Welcome to Part 2 of the Personal Statement (PS) write up. This entry will focus on grammar and style.
- Forming the editing committee
- Rough draft stage I (content focused draft > grammar)
- Rough draft stage II (grammar & style)
- Rough draft stage III (re-center focus on content and flow)
- Finalizing draft stage IV (show mentor PS & get feed back)
- Finalizing draft V (style & flow & cutting back)
- Final Draft VI (send out final draft to all editors)
*Steps 4-7 are straight-forward and will not be discussed further in detail
At this phase of the game you should of found your Personal Statement editing and review committee discussed in part I, or at least found a few reviewers to edit and give feedback on content early on. Don’t worry about the number for now, you can always add (or remove) members later if need be, just get it started. However, in order to use your team to its best ability you’ll have to first deliver to them a good draft for them to work on. Therefore, you shouldn’t give your reviewers piecemeal excerpts or lily-liveried attempts, it’ll just frustrate your reviewers and you. Now, before you write your draft for your Personal Statement make sure you have the right tools: resume, curriculum vitae, possible publications etc. If you’re not familiar with the term curriculum vitae then imagine it as your “scholarly resume”. Resist the urge to drone on all every detail of your life, you’re probably interesting, but you’re probably a lot more compelling in person. And, the point of the Personal Statement is to get an interview, that’s it. Accordingly, the interview will be sent to you because they wanted to meet you from a combination of your application and Personal Statement. And they wanted to meet you because you were qualified like everyone else and something special about you, this should be captured in the Personal Statement. You’ll have lots of moments to expand upon your qualifications, to a point where you’ll feel nausea after spending so much time talking about yourself – remember, after the Personal Statement there’s plenty left of opportunities to clarify your qualifications on the primary application and secondary’s (oh the secondary horror). General things to write about on your personal statement:
- Introduce who you are, and why/how your individuality will make you a positive impact on the medical school if accepted. Don’t exaggerate.
- Be congruent on how your inclusion in the medical field, specifically as a physician, will have an impact on the community you will serve.
- Identify when and why your interest in medicine came about. Be sure to differentiate why a physician as a career and why not any other equitable ways to deliver positive health care outcomes.
- Project your career as a professional and physician into the future where you serve the public (e.g. 10 years after starting medical school).
There’s some Heisenberg Uncertainty when you try to write and edit simultaneously.
So, let’s begin with the writing portion, and then we’ll get into the joys of wearing your editor’s hat. We won’t go down a philosophical debate about it, let’s just agree on this for now. College got us into a bad habit of producing papers like they’re hotcakes; any decent premed could pull out an A- paper about the ethics of wombat plastic surgery last minute. I won’t lower you down to my level of bad habits while in college, but I will say I was a successful rough draft warrior. It wasn’t actually until I graduated college and was paid to write that I sat down and took the task seriously, after all I needed to save up for medical school applications and pay bills. My tip for you is to have a “writers” mindset and an “editors” mind-set; the two processes are copacetic but disparate beasts. Sit down and write down your first rough draft as a passionate writer, while keeping the general points to address I listed above, again emphasis on ‘rough’, let the writing flow:
- Leave the thesaurus at out of the picture unless the word you’re trying to imagine is on the tip of your tongue. Keep your language simple and loose, in fact I would encourage you to tone down superfluous language when it renders the clause less intelligible than simpler alternatives (see what I did there?). Words are meant to communicate an idea in the best way possible, not to project intelligence, use substantive examples instead if you want to project your intelligence. In other words don’t use expensive words for a bargain bin idea. If you’re naturally a word-smith, or want to use that GRE word-list you resentfully studied, go ahead and do what works for you but tread lightly. It’s analogous to cursing or using all caps to show people online you’re angry.
- Don’t worry about the character limit of the Personal Statement; feel free to go well beyond it on your first draft. It’s very likely you’ll toss out a lot of what you’ll write anyways in favor for more efficient and elegant versions. So, the priority here is to get the ideas on paper so you can whip it into shape later.
- Grammars edits will have more substance if you wait until the end instead of editing on the fly. Grammar is important, but it interrupt your ideas, don’t waste your time wearing your editor’s hat now, you’ll tackle that later. Sure, catch obvious stuff and fix it as you feel comfortable, but don’t get bogged down.
Editor Time – Last Grammar – Style Tips When I’m done writing my first rough draft I take the horrendous product and shove it into my grammar machine. I go point by point, assuring that I tackle all of the same issues at once, this reduces my writing time tremendously:
1. Use active whenever possible instead of passive. When I edit people’s PS I notice they often will (perhaps unconsciously) switch to passive voice for unfavorable situations: Passive voice:
“I had the misfortune of receiving a B- in Genetics.”
