Say what they want to hear by not saying it
The task of answering the prompt succinctly and directly may actually be your worst enemy. Read that sentence over if you have to, but it’s true. If you’re writing your personal statement and a part of the prompt asks you to identify a very specific point (i.e.: why you would be a good intellectual fit at the school, etc.), your essay should never directly restate the prompt or come anywhere close to restating it, for that matter. Say it implicitly.
Your written personal accounts should tell exactly why you’d be an excellent fit or why school X’s admissions director wants you without ever explicitly stating why. If you find yourself unable to write out the perfect life item you think will get you into the program you desire, then you need to come up with another example, or you’ll surely end up with the boring and pitifully grammar school-esque “I would be an excellent fit because…” sentence.
This in mind, you should venture off topic a bit if, in the end, you use your prolixity to make a point. Don’t be intimidated at the prospect of going off topic. After all, by simply writing down your thoughts, you’ll come up with more material than you need (a good problem to have) and you may just find your thoughts wandering enough to an even better exampleto address the prompt (another good problem to have). If the prompt asks you to name a time when you overcame adversity, summing it up in one sentence just won’t hack it. Expand your thoughts, including what you learned from your experience, how it has improved you as a person, why that will carry you through the next level of school or life. Never be afraid to delve into details in an important aspect of your life. If an event had a significant enough impact on you for you to be addressing it in a personal statement, you clearly don’t want to leave the reader with any questions because you felt that preemptively answering those questions would have taken your work down the wrong path. Implicitly from all this, the reader will easily see exactly why you feel you’d be a good fit at their program. They’ll be even more impressed when you’ve answered the question clearly and masterfully, but they have to remind themselves what the prompt was in the first place.
TO BE OR NOT TO BE…ANSWERED
Hamlet, Shakespeare’s methodically mad tragic hero, ponders “to be” completely unaware that the oft quoted question’s answer is not to be. In addition to being one of the most quoted of the Bard’s lines, “to be or not to be” is also one of the most examined. But, why? The statement swims in simplicity!
The “to be” verbs–namely am, is, are, was, were, be, been, being–appear far too often in many written works. As a result, these words lessen the interest of readers who, irrespective of their vivid imaginations, find the story, description or even Shakespearean tragedies somewhat bland in the absence of more meaningful verbs. The “to be” verbs leave too much to the reader’s imagination. Because the reader cannot read more into the author’s mind than the author has allowed in the text, “to be” verbs hinder powerful language.
In almost every circumstance, there exists a word to replace a “to be” verb. If you find yourself unable to do so, perhaps the sentence needs revision such that more descriptive words fit into the context of your message. Next time you write something, go back and count the number of “to be” verbs you use and correct as needed. This will cover you on two fronts. First, it creates more descriptive sentences. Second, it can correct passive voice, the topic of last week’s tip.
However, it is pointless to needlessly bash “to be” just because it is a commonly used verb. Like Budweiser or Wal-Mart, “to be” is popular because it is doing something right. For situations where you have to be simple and to the point, “to be” is your best bet. If your goal is to replicate realistic dialogue between two casual talkers, using “to be” will be your most valuable verb because it’s the verb people use casually in every day communication.
Perhaps Shakespeare was on to something. His double use of “to be” verbs, while apparently below his caliber of locution, create the perfectly ambiguously simple question. When it comes to “to be” verbs, he might instruct you to use them as required, but only when you really can’t think of a more appropriate way to phrase something. What better way to sum it up than to say, it is what it is.
This is part 2 of my series of three musings about the world through my eyes. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you are a contrarian or otherwise not a big fan of my writing) the times between publications have been lengthy. It took weeks to craft this. For those of you who can’t watch a 30 second commercial or read a headline without becoming impatient, just read it. It is about several things intertwined with my own style of humor: Cash for Clunkers, military veterans, bailouts, consumer power, relationships, and government ineptitudes. I hope you enjoy it and take something away from it that benefits you in your life.
