Welcome to the College Prep Confidential Podcast
July 14, 2019

CPC Episode #11 - What the U.S. Navy and a $2,500 Flash Drive Can Show You About Getting College Advisors Eyeballs Glued to your Essay

College Essays can make or break your college prep. Discover how to make your writing pull in college advisors with tips like: What this U.S. Navy Test can show you about clear writing What type of writing makes people trust you more Why big words...

College Essays can make or break your college prep. Discover how to make your writing pull in college advisors with tips like:

  • What this U.S. Navy Test can show you about clear writing
  • What type of writing makes people trust you more
  • Why big words equal headaches 
  • What pouring grease down a slide will teach you about better writing
  • Why this multi-million dollar writer forces his employees to write for 7th graders
  • How to Channel Ernest Hemingway for Free
  • Writing Secrets From a $2,500 Flash Drive

We’re back, in the dog days of summer, for Episode 11 of the College Prep Confidential Podcast. This week, let’s cover a subject near and dear to my heart. We’re talking about writing, specifically, writing college essays smoother than butter in an episode titled…What the U.S. Navy and a $2,500 Flash Drive Can Show You About Getting College Advisors Eyeballs Glued to your Essay

Back in October 2017, I got a knock on my front door. I opened the door and saw a glossy postcard in the mailbox. The cover said, "Discover the secrets of billion dollar writers" I'll admit, I was hooked, so I followed the website link on the postcard. On the web page, there was an offer to learn the writing secrets behind a billion dollar publishing company. I'll tell you what company in a moment, but suffice to say, the writers were the highest paid in the world. 

The offer on the website introduced a 1.5 inch, charcoal black flash drive with writing secrets from this legendary group of writers. The cost for these secrets... a cool $2,500.

Now most people wouldn't pay $25 dollars for a flash drive of knowledge, let alone $2,500. But I’ve studied this company. And if you knew what you’re about to know, $2,500 seems like a mere pittance.

The company selling the flash drive produces writing which glues millions of readers to the page. Even more impressive... this company sells the most boring products imaginable. Books and newsletters, covering topics like stocks, health, and outdoor living. 

Yet, they churn out hundreds of millions of dollars each year by selling these items with nothing more than the power of words.

How do they do it?

Copywriters? Copywriters, if you don't know the term, are writers who sell things through their writing. Or, salesman in print. The company is called Agora. I've been a fan and subscriber for years, so I had to know what was on the flash drive.

I plunked down the money and waited with bated breath...

After an agonizing 3 day wait, the flash drive arrived in a casual brown wrapping. I ripped open the paper, plugged the flash drive into my computer, and opened the contents.

I jumped to a presentation about keeping readers glued to the page.

During the presentation, one of the writers named Mike who made 10 million dollars in sales royalties from his writing, told a story about his writing team.

Mike is a copy chief, so all writing has to go through him for final approval. Mike's writers follow a set of simple rules. One rule jumped out during the presentation. Mike uses a measure called Flesch-Kincaid. Flesch-Kincaid comes from a 1975 United States Navy research project. Flesch-Kincaid assigns a grade level based on readability. The more syllables, difficult words, and sentences, the worse the score. The goal being, to write where people can read without having to stop on words and think hard. You want them to glide over the words like ducks landing on a pond.

As the presentation continued, Mike talked about requiring all writing on his team have a 7th grade, or below, Flesch-Kincaid readability level. If the writing goes above a 7th grade reading level, it gets rejected, and sent back to the writer immediately. No exceptions.

Think about it - a company making hundreds of millions of dollars writes for 7th grade reading levels! Even more fascinating? Their audience includes multi-millionaires.

Mike stressed the importance of writing clarity to raise response rates. His team avoids writing to impress. Instead, they write to get a response. It's easier to respond to something you understand.

The Greased Slide

As the presentation continued, Mike provided another gem. He said to think about your writing like a greased slide. Your reader starts at the top of the slide, the headline. The headline pulls the reader into the first sentence. The first sentence pulls the reader into the second sentence. Each sentence flows into the next sentence. Writing clarity helps the reader finish your piece without stopping. To establish flow, writers use Flesch-Kincaid so readers don't get bogged down on complicated words and jumbled sentences.

And this Flesch-Kincaid presentation inside the $2,500 flash drive, gives you the key to crushing college essays...Readability.

