Winning Essay Tips: The $500 Mistake, Part II
By Lauren Bayne Anderson
June 25, 2009
Part II of our “what NOT to do” series on winning an essay contests.
The Bank of America Student Voices Essay Contest drew in 4,000 essays— about average for a contest of this size.
With odds like these, you can’t afford to make even one small mistake in your entry. Remember, the judges will use any excuse they can to disqualify your essay— so don’t give them the opportunity.
This essay writer didn’t follow the rules of the essay contest— or the rules of the English language.
Check out this real life entry to see what went wrong:
At this point in our economy I would not invest in company’s to keep money safe. I wouldn’t put it in banks either. What I would do is try to find a way to store money in my own house. Examples include, safes, small lockboxes, or a “secret spot”. I think that our economy isn’t done crashing; the reason being that we are trillions of dollars in debt and the only way to get rid of it is to go bankrupt. If the US goes bankrupt then any money left in banks or the businesses will be worth nothing. In fact I would exchange a small amount of my money into another currency like the euro, that way if the US were to go bankrupt I would still have some kind of money. Now, if the economy weren’t to
completely crash and the US go bankrupt then you would still have your money so there would be no harm done. Also, to manage it I would make a monthly allowance for myself that way I would only use a certain amount of money and the rest I would save up or use to pay for bills and food, if I were living on my own. For saving money I would always save at least 15% of my paycheck that way if I were to get in a wreck or some other unexpected expense came up I would have money to use that could potentially cover it. Bills will be tricky to pay for and still have money left over. Figure out how much per month you spend on bills and set about $50 dollars more than that aside for bills. Then I would figure out how much I use for food and set aside that much plus an additional $20 incase I use more than expected. Whatever is left, which won’t me much admittedly, will be money you can use for whatever purposes you want. Also to cut back on cost of bills I recommend getting a roommate or two, that way you won’t use as much money on bills.
So, what was wrong and what was right?
This writer did stay within the word count and eventually got around to answering the question posed. But there was a lot more wrong with this article than right.
Here’s what was wrong:
- No Paragraphs—The writer submitted the essay as one block of text with no line breaks or paragraphs. Not only is this improper English, but it’s a turn-off to judges who will find it hard to read.
- Underlining or ALL CAPS— Don’t use them! You’re not chatting in instant messenger, you’re trying to impress a scholarship judge. Let your words and strong writing speak for itself.
- Apostrophes— Be careful not to make words possessive that shouldn’t be. A prime example of a misused apostrophe is the common mistake of confusing “its” and “it’s”.
- Capitalization— Use capital letters properly! That means they should be used at the start of a sentence and for proper names.
- Misspellings and Poor grammar— If you’re unsure about your grammar, take it to your school’s writing lab or have an adult or trusted friend look over it. Ask yourself, does this make sense? And if nothing else, run a spell check.
- Answer the Question— In this example, the writer doesn’t answer the question properly. Instead of sticking to how a how to manage money in CURRENT economic times, he forecasts a worst case scenario and explains how to deal with that.
- Keep it formal— Even a fun or promotional essay contest should not be too informal. By all means, feel free to include an off-beat idea or a unique or creative answer— this is encouraged! But remember to write in a professional tone. Your essay should not read as though you’re chatting with a friend.
- Do some research— Even in an opinion piece, try to back your ideas up by research. This essay writer should have better researched his thesis statement. If you put your money in a bank, not only will it collect interest, but the FDIC will insure your account for up to $100,000. That means that even if the bank goes bankrupt, you’ll still get your money. Need another reason not to keep your money in your house? What if you get robbed or the house burns down? Or even better, check out this story from earlier this month about a woman who accidentally threw out $1 million of her mother’s life savings stored inside an old mattress! A little research goes a long way.