More Flunk, Less Clunk
In the near aftermath of the government’s heralded Cars Allowance Rebate System (C.A.R.S.), more popularly known as the “Cash For Clunkers” program, I amassed a substantial amount of real-world experience that infuriated and mystified me on a number of levels, while simultaneously amusing me and my family, therefore making it worthy of sharing with the world. The C.A.R.S. program recently made news again when automakers released their third quarter reports that detailed a huge spike in profit. The newsworthiness developed as many economists announced expectations of an abysmal fourth quarter since many customers who would have purchased a car in the fourth quarter instead purchased it earlier to take advantage of the program’s $4500 maximum rebate.
Like the other early purchasers, my family took advantage of the program. We possessed a clunker, which since 2004 had served me quite well more or less. It was a 1992 Cadillac Fleetwood with a V-8 300 horsepower engine, sun roof, CD player, digital displays, soft and roomy leather seats, and an airbag–yes AN airbag. Fortunately for me, the primary driver of said vehicle, the airbag hibernated undisturbed in the steering column, but the passenger side remained absent of the 1990s luxury item that we now take for granted. First time riders in the car were always impressed when I mentioned the airbag as one of the early 90s technological innovations, but they felt a little left out when I said I only had one and that their life would be left to the mercy of the dashboard in the event of an accident.
The car was a heavy steel beast and I was never intimidated by any tailgating Hummer or oncoming Japanese trucks, and laughed in the faces of cocky compact car drivers who frequently insisted on cutting off the assumed granny in the airbag-protected driver seat. In a battle of tank vs. attitude, I drove the tank. I always won because my fellow drivers knew the consequences of entangling their moving tin cans (NOTE 2: Yes this includes the Hummer, whose size and cannot replace how GM mostly let its Hummer brand ride mostly on name only and that the Hummer body composition is NOTHING compared to the real Hummers of the days of old–you know, the ones that looked like they could go into combat and withstand explosives because they actually did.).
Nevertheless, my beastly clunker became a source of either extreme ridicule–“Is that your grandma’s car?”–or unwarranted admiration–“Dude, your car is pimpin’!”; needless to say, I am neither representative of a grandma nor a pimp, although, the way things seem to be going, I think most grandmothers share more traits with me than most pimps. But to me, it was just a car I drove and through the comments of my friends and those who were, simply stated, it moved me swiftly, reliably, and safely from point A to point B. Until July 2009.
In June, the month where we annually prepare ourselves for global warming to provide us the freedom to begin new traditions of sidewalk barbecuing and therapeutic skin melting (NOTE 3: ‘Twas a mild summer, except in San Bernardino, where the one ever-present season is “Hell.”), the reliable Snoop/granny-mobile’s life drew to an end. The first gear of the transmission began to fade, causing the nearly 2 ton vehicle to slug its way to 15 mph and use significantly more gas in the process (NOTE 4: The car’s gas tank was 19 gallons and it took Premium fuel, which cost a whopping $4.89/gallon in Irvine when gasoline peaked, required between $80-90 to fill up. As a college student, and a niggard by the principle that if something goes boom, it really doesn’t matter if it booms by 2 octane points more or not, I filled up with 89 octane, “saving” $.10 per gallon. What a deal!). Replacement of first gear was not an option. Significant work would have had to be done on the transmission, and the estimate from a trusted friend quoted me at $1100 to repair it at his shop. As the transmission went, so to went the air conditioning, although the two were unconnected events. My new job required me to dress in coat and tie and travel to anywhere business presented itself, which sometimes included driving to the gates of Hell, er, San Bernardino.
As luck would have it, a new law signed by President Obama had recently been enacted that would be the holy grail of saving: It would save the auto industry, the planet, the polar bear, and the economy all at once. There was only one problem: the United States government would be running the program.
If you’ve ever heard the 3 great lies, they are as follows:
1) Of course I’ll still respect you in the morning.
2) Don’t worry, the check is in the mail.
3) I’m with the government and I’m here to help you.
