We had a great question in the comments to a post last week asking how to cut down an overlimit essay (can’t believe nobody’s asked us this before).
Here’s some advice:
This probably won’t help any of you much, but starting your essays from OUTLINES can be a huge time-saver in the end. If you know what your main points are ahead of time, you can write to those and more likely stay on target, both in terms of messaging, and in length. When our clients do a good job with their outlines, they usually do a good job on the essays themselves, and they don’t end up with bloated monsters.
But, sometimes not.
Once you’ve got your drafts out on the page and you’ve recognized that they are in fact monsters, then you need to take a serious look at what you’re trying to say. Many people are repetitive and redundant and duplicative (get it?) in how they write. They do what’s sometimes called “throat-clearing”: they write a sentence or two of rambly introductory I’m-gonna-tell-you-something-here stuff, and then after a bit of that, they finally come out and say it. Sometimes it’s a rambly whole paragraph.
Here’s an example:
XYZ Business School will help me in achieving my career goals because of the curriculum and the clubs. I want to get involved with the Consulting Club and the Wine Club while I’m on campus.
The first sentence says nothing new. It doesn’t help the reader know anything about the candidate. It could be written by any candidate to any school. It adds no value. The second sentence (is very sucky please do not copy EssaySnark’s lame-o sentence into your essay) has the details of two specific club names. It has (marginal) value. When looking for what to cut vs. keep, always veer towards the specifics.
Try this: One at a time, examine every single sentence, and ask if it’s got:
a) NEW INFORMATION that is:
b) OFFERING CONCRETE DETAILS which are:
c) CRITICAL TO THE STORY.
If not — if it doesn’t meet all three criteria — then that might be an opportunity to tighten.
The first sentence in a paragraph is often superfluous. We frequently see lead-in sentences that are very generic; usually the second sentence in a paragraph has good details, but frequently it’s repetitive to the first one, which is a more vague or generalized idea that doesn’t have anything tangible or specific. Look to those first sentences and make sure they are packing a punch.
Another trick is to cut the sentence, then re-read the paragraph: Does it lose anything? Is the meaning still clear? If so, then maybe you can just leave the sentence out.
Finally, you should never submit an essay immediately after a heavy editing session. Always sleep on it, then come back and re-read, to make sure that you didn’t butcher the meaning with your last round of revision.
Sometimes when Brave Supplicants wrestle with the monster they end up mangling it but it still lives and breathes. More than once, we’ve seen essays deteriorate in the “final edit” stage, so be careful!
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