Ugh 2: When “Professional” Writers Get It Wrong

bad writing

By Paul Culp, MA (Oxon), CFT, GCDF, CCSP

Applying for college and financial aid usually involves a goodly quantity of writing. One of our students wrote 22 essays last year, and we are encountering similar totals this year as the admissions decisions keep coming and the scholarship hunt keeps going. Essay coaching is a key component of our program, and we blog with some regularity about the art of writing—and the artlessness of it as well. (See Ugh: When Professional Writers Get It Wrong and When Grammar Takes a Nap: The 10 Most Common College App Essay Boo-Boos.) We have recently lamented, in multiple articles, the prevalence of negative examples that exert a deleterious influence on young people trying to learn to express themselves well. As noted elsewhere, we routinely encounter grammatical and mechanical errors in the essay prompts and admissions-related materials that our students receive from elite colleges. One of our favorites, already noted in another post, was this one:

Just as there was no room for the period inside the quotation marks. And by the way,  that was from the admissions office at one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the country.

In researching our recent post on Ten Mistakes You Must Avoid in Applying for Scholarships, we encountered this sub-head in an article by a writer trying to warn students not to make the mistake of…

bad writing

Like maybe you don’t write English real good.

The linguistic decline in education circles naturally extends to those being “educated,” who then venture forth into the world and wreak all manner of havoc in the minds of impressionable young readers. It’s easy to see why the news media, marketing and advertising agencies, and even the book-publishing industry seem increasingly unable to produce an intelligent sentence:

One of [our] premier client’s in the DC Metro area is looking for a Copy Editor.”  And I bet your just the one’s to show they’re HR people how thing’s are done to.

“The [name redacted] is ready to hire a Associate Story Editor.” Indeed. Were confidant their going to make the right higher. We recommend that they “seize the window of opportunity,” an expression that has become all too common among people who apparently have never opened a window or peered through one, let alone sliced their fingers to ribbons seizing one. The fan website for a British soccer team asks rhetorically whether such a seizure might be possible this season and assures us that “[a] window of opportunity is on the horizon, successfully navigating our way through December could be the making of this new Everton side.” Ah, navigation. That would be a porthole of opportunity, then (held together by a comma splice). But whatever was on the horizon must have been a sea mirage or perhaps a ferris wheel on a far shore, for Everton has won 13 of 38 matches as we proceed to publication.

Meanwhile, in American football, a well-known sports publication explained in a game recap that “the Redskins defense stepped up to the plate.” Four paragraphs later, we learn that “Tennessee’s defense also stepped up to the plate.” No wonder both teams struggled last year, what with so many fellows not knowing what sport they were playing. Maybe the Redskins think their .438 winning percentage was their batting average. Or maybe the writer misinterpreted that bizarre business of the Carolina Panthers walking around with bats during warm-ups a few years ago, which admittedly was not easy to understand for anyone with an IQ over 38.

In other news from the Washington, D.C., area, newly elected members of Congress stepped up the plate and seized the window (cracks having appeared in the glass ceiling):

“Pelosi, Ocasio-Cortez paint unified front on climate.” In former times, one merely presented a front, but as Tom Sawyer apprised his chums, whitewashing is wonderfully fulfilling. So fulfilling that many people in Washington whitewash both sides of the fence and then perch atop it.

Alas, storm clouds soon appeared on the horizon, clearly visible through the window of opportunity:

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has revived a special panel, known as the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis…The members of the panel were unveiled Thursday but do not include Ocasio-Cortez.” Wait your turn, kid, learn how the system works, and maybe next term you can be in the nude group photo.

Some writers stepped up to the plate with more violent imagery:

“Pelosi throws shade at Green New Deal.” Perhaps it was the shade that so often covers the window of opportunity. Or maybe the writer simply doesn’t know what shade is or how it works, which suggests that s/he must have been in prison for quite some time. That’s beginning to seem like an admirable idea.

The discussion then moved from home furnishings into the realm of transportation:

They does? In our fractured political discourse, not even subjects and verbs can agree, and now a politician noted for her concern about pollution in general and flatulent cattle in particular uses such a beast for transportation. If it canters too briskly, she might need to “put on the breaks,” as a certain popular magazine for young men would have it.

It’s easy to mock inept writers, but we must give credit where due. According to Yahoo News, one magazine saw greatness in a particular North Carolina congressman nearly three decades before he seized and painted the corridors of power:

“McHenry was the subject of a 5,000-word profile in Washington Monthly during his first year in office. Then just 29 years old, the piece described him as eager to go on cable TV anytime, anywhere, to talk about anything.” That’s a man of destiny for you, profiled by a journalist with vision working under an editor who knows how to hold a story until the time is right to step up to the plate and seize the window.

