The First C of Great Application Writing: Clear

By Ryan Hickey + updated on November 9th, 2012

Though you may have learned various definitions of what “clear” means in terms of writing, here’s the EssayEdge take:

Clear writing has a readily apparent purpose.

In other words, when you write in a clear fashion, your reader will not have to spend time puzzling over statements, phrases, or words trying to figure out what you’re getting at. The last thing you want for an admissions officer who has read dozens if not hundreds – or even thousands – of essays that day is to be confusing or cluttered (two bad Cs). You need to write in a way that makes your essay understandable.

Now, it is important that you not confuse clear writing with obvious or overly simplistic writing. Clear writing can be complex in form, can use large words (assuming they’re appropriate and don’t feel forced), and can take twists and turns. Sometimes, your essay or statement will be significantly stronger if you work in a story or writing device that is somehow “outside the box” (sorry for the terrible cliché). Still, if you do something like this, you need to ensure that by the end of the essay, the reason you used such a device is clear.

Writing in a clear fashion is important to maintaining the energy and flow of your piece. You should always have your audience, your prompt, and your overall goal for the essay in mind while you’re writing. If what you’re writing doesn’t connect to one of those points, or at least support something that does, you should probably reconsider including it in your work. This is especially important in instances when a length limit is governing the size of your response. You simply don’t have room for additional “fluff.”

So to recap:

Clear writing has a readily apparent purpose. Don’t confuse clear writing with obvious or overly simplistic writing.

In the next post, we’ll move on to the second C, which is closely connected to the first. As you may have realized, clear writing not only helps make your points clear; it also often helps them take up a minimal amount of space. This can be extremely important when dealing with admissions essays, as length is one way these pieces differ greatly from your average piece of academic or personal writing.

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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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