the “reward circuit”—light up as people respond to everything from a simple metaphor to an unexpected story twist. The big takeaway? Whether you’re crafting an email to a colleague or an important report for the board, you can write in a way that delights readers on a primal level, releasing pleasure chemicals in their brains.

Bill Birchard is an author and writing coach who’s worked with many successful businesspeople. He’s drawn on that experience and his review of the scientific literature to identify eight features of satisfying writing: simplicity, specificity, surprise, stirring language, seductiveness, smart ideas, social content, and storytelling. In this article, he shares tips for using those eight S’s to captivate readers and help your message stick.

Strong writing skills are essential for anyone in business. You need them to effectively communicate with colleagues, employees, and bosses and to sell any ideas, products, or services you’re offering.

writing at work

  • Bill Birchard is a business author and book-writing coach. His Writing for Impact: 8 Secrets from Science That Will Fire Up Your Reader’s Brain will be published by HarperCollins Leadership in April 2023. His previous books include Merchants of Virtue, Stairway to Earth, Nature’s Keepers, Counting What Counts, and others. For more writing tactics, see his website .  

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How To Improve Your Writing At Work

writing at work

Writing is involved in every aspect of work. For example, if you’re working on a client project, you may need to write a proposal or project notes. If you’re managing a team, you’ll need to write annual reviews. And no matter what role you’re in, there’s not a day that goes by that you won’t have to send at least a few emails to colleagues, co-workers, or clients.

Writing is an integral part of a business—and if you want to excel at work there's a great way to do it: Work on improving your writing skills.

But how, exactly, do you do that?

Let’s take a look at a few strategies you can leverage to improve your writing at work (and improve the results you’re getting at work in the process):

Why is improving your business writing so important?

First things first—before we jump into how to improve your writing at work, let’s talk about why improving your business writing is so vital in the first place.

Improving the quality of your business writing can have several positive effects on your business. Effective writing—whether you’re drafting a marketing email, writing a presentation to deliver to your leadership team, or writing a blog post for your company’s website—can help you build credibility with your co-workers, management team, and your clients and customers. (It might not seem obvious, but chances are, your customers care about your writing abilities. For example,  one study  found that 59 percent of consumers wouldn’t work with a company with obvious grammatical or spelling mistakes on their website.)

Ineffective writing can also have a negative impact on productivity—both for yourself and your team. Research outlined in a  2016 Harvard Business Review article  surveyed businesspeople who write as part of their jobs—and found that a whopping 81 percent said that poor writing wastes a significant amount of their time at work.

Clearly, improving your writing at work is a must if you want to succeed—no matter what stage of your career you’re in. But what steps can you take to improve your writing skills at work?

Review the basics...

Chances are, it’s been awhile since you’ve reviewed basic grammar—things like punctuation, sentence structure, and the difference between active and passive voice.

But while it might seem tedious to review, revisiting the fundamentals will help you lay the foundation for better writing at work—and will make your writing feel more organized, credible, persuasive, and effective.

Online education platforms like  Coursera ,  Udemy , and  edX  offer a variety of grammar courses (many of them free). Invest the time in relearning the basics—and setting yourself up for more effective business writing in the long term.

...and take the time to learn the writing skills necessary to thrive in the digital space

Learning (or, more accurately, relearning) the basics of grammar is an important part of becoming a better writer. But if you’re trying to improve your writing specifically for work purposes, it’s also important to learn what it takes to write effectively for the digital space.

For example, if you want to write better sales copy, invest in a copywriting course that teaches you how to write more persuasively. If you want to write a more effective copy for your business’ website or mobile app, take a course in U/X writing so you can create a better experience for your customers. If your manager asks you to assist with an email marketing campaign, do some research on crafting more effective emails.

The point is, a huge portion of your business writing will ultimately live in the digital space—so if you want your writing to be received well ( and  drive results for your company), focus on learning (and improving) your digital writing skills.

Organize your thoughts before you start writing

Whenever you write something for your business—whether that’s a quick email to a colleague or a 2000-word blog post announcing the launch of a new product—you’re trying to get a specific point across.

But if you don’t take the time to organize your thoughts and get clear on what you’re trying to say and how you’re trying to say it, chances are, the final product isn’t going to get your point across effectively.

According to the 2016 research study, when asked “in the material you read/write, what problem occurs frequently enough to make the material significantly less effective?”, 65 percent of businesspeople said poorly organized writing.

So, if you want to improve your writing, make sure you’re taking the time to organize your thoughts before you start the writing process. Things like outlining an article or drafting bullet points for an email before you actually start writing will ensure your final product reads as clear and organized—and your writing will be more effective as a result.

Use an editing tool

Even great writers make mistakes. So, if you’re really looking to improve your writing at work, an editing tool can help get you there—and catch any mistakes in your writing before you hit “send” or “publish.”

Editing tools (like Grammarly or ProWritingAid ) will scan your copy for grammatical mistakes—then let you know where those errors are so you can correct them before sharing your writing with your team, clients, or customers. 

When you use an editing tool, you don’t have to worry about accidentally switching “there” for “their,” misusing an em dash, or inadvertently switching tone and perspective throughout your writing. It will catch those common errors  before  you put your writing out into the world, which will improve your writing quality and improve how that writing is received by others.

Become a better writer, build a better business

Whether you love to write or it feels like a chore, there’s no way around it—writing is a part of business. And If you want to build a better career, becoming a better writer is a great way to get there.

And now that you know how to improve your writing at work, all that’s left to do? Get out there, start writing, and use your writing skills to take your business to the next level.

What has helped you become a better writer at work? Let us know in the comments.

Tags writing   self-improvement  

Categories Business Ideas   Productivity Tips  

writing at work

Deanna deBara

Deanna deBara is an entrepreneur, speaker, and freelance writer who specializes in business and productivity topics. When she's not busy writing, she enjoys hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest with her husband and dog. See more of her work and learn more about her services at deannadebara.com .

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How to Use Obsidian for Writing and Productivity

man writing at table

I'm pretty bad at being an employee. I openly despise meetings, I say exactly what's on my mind, and I sincerely believe that many managers exist only to waste the time of otherwise productive people. I also could not be less interested in how my work impacts quarterly projections—I want to write things that people find helpful and entertaining.

So, yeah, I'm a freelancer.

I write for five publications, including the one you're reading now (obviously my favorite). The upside: I'm never in meetings. The downside: There's a lot to keep track of. I have to manage relationships with five editors. It's a challenge, and I've tried a full array of systems over the years, from spreadsheets to index cards, apps like Trello , and way too many to-do list apps.

None of them quite did the trick, until I discovered Obsidian a couple of years ago. This application has slowly gone from being a weird app I didn't understand to one I can't imagine functioning without. It's where I do all of my writing, yes, but also how I keep track of my ongoing articles as they move from brainstorming to pitching to publication.

This isn't a review of Obsidian ( I already wrote one ). This is an outline of how I use this tool to get things done. Hopefully reading it gives you some ideas for how you could use it.

First of all, what is Obsidian? The application bills itself as a "second brain," but you could it put in the same category as note-taking apps like OneNote or Evernote. Unlike those applications, though, Obsidian stores everything—notes, attachments, and even plugins—as simple text documents in a folder on your computer. This means you can use the application fully offline or sync the documents using the cloud storage service of your choice.

This has a few advantages. For one, your files are fully in your control: If Obsidian stopped existing tomorrow, I would still have access to my notes. For another, everything works offline. My favorite thing about Obsidian, though, is the extensive plugin ecosystem. There are over a thousand Obsidian plugins , and I depend on several of them. There's Kanban , which allows you to create a board of cards you can move between tiles. There's Extract URL , which can grab all text from any website and turn it into a note. I could list plugins for a long time. But the point is that you can customize Obsidian to work basically any way you want it to. I've done this to create a perfect setup for my workflow—one that allows me to do my planning and my actual writing in the same application.

My writing process has a progression: brainstorming ideas, pitching those ideas to editors, researching, writing, editing, and invoicing. Here's how I move through these steps in Obsidian.

Every article starts with an idea. I get these from all kinds of places. Sometimes I'm just using my computer, notice something that annoys me, endlessly research a solution to that issue, and then decide to write about it. Sometimes I notice a cool-looking app while reading the news or browsing Reddit. And sometimes I just spend a few hours brainstorming ideas. Whatever the case, I compile my ideas in a dedicated Kanban board on Obsidian. Every card on the board links to a dedicated document where I include any relevant links, expand on the idea, and note a bit about possible angles for the article.

When it comes time to take these ideas into the world, I decide which ones I'm going to pitch to which editors and drag them to a column for that publication. If the pitch is approved, I drag the card over to my "article queue" board, if not, I consider pitching it to another publication or put it in my "idea jail" to potentially revisit later.

Coffee Lovers, It’s Time to Stop Using K-Cups

Michael Calore

The Best Continuous Glucose Monitors

Carol Milberger

The Best Radios to Catch Your Favorite Airwaves

Nena Farrell

Security Bolts Finally Gave Me and My Bike Peace of Mind

Matt Jancer

I like this system because it allows me to slowly collect ideas throughout the month. That way, when it comes time to pitch, I'm not starting from scratch.

The core of my workflow is the "article queue" Kanban board, which basically contains every article I'm working on in the current month. I have a column for every step of the editorial process—writing, waiting on edits, editing, edited but not invoiced, invoiced but not paid, and paid. I drag articles from left to right.

I live by this board. Every work day I log in, look at how far along I am with every article, and decide what to work on. The board also means I never forget to follow up with editors who might have forgotten to email me feedback, or to follow up on unpaid invoices. I sincerely don't know how I functioned before I had this.

