Want to show the adcom that you are a master of the written word, someone who knows how to convey their thoughtful experiences and insightful ideas eloquently? Then it’s time you brush up on your basic writing skills with the following 10 tips:
1. Express yourself in positive language. Say what is, not what is not.
2. Use transitions between paragraphs to tie one paragraph to the next. A transition can be a word, like “later,” “furthermore,” “additionally,” or “moreover”; a phrase like “After this incident…”; or an entire sentence. If you are writing about Topic A and now want to discuss Topic B, you can begin the new paragraph with a transition such as “Like (or unlike) Topic A, Topic B…”
3. Vary your sentence structure. It’s boring to see subject, verb, object all the time. Mix simple, complex, and compound sentences.
4. Understand the words you write. You write to communicate, not to impress the admissions staff with your vocabulary. When you choose a word that means something other than what you intend, you neither communicate nor impress. You do convey the wrong message or convince the admissions officer that you are inarticulate.
5. Look up synonyms in a thesaurus when you use the same word repeatedly. After the DELETE key, the thesaurus is your best friend. As long as you follow Tip 4, using one will make your writing more interesting.
6. Be succinct. Compare the following sentences:
• During my sophomore and junior years, there was significant development of my maturity and markedly improved self-discipline towards school work.
• During my sophomore and junior years, I matured and my self-discipline improved tremendously.
The first example takes many more words to give the same information. The admissions officers are swamped; they do not want to spend more time than necessary reading your essay. Say what you have to say in as few words as possible. Tips 7, 8, and 9 will help you to further implement this suggestion.
7. Make every word count. Do not repeat yourself. Each sentence and every word should state something new.
8. Avoid qualifiers such as rather, quite, somewhat, probably, possibly, etc. Compare the following sentences:
• You might improve your writing somewhat if you sometimes try to follow this suggestion.
• Deleting unnecessary qualifiers will strengthen your writing 1000%.
Nobody would be convinced of anything after reading that first sentence. Equivocating reveals a lack of confidence. If you do not believe what you write, why should the admissions officer?
9. Use the active voice. Compare these two sentences:
• The application was sent by the student. (Passive voice)
• The student sent the application. (Active voice)
Both of these sentences communicate the same information. The active voice, however, is more concise; it specifies who is performing the action and what the object is. The passive voice is wordier and frequently less clear.
10. Read and reread Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. Containing basic rules of grammar, punctuation, composition, and style, this indispensable classic is available in paperback and is only 85 pages long.
Failing to follow these basic writing rules may make you appear sloppy or cast doubts about your communication skills – two things you want to avoid at all costs when trying to make a good first impression.
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