Standing out is hard. Sometimes you just want to blend in and stick with whatever everybody else is doing. Writing competitions are not those times.
Standing out will still be hard, because it takes a little extra time and extra thought to create something original. But if you follow these tips, you’ll give yourself the best chance of finding a spark of something special. Good luck.
1. DO check your spelling and grammar.
Then, ask someone else to do it. A stray comma won’t cause a judge to eliminate your entry. However, writing a short story set in Boston and spelling it Bosten for half the story probably will. Use your computer spelling and grammar functions, but don’t rely exclusively upon them. Incorrect usage of it won’t show up in a computer spelling check, and suggested grammatical changes often don’t apply.
2. DO follow the word limit.
If you’re to send a poem of no more than 32 lines, don’t send one that’s 33 lines. If you’re to send a short story of 2,500 words, don’t send one of 3,000. Even if you survive the initial round of judging, many competitions have learned through bitter experience to count the number of words in the winning entries before making a final selection. Scanning entries into a word processing document makes it easy to get a word count.
3. DO research.
Whether you’re quoting from a literature book or citing a research paper, make sure you do your research carefully. Always make sure to quote things accurately. Plagiarism is a big deal in college; with so many universities and colleges using online dropboxes, essays are often run through plagiarism programs. Forgetting to cite where a quote comes from or paraphrasing without giving credit is an easy way to get into major trouble.
4. DO use Transitions Between Paragraphs
Sometimes paragraphs sound like separate pieces of text put together. This is the wrong approach to writing.
Your essay should be smooth and coherent, leading the reader from one point to another. This is why you should use transitions – the phrases that help to connect each idea with the previous one, serving like bridges between paragraphs.
Examples of phrases you can use for transitions include:
- Despite the previous arguments…
- Speaking about this…
- Regarding this…
- With regards to this…
- As has been noted…
- To put it briefly…
5. DO Choose the Right Language
The language you use in the paper indicates your ability to research and analyze the topic, prove your opinion, and explain your points clearly and vividly.
It also shows the level of your language proficiency, knowledge of grammar and syntax, and ability to develop rich vocabulary. It is important to remember the academic style of writing and use the appropriate language. The following phrases work well to introduce and support your points:
- There seems to be no compelling reason to argue that …
- The argument can be made …
- Current research on [your topic] shows …
- The most common argument in favor of (or against) is …
- There is a growing body of evidence to support …
Now that you’ve learnt the major Dos, let’s move to some Don’ts – the things you’d better avoid in writing contest.
1. DON’T Plagiarize
This rule should be clear for every student.
Plagiarism is a form of cheating, and when detected it is always punished.
Do not risk your reputation and your place in higher education. Plagiarism is easily detected today with the help of software and Google, so be honest with yourself and your educators and write on your own.
Reference every source to make sure you are not committing plagiarism, even unintentionally. It is a good idea to ‘know your enemy’ and read about the kinds of plagiarism possible and best ways to avoid it.
2. DON’T Use Negative Language
Negative language doesn’t mean vulgarisms. It means words with negative suffixes, phrases with negation, etc.
For example, painless is not a negative word in its meaning. However, using it makes the reader focus on pain instead of its absence. So it is better to replace so called negative language with more positive, synonymous expressions, like using economical instead of inexpensive, or comfortable/pleasant instead of painless.
3. DON’T Overwhelm your Essay with Information and Facts
Though essays should be meaningful and detailed, learn to filter the information and choose only important points.
There is a temptation to include every single detail of your research to make the essay holistic and complete. However, your aim is to narrow the topic, show that you are able to analyze and structure information, and choose only the most relevant facts to prove your points.
4. DON’T send more than one copy of the same entry.
The only exception is if the contest asks for more than one copy. Contests that do not take rights related to entries typically ask judges to discard non-winners. Remember that the contest budget includes payment of prizes; judges; and postage for entries to go to judges, for finalists to be returned to the contest, and for winners to be notified. It’s just not realistic to expect to get your entry mailed back as well.
5. DON’T be overconfident
If there were a set of deadly sins for writers (and for competitive spellers, apparently), over-confidence would surely be on the list. When you’re over-confident in your writing, that’s another way of saying that you’ve fallen too much in love with your own words. So, the quality may not be what you imagine – and you’re blinded to that reality. when a writer knows too much about a topic, he or she sometimes forgets to put a key fact or two down on paper because “everyone knows THAT” and the flow of the writing is disrupted, the main point lost.