Even better, this isn't just a project management system: It's also the app where I do my writing. I can click any of these cards and start writing, right away. I can't overstate how helpful it is to not have to use one application for project management and another for the writing itself.

Obsidian is a great place for writing. Formatting is handled by Markdown , a simple way to apply formatting—for example, to bold text you surround it with two asterisks, **like this**. I've done all of my writing in Markdown for a long time, so this is perfect for me.

Some Markdown editors use two panels—one where you write, with the formatting “code” visible, and another where you preview how the text will look. Obsidian doesn't do this, opting to render the Markdown in real time as you type. This is a perfect compromise—it gives me the benefit of writing in Markdown without the downside of my text editor looking ugly as sin. This is a feature I first saw in an app called Typora , and I'm glad it works here too.

I write a lot of tech tutorials, and I generally start by collecting screenshots for every step. I put all of the screenshots, in order, in a document in Obsidian, along with all of the relevant links. If I'm doing a reported piece, I gather my research and interviews in separate documents, then compile the best quotes and tidbits into the document where I'll do my writing. Obsidian offers an internal linking feature—it can basically function as a private wiki—and I use this to connect all of my interviews and other research to my article for tracking purposes. It's possible to view multiple documents in the same window, a feature I use all the time.

The Canvas feature, which is relatively new, offers a way to arrange and edit multiple documents in the same place—I personally don't use this, but I can see the appeal of dragging documents wherever you like and editing them all in one interface.

Obsidian doesn't really have any collaboration features, and even if it did my editors don't use it. That's why I use a plugin called Copy as HTML to copy a rich text version of my article. I paste this into a Google Doc, which renders it as formatted text, complete with images. I share this with my editors, all of whom use comments and track changes to give me feedback.

That, in a nutshell, is how I manage to pitch, write, and track 15 to 20 articles between five different editors every month. It's a lot of work, granted, but I enjoy it. And this workflow makes it all feel manageable.

I can't imagine that this exact process would work for most of you, and that's not the point. Obsidian is useful because you can adapt it to almost any workflow, no matter how specific your needs are. I spent a lot of time customizing everything so it works just so; you can do the same thing. Other apps try to get you to adapt to a particular way of working. Obsidian, if you put the time in, will adapt to you.

WIRED has teamed up with Jobbio to create WIRED Hired , a dedicated career marketplace for WIRED readers. Companies who want to advertise their jobs can visit WIRED Hired to post open roles, while anyone can search and apply for thousands of career opportunities. Jobbio is not involved with this story or any editorial content.

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Writing at Work: How to Write Clearly, Effectively and Professionally

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More From Forbes

A recruiter’s guide to writing a resume.

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analogue + digital approach to resume writing

At Nike NKE , the team I led was responsible for hiring 40,000 people a year. In my previous role at Levi’s, my team delivered approximately 20,000 hires a year worldwide. In the 20 years that I’ve been leading recruiting teams, I have seen a very large number of resumes, hundreds of thousands of them over the course of my career. Although there is no one correct way to write a resume, there is a framework you can follow to ensure yours is amongst the best of the best.

What Should My Resume Look Like?

This is such a subjective question: If you ask five different people, you will get five different answers. Your resume has two primary audiences: the recruiter, and the hiring manager. The former might spend a maximum of twenty seconds looking at your resume, and the latter perhaps up to a minute. Therefore a clean, unfussy, format that helps them absorb the most critical information is always going to be the safest bet. Both Canva and Word have great (free) templates that you can use as a starting point. There is no need to pay for a custom template.

How Do I Make My Resume ATS Compliant?

The applicant tracking system is the (very basic) software that recruiting teams use to manage inbound applications and outbound candidate communication. Many of the major ones still in use today were built during the Clinton administration, and therefore are not much more than a digital filing cabinet. Even the newest systems have little in the way of automation, and none of them yet use AI in any meaningful way. Therefore, if your resume is easily readable by a human being, you’re in good shape.

How Long Should My Resume Be?

In the U.S., the conventional length is one page, though increasingly we’re seeing up to two pages, but anything beyond that is superfluous. Allowing six bullet points for each role that you’ve held in the last decade, and then simply listing roles from the previous decade(s) enables you to condense a career of any length into one or two pages.

It is useful to think about space on the page as precious real estate – are you maximizing the return for how you’re using that space? A great way to save space is to turn each company that you’ve worked at into a hyperlink, so that recruiters and hiring managers can easily navigate to the homepage of brands and businesses that may be unfamiliar to them. You may want to still opt for a short anchor statement “a non-profit with ~300 employees in the healthcare sector,” but the hyperlink can do most of the heavy lifting.

Best High-Yield Savings Accounts Of September 2023

Best 5% interest savings accounts of september 2023, what should my resume say.

The biggest mistake is to use all the available real estate focusing on responsibilities – the best resumes give equal space to results . Using the six bullet points per role framework, use your first three bullet points to succinctly describe the size, shape and breadth of your role. That might include size and seniority of the team you managed “led a team of 30, with six senior managers as direct reports.” Or the breadth and complexity of projects you were responsible for “delivered complex, cross-border, multi-lingual, roll-outs to a large customer base.”

After you’ve described the nature of your role, the next three bullet points need to describe the results you delivered in that role. Ideally these results are quantified with a number or a percentage. The X-Y-Z framework is helpful for crafting the results section: accomplished “X” as measured by “Y” by doing “Z”:

“Delivered double digit revenue increase by reducing overall ad spend by 20% and increasing conversion by 30%, through a new customer journey”

Repeat this formula for every role you’ve held in the last 10 to 12 years, which for most people will be roughly three roles. Broadly speaking that’s a total of 18 bullet points, which will take up about two thirds of your available space.

What Happens If The ATS Rejects My Resume?

Some applicant tracking systems have a parsing functionality that “reads” your resume and populates fields in the database. To revisit my earlier point that the ATS is often legacy technology, it is fair to say that the quality of this parsing can be somewhat mixed (you may find the prefilled entries don’t match your resume in a logical way). When this happens just delete everything, then manually re-enter most recent employer and most recent job title, as that’s the only thing the recruiter sees. Save your resume as a PDF so that the people looking at it (recruiter and hiring manager) see it in the format you intended.

How Do I Know If My Resume Works?

Ask friends and family members to read what you’ve produced – your goal is to convey to someone unfamiliar with your industry exactly what is you do, and the results you achieve while doing it. You should avoid company specific acronyms and jargon at all costs, so having extra sets of eyes will help catch this. Think of your resume as the entry ticket into the recruiting process – is what you have written compelling enough to get you in?

A well-written resume, with an equal balance of responsibilities and quantified results, should mean you’re in good shape for the majority of roles you’re applying to. Put another way, if you’re having to make constant rewrites for each role you’re applying to you either have an issue with your search strategy, or with the core content of your resume.

James Hudson

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ChatGPT stole one of my clients that brought in up to $2,000 a month. I don't want to be cynical, but the writing is on the wall.

  • Andrew Neely is a freelance writer who lost a job when one of his clients started using AI.
  • His work for this content-marketing firm used to bring in between $500 and $2,000 a month.
  • He's still writing but also went back to school to pursue a degree in environmental studies.

Insider Today

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Andrew Neely, a 30-year-old freelance writer from Denver. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I graduated with an English degree, and for the last seven years, I've had my own freelance-writing business.

I write full-time, but never solely for one company. I cover a wide variety of topics, but my favorite pieces concentrate on climate solutions and inventive changemakers.

Until this year, one of my clients was a small marketing firm

I worked for a marketing firm for two years writing marketing copy. My editor, who is also my friend, set me up with an interview there.

The company I worked for has a wide range of clients, from shipping operators to dietary-supplement providers. They provided me with outlines, and I wrote SEO-optimized blog posts or email campaigns for them. I wrote between two and seven pieces every month.

We had a good relationship and I felt that I had a good rapport with the content manager.

The work dried up without explanation

In May, the company stopped assigning me work. Losing work sometimes happens because in this field, there's rarely a contract or limited recourse if my employer stops providing work.

It's natural for there to be an ebb and flow with certain clients: Some consistently request work, some request work for a month or a week, and others offer one-off or short-term work requests.

I found out ChatGPT was replacing me

Then the content manager accidentally tagged me in an email indicating they'd started using ChatGPT to write articles.

The content manager was asking someone to edit the AI-generated text, and that's when I knew they were starting to use ChatGPT to produce the content that, up until then, I'd been producing.

I reached out to the content manager

When I asked about it, the content manager told me they were experimenting with AI to write stories as a cost-cutting exercise. She also said they hoped to get me back on the payroll soon.

There was a brief respite where I wrote two or three articles for them over the summer, but since then, it's dried up.

The work from this client was a regular source of income

I understand that the nature of freelance work is that nothing is guaranteed but given that I'd had regular work from them for two years, when that dropped to no work, I scrambled to fill in that part of my income.

After losing between $500 and $2,000 a month, I hustled for a few months trying to find different work.

I found new clients and am still exclusively doing writing work, but most of it is for social media. It's often the more traditional marketing jobs that can be the most lucrative and help make ends meet.

I went back to school

I've gone back to graduate school to earn a master's degree in environmental studies, focusing on sustainability.

I don't want to be cynical about it because I still love to write and want to maintain my practice, but I worry that the writing is on the wall. After graduation, I plan to focus on urban planning and renewable-energy development in low-income communities.

The editor I worked with has since left the company

The editor told me she was not comfortable with the amount of AI-produced work they're using, so she left.

I'm grateful she put her foot down and said she would not compromise ethics when it comes to AI.

Solidarity among writers and editors is important

I've been a member of the National Writers Union for a few years, and I'm taking some comfort in knowing that writers are coming together on this issue.

