Provide Personal Details to Establish Context

Just so no one thinks that I am pulling random idea out of the air, this series of blogs in June are comments stemming from the article, “10 College Application Mistakes to Avoid”. Consider the importance of context in the following story.

The clanking coming from the shredder was a new sound and Ben knew it couldn’t be good. After applying the left foot to the clutch and the right to the brake, he came to a stop. Once the gears were placed in the neutral position, Ben climbed down to investigate. The whirling of the blades and the clanking noise had not ceased. That should have served as a warning sign that the PTO had not been disengaged. Failure to recognize this detail would soon cost Ben a finger and a month of very painful rehabilitation.

For anyone not raised around tractors, this little passage could be very confusing. Writers have to consider who will read their work and make sure the reader can understand and follow the story. We can put things in context by mentioning that Ben is cutting weeds in a meadow on a farm. There could also be a little information about the machine he is using and the implement attached to it. Instead of using an acronym, we could explain that the Power Take Off shaft (PTO) provides the force to run implements attached to the tractor. These additional details would then help the reader understand that blades, meant for cutting weeds, were still being powered by the tractor when Ben attempted to inspect the shredder for damage; a costly mistake…

High school seniors make similar mistakes when writing their college application essays. What is an admissions committee member to think when they read that a student athlete quit participating in the sport they played for three years with no explanation? What if we added that their father was injured and couldn’t work for six months, and went on to say that the student had to take a part time job to help pay the bills while their dad recovered? Do you think that might make a difference in the mind of the person reading the essay? If you didn’t say yes, I’m done with you…

The message is not to leave out details that will help put the experience into the proper context. Helping the reader to understand the why of a situation can mean the difference in an acceptance letter and a rejection letter.

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