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The Devil is in the Details: The Heavenly Benefits of Specificity in Writing


You can argue about the devil, but certainly the substance, distinctiveness, and success of your essays depends on the details.

Many applicants tend to bury their uniqueness and success under vague assertions. You don't want to hide your achievements; you want to trumpet them loudly and clearly.

For instance, if you led a team working on a software development project, was it a three-member team or a thirty-member, cross-functional team with representatives from five different divisions and two continents? Was the potential market for the product $5 million or $200 million? Did you launch the product on time and in budget? Did it zoom to the top of the market-share charts? The details reveal the level of your responsibility, the confidence others have in your abilities based on their prior experience with you, and the significance of your accomplishment.

What about your volunteer work? Do you simply "volunteer"? If you do, you aren't saying anything distinctive or substantive. Are you an EMT working five hours per week? Do you volunteer at a legal aid clinic? What have you seen or experienced? What have you learned? Have you launched a bereavement group in a country where such services were previously unheard of? What were the challenges you overcame to establish that group? What did you learn from the experience? How has it influenced you?

You may ask, "How can I fit all these details into a short essay?" Good question. Include many of the specifics in the work history sections — the boxes — of the application or in an attached resume if allowed. Then in the essay, provide enough detail to provide context and create interest. Balance your profound insight and reflection with devilishly dazzling detail.

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