Application Essay Tips from George Orwell

Discussion in 'ROTC' started by EDelahanty, Jun 25, 2013.

  1. EDelahanty

    EDelahanty 5-Year Member

    May 7, 2010
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    Today is the 110th birthday of George Orwell, born Eric Blair on June 25, 1903.

    In his 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language", Orwell lamented lazy, vague, and cliche-filled political writing. He offered six rules which are still fresh. Since application essays like "Why I want to be an Officer" are a highly personal kind of political statement, these rules can improve your writing.

    (i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
    (ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
    (iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
    (iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
    (v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
    (vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

    In the same essay he provided a great example of bad writing. Here's a verse from Ecclesiastes:

    "I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."

    Here's Orwell's translation into "modern" English:

    "Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account."

    Orwell's comparison of the two sentences:

    "The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase ("time and chance") that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first."
  2. Pima

    Pima 5-Year Member

    Nov 28, 2007
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    All of these ring so true, especially in the day and age where they (admissions) state X amount characters or words.

    I recall when our DS was applying to Notre Dame, when he met the admissions officer in late summer, the number 1 thing they told him was:

    When we say X words, we mean X words. All essays are placed through a word counter before being read by the committee. They cut the essay at exactly that number. If that number is mid sentence, than so be it, you will be judged on that too. We have thousands upon thousands of essays to read, we won't take more time because you can't follow directions

    That stayed in our DS's mind everytime he wrote and essay. It later became a rule in our house for our other two kids.

    For ROTC applicants I would also stress what our DS's ALO said to him when he did his essay. The military is about following orders. If they say 500 words or less, than follow that as an order. Going over does not mean it will be a better/stronger essay.

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