While I do sometimes subscribe to the first on the grounds that, well, she could be a genuinely nice girl that you can see yourself at least dating again; and the second on the grounds that, if the check comes from a source that does not have “J.D.” as a suffix, might be plausible; the value of the third lie makes up for the situational inconsistency of the first two.
The government takes. It gives back to those who have not contributed, claiming success in doing so. It claims greater victory when 100% of the taxpayers’ money is spent and whines about needing more when (usually) more than 100% of the taxpayer’s money is spent. At least we can say our incompetent government is less incompetent than all other governments of the world, but not by much.
The plan was in place and surely it was ever so easy to follow if you met the following requirements, as dictated by said incompetent government (NOTE 5: For sake of simplicity, I’ll stick to the set of rules that applied to cars, not the set of rules that applied to trucks or the set that applied to vans):
1) Clunker in possession of an individual.
2) Clunker’s combined MPG is 17 or less.
3) Clunker is model year 1988 or older.
4) Clunker has been registered consistently under individual’s name for previous year.
5) Individual can provide proof that clunker has been registered under individual’s name for previous year.
6) Clunker is currently a registered vehicle.
7) Individual can provide proof that clunker currently registered vehicle.
8) Clunker has been consistently insured for last 2 years.
9) Individual can prove that clunker has been consistently insured for last 2 years.
10) Purchase of a new or leased vehicle must have combined MPG of 4 or more than clunker to qualify for $3500 rebate and combined MPG of 10 or more than clunker to qualify for $4500 rebate.
11) Individual owner of clunker must be purchasing new vehicle.
12) Program would be in effect until November or until the $1 Billion of funding exhausted, whichever came first (NOTE 6: The program expired in 4 days. The government then passed an “emergency” extension of the program, tripling the budget allocation because it was so popular. Now, C.A.R.S. started as only a $1 Billion budget, so just imagine how beautiful healthcare will be run when it’s budget is 1000 times larger.).
Simple enough, right? These were the rules when the law took effect on July 1. However, while the program was technically underway, the finalized rules, terms, conditions, stipulations, obligations, and penalties were to be released no later than July 24. The debacle that resulted encompassed the gross miscalculations and ineptitudes that the government frequently showcases when it comes to running anything. It took weeks upon weeks for dealerships to be reimbursed and fraud was not uncommon. The stage was set for hilarity: a Chinese fire drill of bureaucrats, consumers, and car salesmen. Enter the Rosenow family.
After test drives of several models across several brand names, the decision reached effectively hinged on which car would provide the greatest rebates as a percentage of the overall value of the vehicle. The Nissan Altima drove amazingly well but had very few manufacturer’s rebates and the Hyundai Sonata was inexpensive, but felt unsafe. Toyota disappointed me and the Civic felt like a go-kart compared to the 2-ton Cadillac. Never once did we consider a GM or Chrysler vehicle, despite their best marketing efforts to do anything to entice customers to their showrooms. We weren’t alone in this mindset. As usual, our family represented a fairly normal representation of what most normal Americans think and behave.
The US government bailed out both GM and Chrysler. Moreover, GM’s board of directors was reselected as a condition of the bailout. As big time players on the new board, the US Government and the United Auto workers union now hold a majority of ownership of the company. Popular lexicon now says the “G” stands for “Government.” Years of neglect tarnished the once proud, the once innovative and widely heralded GM image and of American cars in general. That image is long beyond disrepair (NOTE 7: In my opinion, the neglect is worse than ever. Allowing a bailout at the hands of the taxpayers is the worst thing any American company can do. It is a direct insult to the people GM expects to purchase their models and a terrible move from the PR standpoint. I’ll never buy a GM car again and I really liked the Cadillac, a product of GM. My family is a fairly accurate cross-section of American beliefs, so I trust we are joined by many millions of folks. What upsets us exists in the principle of any company labeled “too big to fail.” This is appalling to most capitalism-loving Americans who see the overwhelming double standard that ignores their individual failures, going so far as to punish the individuals themselves, but effectively rewards extensive failures of multi-billion dollar faceless companies which obviously did something or many things wrongly. There are ways out of bankruptcy, but not out of disreputability that comes with accepting a bailout.). Yet, GM still churns out cars and continues to lose money. They’ll be bailed out again. After all, the American economy “needs” Government Motors.
