Erin Lynn Cook English 125 Essays

Here’s a tip: Choose a topic you really want to write about. If the subject doesn’t matter to you, it won’t matter to the reader. Write about whatever keeps you up at night. That might be cars, or coffee. It might be your favorite book or the Pythagorean theorem. It might be why you don’t believe in evolution or how you think kale must have hired a PR firm to get people to eat it.

A good topic will be complex. In school, you were probably encouraged to write papers that took a side. That’s fine in academic work when you’re being asked to argue in support of a position, but in a personal essay, you want to express more nuanced thinking and explore your own clashing emotions. In an essay, conflict is good.

For example, “I love my mom. She’s my best friend. We share clothes and watch ‘The Real Housewives’ of three different cities together” does not make for a good essay. “I love my mom even though she makes me clean my room, hates my guinea pig and is crazy about disgusting food like kale” could lead somewhere

While the personal essay has to be personal, a reader can learn a lot about you from whatever you choose to focus on and how you describe it. One of my favorites from when I worked in admissions at Duke University started out, “My car and I are a lot alike.” The writer then described a car that smelled like wet dog and went from 0 to 60 in, well, it never quite got to 60.

Another guy wrote about making kimchi with his mom. They would go into the garage and talk, really talk: “Once my mom said to me in a thick Korean accent, ‘Every time you have sex, I want you to make sure and use a condo.’ I instantly burst into laughter and said, ‘Mom, that could get kind of expensive!’ ” A girl wrote about her feminist mother’s decision to get breast implants.

A car, kimchi, Mom’s upsizing — the writers used these objects as vehicles to get at what they had come to say. They allowed the writer to explore the real subject: This is who I am.

Don’t brag about your achievements. Instead, look at times you’ve struggled or, even better, failed. Failure is essayistic gold. Figure out what you’ve learned. Write about that. Be honest and say the hardest things you can. And remember those exhausted admissions officers sitting around a table in the winter. Jolt them out of their sugar coma and give them something to be excited about.

10 Things Students Should Avoid

REPEATING THE PROMPT Admissions officers know what’s on their applications. Don’t begin, “A time that I failed was when I tried to beat up my little brother and I realized he was bigger than me.” You can start right in: “As I pulled my arm back to throw a punch, it struck me: My brother had gotten big. Bigger than me.”

LEAVE WEBSTER’S OUT OF IT Unless you’re using a word like “prink” (primp) or “demotic” (popular) or “couloir” (deep gorge), you can assume your reader knows the definition of the words you’ve written. You’re better off not starting your essay with “According to Webster’s Dictionary . . . .”

THE EPIGRAPH Many essays start with a quote from another writer. When you have a limited amount of space, you don’t want to give precious real estate to someone else’s words.

YOU ARE THERE! When writing about past events, the present tense doesn’t allow for reflection. All you can do is tell the story. This happens, then this happens, then this happens. Some beginning writers think the present tense makes for more exciting reading. You’ll see this is a fallacy if you pay attention to how many suspenseful novels are written in past tense.

SOUND EFFECTSOuch! Thwack! Whiz! Whooooosh! Pow! Are you thinking of comic books? Certainly, good writing can benefit from a little onomatopoeia. Clunk is a good one. Or fizz. But once you start adding exclamation points, you’re wading into troubled waters. Do not start your essay with a bang!

ACTIVE BODY PARTS One way to make your reader giggle is to give body parts their own agency. When you write a line like “His hands threw up,” the reader might get a visual image of hands barfing. “My eyes fell to the floor.” Ick.

CLICHÉS THINK YOUR THOUGHTS FOR YOU Here’s one: There is nothing new under the sun. We steal phrases and ideas all the time. George Orwell’s advice: “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”

TO BE OR NOT TO BE Get rid of “to be” verbs. Replace “was” in “The essay was written by a student; it was amazing and delightful” and you’ll get: “The student’s essay amazed and delighted me.” We’ve moved from a static description to a sprightlier one and cut the word count almost in half.

WORD PACKAGES Some phrases — free gift, personal beliefs, final outcome, very unique — come in a package we don’t bother to unpack. They’re redundant.

RULES TO IGNORE In English class, you may have to follow a list of rules your teacher says are necessary for good grammar: Don’t use contractions. No sentence fragments. It’s imperative to always avoid split infinitives. Ending on a preposition is the sort of English up with which teachers will not put. And don’t begin a sentence with a conjunction like “and” or “but” or “because.” Pick up a good book. You’ll see that the best authors ignore these fussy, fusty rules.