It seems unique that the big AI companies are asking to be regulated . I think we need to listen to the big players when they say that this is powerful technology , and that it's probably more powerful than we can even conceptualize.

It's important to put parameters on it — especially when it comes to technology that can directly replace human work.

writing at work

Watch: These KPMG and EY accountants quit their jobs and set up a pottery shop in 6 months — here's how they did it

writing at work


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Sandra Day O’Connor, First Woman on the Supreme Court, Is Dead at 93

During a crucial period in American law — when abortion, affirmative action, sex discrimination and voting rights were on the docket — she was the most powerful woman in the country.

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A color photo of Justice O’Connor standing in sunlight in her black Supreme Court robe, her right hand on her heart. The stars of the American flag can be seen behind her, out of focus.

By Linda Greenhouse

Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the United States Supreme Court, a rancher’s daughter who wielded great power over American law from her seat at the center of the court’s ideological spectrum, died on Friday in Phoenix. She was 93.

The Supreme Court announced her death in a statement, saying the cause was complications of dementia. She grew up in Arizona and lived there most of her life.

In a public letter she released in October 2018, when she was 88, the former justice, who had not been seen in public for some time, announced that she had been diagnosed with the beginning stages of dementia, “probably Alzheimer’s disease,” and consequently was withdrawing from public life.

Although William H. Rehnquist, her Stanford Law School classmate, served as chief justice during much of her tenure, the Supreme Court during that crucial period was often called the O’Connor court, and Justice O’Connor was referred to, accurately, as the most powerful woman in America.

Sandra Day O’Connor’s Last Times Interview

The new york times sat down with sandra day o’connor in 2008 to discuss her groundbreaking life and work as the first woman on the supreme court. she spoke with us with the understanding the interview would be published only after her death..

“I didn’t know lawyers and judges. We were cattle ranchers. That wasn’t — we didn’t know people like that. So I didn’t know what I was getting into, and it never entered my mind that there wouldn’t be opportunities for women lawyers. It just never occurred to me. Should have.” Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman justice on the Supreme Court. During her tenure on the high bench, she was the crucial swing vote, the decisive force in cases that shaped history — from states’ rights to sex discrimination, voting rights to religion, affirmative action to abortion. For nearly a quarter-century, the law was basically what Justice O’Connor thought it ought to be. The onetime housewife from suburban Phoenix came to be known as the most powerful woman in America. It all began one day in July 1981. O’Connor, who was just a mid-level state judge in Arizona at the time, was working in her chambers when she got a bolt from the blue, a telephone call from the White House. President Ronald Reagan wanted to appoint her to the Supreme Court. “Why do you think you were chosen?” “Well, when Ronald Reagan was running for president, he was eager to have some support from women and it was a little dicey for him. There was an abortion issue out there, so women were somewhat skeptical. And he said during the course of his campaign, if I get a chance to put a qualified woman on the Supreme Court, I would like to do that.” For nearly 200 years, the high court was a domain reserved for men. Even the mere suggestion from Reagan made front-page news. “My name surfaced on that list. I’m not sure how or why, except that there were not many Republican women judges. There weren’t many women judges anyway — federal or state. But I was a Republican, I had served in all three branches of Arizona’s government. And unbeknownst to me, they sent a couple of people to Arizona to make inquiry about me. They had a big paper trail to review and see if they thought they approved.” “Perhaps it didn’t hurt that Ronald Reagan was a cowboy at heart.” “I think that was what he most liked, was the fact that I’d grown up on the back of a horse.” Sandra Day was a trailblazer from the beginning. Born in 1930, she was raised on the Lazy B Ranch in a remote corner of Arizona. “We were 35 miles from the nearest town. An adobe house that was plastered and it had a big screen porch around it, where the cowboys slept. No indoor plumbing, no running water, no electricity. It was rather primitive.” “When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?” “A cattle rancher. I liked it. It was wonderful. That was the only thing I knew anything about. I think I was the only student in my graduating class who went away out of state to college.” At Stanford University, the cowgirl met the person who would inspire her life’s ambition, a professor named Harry Rathbun. “He had a spiritual quality almost. He was the first person to really tell the students this is a huge, complicated world we’re living in.” TV Announcer: “Let us face without panic the reality of our times. The fact that atom bombs —” “It’s a dangerous world. We have to learn how to live together in peace in this world. And a single individual, even in this complex world of ours, can make a difference. Because of Prof. Harry Rathbun, I decided to apply to law school.” “Weren’t you told that there was no way for a woman to be a lawyer back then?” “I was not told that. In fact, it was true. And if I had known that, I perhaps wouldn’t have applied.” At Stanford Law School, O’Connor met two men who’d play a big role in the rest of her life: William Rehnquist, her future colleague on the Supreme Court — “I knew him well. He loved to play a card game, or charades or go to the movies. He was really so much fun.” — and John O’Connor, her future husband. “John was a year behind me. I was graduating that year and he had another year to go. One of us had to work and that was going to be me. And I placed calls to many of the firms, and they wouldn’t talk to me. I was female. They didn’t want to talk to me. I didn’t realize that I was going to have trouble even getting an interview. I had an undergraduate friend at Stanford whose father was a partner in a big California law firm. And he said, ‘Oh, Miss Day, you have a fine resume here.’ He said, ‘The problem is this firm has never hired a woman as a lawyer and I don’t see the time when we will. Our clients wouldn’t stand for it.’ And then he said, ‘Well, how well do you type?’ I heard that the district attorney in San Mateo County, Calif., had once had a woman lawyer on his staff, so I made an appointment to go see him. He was in the old San Mateo County Courthouse, which now is an historic building. It had a big, stained glass dome. It was fabulous. But he said, ‘The fact of the matter is, I don’t have any money to hire anybody right now.’ I said, ‘I can work for nothing until you get funding.’ And I said, ‘I know you don’t have an empty space, but I met your secretary and she’s very nice. And there’s enough room in her office to put another desk, if she’s willing to have me.’ That was the deal we struck. So it all turned out for the best, but it was sure hard to get that first job as a lawyer.” “You once wrote, ‘If society does not recognize the fact that only women can bear children, then ‘equal treatment’ ends up being unequal.’ After you moved back to Arizona, how did you manage to both practice law and raise three sons?” “It’s not easy. It was 1957. I was pregnant with my first child at the time I took the Arizona bar exam, and we had a little boy. None of the law firms in Phoenix had yet decided to hire women lawyers, so we opened our own little law office out in a suburb. And it wasn’t the kind of work usually handled at the U.S. Supreme Court. But I couldn’t go to work every day if I didn’t have adequate and reliable help at home, and I didn’t. So I had to give up my little neighborhood law firm and I stayed home for close to five years.” O’Connor’s law career stalled, but she became a rising star in local Republican politics. “The Republicans managed to elect the attorney general of Arizona and he hired me as an assistant attorney general. Well, the problem was I was the only woman and he didn’t know what to do with me. So he sent me out to the Arizona State Hospital for the mentally ill, and said you can have space out there for your office. I said, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ ‘Well, whatever they need.’ Maybe the most important thing I did there was to start legal aid clinic for the patients. They were losing their homes, their children, everything. They were locked up. The attorney general decided, gee, maybe we could use this woman back down at the headquarters. So, he brought me back. And then I had some very good clients, like the governor and the Legislature. I really enjoyed that work and I certainly got to know state government from the ground up.” When a state senator got elected to Congress in 1969, O’Connor was tapped to fill his seat. “It was great. You could decide what problems you wanted to work on and develop legislation to do something. I had enough of a voice that I could normally get those things enacted. My colleagues, to my shock, elected me as majority leader of the Arizona State Senate. That was the first time in the United States that a woman had ever held a legislative leadership post of any kind. Isn’t that amazing? It had never happened before.” State Senator O’Connor was a loyal Republican, except when it came to issues involving women, whether it was backing the Equal Rights Amendment or avoiding the anti-abortion battles taking hold across the country. After two years at the helm of the Legislature, O’Connor returned to the law, this time as a judge — first on a county court and later, a state Court of Appeals. She’d served on the bench only seven years when that fateful phone call arrived in 1981. “So today I’m pleased to announce the nomination of Judge Sandra Day O’Connor of Arizona Court of Appeals for confirmation as an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.” The press and the public were quite taken by Reagan’s revolutionary nominee, but there was opposition from right-to-life conservatives. “Some 200 of them picketed the Senate building.” “We see it as a total repudiation of the views made public by President Reagan.” “They’re already pressuring U.S. senators to vote no on Judge O’Connor to try and block her nomination to the Supreme Court.” “Judge O’Connor, there has been much discussion about your views on the subject of abortion.” “My own view in the area of abortion is that I am opposed to it as a matter of birth control or otherwise. The subject of abortion —” Despite the opposition, the Senate voted 99 to 0 to confirm the nomination. “Do you have any trepidation?” “No, it should be very interesting.” When O’Connor arrived for her first day on the bench, the world was watching to see how a female would fare. “There was neither comment nor ceremony as Mrs. O’Connor took her seat for the opening argument.” “We’ll hear arguments first this morning in No. 1464, James G. Watt, Secretary of the Interior, against the Energy Action Education —” It took almost 40 minutes before she gathered the nerve to pose a question in oral arguments. “If the government complies with what Congress intended — in other words —” “Mr. Silard, may I —” “May I just finish your thought? The congressional —” But just when it seemed the first lady on the high court might wilt under the pressure, the cowgirl found her voice. “It isn’t clear, is it, whether even if California were to win here, that the secretary would be likely to use the bidding systems that California —” With her bold stature and piercing gaze, Justice O’Connor proved herself a force to be reckoned with — not only in oral arguments, but also in chambers. “The most electrifying moment of my first week on the court was that first time I sat in our conference room at the table to actually discuss and resolve cases that had been heard and argued. That was the moment of truth, the rest was grandstanding. That was the real thing.” Right away, the divide on the court endowed O’Connor with the power that defied her position. “We were seated, nine of us, around that table discussing the merits of the cases argued that week. And the discussion starts with the chief justice. And the chief explains how he thinks the case should be resolved and why, and then the next most senior, and on around the table, ending with the junior justice. That was me. The very first case that we discussed came to me 4 to 4. It wasn’t that I was seeking that role, but very often the court was divided in that fashion.” That made the first woman justice the key pivot point, the swing vote who single-handedly decided if the four conservative justices or the four liberals prevailed in a case. In time, it became clear Justice O’Connor valued balance and pragmatism over purity. From her experience in life and local government, she believed impacts mattered. And in case after case, she was willing to reconsider preconceptions and to ally with opposing factions on the court — even on abortion. Initially, she took the side of conservatives, backing laws limiting abortions and attacking Roe v. Wade. “Whether the state may reasonably regulate in the area of abortion in a manner designed to ensure an informed decision by a pregnant woman —” “Counsel, is the city relying on all four of the alleged state interests that you described in this instance?” “That’s correct, your honor.” “OK.” But O’Connor refused to join conservatives when they tried to overturn Roe v. Wade. Twice, she single-handedly had the chance to outlaw abortions and she refused. First, in 1989 — “— require women to have abortions after so many —” “I surely do not.” And again in 1992, with Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a landmark 5 to 4 decision that Justice O’Connor delivered for the court. “We conclude that the central holding of Roe should be reaffirmed. Some of us as individuals find abortion offensive to our most basic principles of morality, but that can’t control our decision. Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code.” “Do you think the issues decided in Roe v. Wade are now settled a matter for the court?” “It’s always possible that the Supreme Court of the United States can conclude that in some earlier decision it made it’s — it ought to be reversed, that it’s no longer valid. The court certainly did that in a very dramatic way in the 1950s in Brown v. Board of Education, but it is not easily done or lightly done.” When it came to affirmative action, O’Connor began as a skeptic, but became a defender in 2003, with the polarizing case of Grutter v. Bollinger. “Petitioner Barbara Grutter is a white Michigan resident who was denied admission to the law school.” Justice O’Connor cast the decisive vote in the 5 to 4 decision that upheld affirmative action in university admissions. “Showing that such diversity promotes learning and better prepares students for an increasingly heterogeneous workforce, for responsible citizenship, and —” “You wrote, ‘Effective participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups in the civic life of our nation is essential if the dream of one nation, indivisible, is to be realized.’ Do you think this principle is in danger?” “I think it’s a very important principle. I hope it isn’t in danger. It shouldn’t be. We’re a nation comprised of people from many different countries, backgrounds, religions. When I went to law school, 1 percent of the law students were female — today it’s 50. We’ve had what amounts to a revolution in this country, and it’s been all to the good.” “Over the years, is it fair to say your opinions became more moderate? Did the court become more conservative? Are both things true?” “I don’t think either of them are true. The fact of the matter is the Supreme Court considers an amazing array of issues. Amazing. I just don’t think it’s accurate to say somebody has this great unified theory and that’s how everything has to be decided. It’s not that way.” When she retired from the court in 2006 to care for her husband, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Justice O’Connor seemed to have no regrets, even about what was probably her most controversial decision: Bush v. Gore. “An election in turmoil, a presidency in the balance.” “A recount in the Sunshine State is now underway.” “Per the Secretary of State’s request to stop the recount on her term.” In December 2000, Justice O’Connor was part of the 5 to 4 majority that gave George Bush a victory in the disputed presidential election when the Supreme Court ordered four Florida counties to stop recounting votes. “Some of the ballots came out with one hanging chad, and some with two hanging chads, and some with three hanging chads. The counties didn’t have a uniform rule. They just let the vote counters do whatever they thought right. Well, that’s not equal protection. I mean voting matters, doesn’t it? It was a close election. And so we like to think that the ballots are going to be counted, according to some set rules so that it isn’t just the whim of whoever’s counting the ballot. The popular vote count went for Mr. Gore, the Electoral College went the other way. And I think that’s what really bothers people. The Supreme Court didn’t change that.” But O’Connor always remained willing to rethink her preconceptions. In 2013, she told the Chicago Tribune editorial board she had misgivings about the Bush v. Gore decision. She said it ‘stirred up the public’ and ‘gave the court a less than perfect reputation.’ “We were hearing more unfortunate remarks about judges than I remembered in my very long lifetime. Activist judges — godless, secular humanists trying to impose their will on the rest of us. It’s shocking to me because when the framers created our form of government, they created three branches of government. And the framers thought it was terribly important to have a judicial branch that had the capacity, ability and independence to enable them to impartially decide issues of law, even if it meant holding a law unconstitutional or an act of Congress unconstitutional. That was their vision.” “I’m going to ask you a question you were asked at your Senate confirmation, which is: How you would like to be remembered?” “Oh, I said the tombstone question. And I said I would like it to say, ‘Here lies a good judge,’ and I haven’t changed my mind.”

