This is difficult for many different reasons. Sometimes it’s difficult, because you do not know your audience and have to guess. Sometimes it is difficult because you have a lot of stories, stumbling over each other to get on the page. Sometimes it is difficult because, no matter how smooth you are trying to form their proposals, they invariably fall out of you, all the hard and angular like a box of bent pipes.
But, being able to write well is important. You will never encounter a situation in which the entanglement in your best interest. You will often encounter situations where clear, compelling writing can express their feelings, make your case, even save lives: Tufte argues that the Challenger disaster could have been prevented if only the case against the run has been made clearer.
While the (hopefully) no life chase on your college application essay is the perfect time to reconsider some of the rules of writing well.
Policy of George Orwell and English is my personal guide to think about writing. The theoretical foundation, it is in this part – about the importance of language, including writing, in shaping the way we are able to think – he later built on in 1984.
Read this article. Read it carefully, read it carefully. It will change the way you think about writing. I keep the rules of Orwell to write next to my table always:
Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possible to cut a word, always cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous directly.
Now, in this article, Orwell took the matter first with the modern political propaganda. As he wrote:
In our time, it is true that the whole political writing is bad writing. Where it is not, it will be found in general that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a “party line.” Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style.
But the same is true for the college essay, as Orwell would certainly understand if he was resuscitated and handed him a packet of common applications. The sad truth is that most of the college application essay is not very good. When I say that they are “not very good”, I mean they are either boring, impenetrable, melodramatic, or all of the above.
Only the biggest scourge of the college application essay tips bestowed books with titles like “50 College Winning Essays of Ivy League students.” All of these books from the name down, so full of self-praise, it should come as no surprise, essays themselves stink like a bad perfume. Tip: These books exist, because people in school brand realized that they could sell to the applicants seeking to draft their essays. They do not tend to provide the actual good advice. In any case, they simply reproduce the “lifeless, imitative style of” orthodoxy, against which protested Orwell.
Christianity has deep roots. Last year, I traveled with a colleague from Yale University. He recently spent a week at the Indian reservation helps students navigate the college process, and he was shocked by the extent to which the clichés and tropes college essay entered into their world. As he told me, essays his students – who lived a completely different life than most of the main contenders – composed were indistinguishable from those written by the applicants in the southeast Connecticut. They consisted of billowing clouds “of my global perspective” and “future potential as a leader” and “a desire to use my education” for bllllllaurhfhasklafsafdghfalkasf.
Do not do it. Do not let your essay down into the impenetrable mass of phrases and platitudes. You’re interesting person. Your essay should be yours. This is best described in How to write a big statement of intent, Vince Gotera from the University of Northern Iowa, who was my guide to writing my essay when I applied to graduate school.
Consider, for example, a comparison of two hypothetical Gotera input points on a master’s program in the field of librarianship:
I have the honor to apply for the Master of Library program at the University of Okoboji, because as long as I can remember, I have had a love affair with books. Since I was eleven years old, I knew I wanted to be a librarian.
When I was eleven years old, my great-aunt Gretchen died and left me something that changed my life: the library about five thousand books. Some of my best days were spent organizing and reading her book. Since then, I wanted to be a librarian.
As Gotera says each Graf was 45 words long and contain essentially the same information (the applicant wanted to be a librarian since she was a little girl). But they have very different essays, most clearly, because the first is a general, where the latter is specific. It was the real thing that happened to a real person, he said simply. There’s nothing better than that.
So, let me save you from having to buy any of these books and close quote Kurt Vonnegut’s seven rules for writing good, that with regard to college applications, they need to write everything else:
Find a subject you care about.
Do not ramble, though.
Be more simple.
Have the courage to cut.
Sound like you.
Say what you want to say.
Pity the readers.
Specificity, clarity and brevity of your keys. Use them to unlock the writer within you.
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