Law School Dos and Don'ts
- DO convey a positive message overall. Cynicism, bitterness,
and resentment will not score points with admissions committees.
- DO strive for depth, not breadth. Rather than trying to
cover several events, experiences, or ideas, focus on one, and explore and describe
it in depth, providing illustrative details and meaningful insights.
- DO start writing the section with which you feel most
comfortable. There is no law that says you must start with the opening paragraph and
continue in sequence. Eventually, the various sections will come together.
- DO avoid careless grammatical errors. This sounds simple,
but so many people — including professional writers — fail to do this.
- DO proofread your essay several times for spelling and
typographical errors. If you have it, you may want to run the spelling checker of
your computer's word processing program, but do not rely on it. Consult a dictionary
for any words you even vaguely suspect may be misspelled. Make sure every proper name
is spelled correctly, down to the diacritical marks on foreign names, and the name of
every organization, institution, and company is written properly. You never know what a
reader will notice!
- DON'T try to accomplish too much in your essay. Less is more.
- DON'T write an essay that any one of a thousand other applicants could write,
because they probably will. If you think the admission committee might receive
even one other essay like yours, rewrite it.
- DON'T expect or even attempt to write the perfect essay in one
sitting. Write something, edit it, put it aside, and return to it later. Good writing
is the product of careful and constant rewriting.
Before You Write
- DO read some good writing, including admissions essays by
other students and essays by authors whose work you admire. Take note of how they
draw in a reader and tell a story.
- DO engage in some serious brainstorming with your family and
- DO be interesting, but more importantly, be yourself. Convey
your genuine thoughts and feelings.
- DO be confident that your experiences are exciting
enough to commit to print. It is the depth of character you convey, not the
intensity of your topic, that matters; some of the most successful essays are written
about the most mundane of things and events.
- DON'T rehash what the reader already knows about you; do not
reiterate accomplishments or activities that are already mentioned elsewhere in your
- DON'T try to summarize your entire life's accomplishments.
Your essay will end up reading more like a superficial laundry list than a meaningful
- DON'T write anything that might embarrass the reader or
make him or her feel uncomfortable. The reader is neither your therapist, your
confessor, nor your close friend.
- DON'T try to write a scholarly or overly important-sounding
essay. An essay showing off your knowledge of — rather than your passion for — a
particular academic subject tells the reader nothing about you as a person. The reader
will suspect, at worst, that your essay is actually a recycled term paper.
- DO be a little mysterious at the beginning of your essay to
grab your reader's attention. But also be sure to resolve any initial uncertainties so
that you do not leave your reader hanging.
- DO take your cue from good essayists who know how to capture
an audience's interest right from the start. One possible opener is a trivial observation
that anyone can relate to but would never think to mention in an essay. Jerry Seinfeld
built a career on this skill.
- DON'T rely too heavily on quotations for your opening
sentences. This technique can be effective, but it can also sound tired and cliched. You
are generally better off filling your essay with your own words.
- DO provide closure; give the reader the sense that you have
come full circle. You should think of the conclusion as a bookend for your essay.
- DON'T repeat or sum up your points in any way.
- DON'T introduce a new idea that does not directly relate to
previous themes or that requires further explanation.
- DO use clear, concise language, and standard English
- DO use a natural, informal conversational tone-not as informal
as colloquial speech, but less formal than the tone of an academic assignment.
- DON'T use slang or currently popular buzz phrases if you can
- DON'T use overly academic or intellectual vocabulary,
especially if you are not completely familiar or comfortable with it. You will
not impress the reader and you may end up sounding pompous and pretentious.
- DON'T start too many sentences with the word "I."
- DON'T overuse such vague words as "situation" and "experience."
- DO use analogies, metaphors, and similes to help convey your
message, but do not overdo them.
- DO use humor where appropriate, but never overuse it or use
- DO use dialogue, but make sure it helps illustrate your
point or make your narrative come to life.
- DON'T fill your essay generic images and descriptions.
- DON'T tell the reader, "I am a unique and interesting person."
Instead, let the reader glean this indirectly from your unique and interesting essay.
In other words, show, don't tell.
- DO try to use the active voice instead of the passive
voice — e.g. use "Our staff completed the newspaper in record time" instead
of "The newspaper was completed in record time."
- DO maintain parallel sentence structure.
- DO review your punctuation. Pay special attention to your
use of semicolons, colons, commas, hyphens, and dashes.
- DON'T switch back and forth between verb tenses.