Writing 101: Precision

If you want to be a lawyer, you’ll have to scrutinize documents for their exact meaning and write sentences that can’t be misinterpreted. In other words, you’ll have to be precise. It’s a good idea to start now. Ask yourself of each sentence in your personal statement, Is this exactly what I mean?

Let’s look at some examples of imprecise writing.

1. The Grind

A career in the law is far from glamorous, but then as now, the grind of the legal field is what draws me to law school.

Does the grind actually draw you to law school? It seems more likely that something else—idealism, love of the law—draws you to law school, and that the grind is something you’re willing to bear.

2. Definition of Success

Three months prior to accepting the position, I spent countless hours agonizing over career choices and the subsequent definition of success post-graduation. Afraid failure meant no turning back, I spoke with several successful individuals who helped me realize that though my specific career direction may at first be unclear, success was often a circuitous journey of self-learning.

Did you really agonize over the definition of success? Or did you rather agonize over your career choice while thinking about what you wanted to accomplish? Do you really mean that success is a circuitous journey? It seems more likely that you mean you’ll find success after a circuitous journey.

I’d change to something like this: “I spent countless hours agonizing over career choices. It was XXX who gave me the advice I needed to make a decision. She reminded me that many people don’t find out what they want to do, let alone how to do it, until they’ve made a few mistakes.”

3. Paranoia

I was the first one in the classroom because the Army has drilled into me a healthy dose of paranoia concerning tardiness, so now I’m obscenely early to everything.

Paranoia is a mental condition that involves delusional thinking. I don’t think the Army made you paranoid about being late; I think it made you wary of being late. You might also say simply that the Army made you punctual.

4. Flamboyant

Life was not necessarily flamboyant for a boy like me who grew up in a middle-class family in Zimbabwe.

“Flamboyant” is the wrong word. I think you mean “luxurious.”

You might phrase the sentiment more directly: “I grew up in a middle-class family in Zimbabwe. Our life was full of challenges that most American middle-class families never have to deal with.”

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