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Very little could happen without Justice O’Connor’s support when it came to the polarizing issues on the court’s docket, and the law regarding affirmative action, abortion, voting rights, religion, federalism, sex discrimination and other hot-button subjects was basically what Sandra Day O’Connor thought it should be.

That the middle ground she looked for tended to be the public’s preferred place as well was no coincidence, given the close attention Justice O’Connor paid to current events and the public mood. “Rare indeed is the legal victory — in court or legislature — that is not a careful byproduct of an emerging social consensus,” she wrote in “The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice,” a collection of her essays published in 2003.

When President Ronald Reagan named her to the Supreme Court in 1981 to fulfill a campaign promise to appoint the first female justice, she was a judge on a midlevel appeals court in Arizona, where she had long been active in Republican politics, though she had friends in both parties. Fifty-one years old at the time of her nomination, she served for 24 years, retiring in January 2006 to care for her ailing husband. As the court moved to the right during that period, her moderate conservatism made her look in the end like a relative liberal.

“Liberal” was undoubtedly not her self-image, but as the court’s rightward shift accelerated after her retirement — her successor, Samuel A. Alito Jr., was notably more conservative — she lamented publicly that some of her majority opinions were being “dismantled.”

“What would you feel?” she responded to a questioner in 2009, who asked her reaction to decisions that had undermined some of her rulings.

Justice O’Connor spent an active retirement, sitting as a visiting judge on federal appeals courts around the country and speaking and writing widely in support of two causes, judicial independence and civics education. She also catered to her six grandchildren, taking them on trips and writing two children’s books based on her own colorful childhood on a remote Arizona ranch.

Her husband, John Jay O’Connor III, whom she met when they were both students at Stanford Law School and married shortly after her graduation in 1952, died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2009 .

Your Thoughts on Sandra Day O’Connor

Despite graduating near the top of her law school class, she was offered only a secretarial position when she applied for a job at a major law firm. The notion that a woman might sit on the Supreme Court seemed distant indeed, not only then but even on the brink of her own appointment.

The idea seemed so novel that Ronald Reagan’s promise during his 1980 presidential campaign made front-page news. Only two years before that, a Broadway comedy, “First Monday in October,” featured a conservative female Supreme Court justice, and the very idea was played for laughs. When life imitated art on July 7, 1981 , Paramount moved up the release date of the movie version of the play by five months, releasing it in August. Ultimately, of course, it was Sandra O’Connor who had the last laugh.

At a Supreme Court Historical Society event marking the 30th anniversary of her appointment, the retired justice recounted her reaction upon learning that she was the president’s choice to succeed Justice Potter Stewart , an Eisenhower appointee who had retired after 23 years. “It made me very nervous,” she said. “It’s all right to be the first to do something, but I didn’t want to be the last woman on the Supreme Court. If I took the job and did a lousy job, it would take a long time to get another one.”

Formidable Presence

Justice O’Connor’s recollection of an attack of nerves may have been charming to her audience of Supreme Court bar members and Washington insiders but scarcely plausible to them: It was simply hard to imagine a nervous Sandra Day O’Connor. Athletic (she enjoyed golf, tennis, skiing and riding), with a strong grip and a piercing gaze that could turn into an intimidating stare, the public Justice O’Connor was the picture of self-confidence.

On the bench during an argument session, she often asked the first question, and it was usually one to strike fear into the heart of even an experienced Supreme Court advocate: Is your case properly in this court? Why shouldn’t we dismiss it as moot? What gives your client standing?

Carter Phillips, a lawyer who argued dozens of cases before Justice O’Connor, once said that he barely bothered to prepare openings for his arguments because he knew that from the start he would be batting back questions from Justice O’Connor. In his first argument after she retired, he recalled, he was met with silence from the justices and had to scramble to think of what to say during the opening minutes of his allotted time.

The route to success in arguing a case before Justice O’Connor lay not in invoking legal doctrine or bright-line rules, but in marshaling the facts to demonstrate a decision’s potential impact. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy described her with admiration as a pragmatist, which he defined as “paying attention to real-world consequences.” Her jurisprudence, Justice Kennedy wrote in a tribute published after her retirement, was “grounded in real experience.”

Indeed, she had experience that none of her fellow justices shared: running for election and serving in the legislative branch of state government. Before successfully seeking an Arizona state court judgeship in 1974, she spent five years in the Arizona Senate, winning two re-election campaigns and becoming majority leader in 1972. No woman in the country had held such a high office in a state legislature.

