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application4I’m a writer. Given that you’re reading this, you probably already figured that out. Maybe I should’ve planned the introduction to this post a little more carefully… oh well, going with it at this point. Onwards!

Why am I emphasizing the obvious fact that I’m a writer? Because today I want to talk about something related to writing, especially for those authoring admissions essays, personal statements, statements of purpose, or any other piece of written work that will be submitted as part of your college, graduate, or professional application.

For many applicants, particularly those who don’t write that often, any major writing task can seem like an insurmountable challenge filled with extraordinarily complex questions and obstacles. Sometimes, though, a remarkably simple piece of advice can help you avoid a serious writing problem. That’s what I want to talk about today: a simple issue, easily caught and corrected, that if missed can cause big troubles in any piece of writing. And that issue is repetition. I’m going to use personal examples from my past to help illustrate this point.

Two words have, at different times, popped up with unpleasant frequency in my own writing. A few years back, the primary culprit was therefore. I used it everywhere. All. The. Time. It was peppered throughout my writing like spots on a leopard, like stripes on a zebra, like [insert your own lame simile, animal related or not, here]. You get the point. Much of my material at that time went something like this:

Here’s a point that I’m making for some reason. Therefore, this. And another point goes right here. Therefore, that. And that is, therefore, why I believe this.

Obviously that’s an exaggeration, but less of one than you might think. Therefore, for some reason, came naturally to my fingers while typing and I used it wherever and whenever possible. It’s not that I used it incorrectly, I was simply using it way, way, way too often.

More recently, I developed a troubling affinity for the word just. As in,

Just wanted to drop you a note because I just thought about that project and am curious where we’re at on it. Just wondering, so if you could just let me know, that’d be great.

I would write sentences like this in emails, essays, articles, text messages, pretty much everywhere without even being remotely aware that I was dropping just in at every opportunity. It was only when I went back to reread or proof material that I’d notice the overuse. In many ways, this is the writing equivalent of saying like when you talk. You don’t notice it while it’s happening, but if you record yourself and listen to the playback, you’re often amazed at how often it comes out of your mouth.

This problem – using a particular word, phrase, or construction too often – is quite common among all writers and is something that you should be on the lookout for as you work on your admissions writing. It happens to everyone and the only way to catch it is to be diligent about reviewing and proofing your work. Many people find it especially helpful to enlist a friend, teacher, colleague, family member, or professional to read their material and provide  independent feedback. This will help you catch not only inadvertent repetition, but also many other common writing errors.

That’s my point for today: repetition frequently creeps into writing and can bring down the overall quality of your work. Therefore, you should be diligent in keeping an eye out for it while working on an essay or statement. Just take your time, and you shouldn’t have any trouble avoiding this common pitfall.

Have you noticed one particular word, phrase, or construction that creeps into your own work on an all-too-regular basis? Let us know in the comments!