We bought a Ford Fusion. We bought it proudly. While there are no “true” American cars in this globalized world where parts from Japan, Mexico, China, and across every developed or developing country are on every vehicle make and model, Ford is an American company that turned down a bailout. Americans respect this resiliency. Ford made a statement. They sent the message to the American auto-buying public that, success or failure, “we hold ourselves entirely accountable for the results.” Companies or individuals who do not are doomed for failure, even cursing themselves to consistently fail with each penny of help from outsiders.
Regardless, the results of the program, which many speculate was enacted to boost GM and Chrysler, spoke for themselves on this matter: the highest selling vehicle for the Cash for Clunkers program was the Ford Focus; Ford had the highest profit percentage increase of any of the major auto makers, domestic or foreign; sales increases for GM and Chrysler were insignificant at best. Americans speak with their wallets.
But I digress. Re-enter the Rosenow family. Upon hearing the news of the Cash for Clunkers program, my father became the most excited Rosenow: it was his mission to receive this credit from the US Government (NOTE 8: Briefly about my father: he served in Vietnam, earning the Purple Heart, and returned home to be spat upon and mocked by long-haired and dingy anti-American hippies who not only protested the war, but vehemently frowned upon those who fought it on their behalf, people whose proudest moments came from their flights to Canada to avoid the draft and who then jointly patted themselves on their crusty backs as “brave” for such “honorable” actions. Time has an interesting way of administering justice and celebrating those who truly deserve celebrating. Time also forgets the worthless. Today, returning soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines from overseas are welcomed appropriately, even by the dingy draft dodgers, whose opinions have not changed but who now hide behind the popular mantra “supporting the troops, but opposing the war.” Vietnam veterans are now regarded as a rare, but highly respected breed of men. It’s justified. They went through hell abroad in the jungles of Vietnam and returned home as villains to trudge through a hell at home from people of questionable morality who could no more relate to the Vietnam experience than they could relate to any sense of self-respect. The vets’ actions were so hated by so many for no reason except cowardice, that such malicious treatment has caused an outpouring of elation for troops who now return from overseas. Appreciation always comes with time.). My father and those who served with him returned to America as enemies of the state in the eyes of the American public, even more so than the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong who tried to kill them every day. He wanted some sort of payback, at least a long overdue acknowledgement or form thank-you of from Uncle Sam, who to this point had only taken consistently year after year in taxes, fees, and syntaxes and synfees. Of course Cash for Clunkers was not a thank you for his service, but it felt like it to him and that’s all that matters. He earned the right with his service and subsequent years of forcibly compelled “gifts” to the state to interpret the program anyway he wanted. He was on it. The car was just a side benefit.
And so, it became more about the principle than the vehicle, mattering little because the principle WAS the vehicle for this particular goal to unfold.
The 2009 Ford Fusion had $3500 of manufacturer’s rebates and I would qualify for a $500 rebate for being a new college graduate. On top of this, the model we chose qualified for the $3500, brining down the actual out of pocket expense down by $7500! On a car with an MSRP of around $21,000, that’s 36% off!
As a family strategizing on finding the best value, we decided to use car-buying services through my parents’ bank, USAA, and Costco. As it were, the lowest priced models were located as far north as Sunrise Ford in North Hollywood and as far east as Puente Hills Ford, but as fate would have it, the deceit, frustration, and distrust that we had quickly developed for car salesmen kept us right in our hometown at the place that had been honest from the beginning, McCoy & Mills Ford in Fullerton.
Car salesmen are a different breed. Even if they foul up, they will do anything to keep you in the showroom and even more to keep you from driving off the lot in the same vehicle in which you entered. Case in point: Sunrise Ford in North Hollywood.