In case after case, Justice O’Connor searched for practical significance and was willing to rethink her preconceptions. For example, although she was intensely skeptical of government programs that allocated benefits on the basis of race, and led the court in rejecting special provisions for racial minorities in government contracting and electoral redistricting, she modified her position when it came to affirmative action in higher education admissions.

Her opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 decision that upheld an affirmative-action admissions program at the University of Michigan Law School, acknowledged arguments made by corporate executives and retired military officers, who filed briefs in support of the program. “Affirmative action’s benefits are not theoretical, but real,” she wrote for the 5-to-4 majority, adding: “Effective participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups in the civic life of our nation is essential if the dream of one nation, indivisible, is to be realized.”

Years earlier, in a tribute to Justice Thurgood Marshall following his retirement in 1991, she had offered a hint that her views on racial justice were evolving.

In her essay, published in the Stanford Law Review, Justice O’Connor described the impact of serving with that civil rights giant for 10 years, sitting with him at the justices’ conference table and listening to him describe the experiences of his life. His stories always had a point, she wrote, “constantly pushing and prodding us to respond not only to the persuasiveness of legal argument but also to the power of moral truth.”

She added that she found herself still listening for Justice Marshall’s voice, “hoping to hear, just once more, another story that would, by and by, perhaps change the way I see the world.”

Although Justice O’Connor often joined the court’s conservative majority in deciding religious cases in a way that lowered the wall of separation between church and state, she grew increasingly concerned about the polarizing nature of the debate over the role of religion in public life.

In a 2005 case, McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union, she joined a 5-to-4 majority in invalidating the display of framed copies of the Ten Commandments on the walls of courthouses in Kentucky. Respect for religious pluralism had served the country well in contrast to other societies, she wrote in a concurring opinion, adding, “Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?”

Preserving Roe v. Wade

In Sandra Day O’Connor, in other words, the country got a judge who valued balance over purity and who watched with growing unease efforts to enlist the judiciary in the cause of conservative social movements. The court’s struggle over abortion provided a prime example.

Arriving just eight years after the court had declared a constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade, Justice O’Connor was at first highly critical of that decision. Her first vote on abortion came in a 1983 case, Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, in which the majority struck down a municipal ordinance that restricted women’s access to abortion by imposing waiting periods and counseling requirements. Justice O’Connor’s dissenting opinion not only considered the restrictions to be valid, but contained a broadside attack on Roe v. Wade itself.

She took particular issue with the court’s conclusion in Roe that the government’s ability to regulate the circumstances under which a woman could terminate a pregnancy depended on the stage of the pregnancy: No interference with a woman’s decision was permissible during the first trimester, but by the third trimester the government could limit abortions to those necessary to preserve a woman’s life and health. That framework, Justice O’Connor wrote in dissent in the 1983 case, “is clearly on a collision course with itself” as medical science advanced and “the point of viability is moved further back toward conception.”

Six years later, when the court’s continued adherence to Roe v. Wade appeared to be directly at issue in the 1989 case of Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, medical organizations made it a point to file briefs, plainly seeking Justice O’Connor’s attention, to explain that for the foreseeable future, an “anatomic threshold” of fetal lung development would prevent the survival of babies born before the beginning of the third trimester. Justice O’Connor never responded directly, nor did she ever again mention the “collision course.”

Pressed in the Webster case by Chief Justice Rehnquist to provide a fifth vote that would effectively overturn Roe v. Wade, Justice O’Connor held back. This case did not call for overturning Roe, she wrote in her separate opinion. If such a case did arrive, “there will be time enough to re-examine Roe,” she said, adding: “And to do so carefully.”

Three years later, Planned Parenthood v. Casey appeared to be such a case. But Justice O’Connor and two other Republican-appointed justices, Justices Kennedy and David H. Souter, defied expectations by issuing an unusual jointly written opinion that reaffirmed the “core” of the 1973 precedent.

The three said that while they might not have joined the original Roe majority had they been on the court in 1973, to overturn the precedent in the face of current political pressure would cause “both profound and unnecessary damage to the court’s legitimacy, and to the nation’s commitment to the rule of law.” With Justices John Paul Stevens and Harry A. Blackmun providing the fourth and fifth votes, the constitutional right to abortion was preserved for another generation, until June 2022, when a court reshaped by the arrival of three justices appointed by President Donald J. Trump overturned both Roe and Casey and left states free to ban abortion once again.

Justice O’Connor may have best summed up her judicial philosophy in a dissenting opinion in a 1995 decision, Vernonia School District v. Acton.

The majority upheld a school district’s policy of subjecting student athletes to drug testing, even in the absence of any suspicion of wrongdoing. Dissenting, Justice O’Connor warned that judges should be wary of overreacting to generalizations; in her view, the majority had overreacted to the school district’s vivid description of the dangers that would follow if student athletes became drug-using role models.

“Some crises are quite real,” she wrote, but some are not. She added, “The only way for judges to mediate these conflicting impulses is to do what they should do anyway: stay close to the record in each case that appears before them, and make their judgments based on that alone.”

This case-by-case, fact-bound approach was not universally admired. “Justice O’Connor’s constitutional law decisions, taken as a whole, threatened rule-of-law values,” one law professor, Eric J. Segall of Georgia State University, wrote several months after her retirement.

His point was not that the decisions were incorrect, but that “her reluctance to articulate principles governing cases, as well as her inconsistent treatment of legal doctrine, failed to provide enough stability, predictability, or transparency to differentiate legal rules from personal preferences.”

Justice O’Connor’s aversion to doctrinal rigidities and instinct for the middle ground had roots in her experience in elective office. During her political career, she had often invited Republican and Democratic leaders to her house for a home-cooked meal together, as a way of breaking down partisan barriers and encouraging compromise.

After her retirement, when the three-bedroom adobe brick ranch house in Paradise Valley, Ariz., in which she and her husband had raised their family, was slated for demolition by the new owners, civic leaders in the Phoenix area raised money to acquire it and move it to a park in nearby Tempe for use as a nonprofit dispute-resolution center. In 2019, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

‘Cowgirl’ on the Court

Despite her decades as a member of the Washington elite, Justice O’Connor continued to think of herself as a person of the West. She called herself a cowgirl, a not inaccurate reference to her childhood on the Lazy B, the Day family’s huge cattle ranch in the high desert on the Arizona-New Mexico border. In 2002, she was inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, in Fort Worth, Texas. At the ceremony, she referred to herself as “the first cowgirl to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

“How many of you have ever milked a cow?” Justice O’Connor asked a surprised audience at a judicial conference in Colorado Springs in 2006, at which she was being interviewed about her life and career. She looked pleased when perhaps one-third of the hundreds of judges and lawyers, most of them Westerners, raised their hands.

Her Western origins undoubtedly influenced her commitment to reclaiming a vital role for the states within the federal system. She was an indispensable partner in the federalism revival led by her fellow Arizonan, Chief Justice Rehnquist.

In a series of 5-to-4 rulings from the mid-1990s until the early 2000s, the court held that Congress had exceeded its authority in seeking to impose various obligations on state governments. In 1995, Justice O’Connor gave the chief justice her vote in the first decision in 60 years to invalidate a federal law on the grounds that it exceeded the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce.

The decision, United States v. Lopez, struck down a federal law that made it a crime to carry a gun near a school. The regulated activity was not commerce, the chief justice wrote for the 5-to-4 majority, adding that it was up to the court to maintain the “distinction between what is truly national and what is truly local.”

Earlier, Justice O’Connor had written the majority opinion in New York v. United States, a 1992 decision overturning a federal law aimed at forcing states to take responsibility for disposing of their radioactive waste. The federal government could not “commandeer” the states to do its bidding, she wrote.

Her concern for states’ rights also led her to take a relatively narrow view of the appropriate role for federal courts in reviewing state criminal convictions through prisoners’ petitions for writs of habeas corpus. And while she expressed concern about the fairness of capital punishment — telling a women’s law group in Minneapolis in 2001 that “if statistics are any indication, the system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed” — she never adopted a position of categorical opposition to the death penalty.

The Rehnquist court’s federalism revolution was in full swing as one of the most disputed chapters in Justice O’Connor’s career unfolded: the Supreme Court’s resolution of the 2000 presidential election in Bush v. Gore.

At an election night party, Justice O’Connor was reported by Newsweek to have expressed dismay at the news that Vice President Al Gore seemed to be narrowly winning the race; her husband reportedly explained that the couple wanted Gov. George W. Bush to win the election so that they could retire to Arizona and a Republican president could fill her seat. Justice O’Connor later denied the account and had shown no evidence at the time of any interest in retiring.

In any event, given the favor with which the Supreme Court majority had usually viewed states’ rights, many were surprised when the court agreed to hear Mr. Bush’s challenge to the way Florida election officials and judges were untangling a statistical tie for the state’s 25 crucial electoral votes.

After the Florida Supreme Court ordered a statewide recount, and with the Republican candidate a hairbreadth ahead, Justice O’Connor and the four most conservative justices granted the Bush team’s request for a temporary stay. Three days later, late on the night of Dec. 12, the court issued its 5-to-4 opinion declaring that the recount, lacking a uniform standard for evaluating the contested ballots, violated the constitutional command of equal protection and could not proceed.

The majority opinion was unsigned, although Justices O’Connor and Kennedy were said to be its principal authors. The others who joined it were Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

In 2013, seven years after she left the court, Justice O’Connor for the first time, at least in public, expressed doubt about the wisdom of the decision. “Maybe the court should have said, ‘We’re not going to take it, goodbye,’” she told The Chicago Tribune’s editorial board.

Her comment stopped short of a full-fledged repudiation of her own vote. But it certainly reflected a lingering regret about the legacy of the ruling, which, she said, “gave the court a less than perfect reputation.”

