Don’t expect a flawless (or even good!) Personal Statement on your first try. The pressure will stress you out and probably contribute to a frustrating case of writer’s block. And don’t worry about trivialities that you can clean up later, like grammar or spelling.
First, simply get your ideas off your head and onto paper. Then, a few hours or even a few days later, look at your work with fresh eyes. Start to clean up your essay in a methodical manner by addressing our checklists below.
Step 1: Big Picture Editing
This first round of edits focuses on content and structural phrasing. Go through your essay and ask yourself the following questions. If you answer “no” to any of them, revise accordingly.
- Focus: Does your response address every aspect of the prompt?
- Logic: Is the content logical and easy to follow?
- Flow: Do ideas flow smoothly within and between sentences and paragraphs?
- Evidence: Does the essay contain sufficient examples to demonstrate the main idea?
- Structure: Does the essay have a clear structure? Does it start with a compelling hook? Does the storyline progress naturally from one scene to the next?
- Theme: Is the theme clear from both the narrative itself and from the conclusion?
- Balance: Do you give a good balance of specific examples and personal reflection?
Step 2: Nitpick Editing
This round of edits focuses on fine-tuning and polishing the essay’s language and content.
- Articulation/Clarity of Expression: Is the language too wordy or too plain to be easily understood?
- Tone: Is the tone too formal or too colloquial? Although you can use contractions, you don’t want to sound too casual. Remember your audience: older admissions officers who warrant your respect. So, no profanity, slang, or flippancy.
- Verbal Efficiency: Can you use more precise or powerful words? For example, if you see a noun + a weak verb, replace it with either a strong verb or figurative language. Also, replace vague nouns with specific ones. For more tips on how to manipulate language for effect, see our article on creative writing techniques.
- Rhetoric: Are figures of speech and rhetorical devices used appropriately? Is the use of rhetoric creative? Where can you add figurative language or rhetorical devices?
- Does the ending give the reader a sense of “completeness”?
Step 3: Proofreading Your Essay
- Print your essay. It’s much easier to pick up typos when you’re reading a hard copy of your work. And when you’re not distracted by multiple tabs!
- If you’re using Microsoft Word, make sure that the default language is set to English and that Spellcheck is on.
- Do a second round of spell-checking on your own because word processors will often miss homonymic errors (e.g. “too” versus “two”).
- Remove frivolous or nondescript words like “very,” “many,” and “interesting,” which are verbal deadweight.
- Do your subjects agree in number with their verbs?
- Is there any non-essential information that you can delete?
- Do you overuse adjectives and adverbs?
- Do you use clichés or hackneyed expressions?
- Have you used punctuation correctly, especially in regard to dialogue tags?
- Make sure punctuation marks (i.e., commas, periods, question marks, and exclamation points) are always within quotation marks. Only hyphens, dashes, and colons should remain outside of quotation marks.
- When you think you’re done editing your essay, read it aloud. This will enable you to pick up any phrases that sound awkward or wordy.
- Ask a friend or teacher for an opinion. When you think you’re finally done, find someone whose opinion you trust—maybe an English teacher, a bookish friend, or a parent. Ask them if anything in your essay was unclear, and if they have any suggestions on how you can improve your writing. Listen carefully and consider their suggestions. In the end, it’s your essay, so do not implement any changes you disagree with and ensure that your narrative remains in your voice.