We drove over an hour to meet with an individual there who had already confirmed a price with me over the phone. There were to be no negotiations, no tricks, only the formality of signing some papers (NOTE 9: An oral contract is worth the paper its written on). They had a good deal and this was the only reason we’d go that far for a car. On the phone in early July, they said they had already begun the Cash for Clunkers program. We took them at their word–big mistake.
It was 101 degrees when we arrived. Upon arrival, things went smoothly. They had transported a vehicle matching our specifications from a dealership in Santa Maria to their dealership that morning, but it was only as we were finalizing the paperwork that they dropped the bomb on us (NOTE 10: Don’t try to pull a fast one on the Rosenow family, especially not on mom or dad. If you’ve ever wanted to feel like a complete worthless imbecilic boob as two intelligently vocal human bulldogs destroy your confidence and cause other customers to question their own business transactions, go ahead and take on mom and dad.). The bomb fell as they requested a check from us in the amount of $4,500 that, in the event that the Cadillac did not qualify as a clunker under the finalized rules, would be cashed and the clunkers benefit negated. We’d have a new Ford, no discount, and no Cadillac.
In essence, as my father put it, they were asking us to “underwrite the US Government and relieve them of the risk.” They said that there was a 99% probability they wouldn’t have to cash it, but if the deal were not authorized, the check would be cashed to cover their reimbursement, thus defeating the purpose of purchasing a vehicle. But “probably” is not good enough when a price has already been agreed upon, nor is it good enough when there are several thousand dollars on the line. Yet, from a business standpoint, they understood that there was a remote chance that the Cadillac would not qualify. Any dealer who had begun the Cash for Clunkers program was taking a significant and stupid risk of not being paid back, but reduced that risk by having less than savvy customers provide insurance for the dealer’s potential loss. The tirade that followed was masterful.
Without a doubt, sitting back and watching the exchange that unfolded was the essence of family fun. Have you ever seen a car salesman squirm? I have. Have you ever seen one completely embarrassed? I have. Have you ever seen one try so hard to justify a trade practice so badly that their fellow associates begin laughing when the customer calls them on it? Oh, baby…I have. Have you EVER had a car salesman tell you to do business somewhere else because the trade practices at the dealership they represent are unacceptable? You never will, but would you believe it happened that day?
As we left 2.5 hours later with a Cadillac with no air conditioning and no first gear, full of frustration about what became a 50+ mile milk run, and hungry for dinner, the Internet sales manager, the sales manager, and the general manager of the dealership all came out individually to give one last ditch effort to convince us to stay; they still insisted that the requested check would not really underwrite the U.S. government, but that the dealership needed it to be there–just in case–but it wasn’t in any way passing the risk to the customer. This should not have been an issue anyway. We presented all of our paperwork to validate transaction above and beyond the requirements. It was not as if there had been holes in the registration or issues with the insurance paperwork. Everything had been accounted for, except Sunrise Ford’s ethics.
Personally, it seems more reprehensible to defend a position which you know not only to be untrue, but to also be maliciously deceitful to the customers who place their trust in you. After working a sales/advising position since graduation, I have yet to recommend something to somebody that I think would leave them in a worse off position than when they first spoke with me. The notion of doing that would leave me questioning my own integrity, my own views of myself. It’s one thing to make a sale, but it’s another to sell yourself out.
A few days later, a similar event took place, but this time it involved a relatively new and young salesman, to whom I in retrospect give the benefit of the doubt, but who had set himself up for his own embarrassment early in the process. It was evening after my mother and I were through working. I had already been to a Ford dealer in Tustin earlier that day who tactfully tried to take advantage of my youth by ignoring the price I provided through the car buying service and even went as far as to lay out 2 options for me that, conveniently enough, both ended in me buying a car from him at well above the price I provided. He even made me wait in his little office while he went out and took a cigarette break. I should have left then, but waited knowing that I had all the power to say no. As a consumer, you have a great deal of unstated power. If you do your research and you know what to expect, you improve, not only your bargaining position with the other party, but also your ability to control the meeting space. The salesman becomes more like a beggar who requires your cooperation to survive. Proudly, I was not what he expected. When he presented his options, expecting the young kid to feel obligated to drive away with a new car, I picked option C and walked out without shaking his extended nicotine-stained hand.