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2017 Writing Prize Winners

First-Year Writing Prizes

Matt Kelley/Granader Family Prize for Excellence in First-Year Writing

Serena Scholz "The Helsinki Waste Closet Incident"
nominated by Louis Cicciarelli, LHSP 125

Bailey Stein "Coins"
nominated by Carol Tell, LHSP 125

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Multilingual Writing

Xiaowei Ou "The Molecular Connection between Chemistry and Learning Astronomy"
nominated by Shuwen Li, Writing 120

Fengyi Tong "Comparative Analysis of Two Print Advertisements"
nominated by Scott Beal, Writing 120

Granader Family Prize for Outstanding Writing Portfolio

Stephanie Bloom https://stephaniebloomwriting1002016.wordpress.com/
nominated by Gina Brandolino, Writing 100

Miles Honey https://mileshoney.wordpress.com/
nominated by Julie Babcock, Writing 100

2017 First-Year Writing Prizebook (pdf)

Upper-Level Writing Prizes

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (Social Sciences)

Meredith Fox "Would You Know It If You Saw It?: Gender Differences in College Students' Ability to Identify Sexual Assault"
nominated by Kimberly Hess, Sociology 310

Michael Gawlik "Chapter 1: The Characters"
nominated by John Carson, History 499

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (Sciences)

Natalie Andrasko "Refugees struggle rejoining medical field after resettlement"
nominated by Emilia Askari, Environ 320

Hadley Tuthill "Uncovering Food Insecurity Among College Students, a Tricky Population"
nominated by Julie Halpert, Environ 320

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (Humanities)

Courtney Cook  "10 Months In Europe"
nominated by Jaimien Delp, English 325: Art of the Essay

Claire Wood "On Nights Like These"
nominated by John Rubadeau, English 425: Advanced Essay Writing

2017 Upper-Level Writing Prizebook (pdf)

2016 Writing Prize Winners

First-Year Writing Prizes

Matt Kelley/Granader Family Prize for Excellence in First-Year Writing

Thomas Aiello "Challenging Media Representations of the Global Refugee Crisis"
nominated by Robyn D'Avignon, History 195

Caroline Rothrock "Walking into Eternity along Sandymount Strand: Regarding the Importance of Walking in the Works of James Joyce"
nominated by Karein Goertz, RC 100

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Multilingual Writing

Hyunju Lee "What Can You Do on Your Own?"
nominated by Scott Beal, Writing 120

Ran Ming "Females in STEM Need a Stronger Voice"
nominated by Jing Xia, Writing 120

Granader Family Prize for Outstanding Writing Portfolio

Jaelyn Jennings https://jaejenn.wordpress.com/
nominated by Gina Brandolino, Writing 100

Alexis Low https://alexisclow.wordpress.com/
nominated by Julie Babcock, Writing 100

2016 First-Year Writing Prizebook (pdf)

Upper-Level Writing Prizes

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (Social Sciences)

Sonia Tagari "Drought in California as a Continuation of High Modernism,Utilitarianism and Social Inequality"
nominated by Omolade Adunbi, AAS322/Environ 335

Nicole Vozar "A Comparison of Elite Egyptian and Roman Tombs"
nominated by Robin Beck (Travis Williams GSI), ANTHRARC 386

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (Sciences)

Ryan Levy "A Survey of Radioactivity Experiments"
nominated by Hui Deng, Physics 441

Alexandra Peirce "How Universities are Trying to Prevent LGBTQ Sexual Assault"
nominated by Julie Halpert, Environ 320

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (Humanities)

Bethany Canning "Dying in America"
nominated by Paul Barron, Writing 420

Wake Coulter "Freeway in the Garden"
nominated by Jennifer Metsker, ARTDES 399

2016 Upper-Level Writing Prizebook (pdf)

2015 Prizes

First-Year Writing Prizes

Matt Kelley/Granader Family Prize for Excellence in First-Year Writing

Anna Silver “The Force of Violence; The Power of Forgiveness”
nominated by Carrie Wood, Great Books 191

Ardie Kamran “Keep Walking, Just Don’t Cry!”
nominated by Scott Beal, LHSP 125

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Multilingual Writing

Xiaoman Gan “Socializing is Not an Easy Thing”
nominated by Scott Beal, Writing 120

Ziyan Yang “The Power of Attitude in Comparative Advertising”
nominated by Lori Randall, Writing 120

Granader Family Prize for Outstanding Writing Portfolio

Akemi Tsutsumi “Akemi Tsutsumi’s E-Portfolio”
nominated by Gina Brandolino, Writing 100

