Lesson #5 of a five-part series for drafting exemplary essays.
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:
First, let your essay sit for a day or two, particularly after an intensive writing session. You’ll return to your document with fresh eyes, and undoubtedly find ways to strengthen it immediately. One of the most common problems plaguing these types of essays is bland, forgettable writing. When you return to your essay, if you spot any writing as generic as in the next sentence, you have work to do:
“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? 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 been involved in the planning and release of 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’s also better to write about fewer examples and flesh each out in greater detail than to write a laundry list of either accomplishments or character traits you feel you possess. “Show, don’t tell,” remains a cardinal rule in writing.
You can also enliven your writing and tighten it at the same time by rooting out passive voice.
“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 five words longer and drags a bit. Move the “doer” of the action to the head of the sentence for a resulting sentence that makes you sound like a leader:
“I represented the technical team in negations with management over the extent of the website design.”
After you have replaced passive with active voice, and booted your colorless and generic writing out the door, read your essay aloud. Reading your work silently to yourself is quite different than hearing it. When you listen to your essay, you’ll likely catch small mistakes that you inadvertently missed during the editing process, and hear phrasing that you can strengthen.
Next, ask yourself: does this essay achieve the job I set out for it? Do I sound like the irresistibly focused, thoughtful, and energetic individual I want to sound like? Make sure that the voice you created on the page resonates positively.
These are among the many tools I show my own clients that together we use for maximum impact in their essays. I’m confident they will work for you, too!
1. Wait a day after writing a draft, so you can return to it with a fresh perspective.
2. Look for instances of bland writing or passive voice, then replace with writing that is specific and active.
3. Read your essay aloud so you can hear the voice you have created. Does it meet your goals? If not, keep revising and enlist an experienced editor to help get you to the finish line.
By Judy Gruen, Accepted.com editor and co-author of the ebook, MBA Letters of Recommendation That Rock.