At Puente Hills Ford, the young salesman had joked about the price being $10,000 more than expected. How fortuitous and untimely, because as the paperwork unfolded, he had to leave to go talk to his manager to clarify something about the car. He was gone fro the better part of 20 minutes, ignoring his girlfriend’s calls and staying with us well past the posted closing time of the dealership. It was their anniversary and they had planned to go out to dinner.
But here was a man who had his priorities straight, sitting proudly as an unyielding pillar of fortitude to the incessant demands of his needy girlfriend and their relationship. He could explain to her later: “Baby, I had to work…for us. You understand, right?” She wouldn’t understand. She wouldn’t care, her unsympathetic eyes knowing full well she could have dated a doctor and pleased her parents, but instead chose the professional salesman who so clearly cared ONLY for his own career advancement and not about their relationship and her emotions, even less about the dinner he would be paying for with the commission he made from the sale that kept him late for their dinner meeting where she was about to break up with him. It was clear to her now: men never care, but he especially never cared and she had to hit him where it hurt most. “You uncaring bastard,” she would say. “You pay for dinner and then we’re through. I’ve always liked your brother more anyway!” (NOTE 11: That paragraph had nothing to do with anything except to be overly dramatic and completely made up…I hope.)
He returned telling us that he had been tabulating the price based on the incorrect vehicle and that the price already on paper would be a mere $2000 more. Only this time, he wasn’t joking. He swore it was not any form of bait and switch, and I trust it wasn’t, but it sure seemed like it. Either way, it resulted in mom and me leaving with a profusely apologetic salesman trailing us like the dog on the bottle of Coppertone sunscreen. What he expected to be a night of exuberant bragging to his girlfriend on their anniversary, another cause for celebration, would instead be hampered, and require extensive explanation to a woman whose romantic evening was completely ruined through no fault of her own (NOTE 12: Women, please just understand every once in a while. We men try really hard!). Either way, the joke was on him. We left with a 1992 Cadillac Fleetwood, frustration, and 2 unrecoverable hours fewer in our lives.
Sick and tired of traveling, bargaining what did not need to be bargained, fighting with salesmen, and wasting time, we went to McCoy & Mills Ford in Fullerton and a to a particular salesman who had, early in the process, taken the time to teach me how to drive a manual transmission but informed us that they were not starting the program until they received the final rules from the government. The rules arrived on the 23rd and that evening we went to make a deal (NOTE 13: Before we left, we rescued a baby hawk, but that’s a story for another time.). It was as seamless as seamless could be. They were up front and honest, they took the time to explain the program and how many of the other dealers were going to run into a lot of trouble by starting the program early because of the complexity of it. Essentially, had we been naive enough to just write a check to Sunrise Ford, odds were high that they would have cashed it. We even shared some laughs about a particular element of the rules of the C.A.R.S. program as shown below. This is a doozy from page 134 of 136:
“Paperwork Reduction Act Burden Statement
A federal agency may not conduct or sponsor, and a person is not required to respond to, nor shall a person be subject to a penalty for failure to comply with a collection of information subject to the requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act unless that collection of information displays a current valid OMB Control Number. The OMB Control Number for this information collection is 2127-0658. Public reporting for this collection of information is estimated to be approximately XX minutes per response, including the time for reviewing instructions, completing and reviewing the collection of information.”
First, the title is hilarious. This is on page 134, for goodness sake. Second, if you can decode what this means, how it applies, or why it’s even relevant, you’re smarter than the lawmakers who wrote it, which might not be saying much, but at least it doesn’t mean you’re any dumber. Either way, it’s good to know that in 136 pages of printed and distributed legislation that the government is considerate of the trees.
