You’ve got your first draft ready – this is a great milestone! Now it’s time to revise and edit. Outstanding essays are not sprung into the world on the first draft. Here’s how to edit and polish until your essay shines:
1. Let your essay rest for a day or two, particularly after an intensive writing session. You’ll return to your writing with fresh eyes and undoubtedly see ways to strengthen it immediately. One of the most common problems plaguing application essays is bland, forgettable prose. As you look at your essay again, look for and root out generic writing, such as in the following sentence:
“Although I have been responsible for a lot of exciting projects, I want to move into management, which may not happen on my current path.”
What kind of projects? What made them exciting? Why wouldn’t a management path be open to the writer? Has this been explained? Let’s resuscitate this prose by adding appropriate details.
“My role as a product manager for a mid-sized giftware business has allowed me to develop my creativity as well as communication and market research skills. As exciting as it has been to have helped plan and release our innovative kitchen giftware, whose designs are based on famous Impressionist paintings, I want to move more into management, which seems unlikely at this family-owned and managed company.”
Adding details takes more room but it makes your essay come alive. It is so important, in fact, that it’s better to write about fewer examples but flesh each out in greater detail than to write a laundry list of vague accomplishments or character traits you feel you possess. “Show, don’t tell,” remains a cardinal rule in writing.
2. Ditch the passive voice – this will further enliven and tighten your writing.
“Negotiations over the extent of the website design were carried out by a team of managers and myself, representing the technical team.”
This passive construction is draggy. Move the “doer” of the action to the head of the sentence for a resulting sentence that makes you sound like a leader (and is five words shorter):
“I represented the technical team in negotiations with management over the extent of the website design.”
3. Read your essay aloud. When you listen to your essay, you’ll likely catch small mistakes that you inadvertently missed during the editing process and that you may also easily miss when reading silently. Reading aloud, you will also hear which sentences can benefit from some tightening, expanding, or other improvements.
4. Assess for overall quality control. Has your essay achieved the goal you set out for it? Do you sound like the irresistibly focused, thoughtful, and energetic individual you want to sound like? Make sure that the voice you created on the page resonates positively.
- Wait a day after writing a draft so you can return to it with a fresh perspective.
- Look for instances of bland writing or passive voice, then replace with more specific, active prose.
- Read your essay aloud so you can hear any weak spots, as well as hear the overall voice you have created. Does your essay meet your goals? If not, keep revising and enlist an experienced editor to help get you to the finish line.
If you have read this whole series, congratulations! You’ve taken an important step toward planning, drafting, and editing a successful application essay. Now it’s time to move from general tips to personalized advice tailored just for you. Here’s how it works:
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By Judy Gruen, former Accepted admissions consultant. Judy holds a Master’s in Journalism from Northwestern University. She is the co-author of Accepted’s first full-length book, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!