In reading bschool essays, we sometimes notice people doing oddball things with their writing. We suspect this is mostly due to the fact that few Brave Supplicants have done much writing outside their job — and even there, nobody’s going to even mention it if you do these things, they’re not so serious that you’ll get reprimanded for them on your next employee review. But they’re all in the category of (at worst) lame or (at best) amateurish. They’re just sorta annoying.
Here’s a list of the most egregious. (chortle we spelled that “eggregious” originally hahahaha) You shouldn’t be doing these things in your bschool essays, and in most cases, you shouldn’t be doing them, period. These are not practices that good writers follow.
1. Capitalizing stuff that Looks Important.
We see this from non-native speakers a lot: random words (often Certain Nouns) capitalized in mid-sentence. For some reason, this is exceptionally annoying to EssaySnark, probably because it just defies all logic (why are you capitalizing Private Equity? That is not a proper noun!). You can check out this post about this from some editor-writer people who are more authorities than EssaySnark on the correct use of the English language.
2. Not capitalizing stuff that needs to be.
If you’re naming a specific course or student club, it needs to be capitalized — the whole thing! If it’s the club for entrepreneurs, then you need to use the formal name, which is usually something like “The Entrepreneurship Club” (without the quotes; see below on that). Not “The Entrepreneurship club” — and not “the Entrepreneurship club” or any other variation except for all words capitalized (provided, of course, that that’s the actual club name!). If you’re unsure what they call the club at your target school, you need to look it up on their website — and if you reuse that essay for a different school, you need to see what the new school calls their corresponding club. Same thing with anything you’re citing where you’re naming the one, true, official thing. For example, you can say “I want to learn about decision models” — this is pointing to an area of study. But if you are talking about a specific class offered at that school, then you would say “I want to take Decision Models” — see the difference?
3. Using quotation marks in weird ways.
Quotation marks are for quoting people, to indicate something that someone literally actually said in real life. They do not belong around names of schools, clubs, or courses. This is true for both single-quotes and double-quotes. Please don’t abuse these poor little helpless bits of punctuation in this way.
4. Overusing exclamation points.
When you use an excalamation point in an essay, it makes the thing sound contrived. Most great writers of fiction do not use exclamation points at all, or they do so very sparingly. You can use your exclamation points all you want in informal writing like emails or texts — but they just make you sound smarmy and overeager when you sprinkle them throughout the essays. EssaySnark has a visceral reaction to seeing these things in an essay. You can get away with one, if properly placed; more than that, and we’re likely to upchuck a little in our mouth at your writing. Don’t believe us? Here’s another writing-advice-person who says the same thing — in fact, they say exclamation points are “unprofessional” and they will “devalue your writing.” Pretty strong words!!!*
5. Using big fancy words when simpler ones will do.
This happens most often with those who have the least experience with any sort of writing. It’s even sorta funny… except when it’s not. What happens is, sometimes people think the longer, more multi-syllabic word is much more impressive, that it makes them sound smarter. So they start saying “utilize” instead of “use”, or “ponder” instead of “think”, or “elaborate” instead of “explain.” A little of this is fine, no problem. But it can go very badly for you if you’re constantly trying to bring in the fancy-sounding word, in an attempt to buffy-up your writing (and not in a cute vampire-slayer way). The net result will be either you sound like a pretentious buffoon, or even worse, you mire yourself into a corner using words that maybe don’t even quite mean what you think they mean, so that your sentences start not making any sense.
The advice here? Stick with simpler words. Go with easy sentences. The more complex and complicated your language and sentence structure becomes, the more mental effort your reader will need to exert to read it — and you don’t want your adcom reader to have to work to understand your witing. Simpler, shorter, these are almost always the better choices.
These are just the first five things that jumped into our head when we started thinking about this stuff — there’s actually a near-infinite list of stuff that bugs the ‘Snark. But we’ll leave this here for now and maybe circle back to this topic of no-nos again some other day. (If you’re curious about this sort of thing, you can pick up the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves to learn more, and get a laugh, about English grammar.)
* That was a joke. You got it, right? With those exclamation points?