Take the 2-minute tour ×
Writers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for authors, editors, reviewers, professional writers, and aspiring writers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I just finished re-re-reviewing an essay for an application to school. The essay seems to be flowing nicely, but as always I feel it is not succinct or crisp enough.

I do not want this to be a proof-reading question, what I am looking for is to start identifying common phrases or structures that I poorly structure, and to find better ways to structure them by using a more methodical approach -- something like trying to avoid passive voice or weak verbs such as "is".

If you find a better way to describe a sentence in the paragraph, it would be great that you suggest the improvement for the sentence and point out the judgement you used for your selection -- any external references would also be of great help.


If you feel there are extenuating circumstances of which the Committee should be aware, please explain them here (e.g., choice of recommenders). (250 words)

In this brief essay, I explain why I chose Prof. X as a recommender.

Before my last semester at Columbia University, I was disappointed with the entrepreneurial programs offered in the Engineering school. I felt that New York City, and particularly Wall Street, was strongly influencing the culture in the school, undermining the needed attention for entrepreneurial events.

Out of this disappointment, I contacted two friends and together we founded the Society for Entrepreneurship and Technological Innovation (SETI @ CU), whose purpose was to foster an entrepreneurial spirit in the Engineering school.

We started by interviewing 30 engineering students and chatting with 12 faculty professors, and soon enough formed a student executive board and a faculty advisory board, which played a fundamental role in all future activities.

Over the next six months, SETI created a constitution and a website, organized six entrepreneurial activities with an average attendance of 70 students, and coordinated Pitchfest 2009, the first university-wide entrepreneurial event, which was a highlight of the semester with a total of 41 idea-pitchers and almost 200 listeners -- truly a phenomenal event.

Prof. X played a key role behind the success of the Pitchfest. He showed us the purpose and logistics behind the event, he got us in touch with the right people in the Columbia Business School and Columbia Technology Ventures, and finally he encouraged us to work through any rivalry between schools in search of a higher common purpose.

Of all the board advisers, I believe that Prof. X was the one with the most unbiased and sound guidance. So much so that after my program finished, I have got back to him for career advice.

I decided to ask Prof. X for a recommendation letter because of two reasons: First, he saw me execute and lead a vision I was really passionate about, allowing him to comment on my management and leadership style; and second, he showed me the importance of having a good mentor who provides an impartial perspective when the circumstance arrives. Given this, I trust that a recommendation letter from Prof. X will provide valuable and fair information to my application.

share|improve this question
    
Is wordcount particularly relevant to the question? –  Neil Fein Feb 26 '12 at 19:17
1  
@Neil Fein: I believe the wordcount was included in the question; i.e., the application form specified that the answer should be no more than 250 words. (That was my interpretation, anyway). –  J.R. Feb 27 '12 at 9:13
add comment

1 Answer 1

up vote 1 down vote accepted

My opinions:

1) Eliminate the first sentence. You don't need to begin with "In this brief essay..." (Ugh; everyone already knows this is a brief essay. Moreover, your concluding statement explains why you wrote the essay). "Before my last semester at Columbia University, I was disappointed with the entrepreneurial programs offered in the Engineering school," now THAT'S an opening that captures interest! "In this brief essay, I explain why I chose Prof. X as a recommender," is not. General advice: make sure your opening words don't elicit a yawn.

2) "I felt that New York City, and particularly Wall Street, was strongly influencing the culture in the school." The previous sentence has "was" as its verb. This sentence makes two in a row. How about, "I felt that New York City, and particularly Wall Street, held strong influence over culture in the school." General advice: avoid passive voice.

3) "We started by interviewing 30 engineering students and chatting with 12 faculty professors, and soon enough formed a student executive board." "Soon enough formed"? Why not just "soon formed"? General advice: eliminate superfluous words.

4) "Of all the board advisers, I believe that Prof. X was the one with the most unbiased and sound guidance. So much so that after my program finished, I have got back to him for career advice. You were on a roll, until you got to this paragraph. Strike the "I believe that..." - be bold enough to make an assertion, even if it's based on personal opinion. Take out the passive voice. And eliminate the weak "so much so..." "Of all the board advisers, Prof. X provided the most sound and unbiased guidance. I was very impressed, and have continued to seek career advice from Prof. X. General advice: don't be apologetic about forceful assertions.

5) "I decided to ask Prof. X for a recommendation letter because of two reasons:" Change to "I asked Prof. X for a recommendation letter for two reasons:" General advice: to write concisely, learn to recognize - and eliminate - unnecessary wordiness.

6) "a vision I was really passionate about" - passive voice, ending with a preposition? I think you can do better than that. General advice: when you spot something weak, don't be content until you've fixed the problem.

P.S. Read How to Say Nothing in 500 Words by Paul Roberts. He'll give you the same advice, in a much more entertaining way.

share|improve this answer
    
The two examples of "passive voice" that you mention are not passive voice. Passive voice means that the subject is the recipient of the action. That is not the case in either example. I do agree that helping verbs (and "to be" in general, even mine in this comment) leave sentences kinda wimpy, and that strengthening the main verb usually improves a sentence. And I agree with your advice in all of your examples. –  Dale Emery Feb 26 '12 at 17:08
    
Point taken. Thanks for the clarification, and kind words. –  J.R. Feb 26 '12 at 18:36
    
@J.R. Thanks for the observations, they were really useful -- and the reference looks quite cool too. About point 1), I included it because I wanted to frame the essay. I have had feedback that recommending that, for this kind of essays, it is good to frame it from the very beginning, what do you think? –  Peretz Feb 27 '12 at 4:38
    
If you are going to frame the essay, you need to do it in a more interesting way. Otherwise, the benefits of "framing" are outweighed by the mundane opening. –  J.R. Feb 27 '12 at 9:10
    
@J.R. I agree with you. Thank you for the observation. –  Peretz Feb 27 '12 at 23:49
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.