From Example to Exemplary #4: Let’s Get Drafted!

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Lesson #4 of a five-part series for drafting exemplary essays.

Now that you have a clear sense of what makes an essay effective, and have reflected on the questions that have helped you develop your theme, it’s time to start writing.

Before you begin, write an outline, even if it’s only a very informal list of the main points you want to cover. Using the answers to the questions posed in Lesson 2, you should have a list of experiences, anecdotes, and ideas that you want to include in your essay.

Now let’s break the job down further to keep the task manageable. First, how long is your essay? Grad school application essays can range from as short as 300 words to more than 1,000. Ironically, it’s much harder to write a very short, very good essay than it is to write a very good, longer one. Writing a super-short essay is like being six feet tall and stuck in a coach airline seat -- you’re going to feel cramped even when writing as economically as possible. Assuming you have more leg room, so to speak, and have 750 words, you still have to estimate how much space you will have, approximately, for your introduction, the main body, and conclusion. Dividing your essay into parts like this will help you gauge how much you can afford to write in each section. I encourage my clients to write up to 25 percent above their essay’s word limit in their early drafts, since I know I will be able to trim the fat, creating more space for the meat and potatoes of their story. You can follow this rule as well, assuming you have an editor ready to help you streamline.

In Lessons 1 and 3 we saw examples of strong, yet different, introductions. Don’t get hung up on crafting the perfect introduction before moving on to the rest of the essay. If you aren’t confident about your introduction, experiment with different ones, but don't stay stuck at the beginning. Often, the perfect introduction will come to you when you are well into writing the rest of the essay. Finally, keep in mind the picture you want to paint of yourself to the admissions committee. As you read your draft, are you getting a sense of that amazing, talented, focused person? Stay focused on how best to paint that picture through your own lively, meaningful examples. Do not just claim to be something without backing it up with evidence.

In our last lesson, we’ll talk about revising and polishing your essay.

Summary Tips:

1. Make an outline, even if it's informal.

2. Estimate how much space you have for each section of your essay to avoid overwriting.

3. Keep working on the body of the essay even if you haven't perfected the introduction. The introduction does not have to come first!

By Judy Gruen, editor and co-author of the ebook, MBA Letters of Recommendation That Rock.

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