Personal statement tips: How to write concisely.

Often, when starting your personal statement, reaching the word count limit seems like daunting, nearly impossible feat. (“Wait, I’m supposed to write about myself in 500 words?!”) But then, a magical thing occurs and, suddenly, your word count reaches a dizzying height– you now have too much to say and you’ve running out of space to say it. After working so hard on your essay, you now have to cut it down.

I understand that awful, downright painful feeling of having to trim down your own writing; in fact, I go through it nearly every week. It’s a skill that comes with time and practice, but it’s a worthy one to develop. Even when not working on your personal statement specifically, writing concisely is a crucial skill to writing effectively.

This is when the Paramedic Method comes to the rescue. Developed by Dr. Richard A. Lanham in his writing manual, Revising Prose
, the Paramedic Method is a method of shortening your writing to be more clear, more concise, and, by extension, more persuasive. Your statement, of course, should embody these qualities.

How you use the Paramedic Method within your personal statement:

 

  • Circle the prepositions.Go through your statement, and circle every preposition. (As a reminder, prepositions are words like “at,” “from,” “in,” and “of.”)  Using too many prepositional phrases can muddle your writing and, worse, confuse your reader. Go over your statement and circle all prepositions. Then, see how many superfluous prepositions can be substituted with strong active verbs. This will help get your point across and make for a direct, compelling essay. Of course, some are necessary to include, so exercise discretion.

Example: In this post is an example of the use of the Paramedic Method in writing.

Revised: This post exemplifies the Paramedic Method in writing.

  • Circle the “is” verb forms.Verb structures that rely on “is,” (especially passive verbs) can be weak and unconvincing. Review your statement and circle all instances of  “to be” verbs. Then, see how many you can replace with action verbs, replacing as many verbs in passive voice (“is explained by”) with ones in the active voice (“explains”).

Example: The point I wish to make is that the Paramedic Method works well and helps by improving your writing.

Revised: The Paramedic Method works well and helps improve your writing.

  •  Ask yourself: “Where is the action?” If you get stuck with a passive sentence, always ask the question: “Who does what to whom?” This will help you rewrite passive sentence as active ones. Following the above, make an effort to rewrite passive voice verb structures.

Example: This post is considered Pulitzer prize-worthy by some people.

Revised: Some people consider this post Pulitzer prize-worthy.

  •  Create the “action” with a simple active verb. Avoid using complex verb structures; they will lessen your writing’s impact. Remember, keeping it simple will make your writing that much more effective– Conciseness leads to persuasion.

Example: Quantum mechanics isn’t discussed in this blog.

Revised: This blog does not discuss quantum mechanics.

  • Open strongly, without slow build-up. Be demonstrative at the beginning of each sentence; slow build-up will lose the admissions counselor’s attention. Be direct and confident in what you’re saying by avoiding sentences that open like these:

My opinion is that…

The point I wish to make is that…

The fact of the matter is that…

 

Still not sure whether this will work? Try the above examples out by copy and pasting it into a word processor or an online word counter to see what I mean. With the exception of the “create action” example (where the word count remained the same but it became infinitely clearer), I managed to shave off up to 9 words from the above example. Pretty amazing, huh?

For more on this method, be sure to check out Dr. Lanham’s book, Revising Prose.
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