Meanwhile a great many Americans continue to be restive under what they view as an oppressive regime of political correctness that presents peculiar hazards:

“We are Americans. The days of walking on pins and needles are over.” Yes, brothers and sisters, it’s time to dance on their heads like the angels we are, so let’s kick the eggshell down the road, going forward, and see who salutes it at the end of the day.

As the frontier between politics and entertainment continues to suffer for want of a border wall (preferably whitewashed but windowless), the disturbing trend toward judging candidates by purely physical attributes begins to affect even small-town politics:

“Small business owner to run for mayor.” Fake news. I know him, and he’s well over six feet tall and outweighs me by at least fifty pounds.

Still, harmony and amity are not unheard of, despite the possibility of questionable motives:

“Tucson and Scottsdale rated among the best cities in nation to get married.” Shopping for a wedding gift is going to be hard, but most young municipal couples can really use a new expressway. I hate to throw shade at anybody’s window, but as a former resident of Arizona, I can tell you that Tucson married for the money.

Celebrities of the non-political variety continue to behave in the manner to which we have become accustomed:

“Ace Frehley accuses Gene Simmons of groping his wife in scathing Facebook post.” That’s as good an argument as any for not asking someone to “reach out.”

It is indeed fortunate that in these distempered times (with so much at steak) we still have elevated fiction to divert us:

“Pepper seated herself at one of two massive refractory tables and tried to picture both tables filled with nuns.” Well, I was invited on several occasions to dine at a convent school, and any table of any size that gave Mother Prioress a hard time was sure to be chopped up for kindling. I wonder if the nuns served Pepper stake.

The day held another surprise for the heroine:

“David introduced her to a tall, cavernous man who gave her a weak handshake.” Somebody’s been reading T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men. Or watching Carol Burnett: 

Egregious real-world examples notwithstanding, we don’t see much truly bad writing from our student-clients, and we have a lighthearted way of making boo-boos disappear via our Socratic essay-coaching program that’s based on the Oxford tutorial system–but that’s more fun. 

With a decade of experience, we know how to keep you on task, on topic, and on schedule throughout the admissions and financial aid processes. To learn more about our approach to college admissions and financial aid, please watch our free webinars, sign up for our four-week College App Boot Camp, consider the Ultimate Programs, look at our special services for athletes and performing-arts students, and book a consultation to hear what we can do for you and how we do it. Keep reading this blog, and look for us on social media as we keep our clients and admirers advised of new developments in our effort to help students get into and succeed at the right college.

Paul Culp is certified as a global career development facilitator and writes about college admissions, college costs, financial aid, and college life in general for The Coaching Educator team. A former journalist and corporate ghostwriter who now operates Shenandoah Proofreading, Editing & Composition Services (SPECS), he has also been a humanities teacher at all levels from university down to sixth grade. Paul has degrees from Oxford University, Jacksonville State University, and Samford University, and also is certified as a fitness trainer.

Credits and Recommended Reading About College Admissions and Scholarships

Photos: Bené Benwikere by Ben Coon. Carol Burnett and Tim Conway by CBS. Porthole by unknown.

Culp, Paul. “Getting to Know You: the College Admissions Essay,” The Coaching Educator, 8 June 2018, http://thecoachingeducator.com/2018/06/08/getting-to-know-you-the-college-admissions-essay/

Culp, Paul. “Remedial Nation: The Ghastly State of College Preparedness,” The Coaching Educator, 19 January 2019, http://thecoachingeducator.com/2019/01/19/remedial-nation-the-ghastly-state-of-college-preparedness/

Culp, Paul. “Ten Common Mistakes You Must Avoid in Applying for Scholarships,” The Coaching Educator, 6 February 2019, http://thecoachingeducator.com/2019/02/06/ten-common-mistakes-you-must-avoid-in-applying-for-scholarships/

Culp, Paul. “Ugh: When Professional Writers Get it Wrong,” The Coaching Educator, 24 January 2019,   https://thecoachingeducator.com/2019/01/24/ugh-when-professional-writers-get-it-wrong/

Culp, Paul. “Ugh, 2: When Professional Writers Get it Wrong,” The Coaching Educator, 14 February 2019, https://thecoachingeducator.com/2019/02/14/ugh-2-when-professional-writers-get-it-wrong/

Culp, Paul. “Ugh 3: When Professional Writers Get it Wrong,” The Coaching Educator, 12March 2019, https://thecoachingeducator.com/2019/03/12/ugh-3-when-professional-writers-get-it-wrong/

Culp, Paul. “When Grammar Takes a Nap: The 10 Most Common College App Essay Boo-Boos,” The Coaching Educator,  1 January 2019, http://thecoachingeducator.com/2019/01/01/when-grammar-takes-a-nap-the-10-most-common-college-app-essay-boo-boos/

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