Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated September 2010
There are a few major components your graduate school essay requires to be of optimal quality. Editing your essay is one of these. Use these tips and discover how to edit your essay to ensure you have all your bases covered before you send it off.
Content should definitely be your first concern and you want to edit for that before you spend too much time fretting over the smaller details. The most obvious (and often least considered) question you should ask yourself is, "Have I actually answered the question that was asked?" The people reading your application asked specific questions because they wanted to learn certain things about their applicants. If you haven't answered the question they asked, you are undercutting your entire effort before you even begin; ask yourself:
Have I been specific? (Show, rather than tell, and provide concrete details.)
Does the essay say something meaningful about me? (Is it memorable? Could someone else have written it?)
Is it personal? (Does the essay sound like it was written in my voice?)
Your essay should have a very organized structure. Even if you didn't create an outline before writing, you should be able to easily visualize what an outline would look like based on your essay.
To check your overall structure, copy and paste the first sentence of each paragraph into a new document. If the admissions officer read only these sentences, would she be able to follow what you were trying to say?
After you've determined what the topic of each paragraph is, check that each paragraph discusses its topic and that you are not writing about tangents or making a point and then not supporting it.
After paragraphs, check sentence structure. If you use all short, simple sentences or all long, complex sentences, you're either going to bore or confuse your reader. Vary your sentence length. Vary the type of structure you are using. Your readers will thank you.
The idea of varying your sentence structure ties in with the idea of style. Here are some other pointers to improve your style and keep your essay interesting and enjoyable to read:
Be simple and straightforward.
Avoid passive voice.
Be conversational without being too casual or too formal.
Use strong verbs.
Avoid words you've never used before and unnecessarily fancy vocabulary.
Don't overuse adjectives and adverbs.
Make sure to convey your passion for learning.
Your final step is going to be very thorough proofreading. Here are some basic things to check:
Keeping contractions to a minimum
Spelling (Do NOT trust the spell checker. It's useless for catching many common mistakes.)
Check and recheck your essay. Even small typos decrease your credibility. They give the impression that you did not care enough about your application to be careful in writing your essay. A flawless document can go a long way toward communicating your seriousness and your commitment to hard work.
Some generally good advice
One of the best possible pieces of advice is to read your essay aloud. This allows you to catch many mistakes you would not otherwise have seen. You may even want to read it backward, sentence-by-sentence. This prevents you from automatically filling in missing words or fixing typos mentally.
Another great piece of advice is to have your essay edited by others. Professional editing services can be great. However, at the very least, ask someone you know to read your essay and comment on your content, structure, and style as well as searching for basic errors in mechanics.
Finally, if you are sending the same essay out to multiple schools, make sure that you change the name of the school. Every year Aardvark University gets at least one application from a student saying why she would be the perfect candidate and how she desperately wants to go to Zebra College. Don't let this happen to you!
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