I’ve been critiquing a lot of essays for medical school admissions applications lately.
I see a common dilemma/challenge/missed opportunity in the many personal statements I read — telling your reader something, instead of showing your reader something.
Here’s an example of telling
“This experience gave me a sense of focus and honed my leadership skills.”
Yeesh. It kinda gives me the shivers, mostly because it smacks of bs, but underneath that, you write like this because you don’t trust your reader to “get it.”
How do you convey an idea to your reader without smacking her in the face with a week-old trout?
Here’s what I mean. The following is an example of showing
As I admired the many degrees proudly hanging on the wall behind his desk, I asked the doctor, “After all the years of schooling, the student loans, and the sacrifices it took to get you where you are today, would you do it again?” I sat back, expecting a resounding endorsement of medicine to reassure me I was on the right path. After a moment of silence, he glared straight at me and declared, “No.”
Take a moment and reflect on what you think and feel about this little story (a vignette). In the first example, the writer is slamming you in the face with what you’re supposed to know — “I’M FOCUSED AND I HAVE LEADERSHIP!” It’s in your face. The second example shows that the writer has shadowed a doctor, plus he has thought hard about a career in medicine for himself, and he’s been challenged about his decision. Do you see the interesting, introspective conflict that he has set up — in only two sentences?
The second writer trusts his reader. He trusts that the reader will get it, and, because he’s telling a story instead of interpreting an experience FOR the reader, the words feel more sincere, more genuine, richer.
There are lots of resources about story telling in your writing. Some of my favorite include a book on screenwriting called Story, by Robert McKee. If you don’t have the time to read 480 pages on screenwriting, you can use our collection of annotated medical school personal statements to help you create stories semi-automagically.