Final Edits

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 at you.

Be Critical

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 throughout?

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 page.

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 perspective.

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 you.

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, or aunt.

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 yourself.

Get Feedback

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 or corrections.

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 each time.

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 makes sense.

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 work.

    Ask yourself:
  • 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 down Broadway.

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.

Paragraph Length

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 you could?

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.

Final Checklist
    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?
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