When editing, make sure to pay careful attention to:


Substance refers to the content of the essay and the message you send out. It can be very hard to gauge in your own writing. One good way to make sure that you are saying what you think you are saying is to write down, briefly and in your own words, the general idea of your message. Then remove the introduction and conclusion from your essay and have an objective reader review what is left. Ask that person what he thinks is the general idea of your message. Compare the two statements to see how similar they are. This can be especially helpful if you wrote a narrative. It will help to make sure that you are communicating your points in the story. Here are some more questions to ask yourself regarding content.

  • Have I answered the question asked?
  • Do I back up each point that I make with an example? Have I used concrete and personal examples?
  • Have I been specific? (Go on a generalities hunt. Turn the generalities into specifics.)
  • Could anyone else have written this essay?
  • What does it say about me? After making a list of all the words you have used within the essay — directly and indirectly — to describe yourself, ask: Does this list accurately represent me?
  • Does the writing sound like me? Is it personal and informal rather than uptight or stiff?
  • Regarding the introduction, is it personal and written in my own voice? Is it too general? Can the essay get along without it?
  • What about the essay makes it memorable?

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  • To check the overall structure of your essay, conduct a first-sentence check. Write down the first sentence of every paragraph in order. Read through them one after another and ask the following:
    • Would someone who was reading only these sentences still understand exactly what I am trying to say?
    • Do the first sentences express all of my main points?
    • Do the thoughts flow naturally, or do they seem to skip around or come out of left field?
  • Now go back to your essay as a whole and ask these questions:
    • Does each paragraph stick to the thought that was introduced in the first sentence?
    • Does a piece of evidence support each point? How well does the evidence support the point?
  • Is each paragraph roughly the same length? Stepping back and squinting at the essay, do the paragraphs look balanced on the page? (If one is significantly longer than the rest, you are probably trying to squeeze more than one thought into it.)
  • Does my conclusion draw naturally from the previous paragraphs?
  • Have I varied the length and structure of my sentences?

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Many people think only of mechanics when they revise and rewrite their compositions. As we know, though, the interest factor is crucial in keeping the admissions officers reading and remembering your essay. Look at your essay with the interest equation in mind: personal + specific = interesting. Answer the following:

  • Is the opening paragraph personal?
  • Do I start with action or an image?
  • Does the essay show rather than tell?
  • Did I use any words that are not usually a part of my vocabulary? (If so, get rid of them.)
  • Have I used the active voice whenever possible?
  • Have I overused adjectives and adverbs?
  • Have I eliminated clichés?
  • Have I deleted redundancies?
  • Does the essay sound interesting to me? (If it bores you, imagine what it will do to others.)
  • Will the ending give the reader a sense of completeness? Does the last sentence sound like the last sentence?

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When you are satisfied with the structure and content of your essay, it is time to check for grammar, spelling, typos, and the like. You can fix obvious things right away: a misspelled or misused word, a seemingly endless sentence, or improper punctuation. Keep rewriting until your words say what you want them to say. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Did I punctuate correctly?
  • Did I eliminate exclamation points (except in dialogue)?
  • Did I use capitalization clearly and consistently?
  • Do the subjects agree in number with the verbs?
  • Did I place the periods and commas inside the quotation marks?
  • Did I keep contractions to a minimum? Do apostrophes appear in the right places?
  • Did I replace the name of the proper school for each new application?
  • Have I caught every single typo? (You can use your spell-checker but make sure that you check and re-check every change it makes. It is a computer after all.)

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