Evolving Views

Justice O’Connor publicly regretted only one vote in her career: The case of Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, in 2002. At the time, many states with elected judiciaries enforced an ethics rule that prohibited judicial candidates from taking public positions on political or legal issues. The purpose was to maintain impartiality. The case challenged the restriction as a violation of a candidate’s First Amendment right to free speech.

By a vote of 5 to 4, the court agreed. Justice Scalia’s majority opinion, which Justice O’Connor joined, said that “the First Amendment does not permit Minnesota to leave the principle of elections in place while preventing candidates from discussing what elections are about.”

Justice O’Connor strongly opposed elections for judges, and she used a concurring opinion in this case to emphasize her position. In maintaining a system of judicial elections, she said, “the state has voluntarily taken on the risks to judicial bias” that the speech restriction was meant to prevent.

“If the state has a problem with judicial impartiality,” she continued, “it is largely one the state brought upon itself by continuing the practice of popularly electing judges.”

The decision set off a torrent of partisan advertising and other activity in judicial elections around the country. In 2006, in retirement, Justice O’Connor told a conference of state judges that she was afraid that she had made a mistake. Saying she was “increasingly concerned about the current climate of challenge to judicial independence,” she told the judges: “That case, I confess, does give me pause.”

She also revised her position on gay rights, but the change did not involve a direct repudiation of a prior position.

In 1986, Justice O’Connor voted with the 5-to-4 majority in Bowers v. Hardwick, which rejected a challenge, under the Constitution’s due process clause, to a Georgia law that criminalized same-sex sodomy. The court overruled the Bowers decision in 2003, in Lawrence v. Texas, when a majority opinion by Justice Kennedy, based on a new analysis of the due process rights of gay men and lesbians, was joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. Of the five, only Justice Stevens had been on the court in 1986, and he had dissented in Bowers.

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice O’Connor said that rather than voting directly to overrule Bowers v. Hardwick, she was voting to strike down the Texas sodomy law on the alternative ground of equal protection. By making sodomy a crime for same-sex but not opposite-sex couples, she said, Texas “makes homosexuals unequal in the eyes of the law” and “brands all homosexuals as criminals.”

In the contexts of race and gender, Justice O’Connor’s impact on the court’s equal protection jurisprudence was deep. She wrote the majority opinion in a 1995 case, Adarand Constructors v. Pena, declaring unconstitutional a federal highway program that gave a preference to minority-owned contracting firms. The vote was 5 to 4.

It was the first case to hold that federal policies that favored members of minority groups over white people — even those adopted for the benign purpose of increasing minority opportunity — should be scrutinized as strictly as policies that favored white people. The “basic principle” of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, Justice O’Connor wrote, was to “protect persons , not groups .”

In 1993, she wrote for the majority in another 5-to-4 opinion, Shaw v. Reno, which opened the door to constitutional challenges to election districts drawn for the overt purpose of facilitating the election of Black or Hispanic candidates. The North Carolina congressional district at issue was tortuously shaped in order to connect sufficient numbers of geographically scattered Black voters.

“We believe that reapportionment is one area in which appearances do matter,” Justice O’Connor said, adding that the district in question “bears an uncomfortable resemblance to political apartheid.” Such districts send the “pernicious” message to elected officials that they are to represent only members of their own racial group, she said.

Shaw v. Reno was a bombshell that disrupted redistricting practices widely thought to be immune to judicial challenge. It led to a series of decisions in which the court eventually settled on a less categorical approach, recognizing that oddly shaped districts could also serve such neutral goals as protecting incumbents; race consciousness as a factor would not by itself invalidate a district.

Sandra and Ruth

Although Justice O’Connor was an ally of her more conservative colleagues on questions of racial discrimination, especially in her early years on the court, she left the conservatives behind in cases concerning discrimination on the basis of sex.

The question in a 1982 case, Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan, was whether a state nursing school could constitutionally exclude male students. It could not, Justice O’Connor wrote in a 5-to-4 majority opinion; the government could not make policy, she said, on the basis of “archaic and stereotypic notions” of the abilities and proper roles for men and women.

It would be 11 years after that decision before Justice Ginsburg became the second woman to join the Supreme Court. A leading feminist theorist and advocate nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993, Justice Ginsburg drew heavily on Justice O’Connor’s opinion in the Mississippi case for one of her own most important opinions: The 1996 decision in United States v. Virginia declaring unconstitutional the all-male admissions policy of a state-supported military college, Virginia Military Institute.

Justice O’Connor was visibly misty-eyed during the ceremony at which Justice Ginsburg took the judicial oath. “I can’t tell you how happy I was when she got to the court,” Justice O’Connor later told a group of female college basketball players. “It makes a night and day difference to have women on the bench.”

Although the two women neither looked nor sounded anything alike, male lawyers arguing before the court had surprising difficulty telling them apart. The frequent mix-ups, even by highly experienced members of the Supreme Court bar, inspired the two justices to appear at a reception for female judges sporting complementary T-shirts. “I’m Ruth, not Sandra,” read one shirt. “I’m Sandra, not Ruth,” read the other.

In her final years on the court, Justice O’Connor was actively engaged in its effort to define the rights of citizens and noncitizens caught up in the Bush administration’s “war on terror” after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It was a role she had almost forecast for herself when, on Sept. 28, 2001, she visited New York City and became the first member of the court to speak publicly about what might lie ahead.

It would be important, she said, “to maintain a fair and just society with a strong rule of law at a time when many are more concerned with safety and a measure of vengeance.” Speaking at the groundbreaking for a new building at New York University School of Law in Manhattan, she added: “And in the years to come, it will become clear that the need for lawyers does not diminish in times of crisis; it only increases.”

Three years later, Justice O’Connor wrote for the court in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, one of the first post-9/11 decisions, that “a state of war is not a blank check for the president,” and that “history and common sense teach us that an unchecked system of detention carries the potential to become a means for oppression and abuse of others.”

Horses and Chores

Sandra Day was born in El Paso on March 26, 1930, the eldest of three children of Harry and Ada Mae (Wilkey) Day. Her parents had eloped because Ada Mae’s urbane parents disapproved of the prospect of ranch life for their daughter.

The Lazy B, the cattle ranch where the Day family lived and worked, was huge (200,000 acres), isolated (the nearest real town was 35 miles away on bad roads) and not particularly prosperous. The adobe ranch house had neither running water nor electricity until Sandra was 7.

Her paternal grandfather, Henry Clay Day, established the ranch in 1880 after leaving Vermont in search of adventure. His early death deprived Sandra’s father of the chance to accept admission to Stanford University, an ambition that Harry Day transferred to his daughter.

From an early age, Sandra rode horses and helped the ranch hands with the chores involved in tending 2,000 head of cattle.

In “Lazy B: Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest” (2002), a memoir she wrote with her brother, Alan Day, Justice O’Connor recounted an experience she had as a young teenager. Her father and a crew were working in a remote corner of the ranch branding cattle. Her job was to bring the men their lunch. When the pickup she was driving got a flat tire, she struggled for an hour in the summer heat to loosen the rusty lug nuts and change the tire. “You’re late,” her father said when she showed up well past lunchtime. When she explained, he said: “You should have started earlier. You need to expect anything out here.”

She wrote: “I had expected a word of praise for changing the tire. But, to the contrary, I realized that only one thing was expected: an on-time lunch. No excuses accepted.”

It was a lesson she internalized to a striking degree.

When doctors told her she had breast cancer in 1988, Justice O’Connor underwent a mastectomy. She lost her hair to chemotherapy and wore a wig. She often looked exhausted, and rumors swirled that she would soon leave the court. But she never missed a day on the bench, and regained her hair and her health. Only six years later, speaking to a group of cancer survivors, did she acknowledge how hard it had been.

Sandra’s parents sent her from the age of 6 to live with her maternal grandmother in El Paso during the school year, so she could get an education. There were lonely times, but she did well, skipped two grades and entered Stanford at 16. She graduated in 1950 and earned her law degree two years later.

During her second year of law school, her steady date was a fellow student named William Rehnquist. They had drifted apart by the time he graduated and moved to Washington, to begin a clerkship at the Supreme Court. In researching his 2019 biography of Justice O’Connor, “First,” the author Evan Thomas found letters that she had saved from her old beau, inviting her to visit him in Washington and finally proposing marriage. “I know I can never be happy without you,” he wrote. But by then she was dating another fellow student, Mr. O’Connor; they married in 1952.

Rebuffed by private law firms after graduation, she turned to the public sector and worked briefly as a deputy county attorney in San Mateo, Calif. She then followed her husband to Germany, where he was stationed with the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps; she worked as a civilian lawyer for the Quartermaster Corps.

After three years, with Mr. O’Connor’s Army service concluded, the young couple settled in Phoenix to start a family and begin a career; she made it clear that she intended to combine both. Their three sons, Scott, Brian and Jay, were born between 1957 and 1962.

She is survived by her sons, six grandchildren and her brother, Alan.

Republican Politics

While her husband entered a big-firm law practice in fast-growing Phoenix, Ms. O’Connor opened a suburban law office of her own, working part time while beginning a busy extracurricular career of civil and political engagement. She served on many volunteer boards and commissions and became involved in Republican politics at the precinct level.

In 1965, she returned to full-time work as an assistant state attorney general. Gov. Jack Williams, a Republican, appointed her to an interim vacancy in the State Senate in 1969. She won two subsequent elections, becoming majority leader in 1972. In 1974, she ran successfully for a seat on the Maricopa County Superior Court, the local trial court.

In 1978, Republican leaders urged Ms. O’Connor to run for governor against the Democratic incumbent, Bruce Babbitt. She declined, and the next year, Governor Babbitt named her to the state’s intermediate appeals court.

