Archive for the ‘Writing Tips’ Category

Speaking While Inhaling: Why the Passive Voice Sucks

July 1, 2009

The primary purpose of the passive voice is to obscure who took the action in question. Since the objective of expository writing, especially in college admissions essays, is to demonstrate your initiative as well as your ability to take responsibility, and hence credit, for your actions, using the passive voice is diametrically opposed to your own best interests.

Using the passive voice is like speaking while inhaling. It will attract attention for all the wrong reasons.

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Suddenly

June 25, 2009

Most things in life happen “suddenly.” They may not happen quickly or unexpectedly. In fact, they might be very predictable, but when they happen, they happen suddenly.

Using the words “suddenly” or “sudden” is therefore most often redundant, serving primarily to identify the writer as a rank amateur. Stephen King makes this point with great good humor in his book “On Writing.”

Let’s take a simple example:

“Suddenly, the telephone rang.”

Telephones always ring suddenly, even when you are expecting the call.

I see this all the time in undergraduate college admissions essays. In a misguided attempt to color a rather commonplace situation with a sense of sweaty urgency, applicants combine suddenly ringing telephones, especially very early in the morning, with squealing mother’s urging them out of bed to answer the call of destiny.

This will neither attract nor retain the reader’s attention. If anything, it may persuade them to read no further.

Avoid “suddenly” like the plague.

Let the Facts Speak for Themselves

June 16, 2009

Res ipsa loquitur — The facts speak for themselves.

This is good advice, especially when writing about oneself. Show the reader through examples and anecdotes. Do not tell the reader by making unsubstantiated assertions.

“I am a hard worker who always perseveres to the very end.”

Everyone sees themselves as hard workers who persevere. Have you ever known anyone to describe themselves as a lazy quitter? Probably not, at least not in writing, even if they are lazy quitters. Especially if they are lazy quitters.

Rather than a slurry of empty assertions, simply state facts. For example, a college student who worked 30 hours per week to earn money for tuition, volunteered 5 hours per week at a hospital, and graduated with a 3.9 GPA is obviously neither lazy nor a quitter.

Res ipsa loquitur. Enough said.

Errata Dada Ding Dong

June 15, 2009

Spelling and grammatical errors are supposedly acceptable, perhaps even encouraged, in Blog Land.

Not here. Being conversational does not mean talking like an idiot. At least not here it doesn’t.

I will make mistakes, but I promise not to be proud of them.