Essay writing lesson 6: Editing and revising

"If one thing could be perfect, it should be the essay." - Admissions Officer




Writing is not a one-time act. Writing is a process. Memorable writing comes more from rewriting than it does from the first draft. By rewriting you will improve your essay -- guaranteed. If you skimp on the rewriting process, you significantly reduce the chances that your essay will be as good as it could be.



Once you have taken a break from your essay, come back and read it through one time with a fresh perspective. Analyze it as objectively as possible based on the following three components: substance, structure, and interest. Do not worry yet about surface errors and spelling mistakes; focus instead on the larger issues. Consider reordering your supporting details, delete irrelevant sections, and make clear the broader implications of your experiences. Allow your more important arguments to come to the foreground. Take points that might only be implicit and make them explicit.



In order to figure out where revisions are necessary, you are going to need as many different sets of eyes to read your essay as possible. Whether it is you or one of your friends, family members or teachers, these questions will help guide your revision process.



What To Look For When Revising



SUBSTANCE



Substance refers to the content of the essay and the message you send out. It can be very hard to gauge in your own writing. One good way to make sure that you are saying what you think you are saying is to write down, briefly and in your own words, the general idea of your message. Then remove the introduction and conclusion from your essay and have an objective reader review what is left. Ask that person what he thinks is the general idea of your message. Compare the two statements to see how similar they are. This can be especially helpful if you wrote a narrative. It will help to make sure that you are communicating your points in the story. Here are some more questions to ask yourself regarding content.




  • Have I answered the question asked?

  • Do I back up each point that I make with an example? Have I used concrete and personal examples?

  • Have I been specific? (Go on a generalities hunt. Turn the generalities into specifics.)

  • Could anyone else have written this essay?

  • What does it say about me? After making a list of all the words you have used within the essay -- directly and indirectly -- to describe yourself, ask: Does this list accurately represent me?

  • Does the writing sound like me? Is it personal and informal rather than uptight or stiff?

  • Regarding the introduction, is it personal and written in my own voice? Is it too general? Can the essay get along without it?

  • What about the essay makes it memorable?



STRUCTURE




  • To check the overall structure of your essay, conduct a first-sentence check. Write down the first sentence of every paragraph in order. Read through them one after another and ask the following:



    • Would someone who was reading only these sentences still understand exactly what I am trying to say?

    • Do the first sentences express all of my main points?

    • Do the thoughts flow naturally, or do they seem to skip around or come out of left field?



  • Now go back to your essay as a whole and ask these questions:

    • Does each paragraph stick to the thought that was introduced in the first sentence?

    • Does a piece of evidence support each point? How well does the evidence support the point?



  • Is each paragraph roughly the same length? Stepping back and squinting at the essay, do the paragraphs look balanced on the page? (If one is significantly longer than the rest, you are probably trying to squeeze more than one thought into it.)

  • Does my conclusion draw naturally from the previous paragraphs?

  • Have I varied the length and structure of my sentences?



INTEREST



Many people think only of mechanics when they revise and rewrite their compositions. As we know, though, the interest factor is crucial in keeping the admissions officers reading and remembering your essay. Look at your essay with the interest equation in mind: personal + specific = interesting. Answer the following:




  • Is the opening paragraph personal?

  • Do I start with action or an image?

  • Does the essay show rather than tell?

  • Did I use any words that are not usually a part of my vocabulary? (If so, get rid of them.)

  • Have I used the active voice whenever possible?

  • Have I overused adjectives and adverbs?

  • Have I eliminated clich├ęs?

  • Have I deleted redundancies?

  • Does the essay sound interesting to me? (If it bores you, imagine what it will do to others.)

  • Will the ending give the reader a sense of completeness? Does the last sentence sound like the last sentence?



PROOFREADING



When you are satisfied with the structure and content of your essay, it is time to check for grammar, spelling, typos, and the like. You can fix obvious things right away: a misspelled or misused word, a seemingly endless sentence, or improper punctuation. Keep rewriting until your words say what you want them to say. Ask yourself these questions:




  • Did I punctuate correctly?

  • Did I eliminate exclamation points (except in dialogue)?

  • Did I use capitalization clearly and consistently?

  • Do the subjects agree in number with the verbs?

  • Did I place the periods and commas inside the quotation marks?

  • Did I keep contractions to a minimum? Do apostrophes appear in the right places?

  • Did I replace the name of the proper school for each new application?

