View Full Version : Proofreading irredeemably bad writing
11-08-2011, 08:45 AM
Another guy who's looking to go to law school asked me to proofread his personal statement. English is his second language, but he spent enough time in the English-speaking world to have a fairly decent grasp of the language.
But holy moly this is simply awful. I'm not an expert on writing by any means, and English is my second language too, but shit dude, you can't expect to send this to law school and hope to get accepted.
I mean looking at this, I don't think this guy should go to law school. It's almost shocking that he was able to graduate from an reputable American college with a decent GPA.
Here's his opening paragraph.
I was only thirteen years old when I left my home country, Republic of Korea. I was small shy boy who never had courage to show who I really am. I never knew the definition of responsibility, discipline. I definitely did not know the word independent. However, everything change when my mother offer me to take a plan alone to abroad. At first I thought it was going to be a short vacation trip then when months passed I realized it was beginning of a new life alone.
The rest of it's not much better. Even beyond the grammar, the content is kind of crap to be honest, and the structure completely random, going from one topic to another without much warning.
I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with this.
I can just correct the grammar and let him be on his merry way, but man, I would feel bad just letting him submit this to schools.
So do I:
A: Just correct the grammar and keep my mouth shut
11-08-2011, 09:59 AM
11-08-2011, 10:06 AM
It's not up to you to kill his dream. Leave that for the school. At least that way he feels like he tried.
11-08-2011, 10:18 AM
Meh, that's not all that bad. Personal Statements as a general rule are trite and always, always a waste of time. Shakespeare? No. But it's no worse than most I've seen. Which might be a sad comment, except the the very concept of a personal statement just sucks balls.
Correct his grammar, and possibly recc he be clearer in what he wants to communicate. That said, if the body runs with the subject as stated, it's a servicable introduction.
11-08-2011, 10:26 AM
Damn, missed the edit window again.
I might switch it around to:
I was only thirteen years old when I left my home country, the Republic of Korea. Everything changed when my mother offered me a chance to take a plane alone. At first, I thought it was going to be a short vacation trip. Then, when months passed, I realized it was beginning of a new life alone. I was a small shy boy who never had courage to show who I really am. I never knew the definition of responsibility or discipline. I definitely did not know the word independent.
To me the ideas he's trying to convey are clear enough - that he was young and unprepared. If he's not used to writing stylistically good compositions in English, he'll have a harder time. The msot irritating thing to me is the repeition of the word "I" a lot, but that's somewhat more allowable in this case.
That said, it can be learned; I've seen worse from native speakers, and legal writing is hardly normal in any sense. If his mind is sharp, he wouldn't be much behind other new law students.
I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with this.
Do you have a hamster?
11-08-2011, 11:41 AM
My first thought was "If this guy can't construct a coherent English sentence, he should not be practicing law in the United States."
My second thought was "There may be Korean immigrants who would really appreciate this guy's services."
I say help him with the grammar and hope for the best. Maybe he'll succeed, maybe he won't.
Really Not All That Bright
11-08-2011, 11:48 AM
I know several attorneys for whom English is their first language and whose writing is worse than that. Some have been in practice for thirty years.
Anyway, the LSAT includes a writing sample, so his fluency will be immediately apparent to the law schools he applies to regardless of what you do.
11-08-2011, 01:43 PM
That's actually not that bad, as others have commented. At least his spelling and punctuation are correct; he just has a little bit of difficulty with tenses and subject/verb agreement. I, too, have seen far worse from college-educated native English speakers. There's a reason our educational performance is so low when compared internationally. Our educational system is essentially shit.
11-08-2011, 02:04 PM
While the statement is short enough that it is tempting to just fix it, you might correct the first few paragraphs, point out repeated errors and why they are wrong, and ask him to give you a new version.
I run into stuff almost as bad when reviewing technical papers. If the engineering is good, I try to note grammatical corrections, but I don't have the time to fix all of it, so just say that the errors are repeated.
I've run into people who are so sure of their bad English that they will change my corrections back. If this person makes an effort to fix more, then you can fix the rest of the problems on the second pass. If he is sure his grammar is good, or is too lazy to try to fix the rest, let it go as is.
What did he major in as an undergrad, by the way? Did he ever take a writing class? I can certainly understand why busy professors or TAs of non-writing classes would give up trying to correct his grammar after a while.
You might ask him how much he reads in English. I'd think that anyone who reads any decent amount of English text would see how bad this writing is. If he does not read English for pleasure, he had better start, because he need to be able to edit himself, which he clearly can't do yet.
11-08-2011, 04:24 PM
You can offer to help him revise his work into better English but if he resists, just stick with A. The bottom line is that it's his "personal" statement.
Agreed, though, that I've seen much worse from native speakers.
11-08-2011, 05:13 PM
It's not bad. I have known several highly educated people who sound similar to your friend and have well paying jobs in the US. US universities have ample ESL opportunities.
