Those who write well are usually the same people who read well – that is, those who read the work of great authors. By reading what other skilled writers have written, you will begin to internalize the writing styles that they used and begin to implement them in your own writing as well.
The writing techniques in The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw’s tribute to those who served in World War II, are particularly germane to business school applicants writing MBA application essays. Brokaw writes about the lives, challenges, and achievements of these vets, and you can adapt his methods to your essays.
The following writing techniques (that I believe Brokaw’s uses exemplarily) will help you transform your essays from lusterless drab to rich sparkle:
1. Use vivid details to draw in your readers.
Don't just talk about an experience; SHOW your readers the details of what actually happened. Avoid using broad statements that don't actually say anything, and instead write detailed, specific sentences about what you encountered – what happened, how you felt, how you reacted, etc.
For example, instead of writing that the WWII soldiers came from varied backgrounds, Brokaw explains:
They left their ranches in Sully County, South Dakota, their jobs on the main street of Americus, Georgia, they gave up their place on the assembly lines in Detroit and in the ranks of Wall Street, they quit school or went from cap and gown directly into uniform.
2. Use numbers to emphasize magnitude.
You want to show you had a significant impact? Prove it by using numbers to illustrate just how impressive your achievements are.
Brokaw could have said: "The Regimental Unit had distinctive honors," but instead, he opted for:
The 442 Regimental Combat Unit would become the most heavily decorated single combat unit of its size in US Army History. 8 Presidential Distinguished Unit Citations and 18,143 individual decorations including one Medal of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars and 28 Oak Leaf Clusters in lieu of a second Silver Star, 4,000 Bronze Stars and 1,200 Oak leaf Clusters representing a second Bronze Star, and at least 9,486 Purple Hearts.
Which do you think better translates the prestige and distinction of the 442 Regimental Combat Unit? Which description has more impact? Which is more impressive and makes you want to continue reading?
To bring the example closer to home – which do you think MBA adcoms will want to hear more about:
"I ran a very successful fundraiser."
"Last year I organized a fundraiser during which 304 family lawyers donated 2,000 hours of pro bono services to women and children in domestic violence cases."
3. Invoke all the senses to paint a sensory picture of your experience.
Let your readers experience what you experienced by expressing what you saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched. Use sensory language. Read how Brokaw describes the living conditions of the American POWs in Germany:
It was the beginning of the long, cruel fight to survive, days of watching other inmates getting shot as they tried to escape, the same meals of watery cabbage or turnip soup, the cold nights with only a thin blanket for cover.
It makes you cringe, doesn't it? That physical response is due to Brokaw's exceptional job of making his readers feel what the subjects in the stories felt.
Do the same with your MBA essays.
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com, the premier admissions consultancy and essay editing company that has helped applicants around the world gain admissions to over 450+ top schools since 1994.