The Third C of Great Application Writing: Compelling

By Ryan Hickey + updated on November 15th, 2012

Even if your writing is as clear and concise as it can possibly be, it will fall flat if it doesn’t say something that captures the reader’s attention. Pretty words are just pretty words; without strong ideas behind them, they’re nothing more than a facade. And believe me, admissions officers know when they’re reading something that has substance and something that doesn’t, regardless of how well it may be written. So what exactly is compelling writing, you may be asking yourself?

Compelling writing makes an impression on the reader, drawing him or her into the story you are telling.

When you write in a compelling fashion, your reader takes notice. I don’t mean that the reader will say, “Wow, this writing is really compelling.” Rather, the reader will find him or herself drawn into your prose. Reading your essay won’t seem burdensome at all; rather, it will be effortless and will make an impression.

Make sure that you don’t confuse compelling writing with writing that is overly dramatic or emotional. You don’t have to be over-the-top to get your reader’s attention, nor do you have to use gigantic words and complex constructions. You simply need to say something that’s worth saying in this particular context. You’re applying for admission to a specific program or institution, and you thus need to somehow leave the reader confident that you will be an excellent addition there.

More than the other two C’s, compelling writing depends not only on choices at the word and sentence level, but also at the larger overall organization and content levels. While you can make boring content clear and concise, you can’t make it compelling. If you’re not telling good stories or making solid points, all the polishing in the world won’t make your writing compelling. Admissions officers have seen it all, and are not impressed by fluff masquerading as compelling content.

So how can you make your writing compelling? We’ve got two major suggestions, so check back again soon for more great advice!

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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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One Response to “The Third C of Great Application Writing: Compelling”

  1. Nice and informative post! Probably will help out a lot of readers! Really appreciate the efforts you have put in to research these facts. Cheers!

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