Kate Vogel “Kate’s Collection”
nominated by Jennifer Metsker, Writing 100

2015 First-Year Writing Prizebook (pdf)

Upper-Level Writing Prizes

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (Sciences)

Anna Clinger “Tracking Seasonal Evolution of Subglacial Transport System at
the Lemon Creek Glacier, Alaska, USA”
nominated Sarah Aciego, Earth 442: Earth Surface Processes and Soils

Katherine Dougan “Effect of variable reproductive output and connectivity
on populations of a host fish and its bacterial symbiont, with implications for
future climate change”
nominated by Ingrid Hendy, Earth 333: The Inexhaustible Seas? Marine Resources
and Environmental Issues

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (Social Sciences)

Grace Judge “Detroit Bankruptcy and Redistribution”
nominated by Mika LaVaque-Manty, PolSci 381: Political Science Research Design

Erica Mirabitur “Sense and Sensitivity: Theories and Empirics of Inflation
Aversion at the Populace Level”
nominated by Robert Franzese, PolSci 343: Comparative Political Economy of
Developed Democracies

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (Humanities)

Katherine Koziara “President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address”
nominated by Shelley Manis, Writing 420: Minor in Writing Capstone

Teresa Mathew “Pulling Off Desire”
nominated by John Rubadeau, English 425: The Art of the Essay

2015 Upper-Level Writing Prizebook (pdf)

2014 Prizes

First-Year Writing Prizes

Granader Family Prize for Outstanding Writing Portfolio

Christopher J. Zysnarski Writer's Home
Writing 100 (nominated by Liliana Naydan)

Neila Fraiha neila100
Writing 100 (nominated by Liliana Naydan)

Matt Kelley/Granader Family Prize for Excellence in First Year Writing

Sin Ye Hwang
The Struggle of a Lonely Banana
Comparative Literature 122 (nominated by Hilary Levinson)

Callie Chappell Oedipus Tyrannus on Causality, Determinism, and Identity
Great Books 191 (nominated by Matthew Cohn)

2014 First-Year Writing Prizebook (pdf)

Upper-Level Writing Prizes

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (humanities)

Rebecca Bonner
Women, Family Policy, and Consumption in Cold War Germany
History 496, Germany in the Cold War Era (nominated by Rita Chin)

James Nadel Camel Songs: A Comparison of the Tuareg and the Bedouin
History 496, Nomads: the Nomadic Factor in History (nominated by Ellen Poteet)

Granader Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (social sciences)

Maximillian Huppertz
A Fair System of Education
ECON/PHIL 408 (nominated by Frank Thompson)

Sarah N. Cunningham
Record Keeping in Ancient Civilizations
Anthrarc 386, Archaeology of Early Civilizations (nominated by Carla Sinopoli)

Granader Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (sciences)

Alexandra R. Berns Increasing Crop Growth: The Effect of Compost on the Growth of Ryegrass, Lolium perenne
EEB372, General Ecology Lab (nominated Lynn Carpenter)

Nicholas Kern
A New Class of Supergiant Stars?
Astro 429 (nominated by Sally Oey)

2014 Upper-Level Writing Prizebook (pdf)

2013 Prizes

First-Year Writing Prizes

Sweetland Prize for Outstanding Writing Portfolio

Trishanya Raju trishanya.wordpress.com
Writing 100 (nominated by Paul Barron)

Grace Yan Sun gracesunwriting100.wordpress.com
Writing 100 (nominated by Simone Sessolo)

Matt Kelley Prize for Excellence in First-Year Writing

Yardain Amron When the Silence Settles
LHSP 125 (nominated by Tim Hedges)

Amelia Brown Ink
LHSP 125 (nominated by Tim Hedges)

2013 First-Year Writing Prizebook (pdf)

Upper-Level Writing Prizes

Sweetland Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (sciences)

Molly Blakowski Wind-driven dust transport in the Transantarctic Mountains and Antarctic Dry Valleys
Earth 442 (nominated by Sarah Aciego)

Carrie Glauner Identifying Channel Migration Directionality in the agricultural, low relief setting on the River Raisin
Earth 442 (nominated by Sarah Aciego)

Sweetland Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (social sciences)

Hayley Sakwa Fresh Food Financing Initiative: A Replicable Practice in Detroit?
PolSci 411 (nominated by Joel Clark)

William Benjamin Rogers
Mines, Migration and the Confluence of Disease: The Story of South Africa
AAS 495 (nominated by Adam Ashforth)

