How Not To Write An Essay

Once you approach the final rung on your college application ladder, you will be bombarded with articles and advice on how to write your statement of purpose. Amidst the fanfare of information and opinions, we tend to overlook the finer details like quality of content, length of the text, readability, and comprehension. Undergraduate applications have restricted and confined real-estate for each essay and therefore it would be wise to avoid these common mistakes while drafting your write-ups.

Tip#1: AVOID PURPLE PROSE

The term Purple Prose was coined by the influential poet ‘Horace’ who compared an over-ambitious and high-sounding style of writing to poor people who used to stitch purple-colored patches on their clothing to appear rich, as purple (in those days) was considered a color of affluence and prosperity. Everyone misunderstood the essence of purple as this patch was not a true indicator of wealth; similarly, purple prose does not justify intelligent and comprehensible writing. As a matter of fact, the use of unnatural flowery words limits the reader’s interest, deviates from the actual meaning, sounds unnatural, and eats up unnecessary space.

Example: My prodigious and universal education from a celebrated and renowned elementary center of learning to an internationally accredited institute of repute has inordinately moulded my all-encompassing personality and occupational expedition to the nth degree. After impassioned introspection and scrupulous soul-searching, I was led on to the path of identifying my inherent affinity towards the man-made highly-intelligent machine called ‘Computer’. Unceremoniously and willingly, I secured admittance in one of the most contemporary branches of Applied Science – Information Technology at a prominent world-class university.

Problem: Verbose, confusing, too many adjectives and adverbs

Edited TextMy holistic education from school to college has shaped my personality and career decision immensely. Upon identifying my inherent affinity towards computers, I secured admission in the Information Technology branch for an undergraduate degree at a renowned university.

Keep it clear, concise, and succinct. To identify and eliminate such purple prose in your essay, look for needless and non-essential adjectives and adverbs and over-accessorized sentences and try to replace them with less-ornamental language and natural flow of thoughts.

TIP#2: AVOID WEAK VERBS

Verbs are the most important elements or should I say “backbone” of our writing. Usage of weak action words, therefore, portrays amateur penmanship, as Anthony Lukas brilliantly put it “If the noun is good and the verb is strong, you almost never need an adjective”.

Example: She walked slowly down the hill.
Edited Sentence: She clambered down the hill.

More often than not we tend to use adverbs to modify our weak verbs instead of replacing these verbs with a more powerful option. An easy way to catch these unwanted adverbs is to look out for words ending in –ly; while this may not be a rule of thumb, it is a hack that works well most of the time.

Examplequickly ate up the sandwich.
Edited Sentencegobbled up the sandwich.

TIP#3: AVOID NOMINALIZATION

Unknowingly, we also sometimes hide our verbs behind nouns; thereby, making them less appealing and weak. This is called Nominalization. Nominalization in writing means replacing verbs with nouns such that it weakens the verb and reduces the overall efficiency of the sentence. To make our writing appear stronger and impactful, consider replacing the nouns ending in –ness, -ment, -tion, and –ity with verbs. 

Example: undertook an internship with Google.

Edited Sentence: interned at Google.

Examplemade a decision to pursue an engineering degree.

Edited Sentencedecided to pursue an engineering degree.

TIP#4: AVOID REDUNDANCY

Unlike parallelism in verbal communication, repeating words, phrases, and expressions in your essay not only makes it lengthy but also dull and boring. Read and re-read your draft to spot such redundancies and repetitive ideas and eliminate them to enhance the overall readability of your text. Remember, every word in your write-up is there for a reason. So make it count.

Example: briefly summarized my findings in a report.

Edited Sentence: summarized my findings in a report.

Example: I found each and every subject interesting.

Edited Sentence: I found each subject interesting.

TIP#5: AVOID STICKY SENTENCES

“Writing long sentences is like adding water to tea; the more words, the weaker the message.”

~ Dianna Booher

Unusually long sentences containing an unusual amount of glue words like ‘of’, ‘but’, ‘and’, ‘that’ to name a few are considered as sticky sentences. While it can still be a meaningful sentence, it might fail to convey your idea to the reader. In the process, you must keep an eye on the emotions and expressions used in the sentence. It should neither sound too robotic nor too overachieving. Therefore, it is pertinent to insert emotions in your writing and make a connection with the reader.

Example: Ruby and Max went to the city yesterday on a sightseeing trip and they were happy to visit the magical gardens and many good monuments during their one-day long trip.

Edited Sentence: Ruby and Max were exhilarated to visit the magical gardens and magnificent monuments, during their day-long sightseeing trip, yesterday.

Example: Right from my classroom to laboratory learning, my academic success came easy to me. I won several prizes in poster presentations and was the proud speaker at various symposiums and workshops because of which I was able to narrow down my research interest.

Edited Sentence: In addition to my classroom and laboratory learning, my wholehearted involvement in poster presentations, symposiums, and workshops helped in further distillation of my career and research goals.

In a nutshell, write from your heart, focus on the topic, avoid exaggeration, and keep the abovementioned tips in mind while editing your essays and I’m confident you will sail through your application process with ease.

About the Author: 

Nimisha Padliya is an Admissions Specialist with extensive experience in undergraduate and graduate admissions. Over the years, she has helped hundreds of students in securing admissions to their dream universities. Nimisha is a post-graduate in Electrical & Computer Engineering from North Carolina State University, Raleigh, US.

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