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Essays best practices...

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Essays best practices... [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 16:46
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Now there are questions about essays in every single school thread. While that is the right place to address school specifics and essay specifics. I feel that it would be nice to have a place to discuss generic essay information such as: formatting and gammar (how formal to be)

I know in several areas we have talked about layout of the page, ie margins and also the font type and size. Instead of crowding tons of different threads with the same information and making it hard to find...if you have a general essay question not aimed at a specific school post it here. Lots of stuff will probably be debated but at least it will be easier to find. I can try and maintain this post to contain any "rules"

***Stickied if for no other reason than ncprasad's extremely useful post below.

Last edited by riverripper on 24 Aug 2007, 03:34, edited 1 time in total.
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 17:40
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OK. My 2 cents.

It is very difficult to develop a framework that assesses the content of the essays. But I use several tools that have helped me structure content, smoothen transitions and improve readability.

Check the readability of your essays using MS word's Spelling & Grammar feature. Your Flesch reading ease index needs to be >40 atleast. The scale is severe on run-on sentences and verbosity. For reference purposes, flesch reading scale indexes for popular publications are

Harvard Law Review - 32
Harvard Business Review - 42
Reader's Digest - Mid 50's and above (This is my gold standard)
Your average insurance policy - 10

Although, the scale helps you evaluate readability it still does not tell you how to improve. To overcome this, I use the utility available at http://www.online-utility.org/english/r ... mprove.jsp

The utility will not only tell you your index, but also help you focus on the 'guilty' sentences. For a section of this post, the utility gave me this result.

    Flesch Reading Ease : 43.81

    List of sentences which we suggest you should consider to rewrite to improve readability of the text :

    For reference purposes, flesch reading scale indexes for popular publications are Harvard Law Review - 32 Harvard Business Review - 42 Reader's Digest - Mid 50's and above (This is my gold standard) Your average insurance policy - 10 Although, the scale helps you evaluate readability it still does not tell you how to improve.
    But I use several tools that have helped me structure content, smooth transitions and improve readability.
    It is very difficult to develop a framework that assesses the content of the essays.


I got a lot of value from this strategy. To help you understand its effectiveness, let me tell you that all of my HBS essays are atleast 25 words under the limit and have a reading ease close to 45.

Reduce jargon and management speak using Bull Fighter. It integrates well with MS word and identifies high faluting BS words like saying "enterprise" for "company". You can get bull fighter at http://www.fightthebull.com/bullfighter.asp.


For other helpful tips, refer to http://www.fireandknowledge.org/archive ... ting-well/

Have fun!
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 17:57
Wow this is an excellent tool ncprasad. From now on I am even going to check my post entries with it. Only one of my essays was over 50. All the others were low to mid 40s on this scale. I guess I will never write for Reader's Digest.

ps. This post reads 96.80 ...
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 18:04
That reading ease tool is really neat. The essay I just wrote for Michigan got an overall index score of 54. Too bad its 50% over the limit right now. Oh well, not bad for just sitting down and writing.
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 18:25
bherronp wrote:
That reading ease tool is really neat. The essay I just wrote for Michigan got an overall index score of 54. Too bad its 50% over the limit right now. Oh well, not bad for just sitting down and writing.


Yes the infamous over the limit problem. So much information on the 10% over rule and then some schools really looking down on essays beyond limits.

I have read several of the MBA admissions books and it seems all the essays are way too long. Especially in Montauks book, those essays are all incredibly long, some are like 3 times the limit. That is the one thing i have a problem with in those books. I could write killer 3,000 word essays but its the 500 word ones that seem impossible.
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 18:33
Yes absolutely. Columbia is the worst. Trying to finish all my aims / reasoning / why columbia / why j-term all in 750 words makes for some serious succinctness..



riverripper wrote:
bherronp wrote:
That reading ease tool is really neat. The essay I just wrote for Michigan got an overall index score of 54. Too bad its 50% over the limit right now. Oh well, not bad for just sitting down and writing.


Yes the infamous over the limit problem. So much information on the 10% over rule and then some schools really looking down on essays beyond limits.

I have read several of the MBA admissions books and it seems all the essays are way too long. Especially in Montauks book, those essays are all incredibly long, some are like 3 times the limit. That is the one thing i have a problem with in those books. I could write killer 3,000 word essays but its the 500 word ones that seem impossible.
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 18:48
Fantastic tool...

But it gave my strongest essay (based on feedback from others), a very low 20 odd marks only. :(

Glad to say that the rest of my essays are scoring 40 and above... yay..
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 18:49
wow, great tools ncprasad! I'll definitely need them to help keep the word count down!

