Great Application Essays and Personal Statements: Editing Tip 1

By Ryan Hickey + updated on October 15th, 2012

We’re finally to the point of the year when many applicants are not stressed out about starting their admissions essays and personal statements, but rather about perfecting them. Sitting down in front of a blank page and trying to fill it with content is undoubtedly a daunting task, but so is sitting down in front of that content to ensure that it is error free and as strong as it can possibly be.

With that said, over the next few weeks we’ll be providing some detailed tips that will help applicants of all types, from college to medical school, ensure that problems big or small, don’t sneak into they’re writing. I mean “their writing.” See what I mean?

Today’s Tip

When proofreading, instead of just reading through your essay from beginning to end, try starting with the last sentence and working your way backward. This is an easy and remarkably effective way to catch issues you may otherwise skim over.

Why It Works

Writing something like an admissions essay, personal statement, or statement of purpose takes a ton of effort. Applicants must not only come up with quality content, organize it well, and write to the best of their ability, but also deal with additional challenges like word or character limits, confusing prompts, and, most of all, the stress of the application process itself. Because of this, admissions writing often takes significantly more time than academic or professional writing. Applicants want to ensure they are putting their best foot forward and know they only get one chance to make a positive impression on their reader.

An unintended consequence of the significant time most applicants spend writing and editing their essays, however, is that at some point during the process, they’ve become so familiar with the work that they’re not reading it so much as they are skimming and  remembering it. Simply put. they’ve spent so much time with the essay that they have chunks of it largely memorized. When they read through it, instead of seeing the words that are actually on the page, they see what they think is on the page.

The amazing thing is that even though this happens to many writers, they’re almost never aware of it. That’s why it’s so important to change up your routine when editing, as it forces you to look at what is truly on your page or screen rather than what you think or remember is there. Starting from the last sentence of your essay and working backward is one of the simplest and most effective ways to get a fresh perspective on your content. Even though you’ll be looking at the same material, approaching it in a different order will help you avoid the skimming/remembering editing trap and improve your ability to spot problems.

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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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