Archive for March, 2010

Write a Better Essay: Do You Know these Three “Unspoken Rules”?

Every now and then you’ll get a paper back covered in red marks for “mistakes” that weren’t forbidden anywhere on the syllabus or essay prompt–the unspoken rules of essay writing. By the time you reach college level writing, professors expect you to know them by heart, but the fact of the matter is, most college students slip up when crunch time comes around.

Read on to find out if you’re making some of the mistakes that make your professors slap their foreheads in pain:

1. Forgetting the Essay’s Default Style

So your prof assigned you a formal argumentative essay in which you have to argue the merits or pitfalls of underwater basket weaving, and you hand him a six-page paper detailing your personal distaste for the subject, with “I think” and “In my opinion” scattered all the way through it. Oops.

Fix It:

For the essay above, you should have used a formal, third person voice. That means leaving all the “I”s out of it, and focusing on proving your argument with evidence and facts instead of sharing your opinion (your prof will tell you if he or she wants your opinion!). You should also use “one” instead of “you.”

There are different appropriate styles for each of the four types of essay. In some you may use first person, telling a story from your perspective or sharing your opinion in an opinion piece. In others you might use a formal third person, like in the example above. You can learn more about the four types of essays and how to write them at Purdue’s Online Writing Lab:

2. OMG!

When I edited essays in college, I was shocked by how many people wrote academic essays like they were writing the professor an email, but then, I was already in on the unwritten rules. In fact, students using text slang in their papers is starting to make the news.

Fix It:

You should always be conscious of a paper’s level of formality, and when in doubt–be professional! Use correct grammar, run a spell check, and avoid using slang or idioms (those odd phrases that don’t make sense literally, like “It cost an arm and a leg”). Please, please, please do not use texting or chatting slang like “OMG” or “thx,” and never substitute “4” in the place of “for.” If you think this doesn’t happen in college, I’m proud of you. If you’ve done it, forgive yourself, move on, and never do it again! 🙂

3. He Was Mocked for Using Passive Voice.

When I was a freshman in college one of my friends sent me a frantic email. His professor had handed back his essay with express instructions to eliminate the passive voice, and he wanted to know–what the heck was passive voice?

Well my friends, passive voice is when the action of the sentence is acted upon by it’s subject. (Are you shaking your head out trying to figure out what I just said? Purdue has a great diagram here that will help!)

Fix It:

Whenever you can, try to use the active voice, and don’t forget to proof read and try to change your passive voice sentences to active! (That’s Purdue helping out again–they know better than I!)

These three simple things can help make your essays much, much stronger, so start here and work your way up. I’ve got more essay writing tips coming your way in a bit, so once you’ve mastered these basics you can take your essay writing to the next level. (Weird what you look forward to in school, isn’t it?)


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3 comments March 26th, 2010

Make a Buck: Video Contests for College Students

There are tons of scholarship opportunities out there, but none of them seem quite as much fun as the dozens of video contests I’ve seen for students. So to get you ready and motivated to fill out those scholarship apps this year, I threw together a few contests I came across this week that have upcoming deadlines. Happy filming. 🙂

Herman Miller’s “Hey, Where Do You Learn Best?” Student Video Contest
I’m going to come right out and say that what caught my attention here was the brand name of my sweetie’s favorite chairs. I guess one of UCSD’s study rooms had Herman Miller chairs, and he liked them (and talked about them) so much that I actually know what kind of chair is my significant other’s favorite. But I digress.

Their video contest for students wants short, creative videos about where you learn best, whether it is study multi-tasking during spin class or while tanning (and dodging frisbees) in the quad.

Basics: 1-3 minute video about where you learn
Grand Prize: $2,500 Visa Gift Card
Deadline: March 26, 2010 (coming right up! hurry!)
More Info:

Center for Freedom and Prosperity’s Free Market Video Contest
Feel passionate about politics & the economy? Enter CF&P’s Free Market Video contest–they want to hear your spin on how . The video should be educational and persuasive, and should make the information accessible to other students.

Basics: 1-3 minute video about free-markets
Grand Prize: $1,000
Deadline: May 1, 2010
More Info:

The Christophers’ Video Contest for College Students
If you have a gift for positive thinking (or want to work on it, anyway) this contest is for you. All they want is a film under 5 minutes about how “One Person Can Make a Difference.”

Basics: Under 5 minute film on the theme “One Person Can Make a Difference”
Grand Prize: $2,000
Deadline: June 11, 2010
More Info:


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Add comment March 23rd, 2010


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