EDIT: My current Haas essays are around the high 30's for reading ease...
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 18:56
ncprasad, this is an excellent tool. I am sure that this is going to help us all a lot with keeping the essays simple.

ps. The first essay that I checked got a 65 .. yey !! And it correctly pointed the sentences that could use some "simplification"

EDIT: Darn, the other essay got a 45. And I can now see what horribly complex sentences that essay has :shock: ncprasad, if I get in Wharton or Columbia, then half of the credit will go to this tool of yours.

Last edited by mNeo on 23 Aug 2007, 19:48, edited 2 times in total.
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 19:44
Wow, this is really an awesome tool. It's always a good laugh to see how low a score one can possibly score (single digits baby).
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 20:04
wow! this tool is just fantastic!... ncprasad, thanks for sharing.
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 20:06
adc_away wrote:
Fantastic tool...

But it gave my strongest essay (based on feedback from others), a very low 20 odd marks only. :(

Glad to say that the rest of my essays are scoring 40 and above... yay..


I am not surprised. People often think great essays are the essays that show your literary range. You probably used modifiers all over the essay.
They make for poor readability.

When I first started using this tool, I did an exercise to benchmark HBS essays from the Montauk book. Some of the essays scored <40. The point is, an essay with an index of 70+ can suck if your content sucks. The important thing is to write about great accomplishments in your essays with reflection and maturity.Spend time with your essay and it will improve dramatically.

I think your scores are fine. Just keep compacting the essays.
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 20:08
Prasad ! An amazing tool and thanks a lot for sharing the info :)

cheers !!
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 20:11
grad_mba wrote:
Prasad ! An amazing tool and thanks a lot for sharing the info :)

cheers !!


You are not going to get away with just a thanks. Coffee and/or beer on you when we meet @ MIT.
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 20:14
Here are 2 great tips!

First, if you want to rewrite a passage to get a higher score, you'll have to cut the average sentence length. This means you'll have to break up long, complex sentences and change them to two, three or four shorter ones. In other words, sprinkle periods over your piece of writing. When you're turning subordinate clauses into independent sentences, you'll find that a lot of them will start with And, But or Or. Don't let that bother you. It's perfectly good English and has been good usage for many centuries. The Old Testament says, "And God said, Let there be light; and there was light." The New Testament says, "But Jesus gave him no answer." And Mark Twain wrote, "Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to." So never mind that old superstition. And don't-please don't-put unnecessary commas after your And's, But's and Or's.

Second tip: When it comes to replacing complex words with simple ones, take first aim at words with prefixes and suffixes, like establishment, available or required. Often the best Plain English replacement is a two-word combination like setting up, in stock or called for. If you can't think of a good substitute, use any good thesaurus or book of synonyms. You'll find that there's s no complex, legalistic word that can't be translated into Plain English.

These tips are not mine. They were given by Rudolph Flesch who got a PhD from Columbia for his research on readability.
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 20:17
Again, great suggestions.

But there is one tiny problem - If you turn a clause into an independent sentence, you are almost always going to increase the number of words used. Now that is going to be a tough problem for a lot of us to handle :(
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 20:23
mNeo wrote:
Again, great suggestions.

But there is one tiny problem - If you turn a clause into an independent sentence, you are almost always going to increase the number of words used. Now that is going to be a tough problem for a lot of us to handle :(


Yes, the other problem is if you try to compact an essay, chances are you will decrease readability. Fix a readability goal and after any change you make in order to compact the essay, validate if you negatively impacted readability.
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 20:23
ncprasad wrote:
adc_away wrote:
Fantastic tool...

But it gave my strongest essay (based on feedback from others), a very low 20 odd marks only. :(

Glad to say that the rest of my essays are scoring 40 and above... yay..


I am not surprised. People often think great essays are the essays that show your literary range. You probably used modifiers all over the essay.
They make for poor readability.

When I first started using this tool, I did an exercise to benchmark HBS essays from the Montauk book. Some of the essays scored <40. The point is, an essay with an index of 70+ can suck if your content sucks. The important thing is to write about great accomplishments in your essays with reflection and maturity.Spend time with your essay and it will improve dramatically.

I think your scores are fine. Just keep compacting the essays.


NC, great tool. Thank you..

As always, you are ahead of the game

It seems the more time we spend writing clearly, the higher will be the score..my favorite essay got 55.6

Last edited by aurobindo on 23 Aug 2007, 20:25, edited 1 time in total.
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 20:25
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 [#permalink] New post 23 Aug 2007, 20:26
ncprasad wrote:


Thanks man. I saw you explaining it to a certain extent, in ur previous post and so deleted that request in my post.
  [#permalink] 23 Aug 2007, 20:26
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