How NOT to Write a College Essay

There is a checklist for things like spelling, grammar and length but what about more subtle, less obvious problems? Let's take a look at some of these!
1. Empty writing
Some sentences contain no real information, or so little that they are not worth writing (or reading).  Sometimes this is because the sentence is logically obvious; it is almost impossible for it to be false.  For example:
Sometimes the past is just like the present.
Another factor contributing to empty writing is the use of clichés: words which have been used so often they that have lost their meaning.  For example:
Everyone can make a difference.
You are somebody.
Similar to clichés are platitudes: statements which sound nice but do not say much because nobody would really disagree with them.  For example:
Children are our future.
A good way to tell if a sentence is empty is to make it negative.  If the result sounds stupid, then the sentence is probably empty e.g.
No one can make a difference.
2. Obvious facts and unnecessary detail
Do not tell the reader what everyone knows. "Children are our future." is not only a cliché; it is obvious.  Do not tell the reader that John Lennon was one of the Beatles or that Winston Churchill was English.
A related problem is giving too much detail.  Ask yourself if the information you are giving is necessary to support yourself, if the information you are giving is really necessary to support your argument or explain a point, or whether it is filler to increase the number of words.  Let's say you note that teenagers love music but then you go on to list all the music (hip-hop,rock,indie) teens love. That's not necessary.
3.  Over-generalization
Generalizations are necessary in writing, but it is important not to overdo this.  Avoid phrases like:
All over the world ... 
From the beginning of time/history/civilization.... 
All people/human beings ... 
Anything that is really true in these situations is probably so obvious that it is not worth saying.
If you do generalize, it is usually useful to qualify your generalization with words like "usually", "generally", "in most cases", "the majority of" and so on.
4. Subjectivity and dogmatism
Try to avoid the "I" statements, "I hope/think/believe." You are writing a persuasive essay and your argument needs to be supported with more then your own opinion.
If something is not a fact, avoid sounding certain or you may seem dogmatic.
Be yourself, be passionate, be balanced, have a sense of humor and proportion!
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