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Writing Fundamentals

Crafting Proficient Prose

The best personal essays are also proficient on the level of the written word and organizational coherence. You likely spent a lot of time practicing the nuts and bolts of good writing either in your high-school English class or in your academic writing class here at the College, but here's a very brief overview of some key skills to help you craft a clear and elegant narrative:

  • Clarity: don’t make anyone read something twice; or, as Wallace Stegner wisely asserts: Hard writing makes easy reading. Remember that the reader is not in your head, so what seems perfectly clear to you might seem opaque to an outsider.
  • Concision—give yourself more space than your competition.  Strong professional narratives are written by those who have learned helpful strategies such as the use of active voice, the deployment of vivid verbs, and the reduction of prepositional phrases in their writing.  Wait--that took me 33 words.  Why not name that tune in 12 words and let your competition waste space? "Strong writers use active voice, deploy vivid verbs, and reduce prepositional phrases."  That's better.
  • Correctness—don't let minor mistakes keep you from what your want to achieve.
  • Control—Take organizational control of the narrative. Choose apt words; construct elegant, varied sentences; write unified, cohesive paragraphs; connect your paragraphs with meaningful transitional elements that help you tell a story. 

Next: Make it Yours