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Tips & Info: Getting Feedback on Your Essay

Since it is almost impossible to have objectivity about your own personal statement, it is crucial to get feedback on your draft essay before you start revising. What will someone who provides useful feedback do for you?

A good reviewer will help you to see your essay's strengths and weaknesses clearly. They'll point to where you may've strayed from the question, failed to address it, or failed to answer all its parts. They'll give you a sense of where your readers may feel lost, confused, unsure of your meaning, or unconvinced by your evidence or logic. They will brainstorm with you about the question, asking probing questions to help you answer the question in a way that brings your key strengths to light, and that helps you fill in information that is scant or missing and weed out or reduce extraneous details. For the purpose of revising a college application or award essay, it may also be useful to have a reviewer who has specialized knowledge of the audience and purpose toward which this type of essay is directed. In the end, good reviewers will not attempt to rewrite the essay in their own words but will instead guide you toward improving your own draft. Their feedback will help you to revise the essay more successfully and in less time than you could manage on your own.

Where do you find good reviewers? How do you approach people with a request to review your draft? How can you make their task easier, and also improve the chances that their feedback will be useful to you? Follow our suggestions below.

SELECTING GOOD REVIEWERS Who should you ask to review your essay? In general, it is best to select people who write and edit well. It is also useful to work with someone who knows you personally or who takes time to get to know you over e-mail or by phone. And, if possible, you should choose someone who also has experience reviewing personal statements and knowledge of what it takes to write one successfully.

Three main groups of candidates fit most or all of these criteria. Family members and friends who are strong writers and editors are a good place to start. Keep in mind, however, that the reviewer needs to maintain a detached perspective about your work, and people who know you well may not be able to view your work objectively or offer much criticism. Your educators and academic advisors--professors, teachers, guidance counselors, etc.--are good candidates as well. In addition to knowing you and knowing how to write and edit well, they usually have some knowledge of what it takes to write a strong personal statement. A third category is professional essay editors. These are people with professional writing and editing experience who review personal statements for a fee. The best professional editor will ask you questions and get to know you over email or the phone before giving you feedback. If you have few "good reviewer" candidates among your personal contacts, if you've not had recent or close contact with your educators or academic advisors, or if you simply want a professional opinion, seeking advice from an essay editor may be the best option for you. You can request professional assistance from EssayAdvice.com or another provider of similar services.

ASKING FOR REVIEWS How do you ask for assistance in reviewing your essay? If you're seeking assistance from professional essay editors, follow their business procedures for requesting editing. (If you'd like EssayAdvice.com's assistance, submit your essay.) If you're asking someone you know, explain your plans for applying for college admissions or academic awards. Tell them of the importance of the personal statement part of the application and your desire for critical feedback to help you improve the essay. Then explain to them why you have chosen to ask for their feedback (you might touch on some of the criteria above). Usually the person will feel flattered by your request and will comply despite the time and effort required to review your essay.

ASSISTING THE REVIEW PROCESS You can make the task of the reviewer easier by taking the following steps. If you're engaging a professional editor, they will usually ask you to do the following:

  • Supply a copy of your draft. If you're sending your draft over email, attach a double-spaced document or paste the essay into the email message. If you're providing a hard copy, a typed, double-spaced copy is preferable. This is easiest to read and the double spacing allows sufficient space in between lines to insert comments if desired. If you cannot provide a typed copy, a neat, hand-written version with lots of white space between lines for comments will do.
  • Supply a copy of the essay question. If you are submitting the essay for an application that requires more than one essay, it might be useful to include the other essay questions as well. This would allow the reviewer to help you determine if pieces of your essay actually fit another question(s) better.
  • Set a time for completion of the review. Keep in mind that the shorter the deadline the better so that you don't lose much time before you make final revisions.
  • Set up arrangements for receiving the reviewer's feedback. Determine if he or she would prefer to give you written comments or to discuss the draft. If the reviewer is providing written comments by hard copy, arrange to pick up the comments.
  • Finally, you might stipulate that you want critical feedback. Sometimes reviewers hesitate to be critical out of fear of offending or putting off the writer. Let the reviewer know that you need their honest appraisal and will value their pointing out the essay's weaknesses. To assist them further, you might provide a check-list of questions (see below).

REVISION CHECK-LIST Ask your reviewers to assess your essay's strengths and weaknesses in the following areas.

  • General Content:
    • Does your essay help the reader to understand who you are?
    • Does it help to showcase your unique strengths?
    • Does it ring true as an authentic piece, written by and about you?
    • Is it convincing?
    • Does it grab and hold their attention?
    • Does it make a lasting, favorable impression?
    • Does it show that you have a clear sense of academic, career, and/or personal goals--both short-term and long-term?
    • Does it exhibit that you have a clear understanding of how attending University X or winning a certain scholarship will help you achieve your goals?
    • Does it show that you have clear academic interests?
    • Does it demonstrate your knowledge about how attending the University X can help further your understanding of certain academic subjects?
    • Does it explain why a certain subject(s) fascinates you?
    • Does it demonstrate that you have a clear understanding of how your past life and experiences fed into your academic interests?
    • Does it show that you have motivation, drive, and the capacity to succeed?
  • Topic and Thesis:
    • Does your topic address the question?
    • Is your topic one that few others will likely write about?
    • Is your thesis clear?
    • Does your thesis connect to the topic and question?
    • Is your thesis consistently upheld and supported throughout the essay?
  • Organization, Structure, and Logic:
    • Are the three essay components (thesis, body, conclusion) intact and clearly distinct?
    • Are the three components clearly and logically linked so that the body supports the thesis and the conclusion ties them together?
    • Does your essay seem logical, make sense?
  • Paragraphs and Transitions:
    • Is each paragraph well-structured, with a clear leading idea of its own and supporting body?
    • Does each paragraph logically follow the preceding one and connect easily to the following one?
  • Sentences:
    • Are your sentence structures correct?
    • Is your usage of tense consistent and logical?
  • Words and Phrases:
    • Are all words spelled correctly?
    • Do all words and phrases mark proper usage?
    • Have you used as few words as possible to express your thoughts?
  • Mechanics:
    • Is your grammar correct?
    • Is your punctuation correct?

HOW TO HANDLE FEEDBACK Once you've received the reviewer's feedback (and thanked them for their help if you know them personally), think the comments over carefully. Don't be put off by criticism. Keep in mind that your reviewer only intends to help you improve your essay. Also keep in mind, however, that--no matter how experienced the reviewer--he or she can only offer their considered opinion. There is no single best way to write. You'll need to exercise your judgment as to which comments you'll respond to and how. In the end, this is your essay, and it should express your ideas in your voice in the way you feel is most comfortable and appropriate. After you've had time to digest the comments, begin "Revising Your Essay."

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