Why does writing for grade schoolers work? Why does Mike's team writing for 7th graders sell millions of dollars of products and keep people glued to their sales letters, which can be 25 pages or more?

To understand this, and get our answer, we must first understand the brain. Clocking in at 3 pounds, the jelly like blob inside your skull is a fascinating organ. The brain is an energy hog, sucking up 20%, or 1/5 of all the calories you consume. Thinking consumes energy.

In a study featured in Scientific American, we learned how the brain, when under strenuous activity, sucks up more glucose. Too much mental thinking, burns more glucose, putting some people to sleep. Examples, include students taking a nap after an SAT exam because their brain was drained. 

Think of the brain as a gas tank., and glucose as the gasoline. Difficult mental tasks burn up more glucose. Too much difficult thinking either burns people out or turns them off.

And this includes reading pieces like a college essay. Bigger words and complicated ideas require more brain power to process.

Consider these 2 sentences:

  1. I'm interested in attending a prestigious university (19.2)
  2. I want to go to an Ivy League school (2.3)

Both sentences say the same thing. But sentence 1 clocks in at a hefty 19.2 Flesch-Kincaid grade level. The second sentence is at a 2nd grade Flesch-Kincaid level. Easy to read, clear. Your eyes and mind instantly process it, and glide right over the words. You don't need extra brain power to understand the second sentence. It's easy to read, and continue reading. Nothing is left to question. Which brings me to an old quote about writing and reading:

Easy reading means hard writing

So how do you simplify your writing for college essays? After finishing your writing, plug it into the Hemingway Editor online. This free tool gives you the Flesch-Kincaid score, and it highlights pieces in your writing to help you simplify your writing and lower your Flesch-Kincaid score.

What tactics do you use to reduce your Flesch-Kincaid score, and make your writing easy to read.

  • don't use a big word when a smaller word will do
  • Write like you talk. Treat it like a conversation between you and the reader
  • Limit sentence length, unless a longer sentence tells a great story
  • Use whitespace in your writing, give the eyes a break. Don't smash long sentences together and use healthy amounts of paragraph breaks.
  • Use the Hemingway Editor online
  • Read your writing out loud. If you stumble or get confused at any point, rewrite it

In the study I mentioned before in Scientific American, they found another fascinating phenomenon... If a person looks at a task and even perceives it as difficult, their brain sucks up more energy from the anxiety and stress.

One hurdle you must jump for college essays is readability. College Advisors have busy schedules, and they churn through piles of poor essays with run-on sentences and scholarly words which turn them off. 

If a college advisor looks at your college essay, and sees minimal white space, huge paragraphs, and big words, the brain neurons start firing before even reading. It's perceived as difficult before the first paragraph is written. Perception, my college bound friends and parents, becomes reality. Therefore, the appearance of readability is crucial.

Clear, concise writing ensures college advisors read your entire essay. But there's another phenomenon at work here with Flesch-Kincaid at 7th grade levels or below...Trust.

If you have to use big words and complicated ideas in writing, people trust you and your writing less. Simplicity builds trust. Because it shows you understand the process, and have the respect of the reader in mind to break it down to simplest terms. Simplicity ensures readability. Readability ensures understanding. And understanding leads to trust.

For those of you getting ready to write a college essay in the next 6 months to a year, I'd like to help. How would you like a free college essay review? My company provides a college prep resource planning service. And if you invest in this service, we'll give you a free college essay review. Ah, but first, I'd like to offer you a free college prep strategy session, worth $250. 

Why am I doing this? For 2 reasons;

  1. The college essay can make or break your college entry. And it can be grueling. Many college entrants report the blank page blues when sitting down to tackle this project. And even after writing, the essay doesn't read how you want it to. My company has helped hundreds of applicants with college prep. And part of the advantage you get comes from making your college essay stand up and demand to be read. And part of this process is readability, which helps you tighten up your writing.
  2. The second reason... if you like what you hear in the free college strategy session, you might choose to work with us for a full college planning package.

So if you’re dreaming of college prep, topped off with an essay that demands attention, here's what to do next...pick up the phone and call 800-234-2933 and request a free, college strategy session worth $250. Mention this episode and the college essay. That's 800-234-2933. Or, you can visit cpcshow.com. That's c-p-c-show.com. My team has a limited amount of free strategy sessions available, so be sure and set up your free session after you hear this episode. During the free session, you can discover more tips about college prep with our college prep planning experts.

Thanks for listening, here’s to better writing, and I will see you next week.