The customer service that they exhibited was instrumental in enjoying the experience. Many people, us included, become easily burnt out with the tribulations that come with overly complicated tasks that, on the surface, appear straightforward and simple, but which always seem to be ruined with irritating circumstances. Flying is an example, as is Christmas shopping, as is buying a car. For each one, the expectation is clearly defined and yet the expectation is never met without regressive steps along the way to remove any hope of enjoyment. We do these things out of necessity, but fear them because we fear the unknown and hate when the unknown becomes negatively apparent to us. We know eventually some good will come out, that there will be some payoff at the end of the tiring, miserable process and the potential for elated spirits, for something valuable and tangible to come about, we must endure some degree of discomfort. Without a certain degree of misery, we, as human beings, creatures of relativity and judgment, would never be able to comprehend or appreciate happiness when it arrives. The process is everywhere and in everything.
As I drove off the lot in a 2009 Ford Fusion with my father beside me, we were both excited. A serious burden had been lifted and we could now fall back exhausted. We accomplished a lot, really, we did. He stuck it to the government and received his meager $3500 thank you. The 1992 Cadillac retired from service. Sunrise Ford would inevitably be hit with penalties or angry customers, or both. The honest dealership would benefit from following the rules. I learned several new lessons. Mom was happy that the tax money would stay in Fullerton. The government…well, they did the usual.
What seemed a pitifully miserable situation turned into life as normal because what we experienced happens every day to everyone. Happiness is always fleeting so embrace the few content moments we have. They are worthy of celebrating temporarily. Worthy of absorbing, laughing about, and later recounting for fun is the undue negativity that precedes these moments. These stories increase in amusement value with time. Appreciation always comes with time.
Actually, I didn’t just cruise off the lot. I stalled. And stalled again. And stalled again. The salesman taught me how to drive a manual transmission, but I wasn’t an expert. I stalled on the streets, too. Dad was flipping out. We saved $800 by buying a manual and I would learn a new skill. Dad still flipped out. He was tired and so was I. The night was July 23 and we had been the first Cash for Clunkers deal at McCoy & Mills Ford in Fullerton. We were special, but mostly relieved and exuberant for 3 minutes, no more. There was a new challenge for me, a new concern for him, and another extended period of frustration before we could again attain another celebratory moment. It’s the challenges that keep us alive to compete, without fear of failure or setback, for a better tomorrow. In this author’s chapter of life, the Cash for Clunkers program provided me with more flunk, the world with less clunk, and ideally represented the cycle of success and failure that hinges on the very decision we face each and every day to take everything on without regard to its importance, its complexity, or its overall affect on our lives. For all pitfalls, with each one, we become one step closer to the three minutes of satisfaction that permits us to disregard the misery of failure.
BE ACTIVE, NOT PASSIVE!
In active voice, passivity hounds many writers, but in passive voice, many writers are hounded by passivity. Do you notice the difference? Many do not, or defer to the latter because it sounds more sophisticated. It doesn’t.
Instead, passive voice adds wordiness and an awkwardness to sentences, causing the passage to feel “overwritten” or just boring. Speaking technically, the difference between active voice and passive voice is fairly simple and only comes down to where the direct object of a sentence is located in relation to the action verb of the sentence: in passive voice, the direct object comes before the verb and in active voice the direct object comes after the verb. The direct object receives the action of the verb.
For example (DO is bolded):
Active: The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
Passive: The lazy dog was jumped over by the quick brown fox.
Active: The Final Drafters will correct your passive voice sentences.
Passive: Your passive voice sentences will be corrected by The Final Drafters.
Not only does passive voice add words, but its overuse complicates your writing to the point that it becomes unpleasant to read. Aside from that, active voice gets right to the point. In a situation where word count or space limitations dictate how much you can say and how you can say it, make every word count. Write actively, not passively.
