Now you are about to embark on the last stage in the writing
process: final edits. But before you go any further, close this
planner, turn off your computer, put down your pencil, and take
a break. That’s right: relax. Go to a movie with your friends, watch
TV, or find a good party to go to. Do anything but look at your
essay, and try not to even think about it.
Why? Because when you come back to it, you will be refreshed
and much better able to look at your essay with a critical eye.
Weaknesses that you missed three days ago, new ideas for transitions,
tighter sentence constructions, and stronger words will pop out
Imagine how a stranger would read your essay. Ask yourself:
What works? What needs more work? What’s missing? What can be deleted?
Did you say what you set out to say? Are your tone and message consistent
Some people like to edit on screen, while others find
it easier to print out their essay, mark changes in pen, and then
go back and input edits. The only way to know which method works
best for you is to try them all and see which feels most natural.
If you choose to edit on screen, consider working on it in “print
layout” view so you can see what your words actually look like on
The final editing stage can be exciting. You can feel
the power of your words taking shape, your ideas coming together,
and your best, most polished voice emerging.
“Hire” an Editor
You may feel you don’t need help with your essay because
the writing is so subjective. After all, how can someone else tell
you what’s right or wrong when it’s your life you’re
talking about? This kind of reasoning is precisely why it’s so important
to get help. When you write about something so close to you, it’s
hard to tell whether it’s clear, whether you’re explaining too much
or not enough, or whether you are conveying your point. Your essay
is so much a part of you it can be hard to see whether it’s working.
Also, you’ve been working on this for a while; it’s easy to lose
Even the best writers need another set of eyes to look
at their work. It’s much easier for an outsider to point out redundan-cies,
inconsistencies, or awkward, vague, and unclear spots.
Whom to Ask
Find a trusted friend, relative, or teacher who knows
you well and ask for feedback. Be open to constructive criticism;
don’t let your ego get the best of you.
Make sure to ask your reader, “Does it sound like me?”
and have him or her note places that sound like you’re trying too
hard to impress. Have your reader look for grammatical errors, awkwardness,
organizational problems, and gaps in your story or logic.
Pick a person to read your essay and give you feedback.
If you have too many people giving you advice, you’ll go crazy.
Plus, taking everyone’s suggestions into account would dilute your
voice. Be sure to ask someone whose judgment you trust and who is
likely to tell you the truth, rather than to placate or flatter
Build in extra time for your reader to review your essay
and give you feedback. Be prepared to nag if he or she doesn’t respond
with comments within the time frame you requested.
Show Mom or Dad
Should you show your mom or dad? It depends on your parent.
If your parents are writers, for example, you might benefit from
their insight. But if your topic is sensitive and your parents do not
respond well, consider asking a teacher, friend, college counselor,
Your parents feel fairly invested in your future. They
definitely want the best for you and want to see you succeed. In
other words, parents are not exactly disinterested parties. They
may feel entitled to tell you what to write about and how to represent
It’s natural to feel defensive about any questions asked
or suggestions made about your writing. After all, you’re really
putting your blood, sweat, and tears into the essay. You may feel
like your reader just didn’t pay close enough attention, or is making
random and gratuitous suggestions.
For these reasons, it’s a good idea to take a break while
your reader is reviewing your essay. With a little distance, you
are likely to feel less frustrated and defensive when you hear suggestions
Try not to take negative feedback personally. You do not
need to blindly accept every suggestion you receive, but remind
yourself that, ultimately, feedback from a reader will probably
make your essay stronger.
Read for Content
After you’ve read your reader’s comments and made revisions,
read the essay again. Is what you’ve written believable? Are your
ideas and examples clear? Is the point of your essay clear? Did
you make it clear at the beginning so the reader knows why he or
she is reading it? Does every paragraph and sentence develop and
support your main point?
Read it several more times, focusing on a different aspect
Is Your Essay Organized?
Make sure after all the rearranging and editing you’ve
done that your paragraphs still have topic sentences. Try underlining
the topic sentences of each paragraph. If you read just the topic
sentences they should follow logically and form a mini-essay that
Go through your essay paragraph by paragraph. Make sure
each sentence refers to the idea stated in your topic sentences.
Delete any irrelevant sentences or move them to a different paragraph.
If you’re not sure where to put a sentence, create a new document
for wayward sentences. Later on, you can figure out where they might
- Do I like the sequence of ideas?
- Are related ideas grouped together?
- Is there a logical sequence to my sentences?
- Do I use transitions to help the reader follow my thoughts?
How Does Your Essay Sound?
Read your essay out loud. It’s really helpful in terms
of figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Close your door, ignore
how silly you feel, and listen to how the words sound when you speak. This
is a trick of the trade that many writers use. It allows you to
hear the rhythm of your sentences.
Does your tongue get tied when you read your sentences
out loud? Do you need to take a breath in the middle of a sentence?
If so, maybe your sentences are too long. Break them into simpler
sentences. But also make sure your sentences aren’t too short and
choppy; combine sentences if necessary. Finally, it is important
to mix up the length of your sentences for variety and rhythm.
Do you repeat the same words throughout your essay? See
if you can come up with synonyms. Look in the dictionary to see
if the definition brings to mind similar words you can use. You
can use the thesaurus, too, but just make sure you actually understand
the word you are using and the way you are using it.
Can You Upgrade Your Verbs?
The more specific your verbs, the more powerful and fresh
your essay will sound. Instead of saying, I went to
my aunt’s house, think about how you went. Did you walk? If so,
how? Did you take the bus?
Instead of relying on adverbs (I hungrily ate
the sandwich) think of a verb that might more specifically
describe the action (I gobbled the sandwich).
When you have an adjective that tells, exchange it
for a verb that shows. For example, instead of happy
baby, write Clara cooed. Instead of dangerous dog, write
the Rottweiler growled and showed its teeth.
Change: It got cold out.
To: The temperature plummeted.
Change: The reckless cab driver went
To: The cab careened down Broadway.
Change: Jane happily went to school.
To: Jane skipped into the classroom
with a smile spread across her face.
Tone and Consistency
Remember: Your voice should remain consistent throughout
your essay. When you incorporate your reader’s comments and suggestions
into your draft, make sure you remain true to your voice. You don’t
want the admissions officer to suddenly come across a section that
sounds like someone else wrote it.
Look at your essay paragraph by paragraph. Are any of
your paragraphs super short? Is that because you haven’t fully developed
your ideas? Push your ideas further by looking at each sentence
and tell yourself, “So what!” Did you take your ideas as far as
Are any of your paragraphs too long? Are you repeating
yourself? Can you cut any irrelevant sentences? If you’ve already
cut out all irrelevant sentences and made sure you’re not repeating
yourself, consider breaking your paragraph into two (or more) shorter
paragraphs. Big dense chunks of text are not inviting for the reader.
Before sending in your application,
make sure you ask yourself these important questions:
- Did you follow the essay directions?
- Does your tone match the content of your essay?
- Do you sound like you?
- Are you trying too hard to impress?
- Do you orient your reader? (Will your reader be able to
tell where he or she is when you start your story? Where the essay
is going? What the point is?)
- If you include any references to history, literature,
math, science, or politics, have you made sure they are accurate?
- Is your writing too wordy?
- Are you making generalizations?
- Are you overstating or exaggerating?
- Have you left out any words by mistake?