Active voice: “I learned what it meant to struggle despite trying my after earning a B- in Genetics.”
But, the down side of doing writing passively is — besides making an awkward sentence — the grammar would imply that the writer isn’t taking ownership of their academic black-eye.
2. Ever wonder how to use those fancy dashes but never knew when? Use it as a sudden interruption to summarize a thought or to fly in opposition of the clause before the dash. Try not to misuse or overuse the dash, but it sure does make for a sleek sentence if used but once per essay. “You’ve probably always wondered how to use the dash — if you had cared about fancy punctuation at all — and assumed it was difficult to use.”
3. Replace vague language with concrete language whenever possible. Vague: “An unfavorable air of fear filled the trauma room all day after her death.
Concrete: “After she died the room the trauma room stunk of fear.” I wouldn’t see either sentence is great, but the second one isn’t vague and it carries more weight.
4. Chop out extra words, there will be a lot of them. Typically this entails getting rid of the excess “of”, “have”, “pretty”, “very”, and the sort within your personal statement. I find it more efficient to do this all at once. For example, I sit down with a goal of reducing the amount of “of” usage. If you’re used to using Twitter this should come natural to you. This is functionally easy to do, just use your search function to go on a search and destroy machine on wasted words.
5. Avoid a common problem, never use a fancy word if you’re not sure how to use it. While you’re at it, be sure to avoid using words that don’t exist for example “irregardless” is not a word. Check out Wikipedia for an entry on common misused words: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:List_of_commonly_misused_English_words
6. Avoid vague and overused words like “interesting”, “passionate”. Instead, demonstrate it. Instead of saying:
Snore festival: “I am very interested in medicine because I’ve always had a passion to help people.”
Exemplify your “passion” with an anecdote from your CV/resume material instead of relying on cliche words. Another good word to avoid is “surprisingly”, or “literally“, I could literally go on forever. If you’re curious about what other words are destroying your personal statement Let’s face it, few things are really that surprising, so if the word is used the result better be nothing short of astonishing. While we’re making lists also try to avoid using: dynamic, intense, team player, people person, dedicated. Remember, show, don’t tell.
overusing using “-ly” whenver possible: amazing ly, perceptive ly , stunning ly It’s okay to have a few “-ly’s” every now and then, but I’ve been told it’s analogous to putting a top hat on poop. It’s still poop.
8. Make sure you didn’t comma splice, use semicolons when appropriate. Conversely, people tend to gain a fear of comma splicing during college, so they instead break a good “one” sentence into “two” — avoid this. If this makes no sense to you, assure your grammar editor is comfortable with it.
9. If the sentence makes just as much sense without a “word” that word probably isn’t necessary, consider getting rid of it. The same goes for any sentence when compared to a paragraph, a paragraph when compared to the PS.
10. Avoid exaggerations on your achievements or insights. It will make your reader think you’re a tool: “When I shadowed Dr AnPanMan I felt so invigorated by the spirit of medicine that I knew there was no other path but medicine for me.”
11. Devote a set time to editing, and be deliberate about what you’re trying to correct. However, don’t try to finish your editing all in one session, it’s too laborious and you’ll make mistakes. Instead, after you have your draft finished work on corrections every day for 20-30 minutes (or every other day if you feel stressed out). Sometimes the best thing you can do to improve a piece of writing is to walk away from it, and then approach it again from a different perspective.
12. I’m not sure if the editing ever stops, but at some point you have to be satisfied (in case your curious this entry has been revised about 25 times, including this one). In fact, about 3-seconds after I submitted my AMCAS application I thought of one more edit I could do on my PS. Arguably some of your best ideas will come after your submit your application and it can’t be returned to you.
Well, that’s all I have for style for now. If you’re a foreign reader and would like to hear more about grammar or style I wouldn’t be your expert, but I can refer you to some great free online material.
Well, that’s enough reading about the PS, get cracking!
About my writing background:
Besides writing my own Personal Statement (PS) I help my Twitter family with theirs when possible. I learned how to write more systematically when I was charged with writing five health and fitness articles per week, the threat of getting fired helps motivate you. Currently, I sit on an Institutional Review Board and Animal Care and Use Committee where I review research protocols to ensure they meet local and federal regulations about protections of research subjects — another writing heavy job. My other gig I currently pull off is an interim position where I review applications from research scholars, help organize conferences, and distribute stipends. You’ll never escape having to write. If you personally want to write better, or are foreign born and want to surpass your native buddies I’d suggest picking up a rather old book called Elements of Style on Amazon (or free at http://www.gutenburg.org; you can hug me later).