I like to read biographies and personal profiles. (That’s one of the reasons I like my work so much.) I recently finished reading Tom Brokaw’s tribute to The Greatest Generation. He clearly has the journalist’s ability to engage, and you can learn from his techniques when you sit down to write your personal statement. Here are a few that he uses most effectively:
- Replace or support declarative statements with vivid details. For example, instead of saying that those who served during WW2 came from diverse backgrounds, Brokaw writes, “They left their ranches in Sully County, South Dakota, their jobs on the main street of Americus, Georgia, they gave up their place on the assembly lines in Detroit and in the ranks of Wall Street, they quit school or went from cap and gown directly into uniform.”
- Use numbers to emphasize magnitude. Brokaw wrote “the 442 Regimental Combat Unit would become the most heavily decorated single combat unit of its size in US Army History.” He also added “8 Presidential Distinguished Unit Citations and 18,143 individual decorations including one Medal of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars and 28 Oak Leaf Clusters in lieu of a second Silver Star, 4,000 Bronze Stars and 1,200 Oak leaf Clusters representing a second Bronze Star, and at least 9,486 Purple Hearts.” Note the power added by those stats — far more compelling than stirring declarations about incomparable heroism.
- Involve the senses to paint a portrait. In describing the conditions for an American POW held by Germany, Brokaw writes, “…it was the beginning of the long, cruel fight to survive, days of watching other inmates getting shot as they tried to escape, the same meals of watery cabbage or turnip soup, the cold nights with only a thin blanket for cover.” You can practically taste the lousy soup and feel the chill through the POW’s blanket..
Use these techniques as you write your personal statements and application essays to make your experiences come alive.