I can't see any way to show that it is necessary to be able to talk like a Victorian novel to be able to do well in school here. I understand your friend and it's a good start to a personal statement. It is coherent and the only really serious matter is the spelling and grammar. He has a good grasp of the English language and, if this is typical of his communication ability, he can handle studying at a US school.
I was only thirteen years old when I left my home country, Republic of Korea. I was small shy boy who never had enough courage to show who I really am. I never knew the definition of responsibility, discipline. I definitely did not know the word independent. However, everything change when my mother offer me to take a plan alone to abroad. At first I thought it was going to be a short vacation trip then when months passed I realized it was beginning of a new life alone.
I was only thirteen years old when I left my home country, the Republic of Korea. I was a small, shy boy who never had courage to show who I really am. I never knew the definition of 'responsibility' and 'discipline', neither did I understand the meaning of the word 'independent'. Everything changed when my mother offered me the opportunity to travel abroad alone. At first, I thought it was going to be a short vacation [trip is redundant], but after [many, several] months had passed I realized that I was beginning a new life alone.**
* [plan to travel abroad alone? the opportunity to travel abroad on a plane alone? This is potentially ambiguous but isn't serious]
** Was he sent to an overseas boarding school or something? It seems that he was put on a plane to another country (probably the US) and his parents never came to pick him up or arranged to have him come home. I find it hard to believe that you could send a 13 year old on a trip alone, with the child believing it was a vacation, and he doesn't realize it isn't a vacation until many months had passed. I would think he would figure out pretty quick (within a few weeks) that he wasn't on vacation and that he was dumped at a boarding school or simply left to his own devices when his parents never came for him or gave him a ticket home. Also, might he have noticed that he had been issued an immigrant or student visa, rather than admitted as a tourist?
11-08-2011, 05:41 PM
the very concept of a personal statement just sucks balls.
Why? It's a character driven essay, essentially.
11-08-2011, 05:49 PM
It is amazing what you find. I'm a techie, but I can write and edit quite well -- it's more or less the foundation of my career -- but I find that this is by no means a widespread skill.
In our offices we had a lawyer, now retired, who got his degree from Harvard Law. His writing was appalling. I'm not talking about poor organization or similar content-related problems, but concepts such as simple subject-verb agreement were apparently beyond him. Harvard Law should be ashamed.
Stranger On A Train
11-08-2011, 07:08 PM
You may recommend to your friend the classic Strunk & White The Elements of Style (http://www.amazon.com/Elements-Style-Illustrated-William-Strunk/dp/0143112724/), which can be found for under $10 on Amazon in various editions, or the first edition (http://www.cs.vu.nl/~jms/doc/elos.pdf) free on-line. Zissner's On Writing Well (http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Well-30th-Anniversary-Nonfiction/dp/0060891548/ref=pd_sim_b_1) is also a good reference that is a little more expansive.
Honestly, aside from a little difficulty with managing tenses, the writing isn't "irredeemably bad." It isn't at a level suitable for law school, but I've seen worse writing coming out of professional lawyers who mistake verbosity for content, and the analysis reports I have to re-write for co-workers are sometimes an order of magnitude worse than this.
11-08-2011, 09:31 PM
You guys are being awfully generous today.
To be honest I have some trouble believing that there are lawyers that write this poorly, especially considering this isn't a hastily written memo or email but probably the most important piece of writing he'll write in terms of law school admissions. I mean the first paragraph was clear enough (I guess) but there are parts in the body where I'm not sure what the hell he's trying to say. Also, some of the coherent parts just reek of bullshit, but the content isn't my business I suppose.
But in whatever case, I think the general consensus is just do what I was asked so I guess that's what I'll do.
Thanks for the replies ya'll.
11-08-2011, 10:55 PM
I'm in law school (1L), and friends from my old grad school who want to follow suit have been asking me for the same proofreading/advice with their statements. You'd be amazed at the crap you get. I've chosen to just pawn them off on career services at our alma mater, since they have more valuable insight than me, anyhow.
Depending on the school you go to, they may or may not care about this particular sloppiness. There is, in fact, a South Korean classmate of mine that immigrated to Canada a week before classes started. I'd say her English is only marginally better than that sample you provided. She got in to a very competitive program, just the same!
You could politely mention to them that "Hey, you probably want to shore up your writing skills to be an effective lawyer," but I imagine that unless they're completely stupid, they know they have deficits to overcome without you telling them.
11-09-2011, 03:27 AM
My sister was worse off than this fellow-- US schools really let her get away without becoming in any way proficient (my parents and I are teachers and know everyone has to take their share of the blame).
Anyway, she got into college and put in a lot of effort, as did my parents and I when we helped her with papers and such. By graduation she had improved dramatically, got a job, improved even more and is one of her company's most valued employees.
I don't think you need to make him your fixer-upper project, but to paraphrase-- don't give up on him; he ain't dead yet.
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