Sunday, 13 October 2013

Tips on Personal Statements for entry to Universities / UCAS

This was my Hall of Residence at University in Scotland

Personal Statements for entry to British Universities
  • Scrap any items that are trivial, too personal, or really not relevant to your university course.
  • Link facts about your experience to the values and skills learned
  • Language should be clear and precise. Avoid rhetorical flourishes and stilted language
  • Check reports, comments and reviews of your work for tangible positive statements.
  • Always ask other professionals to read your draft statement. Thinking critically and creatively about the feedback offered.
  • Don’t let yourself down with grammatical mistakes, awkward style and spelling mistakes. These send alarm bells ringing and indicate that you lack a professional approach.
  • Humour is always a risk and generally to be avoided, unless you are applying for a degree in  Comedy.
  • Remember that any claims that you make will be tested at your interview. Don’t say that you have read Tolstoy’s War and Peace unless you’re prepared to talk about it.
  • Specificity always beats a stream of vague generalisations.
  • Avoid detailed discussions of negatives and weaknesses. On the other hand it can be effective if you explain clearly how you successfully overcame obstacles or challenges during your life.
  • Avoid the personal development clich├ęs and the tired rhetoric of X-factor based on ‘how much do you really want this?”
  • Arrogantly making grand claims about your brilliance tends to irritate admissions’ tutors.
  • Avoid “Great Quotes” from famous people; the originality and wit must be yours.
  • You don’t stand out simply by listing all your work experience, your volunteering since the age of 5, or your travel itineraries. But these should be mentioned if you are able to demonstrated what you have learnt from these activities. This is also an opportunity to demonstrate the qualities of a reflective learner
  • What is your unique selling point? What is special about you? This does not need to be a long list.
  • The first sentence of each paragraph needs to send a strong message.
Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013). He served for several years as a University Professor, Senior Lecturer, Widening Participation Officer and Admissions' Tutor.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Persuasive Writing and a Letter of Complaint

The Rep Theatre and the Library of Birmingham

This blog briefly shares parts of a recent exercise with students.

The first aim was to undertake reading and writing exercises in order to gain a better understanding of techniques of persuasion.

The second aim was to turn the exercise upside down by writing a highly critical review, or a letter of complaint.

We also deployed speaking exercises in the form of  radio-style interviews, a phone-in, and social media interactive engagement such as short text and tweet responses.

The underlying aims were vocabulary building and confident use of language.

Our first task was to study the vocabulary used in advertisements and marketing/advertising material. These were drawn from a Children's Guide to Leisure Activities in the Black Country (West Midlands, UK);  Rewriting the Book - Discovery Season - Library of Birmingham; and What's On at the beacon Arts centre, Greenock, Scotland.

Initially students were asked to selected the best 10 words, and then add to the list and pool/share their findings.

This is the list of some of the persuasive language used in those publications:

fascinating, encouraged, connections, impress,
discover, enjoy, celebrate, meet, experience, love,
understand, beautiful, fabulous, inspired, collaborate,
offer, unusual, brainchild, magical, new, leading,
opportunity, diverse, hands-on, intriguing, dynamic,
aesthetic, unique, vision, adventurous, vibrant.

Next students invented a new attraction: a play, a park, a tourist or leisure activity and wrote their own advertising copy. The aim was to deploy as many words from the list as possible.

This was also an opportunity for art work and design skills.

Working in pairs, students were next asked to write a highly critical review of the other person's event or tourist attraction. Some students wrote letters of complaint. Students were asked to be either bitterly critical or absurdly humorous in their approach.

To assist with this exercise we used a thesaurus and brainstorm to find antonyms for our list of persuasive vocabulary. Some of the critical words included

tedious, disappointing, unimpressive, lost,
distressing, torment, overworked,
squandered, hate, confused, worn-out,
unrequired, neglected, exploited,
predictable, dispensed with, unsuitable,
tiresome, expensive, mismanaged, impractical,
under-utilized,  derelict, obsolete

The vocabulary also served as a prompt for building and developing a creative critique.We also sampled literary reviews and user-generated social media commentary available within online newspaper reviews.

The old library is Birmingham was considered by some observers to be a wonder of concrete brutalist architecture. Others, such as Prince Charles, who lacks a training in architecture, quipped that is was more like a place to burn books, than to read them/ a place where books were incinerated, not kept.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)