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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

How to Make Every Word Count

You're filling out a job application or academic program admissions packet and you encounter the essay question that everyone dreads: "In 700 words or less, please provide information that will give a more complete and accurate picture of you as a candidate, e.g., greatest accomplishments, personal philosophy or traits, etc."

Even with a limited professional background, most essay writers find this type of response to be daunting. If the writer has been in senior management, or has been involved with multiple researches or projects, the 700 word limit on an essay that adequately fleshes out that kind of history seems almost impossible to write. How can you combine decades of experience and personal philosophy into a little over a page of writing and feel comfortable you've summed yourself up adequately? Beyond that, how can you still make yourself stand out from the rest as a candidate when you are so limited with word count?

Below is a list of 4 steps you can take to tackle an assignment like this.

Step 1 — Categorize

This is really a brainstorming activity that should be done from the onset of writing the essay. I often suggest that clients begin this exercise by sitting down with a piece of paper and writing a list of their most notable accomplishments or moments. Anything that was significant in about your life's work or endeavors should be included.

The list should then be categorized, with accomplishments placed into categories. For example, if you are a researcher and have published multiple studies on two or three topics, you might separate the studies into those topics. Category 1 might be "Studies relating to brain function" while category 2 might be "studies relating to sleep deprivation." Or, if you participated in multiple studies in collaboration with other researchers and then multiple studies as the sole researcher, you might separate your categories this way.

If your experience is in sales or if you have a history of successful deals or projects in corporate management, list them all and then perhaps categorize these by company, total dollar amount, or even by decade. This will allow you to group accomplishments together when you discuss them.


"I successfully managed multiple building projects, from planning through completion, including…"

"My successfully managed deals with x, y, and z all resulted in tripled sales for the company."

Step 2 — Avoid redundant and wordy expressions

This is just a rule for good writing, and one that you should follow at all times and in all communication, but keep in mind that it is especially important when word count is limited. Redundant expressions could be taking up valuable space that would be better filled with other information. Here is a list of some of the most common wordy expressions people tend to use, as well as words that can easily replace them while also lowering word count.

"is indicative of" – indicates

"had occasion to be" – was

"owing to the fact that" – since

"take into consideration" – consider

"in spite of the fact that" – although

Step 3 — Don't provide unnecessary details

While discussing your personal reasons for getting into a specific career might be effective on some essays, you generally want to leave this information out of an essay requiring low word count unless you are specifically asked this question. Family history, tragedy, life-changing events, and epiphanies about one's future are all excellent topics of discussion in interviews, etc., but almost always take up too much space when word count is an issue.

In this same vein, discussing specifics about your job requirements, research results, or sales numbers will also use up too much space when a general overview is what the admissions or job search committee is seeking from your essay. If the search committee reading your writing is interested in learning more specific details, you can be sure that they will ask for those details in interviews that will follow if you are chosen as a potential candidate.

Step 4 — Don't repeat what you have already mentioned in other parts of the application

Most applications require multiple essays and generally each essay has its own word count. This allows you to choose which essay best allows you to showcase your accomplishments and/or publications without repeating the same information in each. In such cases, you might use one essay to focus on the profits you've brought to a company or the dollar amount of grants you've written for academic research, while using another to focus on your volunteer work, community service, and participation in the global community at large.

Also, many applications will ask that you list individual research publications, sales awards, or positions held within a company, so spending a large portion of word count repeating this information is not necessary. Again – the use of categorization will help to mention your accomplishments in brief, while they might be given more attention and more detail in other parts of your application or essays.

The most important thing to keep in mind with repeated information is that admissions committees or hiring committees will have your entire application packet in front of them when considering your candidacy for the position or potential admission to an academic program. Don't look at each essay or each part of your application individually – consider the information contained within as a whole. This will help when you might be tempted to overly repeat information or provide details within a word count restricted essay that are not necessary to provide.

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