Sweetland Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (humanities)

Rachel Kalayjian To Find a Voice
Writing 300 (nominated by Lila Naydan)

Sam Walker Ezra Pound, Aura, and the Memory of Time-Past
English 340 (nominated by John Whittier-Ferguson)

2013 Upper-Level Writing Prize Book (pdf)

2012 Prizes

First-Year Writing Prizes

Sweetland Prize for Outstanding Writing Portfolio

Jiatu Liu Untitled
Writing 100 (nominated by Gina Brandolino)

Clarissa Ortiz Untitiled
Writing 100 (nominated by Gina Brandolino)

Matt Kelley Prize for Excellence in First-Year Writing

Sarah Leddon
The Public Woman's Guide to Getting By
HIST 195 (nominated by Sara Lampert)

Margaret Scholten Fate and Transition
GTBooks 191 (nominated by Sayan Bhattacharyya)

2012 First-Year Writing Prize Book (pdf)

Upper-Level Writing Prizes

Sweetland Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (sciences)

Nell Gable News Feature
Environ 320 (nominated by Emilia Askari)

Naomi Lewandowski
Human Impacts on Ecosystems: Comparing the Removal of the Gray Wolf (Canis Lupus) to the Introduction of Invasive Water Hyacinths (Eichornia Crassipes)
Earth 431 (nominated by Selena Smith)

Sweetland Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (social sciences)

Christian Keil
Newcomb's Problem and Expected Utility
Econ/Phil 408 (nominated by Frank Thompson)

Seth Soderborg
The Effects of Conditional Cash Transfer Payments on Voter Support for the Partido dos Trabalhadores
PolSci 381 (nominated by Rob Salmond)

Sweetland Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (humanities)

Aaron Bekemeyer
Bringing the Revolution Home or Fulfilling the Law? Hist 399 (nominated by John Carson)

Ryan Pavel The Gun
English 325 (nominated by Alex Ralph)

2012 Upper-Level Writing Prize Book (pdf)

2011 Prizes

First-Year Writing Prizes

Sweetland Prize for Outstanding Writing Portfolio

Vivien Dregely
My (Literary and College) Journey
SWC 100 (nominated by Matt Kelley)

Kathy Pham Choreography of Words
SWC 100 (nominated by Delia Decourcy)

Matt Kelley Prize for Excellence in First-Year Writing

Elizabeth Allison
American Pride and Prejudice: Yasuhiro Ishimoto in The Family of Man
LHSP 125 (nominated by Matt Kelley)

Olivia Postelli Moon Walk (1969)
RCCore 100 (nominated by Virginia Murphy)

2011 First-Year Writing Prize Book (pdf)

Upper-Level Writing Prizes

Sweetland Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (sciences)

Anna Cacciaglia An Odd Kind of Sympathy
English 325 (nominated by Sara Talpos)

Aimee Vester Charcot-Marie Tooth Disease
MCDB 397 (nominated by Laura Olsen)

Sweetland Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (social sciences)

Anton Camaj, Eileen Divringi, Jake Gatof, Nicole Johnson, Ji Won Moon, and Azure Nowara
Oh SNAP! The Real Cost of Cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
POLSCI 381 (nominated by Mika LaVaque-Manty)

Jennifer Sun
English Proficiency and Spousal Support are Associated with Higher Self-rated Health in a National Sample of Asian American Immigrants
PSYCH 391 (nominated by Perry Silverschanz)

Sweetland Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (humanities)

Deanna Willis A Break from Conventionality
SWC 300 (nominated by Matt Kelley)

Carly Friedman Miss Ann Philips: Via Air Mail
English 325 (nominated by Aric Knuth)

2011 Upper-Level Writing Prize Book (pdf)

2010 Prizes

Excellence in First-Year Writing

Kathleen Telfer Culture Clash: Aristotle and Visual Modernism and Postmodernism
Great Books 191 (nominated by Catalina Pereda)

Alexandra Park Forgetting to Remember, Remembering to Forget: An Analysis of Hyperthymesia and Anterograde Amnesia in "Funes, His Memory" and "Memento"
Comp Lit 122 (nominated by Basak Candar)

From EDWP, representing papers from English 124, the work of Michael Flood (nominated by Julie Babcock), Erin Piell (nominated by Sara Schaff) and Chong Guo (also nominated by Sara Schaff).

Sweetland Prize for Outstanding Portfolio

Thomas Yeh (nominated by Christine Modey)

Alex Liberman (nominated by Jennifer Metsker)

2010 First-Year Writing Prizebook (pdf)

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