  • Have I caught every single typo? (You can use your spell-checker but make sure that you check and re-check every change it makes. It is a computer after all.)






Real Essay Gaffes (Funnies)



"Proofread! Have others proofread! Spell check! It's stunning how many people have careless, even really obvious typos in their statements. It makes the applicant look sloppy, uninterested, unintelligent." - Admissions Officer




You would be amazed at the things that get written in admissions essays-even at the top schools. The following is a list of some of the funniest mistakes found by the admissions officers on our team. Remember that behind the hilarity of these errors lurks a serious message: always proofread your essays! Otherwise, you will get the same reaction that these other applicants did: "It makes you wonder if these kids care about their essays at all," said one of our staff. "I never know whether to call it apathy or ignorance," said another "but either way, the impression is not good." Then again, at least they got a laugh!



  • Mt. Elgon National Park is well known for its rich deposits of herds of elephants.

  • I enjoyed my bondage with the family and especially with their mule, Jake.

  • The book was very entertaining, even though it was about a dull subject, World War II.

  • I would love to attend a college where the foundation was built upon women.

  • The worst experience that I have probably ever had to go through emotionally was when other members of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and I went to Pennsylvania for their annual pigeon shooting.

  • He was a modest man with an unbelievable ego.

  • Scuba One members are volunteers, but that never stops them from trying to save someone's life.

  • Hemingway includes no modern terminology in A Farewell to Arms. This, of course, is due to that fact that it was not written recently.

  • I am proud to be able to say that I have sustained from the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco products.

  • I've been a strong advocate of the abomination of drunk driving.

  • If Homer's primary view of mortal life could be expressed in a word it would be this: life is fleeting.

  • Such things as divorces, separations, and annulments greatly reduce the need for adultery to be committed.

  • It is rewarding to hear when some of these prisoners I have fought for are released, yet triumphant when others are executed.

  • Playing the saxophone lets me develop technique and skill which will help me in the future, since I would like to become a doctor.

  • However, many students would not be able to emerge from the same situation unscrewed.

  • I look at each stage as a challenge, and an adventure, and as another experience on my step ladder of life.

  • "Bare your cross," something I have heard all my life.

  • There was one man in particular who caught my attention. He was a tiny man with ridiculously features all of which, with the exception of his nose, seemed to drown in the mass of the delicate transparent pinkish flesh that cascaded from his forehead and flowed over the collar of his tuxedo and the edge of his bow tie.

  • Take Wordsworth, for example; every one of his words is worth a hundred words.

  • For almost all involved in these stories, premature burial has had a negative effect on their lives.

  • I know that as we age, we tend to forget the bricklayers of our lives.
  • I would like to see my own ignorance wither into enlightenment.

  • Another activity I take personally is my church Youth Group.

  • The outdoors is two dimensional, challenging my physical and mental capabilities.

  • Going to school in your wonderfully gothic setting would be an exciting challenge.

  • My mother worked hard to provide me with whatever I needed in my life, a good home, a fairly stale family and a wonderful education.

  • I hope to provide in turn, a self motivated, confident, and capable individual to add to the reputation of Vasser University whose name stands up for itself. [Note: the correct spelling is Vassar].

  • Filled with Victorian furniture and beautiful antique fixtures, even at that age I was amazed.

  • They eagerly and happily took our bags, welcomed us in English, and quickly drove us out of the airport.

  • Do I shake the hand that has always bitten me?

  • In the spring, people were literally exploding outside.

  • Freedom of speech is the ointment which sets us free.

  • I first was exposed through a friend who attends [school].

  • As an extra, we even saw Elizabeth Taylor's home, which had a bridge attaching it to the hoe across the street.

  • Under Activities: Volunteer (Retarded totor)

  • Name of Activity: Cook and serve homeless

  • On a transcript: AP Engllish

  • Misspelled abbreviation on another transcript: COMP CRAP (computer graphics)

  • Handwritten on an interview form under Academic Interests: Writting.






Final Steps



Read Your Essay Out Loud: To help you polish the essay even further, read it out loud. You will be amazed at the faulty grammar and awkward language that your ears can detect. This will also give you a good sense of the flow of the piece and will alert you to anything that sounds too abrupt or out of place. Good writing, like good music, has a certain rhythm. How does your essay sound? Is it interesting and varied or drawn out and monotonous?



Have Your Essay Professionally Edited: After spending hundreds of dollars on test prep courses and guidebooks, you must be extremely confident if you decide not to seek a professional's advice on the most controllable aspect of the entire application.




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