Upping Your Writing Game!
by Esther Ng
Most scholarships that are being offered usually have some kind of writing element to it. This, however, does not include filling out the application form, for obvious reasons. Whether merit-based, need-based, or creative-based, most types of scholarships will require that the applicant submit a response to a specific prompt. As mentioned in my previous post, many applicants underestimate the importance of the writing section in their applications. Students should always take into account that these prompts are being issued for a reason, and that you are judged pretty closely by them!
*Note: Some of the below tips may have some similarities to the previous Scholar’s App article, “Five Ways to Strengthen your Scholarship Application.” The purpose of this article is to focus on the writing element of scholarship applications, and is related to the previous article.
Technicality takes a Backseat
This is not to say that factors such as grammar and punctuation are not important when it comes to writing your response. The truth is, you should always double check the elements such as spelling and tenses(it also helps that most responses can be typed these days, and it comes with Spellcheck!). However, don’t get too caught up in the process. A grammar-perfect response may look and sound shiny to a grammar Nazi, but if the technicalities outshine the content of your response, then you should refocus your writing techniques. Responses are often judged based on how they answer the given prompt, and judges want to see resourcefulness, creativity, and initiative in your writing. A clear response detailing the latter three elements stands a higher chance of being awarded a scholarship, compared to a grammatically perfect response in English with not much filling. Keep the big, flowery words to yourself, and don’t send in a response that is nothing but a shiny, but empty, shell.
DO: Focus on your direct answer to the prompt
DON’T: Put too much emphasis on grammar and spelling, but remember to check it as well!
Eliminate the Embellishments
Speaking of big, flowery words, it is easy to make a response sound pretty by using complicated and unique terms and phrases. However, unless it absolutely makes sense to a particular sentence, try not to get too fancy with language. It can be incredibly annoying for judges to read through the curtain of cliches and phrases to try to dissect the meaning of your response. Besides, the overuse of embellishments(that’s what I like to call the pretty, flowery terms and words) are very much just that: glitter on a paper. Embellishments make the response seem attractive, but they distract from the meaning of your writing. It is important that you do not make the mistake of overusing embellishments in your writing, because aside from being a distraction it also makes you as the writer sound incredibly pompous. How would a reader be able to take you seriously at all?
DO: Use certain big words only out of necessity.
DON’T: Try to fit in flowery embellishments just to make your language sound “better” or more “sophisticated.”
Heap on the Honesty
In relation to embellishments possibly making your writing sound pompous, we come to the topic of perspective as a reader and writer. Once you are done with the first draft of your response, read it, and re-read it again. Does it sound like you, or something you would write? If you are a confident writer, does it sound like your writing style?
Judges look for a piece of the applicant in each response that they read. Of course, the response should always address the prompt directly, but how does it relate to you? What experiences in your past contributed to this? What values do you live by? Did a particular family member influence a significant part of your life?
The more genuine you sound, the more trustworthy you will seem. This includes acknowledging your own weaknesses, or struggles that you have difficulty overcoming. We are often so busy harping on about our strengths that we forget that all humans have weaknesses too. Talk about your weaknesses, and how it perhaps inspires you to do better. Talk about your struggles and your failures. Acknowledging your weaknesses in addition to your strengths will make you sound relatable and reliable.
DO: Be yourself!
DON’T: Stay too factual. Appeal to the pathos of the reader.
Don’t Drag On
As an English major, I myself am incredibly guilty of this. While some writers may struggle with finding words, others have difficulty keeping their words short and succinct. Most prompts also have a given word limit, which limits your response to no longer than a paragraph or page.
While it may seem easy to some, be mindful that you want to maximize as much of your allotted word limit as possible. Don’t waste precious words on long but unnecessary descriptions, and try to keep sentences clear and to the point. While writing, ensure that your key points are being included before working on transitions and the flow of your overall response. Another tip would be to map out rough points of your response before putting it into sentences, much like a mind map that is used to draft essays.
Lastly, if you are the kind to write things incredibly long(like me), spin a rough draft without worrying too much about the word count. For instance, if the prompt is asking for 250 words, write out your initial draft while estimating the word count. I repeat, you should still estimate your word count, so I wouldn’t recommend writing an entire two pages for a 250 word response. From there, you could start editing your response and cutting down on words until you’ve reached the word limit. I have found that this method works well for me, just because I know that I can get all my key points into my responses before worrying about the word limit. If you are the kind to struggle with going over the word limit, you should definitely try it instead.
DO: Include all your main points in your responses.
DON’T: Waste words! Choose your transitions and descriptions carefully.
Do you know any other tips or writing methods that work for you? Comment below to share!
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