Polishing Your Work to Make it Shine

By Ryan Hickey + updated on August 23rd, 2011

A lot of the work is done. You’ve finished writing your admissions essay, academic paper, or personal statement, and the sense of relief that you are experiencing is a welcome change from the pressure and anxiety that you had while writing.

But the most important work remains to be done: if there are grammatical errors or errors in logic in your document, you must address these when you revisit your document for its final polish.

There are three tactics that can really help you ensure that your finalized essay is as strong as it can possibly be. If you know of another one or have your own idea, feel free to add/share in the comments!

Take a Break!!!

The best way to achieve substantive improvements in the document that you have written is to put a bit of time between its completion and its polish.  It is almost impossible to effectively polish an essay that you have just completed writing, since the constructions that appear on the page are still in your head. You’ll unconsciously accommodate errors in the diction, logic, and presentation of your document if you attempt a final polish right after its development.

Ideally, wait at least 24 hours before undertaking the final polish.

But what if you don’t have that much time? What if your essay is due in three hours?  There are two other effective approaches that you can use in those situations. These aren’t just for last-minute polishers, though – you can also use these in conjunction with this first idea.

Listen to Your Work, Don’t Just Read It

Chances are, as you developed your essay, you did not speak the words aloud as you entered them on the page.  That’s why one of the most effective ways to polish your essay, when you are in a hurry, is to read it out loud, ideally in earshot of a good friend or colleague who can help draw your attention to possible problems.

Another advantage to this approach is that it is one of the most effective ways of identifying punctuation problems in your document.  In particular, it is important to realize that pauses in your spoken word do not automatically translate into commas in your document; they can translate into commas, semicolons, colons, “em dashes,” or even periods.  Faulty punctuation can ruin an otherwise beautifully developed essay, and one of the best ways to catch faulty punctuation is through the spoken word.

Give Yourself a Different Look

As effective as the policy mentioned above can be, it can backfire on some students, especially if they are not native English speakers. In such cases, one of the best ways to polish your essay is to print it out in a completely different font — ideally in a different size and color as well.  This is a great way of catching mistakes in your essay and ensuring that the document that you worked so hard on will not be sabotaged by minor errors in usage, diction, and syntax.

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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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