On the spectrum of Arizona Republican politics, Sandra O’Connor was a moderate. She supported the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution and did not take part in the anti-abortion activism that was becoming visible in the state. The only vocal opposition to her Supreme Court nomination, in fact, came from anti-abortion organizations, including the National Right to Life Committee.

But the promised opposition never coalesced, and her three days of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 1981 were more coronation than confrontation.

In her opening statement, the nominee said that while she was honored to be the first woman named to the court, “I happily share the honor with millions of American women of yesterday and today whose abilities and conduct have given me this opportunity for service.”

Her endorsement by the American Bar Association was a tepid “qualified,” with a report noting that her experience as a practicing lawyer and judge “has not been as extensive or challenging as that of some other persons who might be available for appointment.”

During the hearing , she declined to offer legal opinions. Asked her views on abortion, she called the procedure “offensive” and “repugnant,” and said that “it is something in which I would not engage.” However, she added that at the age of 51, she would not be faced with an unintended pregnancy, “so perhaps it is easy for me to speak.” She said she felt “an obligation to recognize that others have different views.”

The Senate approved her nomination on Sept. 21, 1981, by a vote of 99 to 0. Four days later, with President Reagan and the first lady, Nancy Reagan, in attendance in the crowded courtroom, Justice O’Connor took the oath of office as the nation’s 102nd Supreme Court justice.

Her announcement nearly 24 years later, on July 1, 2005, that she would retire “upon the nomination and confirmation of my successor,” shattered the quiet of a July 4 weekend. The country had been anticipating a retirement announcement from Chief Justice Rehnquist, who nine months earlier had been found to have a fatal form of thyroid cancer and who had missed much of the term that had just concluded.

In Justice O’Connor’s case, the reason for leaving the court was not her own health — she was a vigorous 75 — but her husband’s. Few people knew that Mr. O’Connor had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 15 years earlier. For years after that, the couple carried on a seemingly normal life. But by the early 2000s, Mr. O’Connor could not be left alone in their apartment. Justice O’Connor began bringing him to her chambers, where he would spend the day sitting quietly in her inner office.

Worried about creating two simultaneous vacancies on the court, Justice O’Connor in late June asked her old friend the chief justice, who had not confided his plans to his colleagues, whether he was going to resign. If his answer was yes, she would stay another year. But he told her that he was responding well to treatment and that his doctors anticipated that he could serve another term. Justice O’Connor then announced her own retirement plan. Chief Justice Rehnquist’s condition declined precipitously shortly after that, and he died over the Labor Day weekend at the age of 80.

Justice O’Connor’s successor, Justice Alito, was not confirmed until Jan. 31, 2006, so she remained on the court another half year. Her plan to care for her husband at home quickly proved unworkable, and later that year he entered a nursing home in Phoenix, near two of their sons.

The circumstances of Justice O’Connor’s departure were both poignant and singular. Numerous Supreme Court justices have confronted a spouse’s serious illness — Chief Justice Rehnquist’s wife, Nan, died of cancer in 1991 after a long struggle — but none of the men ever left the court for that reason. If Justice O’Connor, famous for not looking back, ever regretted her decision, she never said so publicly.

Her announcement of her dementia diagnosis in 2018 was, characteristically, unvarnished and to the point. She reiterated her support for a renewal of civics education. While “I can no longer help lead this cause,” she said, she expressed hope that new leaders would “make civics learning and civic engagement a reality for all.”

Linda Greenhouse , the winner of a 1998 Pulitzer Prize, reported on the Supreme Court for The Times from 1978 to 2008. She is the author of “Justice on the Brink: The Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Rise of Amy Coney Barrett, and Twelve Months That Transformed the Supreme Court.” More about Linda Greenhouse


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writing at work

Randy Cordova loved pop culture.

You could feel it in the joy he brought to writing about entertainment for The Arizona Republic, where he started as an editorial assistant in 1988, eventually working his way up to entertainment editor, the job he’d been preparing for his whole life.

It was more a calling than a job, as Cordova approached it with the enthusiasm of a fan and the encyclopedic knowledge of an avid reader who loved a good celebrity biography.

“You could see the glee in his eyes when he would get to do stories on his favorite artists,” Maura Saavedra Cordova, his wife of 14 years, recalls.

Cordova died Nov. 29, exactly four years after being diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of brain cancer. He was 55.

Randy Cordova joined The Republic while in college

Cordova grew up in Phoenix. He graduated from West High School (which closed in 1983) and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Arizona State University. 

He joined The Republic while in college, writing obits and answering phones. He moved to the Features Department after working on the copy desk.

Cordova loved covering Latin music at a time when those artists were generally ignored by mainstream media.

He also taught journalism as an adjunct professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University for several years.

Cordova was promoted to a features editor in May 2018, a position he held until his cancer diagnosis required him to step away.

“He always wanted to go back to work but we would always tell him, ‘Your main job is to get better so focus on that,’” Maura says. “He missed it a lot. He was such a hard worker with such a strong work ethic that his mom drove into him.”

'He absorbed pop culture. It was part of his DNA'

Cordova loved the work he did.

“It brought him so much joy,” Maura says.

“He knew he had a good gig, but he earned it. He had deep insider knowledge that brought context to the culture he was writing about. Randy literally was born to do this job. He absorbed pop culture. It was part of his DNA.”

He even named his dogs after favorite celebrities — Trini after Trini Lopez, Connie after Connie Francis, Lou after a character Ed Asner played on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Lou Grant."

Maura says Grant, a news director at a fictional TV station on one show and a newspaper editor on the other, played a big role in Cordova’s decision to go into journalism.

Being an entertainment reporter allowed him to not only interview but also meet his favorite stars, from Sheena Easton and Elaine Paige to Frankie Laine, Melissa Manchester and Latin artists such as Vikki Carr, Sergio Dalma and Franco De Vita.

“They all wanted to meet him,” Maura says. “He was such a kind and thoughtful interviewer but very studied on their careers and music. They were frequently complimentary about his questions and often invited him backstage.”

Celebrities from Barbra Streisand to Marie Osmond admired his work

Celebrities often shared his articles on social media, including Barbra Streisand, who tweeted a link to his fascinating historical look at the filming of “A Star Is Born” in Arizona, writing, “Great piece @randy_cordova – thank you! B.”

He had a great relationship with Vikki Carr, one of his absolute faves.

“He saw her every time she performed in Phoenix and frequently interviewed her,” Maura says.

“He was a member of her fan club and wrote the liner notes for her CD ‘Vikki Carr - The Ultimate Collection’ (2006 box set). She always invited him backstage at her shows and they would catch up like old friends. He wanted to invite her to our wedding but I said no. I didn't want two receiving lines!”

When Abe Kwok, a colleague at The Republic, visited Cordova a month ago, his neighbor asked if she could come along.

Cordova had written two stories about Ryan Thomas Anderson, the woman’s son, who won $1 million in a Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl" contest.

“She wanted to meet him in person and thank him,” says Kwok, editorial page planner at The Republic.

“I just thought it really underscored how he approached his beat. Randy wrote as a fan, as a witness celebrant of events. And it came through in his stories. He found common ground.”

When it came to pop culture, 'he kind of knew everything'

As much as he loved what he did for a living, Cordova was humble about how good he was at bringing out the best in his interview subjects with an empathy that often made it feel more like a conversation between childhood friends or capturing the essence of a great performance.

“He was confident about his knowledge but not in an arrogant way,” Maura says.

He loved studying Billboard charts and reading celebrity bios.

“He could cite dates and details off the top of his head,” Maura says. “His writing was an education for me. He knew how to write a good read, capturing the humanity of artists you wouldn't think much about. I also loved it when he hated something and would write the funniest critiques.”

Christine Elliott, a longtime friend and former colleague, says they bonded over all things ‘70s and ‘80s, especially ABBA.

“I could definitely match him in enthusiasm, but I could not match him at all in knowledge,” she says. “He kind of knew everything. He could talk about any type of music, any genre, beyond what I consider normal, even for a critic.”

She recalls the time they went to see an ABBA tribute at the Arizona State Fair.

“We had so much fun, but of course Randy knew that the women were not singing the appropriate part,” she recalls with a laugh.

“The one who was playing Agnetha, the blonde, was singing the parts of the other one. And Randy noticed that discrepancy. He was like, ‘This isn’t her solo.’ I’m certain he’s the only person in the building that noticed.”

More recently, the conversation somehow turned to Quarterflash.

“I don’t know how we got on the topic,” Elliot says.

“But I said, ‘I can only remember one song.’ And Randy, without even skipping a beat, rattled off three other songs. We’re not talking about the Beatles. We’re talking about Quarterflash. I think they were famous for about a year. But he knew all about it.”

Cordova's tastes were shaped in part by his grandmother

Cordova’s taste could gravitate toward music one might not associate with someone in his 50s, from Frankie Laine to “all the old white British ladies that he loved,” as Maura calls them.

“His mom was a single parent and worked nights at St. Joseph's Hospital, so his grandma frequently took care of him,” Maura says.

“She introduced him to singers like Petula Clark, Frankie Laine and Bobby Darin. She died when he was about 7, but her influence was life-lasting and launched his love of music from his grandma's generation.”

Kwok says, “He was just an … I say oddball in a really affectionate way. He had an old-time soul to him. He was just really into the arts in a wide-ranging and reflective way that cannot be pigeonholed.”

Robrt Pela, a fellow critic who wrote for Phoenix New Times for many years, came to rely on Cordova as a kindred spirit who shared his taste in music.

“Rita Coolidge put out a new record. I got on the phone with Randy because who the hell else was I gonna talk to about it?” he says.  

