Pen and Chisel Q&A: Concise Writing: Editing for Length

Eileen ConnerHaving trouble with word limits on your law school application? Please welcome back law school admissions essay expert Eileen Conner, founder of Pen and Chisel, who has some excellent advice on concise writing to share.

If you missed any of her other admissions Q&As, check them out here.

Law school application essays raise many challenges, and one of the most common is how to fit a strong argument into such a small space. How can you convince the admissions committee to admit you to their program in only two to three pages? The answer lies in concise, efficient writing.

Consider your subject

The first thing you’ll need to consider is the overall topic of your essay. What story or stories are you telling? Are you focused on showing your aptitude for a career in law through a retelling of one key event or experience — or are you filling your essay with a host of different stories? If the latter is the case, you may want to consider editing the subject of your essay.

If you’re used to making only small changes in your academic writing via line edits, editing the entire subject of your essay may seem counterintuitive. However, this is actually a great way to cut length dramatically without much effort.

It’s a very good idea to examine all the different stories you are telling and compare and contrast them to decide which might be the most effective way to show your target law schools your aptitude for law. Then simply focus on telling that individual story as you make your argument for admission. This will not only cut your essay length dramatically — it will also make your overall argument clearer, more focused, and ultimately more effective.

Consider your content

The key to writing a convincing argument in a very small space is to only include content that is truly necessary. With that in mind, consider which parts of your essay content are not necessary and cut them out to make room for more important information.

First, think about the relevance of your essay content. Have you included any information that is not relevant to your overall argument for your future success in law? For instance, if you’re telling a story about how you helped someone else, have you focused more on discussing your actions and achievements — or on describing that other person and their situation and reactions? While you should include enough context to make the situation understandable, you may find that a shorter, more concise discussion of the person’s problem is enough to set the stage, and that you don’t need to spend multiple paragraphs going into additional detail.

Next, consider redundancy. Is there any repetitive information in your essay? For instance, have you mentioned that a particular situation was bad, and thereafter referred to it as a “dire problem” or a “horrible situation”? Consider whether you really need the modifiers “dire” and “horrible” if you’ve already established that the situation was bad. Or think about redundancy more broadly: for instance, have you repeated the same information several times throughout your essay, and is this really necessary? Experiment to see how much you can you cut while still maintaining the same meaning.

It’s a good idea to consider redundancy in terms of the application as a whole as well. Have you included information in your essay that is also available elsewhere in your application packet? For instance, have you repeated items that are listed on your resume or transcript, with no additional detail? If so, consider whether you can cut these pieces of information from your application essay and simply let the admissions committee discover them as they work their way through the rest of your application packet.

Consider your wording and phrasing

Finally, when you are feeling good about the overall subject matter and content of your essay, it’s time to examine the smallest pieces: sentences, phrases, and individual words.

Traditional academic writing encourages long, convoluted sentences, elaborate phrases, and elaborate Latinate or Greek word choice. This is fine if you’re writing an academic paper, with a length limit of ten, twelve, or twenty pages; there, you have plenty of space to write in that manner. But in a two-page application essay like the personal statement, these academic writing practices can actually become a liability.

So, to make your essay even more concise and compact, consider changing these elements. Are any of your sentences exceptionally long and complex? Consider how you can rephrase and simplify them without changing their meaning. Do you pepper your paragraphs with long parenthetical phrases? Consider whether you could make these their own sentences, trim them down, or eliminate them entirely. Is your essay submerged in a morass of unnecessarily obstreperous verbiage? Choose simpler words.

By paying close attention to your overall essay subject, the content you’ve included, and the words and sentences themselves, you’ll be able to shorten your essay dramatically. With a little effort, you’ll be able to express a convincing argument for admission in a surprisingly small amount of space.

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Thanks, Eileen! Excellent advice, all around.

Got an admissions question for Eileen? Leave it in the comments!

More about Eileen:
Eileen Conner is the founder of Pen and Chisel LLC, where she specializes in helping law school candidates perfect their application essays. 

A graduate of the University of Michigan’s prestigious creative writing MFA program, Eileen is the former Senior Editor for Law at Revision Editing.

Read On:

As you embark on your law school application journey, you might want to bookmark Applying to Law School 101: What You Need to Know to Succeed.

Then check out some of the rest of the Pen and Chisel Q&A:

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  1. […] Having trouble with word limits on your law school application? Please welcome back law school admissions essay expert Eileen Conner, founder of Pen and Chisel, who has some excellent advice on concise writing to share. If you missed any of her other admissions Q&As, check them out here. Law school application essays raise many challenges, { Continue Reading } […]

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