Write your application essay

Q. I need to write my college application essay. What do you recommend?
A. Start now.

Start early to write your application essay for college or graduate school. Start as soon as you know you will need to write one. Allow time to reflect, prepare and revise. Give yourself time to start all over, if you feel the need. Waiting until deadline guarantees your own failure.

Choose a fascinating topic. You know that your application includes your grades, awards, activities, and so on. Write about something different or unique that will educate, amuse or answer questions for admissions evaluators. Use your personal statement to show another side of yourself.

Present your information and ideas in a focused, thoughtful and meaningful way. Support your ideas with examples. Do more than list your qualities or accomplishments.

Call me for tips, advice, hand-holding – and coaching. 

 

Write great beginnings

north-of-here-seattle
Journalists call story openings “ledes.”

Whether you call them beginnings, openings or ledes, you need to agonize over them – because you have about 250 words to grab your readers.

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, gravely, “and go on ’till you come to the end. Then stop.” Lewis Carroll.

Up top, identify the message of the e-mail, web page or article. Learn new ways to begin a piece of writing. “A lead ought to shine like a flashlight, down into the whole piece, if possible,” says John McPhee.

Avoid these bland, trite leads

  • An apology or complaint: As you probably know….
  • A panorama or vague overview: Urban sprawl is a problem each of us faces every day.
  • A truism, a cliché, the obvious or platitudes: We are dedicated to being the world’s best at bringing people together – giving them easy access to each other and to the information and services they want and need – anytime, anywhere.
  • The Adam-and-Eve approach: Back when the company was founded….
  • There’s good news and there’s bad news….
  • A dictionary definition.
  • To whom it may concern.
  • Dear Sir or Madam.
  • Enclosed (or attached) please find.
  • It has come to my attention.

What Ed Snider taught me about writing nonfiction

Flyers

In 1966, Ed Snider, the billionaire entrepreneur who died recently at 83, co-founded the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team. He also developed and acquired 10 additional businesses, including SMG, an early sports-arena management company; WIP, an early all-sports radio station; and SpectaGuard, a security company. Oh, yes, and the Spectrum, the late, great indoor sporting arena in South Philly.

Snider bundled his companies into an entity called Spectacor, which occupied a mansion on the south side of Rittenhouse Square. It was there that I met Snider, whom I was to profile in Spectacor’s employee newsletter.

Snider’s office, the top level in his elevator-free building, was as impressive as his business empire. His reputation was even greater: He was a towering figure in the world of sports, well known for the emotional support he gave to his players, the presidents of his companies and his friends and colleagues in the city and country.

I was literally and figuratively breathless when I arrived at the fourth floor. But Snider put me at ease, and he spoke with ease. Across the world’s largest wooden desk, he talked about his love for his family and players. He interspersed comments and memories with gestures to photos of his favorite people. And he chatted at length about the wonder of having a child and a grandchild of the same age, a feat he accomplished by marrying multiple times.

The lesson he taught was that, if I just kept quiet and allowed his mind to wander, I’d get a good story. I knew that already, but he, or at least his behavior, reminded me. I didn’t interrupt with questions from my prepared list. Sometimes I smiled or laughed or said, “Oh!” – an inducement for him to keep on keepin’ on. And he did.

Well, the story wrote itself, as they say. It was easy to punctuate his musings, to turn phrases into sentences, to insert paragraph marks. Before deadline, I submitted the profile to the p.r. man who hired me. He loved the article.

I wish that were the end of the story. But when Ed Snider, later honored for his charity work by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association, read the piece, he had second thoughts. According to the p.r. man, Snider regretted opening up as much as he did. He didn’t take back any of the details, all of which I cited accurately. He merely dismissed the entire article, which never saw publication.

RIP, Ed Snider: You taught me to keep still when I interview, even if the result did not thrill you.

Yes, grammar matters.

you're right

A man I don’t know sends an e-mail. According to his signature, he handles website development, digital marketing strategy, SEO, social media, paid search management, and content marketing. So, while he probably is not a writer himself, he might hire or consult with writers. He says:

“I am not trying to connect with you for any particular reason. I am trying to do a better job of connecting with people I have met so that I don’t have to go to a million places to find people when opportunities or potential introductions arise.

“For example, if someone came to me with a need for a writer who was crazy fanatic about grammar. I would likely send them your way but might give up if I have to search all over for your contact information.”

Wow, I think. He thinks I am crazy-fanatic-about-grammar. I am, and proudly so. It’s not for nothing I have co-opted my friend’s nickname of Comma Momma. I swear, though, I never corrected this guy in public, perhaps because we have never met. Then I wonder: Who wants a writer who is not crazy-fanatic-about-grammar (CFaG). Do people call and ask him to recommend writers who are or are not CFaG?

Similarly, who wants a tailor to alter a jacket without being crazy-fanatic about making the sleeves the same length? Who wants to eat a restaurant meal where the chef is not crazy-fanatic about a clean kitchen? Who wants a website designer who is not crazy-fanatic about checking broken links?

But this is not the only dude who asks if grammar matters. In fact, I teach a course at Temple University Center City called “Does grammar still matter?” The answer, if you care, is that grammar does matter.

The fact that teachers don’t teach grammar at any grade level doesn’t mean it’s not essential to clear communication. It is. The fact that parents don’t or can’t correct their children’s oral or written grammatical errors likewise does not diminish the value of good grammar.

I teach grammar to adults because they didn’t learn it in school or they have forgotten it since. They come to class for refreshers, hoping to recall first-, second- and third-person voice; active and passive verbs; and the difference between affect and effect.

I am not alone in believing that grammar matters.

Andrew Hindes lists credibility, professionalism and clarity among the 6 top reasons why grammar matters.

Richard Nordquist says that people associate grammar with correctness. “Knowing about grammar helps us understand what makes sentences and paragraphs clear and interesting and precise.”

And Steve Tobak writes about creating content for social media: “If what you’re writing will be public and has your name attached to it, assume that anyone who works with you or might be interested in hiring you will see it. As such, whatever it is can be conversational, and a typo isn’t the end of the world, but it should still be reasonably grammatically correct…. Business writing is about clarity in communication….”

I remain, sincerely yours, CFaG. Consider signing up for my grammar class at Temple.

Write positively, not negatively

A restaurant
When you write nonfiction, use positive words rather than negative ones.

Set the tone for what you write by using positive expressions. Use positive words to soften messages. Use positive words to make you or your organization seem friendly and interested.

Imagine yourself as a reader. Which would you prefer to read?

Positive words Negative words
appreciate blame
beneficial careless
capable complain
commend decline
cooperative disappointed
efficient doubtful
excellent failing
recommended impossible
reliability neglect
sincerity unfairness
thoughtful wrong

 

Write sentences in a positive manner so they sound friendly. Otherwise you may annoy readers or damage your existing relationship with them.

Negative sentence 1. We must have a copy of your specifications by October 15 or we will be unable to deliver on time.
Positive sentence 1. Please send us your specifications by October 15 so we can deliver on time.
Negative sentence 2. This certification may only be used by individuals who have passed the specified course and exam.
Positive sentence 2. You may use this certification after you pass the specified course and exam.
Negative sentence 3. We are unable to insure that equipment because you failed to enclose the serial number and original sales receipt.
Positive sentence 3. We can insure that equipment as soon as you send us the serial number and original sales receipt.

What sentences have you written recently that you are ready to revise?