Writing Your Personal Statement, Part 5: Embrace Variety

    Writing Your Personal Statement, Part 5: Embrace Variety
    Variety is the spice of life--and, as it turns out, it's the spice of personal statements, too. Variety in how you write and approach your personal statement is just as important as the topic you write about.

    There are six key ways in which variety should make its way into your personal statement:


    Many editors warn against using "10-cent" or "fancy" words where a simpler term would do. To a degree, I agree with them--you shouldn't over-complicate your prose simply for the sake of trying to show of your large vocabulary or attempting to sound "smart." However, there are situations where the use of a higher-level vocabulary word is appropriate, and you shouldn't shy away from it.

    When used appropriately, advanced vocabulary will elevate your writing and, when used correctly, it will appear seamless and unstilted. Bonus: It can also help you reduce word count while still maintaining meaning (for example, using "juxtaposed" instead of "when compared to" or "when placed next to").

    In short: Don't keep it simple just because you're afraid to use big words. Instead, simply write as you normally would, interspersing vocabulary from all levels. Remember, you're applying to law school, which is a highly academic endeavor--using highly academic vocabulary is okay, when used correctly and appropriately.

    Want to beef up your vocab? Check our out free SAT Vocabulary Flashcards--sure, they're for the SAT, but they've got a ton of great high-level words you likely haven't seen or used in a while!

    Transitional phrases

    Transitional phrases--such as "furthermore," "however," "for example," and "nevertheless"--provide continuity to your writing, and let your prose flow smoothly from one idea to the next. They help keep your reader informed of how your essay is progressing, and they also alert them to changes in narrative. Don't rely too heavily on one or two transitional words or phrases--instead, mix them up! Using the same one over and over again ("however" is a primary offender I often encounter) can make your writing sound redundant and stale. 

    The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) has a great list of transitional phrases--check them out, and use them.

    Sentence lengths

    Sentences can be as short as one word, and as long as 30. Don't be afraid to vary the length of the sentences you use in your personal statement! A very short sentence can serve extremely well to drive a point home, while a correctly-punctuated longer sentence can help bring flow to your writing and assist you with lengthy descriptions. Relying too much on a single sentence length can make your writing sound choppy (if all sentences are short) or entirely too convoluted (if they are all long). Instead, aim for a happy medium where short, medium-length, and long sentences are all combined into a harmonious whole.

    Wondering how to fix your writing if you have too much of a particular sentence length? If you find that you have too many short sentences, consider combining some by using conjuctions (such as "and," "but," "or," and "yet"). If you have too many long sentences, break them up with punctuation--periods, semi-colons, and dashes work like a charm.


    We've talked about this before, but let's talk about it again: You don't need to write about why you want to go to law school. In fact, the law, law school, or your lawyerly goals don't even need to be mentioned in your personal statement. Focus instead on talking about something you're passionate about, something you can infuse feeling into. If it happens to be why you want to go to law school, then great--but if it's about your passion for deep sea diving, then that's fine, too!

    The goal here is to give the admissions member reading your essay a glimpse into the person you are; don't put a limit on what that might entail. Focus on talking about things you love, and not things you think an admissions staffer would love to read about. 


    You'll hear a lot of editors tell you that you need to keep your writing in the personal statement as direct as possible--and that's certainly true, to a degree. Clear, direct writing goes a long way to making your essay readable and intellectually palatable. However, the way you choose you to tell your story can be clear and direct without being dry. Figure out how you want to tell your story and not just what you want to tell. Do you want to relate it in the form of a memory? A flashback? With multiple anecdotes? With dialogue? Will you use humor (use this sparingly and wisely)? Are you going to talk about an academic subject, or a more personal topic? All of these things will affect how you will approach your topic, and they deserve as much consideration as the topic itself. 


    The composition of your essay goes hand-in-hand with the approach you'll take. Will you use dialogue? Will you focus on descriptions? Are you a fan of italics? Make sure that the way your physical story looks on paper is as pleasing as the story you're telling, and that you keep the reader engaged by varying the ways in which it is put together. 

    The ten parts of this series are:

    Next time, we'll discuss the importance of putting space between yourself and your writing.

    Class dismissed!


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