The Adjective Advantage (and adverbs, too)
At TFD, we live by rule #14 of our set of rules that share no commonalities with one another:
14. Not only do scintillating adjectives add histrionic flare to any languid sentence, they can substantially improve others’ fallacious preconceptions of your unperceived intellect.
It’s a bit over the top, but that’s the point. Many times, our clients are tentative about adding a little flash to their written work because they thing the reader will “get it” on his/her own or that details or wordiness are inappropriate for most situations outside of novels. But to “get it”–for the reader to truly appreciate your apt description, your vivid imagination, or your seemingly indescribable story — it’s the consistent culmination of minute details throughout your work that count. The descriptors make or break your ability to express yourself and for others to appreciate your expression. Remember, the devil, but more frequently, the right response from readers, resides in the details.
For a law school personal statement example (this is a TFD creation, not an actual client’s work):
“Over the last few years, I have gained many skills that will make me a solid law school student and lawyer in the future. I had the privilege of working with a law firm where I observed and personally helped attorneys prepare for cases and handle client files.”
“Over the last few years, I have gained many invaluable skills that will make me a purposeful-driven law school student and adroit lawyer in the future. I had the privilege of working with a highly-respected law firm where I observed and personally helped attorneys meticulously prepare for complicated cases and expertly handle client files.”
The message is the same, but the way its told adds that “histrionic flare” that can be the difference between a reader turning the page and turning you down. The extra time it takes to formulate the words required to accurately describe exactly what you want to say can transform a well-written, but slightly dull work into a high-quality, expressive, exemplary, consummate, and adjective healthy final draft.
Spelling Checks and Balances
To the trained eye, errors in word usage or terminology stand out right away. For the audiences our clients hope to impress, trusting Microsoft Word’s spelling check is a tremendous liability, because it will overlook words that, while spelled correctly, are used incorrectly. Consider that Microsoft Word is only as good as the algorithm it uses for every document.
Some of the most common misuses are:
allusion/illusion – an allusion is a reference to something, whereas an illusion is a false perception.
affect/effect – simply put: affect is a verb, effect is a noun.
Capitol/capital – Capitol is the physical building where politicians meet and is always capitalized. Capital is an asset, an uppercase letter, or a city which contains, of all things, a Capitol.
Remember to always have a second set of eyes read over your copy because what your word processor doesn’t know can and will hurt you.
Welcome everyone to the Final Drafters blog.
When I started editing as a service, the primary goal was to be a competent editing and advisory resource for the personal statements of my friends applying to graduate schools. Shortly after hearing very encouraging reviews about the work I had done for these friends-turned-clients, it seemed appropriate to take the concept to the next level: The Final Drafters.
My business revolves around providing high quality editing and revision for not only students applying for graduate schools, but for students applying to undergraduate schools, for workers looking to spice up their resumes, and for business owners in need of content review.
For the past six years I have edited copy, starting in 2004 as the Advertising Editor’s assistant for the Sunny Hills High School Helios Yearbook. As a professional medium on a high school’s campus, I loved the team and project aspects of work that the yearbook provided and continued it in college, eventually becoming the Editor-in-Chief of the UC Irvine Anthology Yearbook in 2008. Quite frankly, as frustrating as the English language can be, it is a lot of fun because of its many nuances. To me, every piece I edit is a new puzzle that can ALWAYS be improved.
This background helped me attain an internship at WebVisible, Inc., a search engine marketing company for small and mid-sized businesses. I worked directly for the Vice President of Sales and Marketing, where one of my duties was to write, craft, and revise marketing content for my exceptionally visionary boss. Here, I refined my ability to choose words carefully, phrase them efficiently, and ultimately convey a specific message in a concise and readable manner.
But, while my self-aggrandizement gives me some satisfaction, for the satisfaction of my clients, I prefer for my work to speak for itself. On this blog, you’ll soon see reviews of my work, updates about clients, and some pieces I’ve written.
Please contact me and I’ll proofread your work for free.
Again, welcome and spread the word! The Final Drafters is (singular entity) in business!
Erik Q. Rosenow