Would you like to know what I look for when I read an essay that tells a good story, but is 20-30% over the essay guideline or word limit? It needs editing, not major surgery. I don’t really want to cut content, but I must cut verbiage. I look for clues, signs of lazy writing. These quirky writing tics tell me I can edit without taking away from the story line or changing the writer’s voice.
- Passive voice. I harp on this a lot, but flipping a sentence from passive to active cuts words and usually creates more readable, active sentences. And you want to be active in your application essays! For example:
The project was completed by my team. (7 words)
My team completed the project. (5 words.
2. "To be" verbs. The verb "to be" has a very legitimate place in written English, but it is frequently abused. Whenever I see a "to be" verb ("is," "are," "was," "were," "being"), my delete finger gets itchy. I start looking for ways to condense.
3. This is the X that did Y. For example:
"This was the strategy that we pursued." (7 words)
"We pursued this strategy (4 words).
4. Using noun forms of roots when you can use verbs. For example:
"I came to the conclusion …" (5 words) "I made the decision …" (4 words)
"I concluded…" (2 words) "I decided…" (2 words)
5. I am able to cut when I cut "am able to."
"I was able to run the marathon…" (7 words)
"I ran the marathon." (4 words).
6. Lots of independent and simple clauses. You can frequently combine them and shorten the text. For example:
"My mom is a fantastic cook and has lots of event planning experience. She helped me prepare for the fundraiser." (20 words)
My mom, a fantastic cook and experienced event planner, helped me prepare for the fundraiser. (15 words).
When I see these lazy writing fingerprints, bulbs go off in my brain that connect straight to my pinkie, which is poised over the delete key. With those lights flashing, I check if making these edits distorts the essay’s meaning. If not, it’s DELETE time. These are just a few of the writing patterns that keep my DELETE key in shape. They should help you exercise yours too.
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