So I figured something out recently. I was looking back at a couple of my favorite student essays and I realized that the structure of a couple of those essays is ridiculously sound. Rock solid. And not only is it rock solid, it’s teachable. Take a look at this essay, for example:
As a kid I was always curious. I was unafraid to ask questions and didn’t worry how dumb they would make me sound. In second grade I enrolled in a summer science program and built a solar-powered oven that baked real cookies. I remember obsessing over the smallest details: Should I paint the oven black to absorb more heat? What about its shape? A spherical shape would allow for more volume, but would it trap heat as well as conventional rectangular ovens? Even then I was obsessed with the details of design.
And it didn’t stop in second grade.
A few years later I designed my first pair of shoes, working for hours to perfect each detail, including whether the laces should be mineral white or diamond white. Even then I sensed that minor differences in tonality could make a huge impact and that different colors could evoke different responses.
In high school I moved on to more advanced projects, teaching myself how to take apart, repair, and customize cell phones. Whether I was adjusting the flex cords that connect the IPS LCD to the iPhone motherboard, or replacing the vibrator motor, I loved discovering the many engineering feats Apple overcame in its efforts to combine form with function.
And once I obtained my driver’s license, I began working on cars. Many nights you’ll find me in the garage replacing standard chrome trim with an elegant piano black finish or changing the threads on the stitching of the seats to add a personal touch, as I believe a few small changes can transform a generic product into a personalized work of art.
My love of details applies to my schoolwork too.
I’m the math geek who marvels at the fundamental theorems of Calculus, or who sees beauty in A=(s(s-a)(s-b)(s-c))^(1/2). Again, it’s in the details: one bracket off or one digit missing and the whole equation collapses. And details are more than details, they can mean the difference between negative and positive infinity, an impossible range of solutions.
I also love sharing this appreciation with others and have taken it upon myself to personally eradicate mathonumophobiconfundosis, my Calculus teacher’s term for “extreme fear of Math.” A small group of other students and I have devoted our after-school time to tutoring our peers in everything from Pre-Algebra to AP Calculus B/C and I believe my fluency in Hebrew and Farsi has helped me connect with some of my school’s Israeli and Iranian students. There’s nothing better than seeing a student solve a difficult problem without me saying anything.
You probably think I want to be a designer. Or perhaps an engineer?
Wrong. Well, kind of.
Actually, I want to study Endodontics, which is (I’ll save you the Wikipedia look-up) a branch of dentistry that deals with thetooth pulp and the tissues surrounding the root of a tooth. As an Endodontist, I’ll be working to repair damaged teeth by performing precision root canals and implementing dental crowns. Sound exciting? It is to me.
The fact is, it’s not unlike the work I’ve been doing repairing cellphone circuits and modifying cars, though there is one small difference. In the future I’ll still be working to repair machines, but this machine is one of the most sophisticated machines ever created: the human body. Here, my obsession with details will be as crucial as ever. A one millimeter difference can mean the difference between a successful root canal and a lawsuit.
The question is: will the toothbrushes I hand out be mineral white or diamond white?
You might notice the first lines are all in bold. Why? Because if you just read those lines in bold the essay still makes sense. It’s like a mini-essay. Kind of awesome.
Questions to Ask Yourself as you Revise Your Essay
- Have I studied my subject with sufficient care so that I understand what qualities in it caused my initial response, and have I studied it with sufficient care so that I have deepened or otherwise changed that response?
- Is the title of my essay at least moderately informative?
- Is the opening paragraph interesting and, by its end, have I focused on the topic?
- Do I state my main point (thesis) soon enough--perhaps even in the title--and do I keep it in view throughout my essay?
- Is the organization reasonable? Does each point lead to the next without irrelevancies?
- Does each paragraph revolve around a topic idea, a criterion that directly supports my thesis?
- Are generalizations or assertions about personal responses supported by illustrative examples, concrete evidence, research, etc.?
- Are the sentences concise, clear, and emphatic? Are needless words and inflated language eliminated?
- Is the concluding paragraph conclusive without being repetitive?
- Are the quotations and paraphrases accurate? Is credit given to sources? Are photocopies of relevant sources included and crucial passages highlighted?
- Are long quotations really necessary? Can some be shortened (either by ellipsis or by summarizing them) without loss?
- Has the essay been proofread? Are spelling and punctuation correct?
If you answer no to any of the questions above, revise.
If you have several areas that need revision, which is the first thing you intend to revise? Why? Take five minutes to plan a revision strategy right here: