Six Ways to Improve Your Essay

When you’ve nailed down your essay’s core and structure—i.e., you know your basic message, and each paragraph advances that message in a logical way—you’re ready to improve the content of your essay. Here’s how.

1. Clarify unclear descriptions.

Unclear:

In my current role as a business analyst I work on cross functional teams to help integrate new acquisitions onto McKesson’s processes and tools. Many of my coworkers dread being assigned the task of developing 'current state' process maps. The process can be painstaking because it requires the analyst to gather and organize information from several sources.

Clear:

In my current role as a business analyst, I interview the employees of newly acquired companies, looking for redundant jobs. The process requires attention to detail and tact, because when I ask someone what she does all day, she understands that her job is on the line.

Use clear, simple language.

2. Turn generalizations into specifics.

General:

As much as I listen to the words spoken, I pay an equal amount of attention to their eyes and passion in their voice. These are the clues which often lead me to path of truth.

Specific:

I remember a woman who looked at the floor and picked at her thumb through the interview. Although she sounded calm, I listened to her body language and assured her that I wasn’t out to get her. I promised her that I would listen to her truth and give her the benefit of the doubt.

The first passage describes what the author does with a summary of her routine. The second passage illustrates what the author does with a specific example.

3. Turn mushy “what I learned” statements into meaningful “what I learned” statements.

Mushy:

There were many highs and lows, but of the countless opportunities afforded to me at DHL, none was greater than the chance to reflect on my journey and clarify where I wanted that journey to take me.

Meaningful:

At the end of my time in the Phillipines, I realized that I wanted to improve people’s lives, not figure out how to sell them something.

Any time you write that you had time to reflect, came to a new understanding, or learned something, you should specify what you reflected, understood, or learned.

4. Turn clichés into details—or just get rid of them.

Cliché:

The next day reached another level as I left heart and soul on the plate.

Not cliché:

The next day, I worked as hard as I could.


Not cliché:

The next day, I was so focused that I didn't notice I'd burned myself until later.

If you suspect a phrase might be cliché, Google it. Or just give yourself the benefit of the doubt: you're probably right.

5. Turn abstractions into concrete statements.

Abstract:

I became enamored with the law due to its subtle nuances and complexities. Court cases aren’t decided upon simple yes or no questions but rather questions that delve into the gray areas of interpretation of statutes and common law.

Concrete:

When I learned about Toy Biz vs. The United States—a case that hinged on whether or not X-men were human or non-human creatures—I realized for the first time that legal arguments can be nuanced and interesting.

If you can't make an abstraction concrete, you can often just delete it.

6. Support or illustrate unsupported points.

Needs support:

I was determined to get better at basketball.

Support:

Every morning, I woke up early to practice my three-pointer before class.

You don't need to support every statement, only the important ones.

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