Every year at this time I serve as a judge of essays written by students who hope to earn a scholarship for their trouble. Last Saturday afternoon was my judging time this year.
Reading the essays gives me more joy than horror, usually. They follow specific guidelines. The student must state his or her academic or career goal, what she’s done so far to work toward it, and the plan for the future to achieve it. We judge them on whether or not they have followed the guidelines and stated their goal, but we also judge on use of language, grammar, logic, spelling, and finally, how realistic their plans are for achieving their goals.
Considering the students are writing to win a scholarship, it amazes me each year the number of grammatical, spelling and usage problems in these essays. Bad word choices give the judges headaches or a good laugh. Ninety-nine percent of these problems could be corrected if the students had proofread their essays, or had asked someone else proofread them.
Proofreading is an essential part of being a writer. It’s as important as the original idea and its development. Spell check on the computer fails to find the wrong words that are spelled correctly but don’t make sense in the context of the writing. Read the piece out loud. This is probably the best advice I’ve gotten about proofreading. When I read a piece aloud, I not only hear the rhythm of the sentences, I also hear what’s wrong, catch missing words and bad word choices, correct misspellings and catch syntax and grammar issues.
A polished piece of writing that has been carefully proofread signals a professional writer at work. It shows the writer cares and wants a reader to enjoy his writing. A piece of writing riddled with mistakes, missing words and misspellings presents to a reader a sloppy writer who does not care. Harsh? Try reading a pile of essays written by sloppy writers without coming away with a headache and eye strain along with a disappointed heart.
Every year, one essay stands out. It’s polished, follows the guidelines beautifully and has a confident voice. I read the pile to find this one essay, like agents read a pile of queries or editors read a pile of manuscripts. I want to believe each year that I will find more than one essay that stands out, but so far, the magic number has remained one.
Each year, while reading these essays, they remind me of the importance of being professional in my own writing. We learn from the mistakes of others, no matter how old they are….