Once you’ve written your first draft and you’ve had a chance to step away from it for at least day, it’s time to edit. Typically, you will follow this write-step away-edit process a few times through a few drafts until you’re fully satisfied with your essay and the way you’ve told your story.
Now, saying you’re going to edit your essay is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out exactly how to edit and what you should be looking for. Whenever I’m editing an essay, these are the seven areas to which I pay attention.
The spellchecker on your word processing software will be a life-saver here–but don’t rely solely on it! Sure, it will catch errors like “recieve” and “exept,” but it will not catch errors like “to” instead of “too” or “butt” instead of “but.” Start by carefully proofing your sentences for spelling, before you even get into any other type of revisions. And, if you don’t know how to spell a word or are unsure if a spelling or usage is correct, don’t be afraid to double-check! Dictionary.com is a wonderful, quick, resource.
A very important note: “Your” and “you’re” are not the same thing. Neither are “its” and “it’s,” or “there,” “their,” and “they’re.” If you don’t know the differences between these, then brush up on them–and fast. Nothing brings down an essay faster than the misuse of these different words.
The way a sentence is constructed is critical to how your essay will read. That’s where grammar comes in. Keep in mind that you’re not writing a creative essay, so you have to keep your sentence constructions as traditional as possible–they must have a subject and verb, and the relationship between them must be clear. Also, make sure that pronouns have a clear antecedent. Remember that adding an apostrophe and an “s” (‘s) does not make a word plural, and that contractions (“aren’t” instead of “are not”) tend to make writing sound informal–so you may want to avoid them if you’re looking to keep your writing a little more elevated. Watch out for run-on sentences, comma splices, and sentence fragments–use punctuation (which I will discuss next) to help you fix and keep these types of sentences in check.
Using punctuation judiciously and correctly will go a long way to making your essay look and sound polished and professional. Here are a few of the errors I encounter most often, and how to fix them:
This is what happens when two sentences are fused into one.
For example: I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer it’s something that I have dreamed of since I was very young.
How to fix it: With a period or semicolon between the two sentences.
Fix: I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer. It’s something that I have dreamed of since I was very young.
Fix: I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer; it’s something that I have dreamed of since I was very young.
This is what happens when you use a comma instead of a period to separate two sentences.
For example: I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer, it’s something that I have dreamed of since I was very young.
How to fix it: Replace the comma with a period or semi-colon.
This is what happens when a semi-colon is used in the place of a comma, or when it is not used appropriately.
For example: When I walked into the classroom I knew the material; and I knew I would do well on the test.
For example: When I walked into the classroom I knew the material; my dog needs to be walked when I got home.
How to fix it: Know your semi-colon use. The semicolon is used to connect two related sentences that are already correctly punctuated independently. Our first wrong example, above, would be fixed by removing “and” (“When I walked into the classroom I knew the material; I knew I would do well on the test”). Our second wrong example would be fixed by replacing the completely unrelated second sentence with one that pertained to the content of the first.
Repetitive use, lack of use, or incorrect use of transitions can be very detrimental to how your essay reads. Make sure to embrace variety in your use of transitions. Start by becoming familiar with what they are and how they are used. Then, make sure they are saying exactly what you want them to say. Finally, ensure you use different ones to avoid repetitiveness (“however” is one that I often see repeated over and over in essays); even if you use transitions and transitional phrases correctly, repeating the same one constantly will make your essay sound odd and amateurish.
One of the first things I tell applicants is to pick a single theme and develop a story around it for their essay. Pick two or three anecdotes that bolster this theme. If you choose to address multiple themes and try to tell stories for each of these themes, you run the risk of sounding disjointed at best–and, at worst, you’ll merely scratch the surface of the different themes you’re trying to present, and your essay will read thin and unbalanced. Your aim should be for seamless flow from one idea to the next, with each sentence feeding, informing, and expanding the one before it and after it.
When reading a book, are you ever left with the feeling that something important took place but you don’t know why it took place? That’s a plot hole. Plot holes often rear their ugly heads in admissions essays because of the amount of information these essays try to cover and the limited space they have in which to cover it. When writing, you may find yourself leaving out information that you don’t deem important in favor of that which you deem indispensible–however, some of this deleted information may be essential for the uninformed reader, unfamiliar with your story, to have. You may have a hard time spotting plot holes, which is why having others read your essay is so important. We will discuss why you should have others read your essay and what they should be looking for in greater detail next week.
Finally, once you have carefully edited your essay for spelling, punctuation, grammar, transitions, cohesiveness, and plot holes, your job is now to re-read it and make sure it is clear. Ask yourself, after reading every sentence, “What did I mean to convey with that sentence?” and, after that, “Did the sentence actually convey what I wanted it to convey?” Every single sentence in your essay is prime real estate–make sure it adds to your essay, doesn’t repeat anything already said elsewhere, and is stated as clearly as possible.
The ten parts of this series are:
- Part 1: Take Your Time
- Part 2: Plan It Out
- Part 3: Get Personal
- Part 4: Get Specific
- Part 5: Embrace Variety
- Part 6: Step Away
- Part 7: Edit (this post)
- Part 8: Involve Others
- Part 9: Proof
- Part 10: Don’t Be Afraid