“I could call him and say, ‘Did you get this press release about Steve and Eydie’s Christmas album being reissued?’ And he would be like ‘What do you think? Of course I did. And I’m as excited as you are.’ We were probably the only people in Maricopa County under 90 who cared that the Jack Jones Christmas record was getting reissued.”

He also came to trust Cordova’s willingness to say exactly how he felt about a record.

“I remember we waited almost two decades for Jennifer Warnes to record another album,” Pela says.

“I listened a few times and as the world’s biggest Jennifer Warnes fan, thought, ‘I don’t get it.’ I called Randy. He said, ‘Let me put it to you this way. I played it once, I took it out to the garage, I filed it under W and I’ll never have to listen to it again.’”

If they did disagree on a record, Cordova was always nice about it.

“He was very open to the notion that some of us just have these weird musical tastes and obsessions and that’s OK,” Pela says.

The Cordovas danced to Frankie Laine at wedding

The Cordovas were married on March 7, 2009, at the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe.

“When he married her, it was like the nicest two people in the world getting together,” Elliott recalls. “Everybody was so happy. And Randy made sure there was plenty of ABBA on the playlist.”

Their first dance was to Frankie Laine’s “That’s My Desire.”

They even took lessons and learned how to foxtrot to do the song justice, Maura says.

“We chickened out at the last moment — we were too shy to foxtrot,” she says.

The Cordovas met in 1988 at The Republic.

“He was an editorial assistant, and I was a reporter,” Maura says.

“My friend told me to say hi to this new guy in the newsroom who was really nice and funny. We became fast friends. He made me laugh and was often educating me on his musical interests. Around the year 2000, I was teaching him how to golf and one thing led to another.”

Cordova’s sense of humor was a major selling point.

“He had a quirky and dry sense of humor,” Maura says.

“He was able to find humor in almost any situation, which usually was based on what he was observing at the time. He was unassuming and shy, but his humor drew people to him and made him the center of attention.”

They also bonded over their shared love of Amy Grant. The last concert they saw together was Grant at Chandler Center for the Arts.

Traveling for concerts was a big part of the couple's life

The Cordovas often planned vacations around concerts.

“Our honeymoon location was chosen based on Elaine Paige's concert schedule in the U.K,” Maura says.

“When I took him to visit my family in Mexico for the first time, I scheduled it during concert dates for Kylie Minogue and Manuel Mijares. Every vacation involved a show.”

They saw Petula Clark in San Diego and Los Angeles, and flew to Madrid to see Sergio Dalma in concert.

“I was able to get him backstage to meet him,” Maura says. “And then Sergio called out to him from the stage saying thank you to his fans from Arizona. That was a big deal for Randy.”

Their last trip together, after he was diagnosed, was to see his favorite film, “The Poseidon Adventure,” at Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles on New Year's Eve 2019.

“That was really special because he hadn’t seen it on the big screen since he was a kid,” Maura says.

Cordova inspired fellow cancer patients: 'I want to be a Randy'

In July 2020, Cordova wrote about his cancer journey for the Ivy Brain Tumor Center blog , a deeply personal, heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting account that opens with a reference to the TV series ‘This Is Us,” being careful to note that the character battling early signs of dementia was played by Mandy Moore.

“My husband and I were saying this morning, ‘Only Randy could work Robby Benson into a story about his cancer journey,’” Elliott says. “But he’s in there.”

Visiting the Cordovas, Elliott says she was struck by the positive energy they managed to maintain.

“You never walked away feeling discouraged,” she says.

“Everybody knew it was a terrible diagnosis but they were still Randy and Maura.”

Maura says they did allow themselves the occasional break from all that positivity.

“Sometimes we would feel sorry for ourselves, but I would always be like, ‘Only for 20 minutes,’” Maura says.

“We would just try to stay positive and move forward. I would try and insulate him with positive people. I really worked hard to make sure he was able to still enjoy life as much as possible. Randy’s essence was always still there.”

Lanette Veres is a brain cancer survivor who got to know Cordova through her work with Barrow Neurological Institute’s brain tumor support group.

“His inspiration was amazing because his diagnosis does not come with longevity,” she says. “And every hurdle he hit, he just continued to live and thrive and bring a smile to the calls. People who were newly diagnosed would say, ‘I want to be a Randy.’”

Cordova was concerned, she says, about what other people in the group would think as his condition changed.

“And I’m like, ‘Randy, you’re living. Trust me, these people are inspired by you.’ So he would show up even when he wasn’t feeling good. All of the sudden, this guy who was given this horrible prognosis was our inspiration. I’d have people signing in from other countries. And the first thing they’d say if they didn’t see him was, ‘Where’s Randy?’”

'Friends today are honoring him by playing Petula Clark's Downtown'

Veres was equally impressed with how the Cordovas faced this challenge as a couple.

“I can’t say enough about Maura,” she says. “I meet so many people. Wives leave husbands and husbands leave wives. This lady was amazing. She never left his side.”

As sad as Maura is to lose her best friend and travel companion, she’s thankful for the time they had together.

“I was so blessed and proud to be married to him,” she says. “I'd always tell him I can't believe I'm Mrs. Randy Cordova. Friends today are honoring him by playing Petula Clark's ‘Downtown.’ Randy lived each day to the fullest and pursued his interests with a passion. If he wanted to see something, he saw it. We had a great life, and he checked a lot off of his bucket list.”  

Reach the reporter at  [email protected]  or 602-444-4495. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter,  @EdMasley .

Support local journalism.   Subscribe to azcentral.com today.

Artist and Tutti Frutti writer John Byrne dies, aged 83

The artist and writer John Byrne, who created the acclaimed TV series Tutti Frutti, has died at the age of 83.

His family said he died peacefully on Thursday with his wife Jeanine by his side.

He was born in Paisley and trained at the Glasgow School of Art. He worked as a painter and designer whose work included album covers for his friend, the singer Gerry Rafferty.

He began a parallel career as a playwright with his Slab Boys Trilogy.

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The first play debuted in 1978 and was based on Byrne's own experiences as a young man working in the colour rooms of a carpet factory.

Kevin Bacon, Sean Penn and Val Kilmer were among the cast when the play was performed on Broadway in New York.

One of the main characters, Spanky, became a rock star across the course of the three plays.

Byrne was a friend of Gerry Rafferty, the Scottish singer-songwriter who came to fame in the 1970s and whose album covers he designed.

BBC Scotland John Byrne

Byrne reached a new audience with his BBC Scotland series Tutti Frutti, which was broadcast in 1987.

Starring Robbie Coltrane and Emma Thompson, the six-part series won six Baftas.

It told the story of a legendary Scottish rock and roll band trying to make a comeback through a tour of the country.

It was a huge success and was followed up three years later by Your Cheatin' Heart, which featured country music and starred Tilda Swinton and John Gordon-Sinclair.

Byrne continued to write and paint. His work is held by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery.

First Minister Humza Yousaf led the tributes to John Byrne.

"There are not the words to do justice to the talents of John Byrne. An extraordinary playwright, artist and designer. Scotland has lost a cultural icon, and the world is less brighter with his passing," he said.

BBC Scotland director Steve Carson described Byrne as "an incredibly gifted artist, across so many disciplines."

"He will be greatly missed across the cultural landscape in Scotland and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time," he said.

Posting on X, formerly known as Twitter, the artist Alison Watt wrote: "So very sad to hear of the death of the brilliant John Byrne. Supremely gifted as an artist and playwright, generous, funny and the most stylish man I've ever met."

Presentational grey line

John Byrne always claimed he was made in Paisley but it was he who took the colours and music of the town he grew up in around the world.

The carpet factory where he mixed the colours as a "slab boy" and later as a designer, inspired his most famous play but it also fed characters and colours into his other writing, like the TV series Tutti Frutti and his vibrant artwork.

He rarely followed one linear path. Like the carpets he worked on, there were many threads to his work, all woven simultaneously.

He left Scotland in the 1960s, posing under his father's name as Patrick Byrne. His first exhibition was a huge hit and only then did John Byrne confess his deception.

Despite being friends with Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly and designing album covers for many artists including The Beatles, he was never part of the rock and roll scene.

He returned to live in Scotland but his signature artwork was everywhere - on album covers, guitars, even the suit Billy Connolly wore for one his early Parkinson appearances.

In the 1970s, he stepped back from art to concentrate on writing but he continued to sketch, draw and paint his own sets as well as creating some of the biggest artwork of his career, including a number of dramatic murals.

His most recent work has been murals - one for the ceiling of the King's Theatre in Edinburgh and another in Glasgow to mark the 75th birthday of his friend Billy Connolly.

In the early 1980s, he was approached by the then head of drama at BBC Scotland, Bill Bryden, to create a new TV show. The only stipulation was it should be called Tutti Frutti.

John Byrne agreed and drew on the music, the culture and the language of his youth. The show was a huge hit and gave Robbie Coltrane and Emma Thompson their first big TV breaks.

A follow-up show, Your Cheatin' Heart in 1990, was less successful but introduced him to the actress Tilda Swinton, with whom he set up home in the Highlands and where they raised their twins.

He was prolific, whichever genre he was working in. When the National Theatre of Scotland produced a stage version of Tutti Frutti, he watched rehearsals from the stalls, swiftly sketching characters and costumes from the show.

When the Citizens Theatre staged the Slab Boys Trilogy, he could be found on stage painting the scenery he had designed.

During lockdown he worked with Pitlochry Festival Theatre to create a new play which was produced and performed remotely.

He and his wife Jeanine also collaborated on a children's book, Donald and Benoit.

Everything he did was drenched in colour. Without him, the world feels a less colourful place.

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John Byrne

Artist and writer John Byrne has died at the age of 83.


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