Archive for the ‘Autobiography’ Category

Editing an Application Autobiography

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Colleges and graduate schools often require brief autobiographical statements from their applicants. Although an autobiography seems a straightforward subject, many applicants find personal statements more difficult than any other essay. Applicants often have trouble refining the content of their autobiographies and establishing an appropriate focus. A narrow focus is usually the key to the most successful application autobiographies.

The following is the unedited version of a one-paragraph response to an application question that reads, “Write a brief (200 words maximum) statement describing the life experiences that you believe prepared you for this Master’s program.

Below the unedited version is my edited version of the same text. (For this particular job, I also did some rewriting of the text. ) My editorial comments are at the bottom of the post.

I believe that three life experiences prepared me for the Master’s program, and I will describe each in turn. I was born in China to American parents, and I know what it’s like to be straddling two different cultures. In China, I looked different from most other people, but I sounded the way everyone else did. I spoke fluent Chinese–and still do. In America, I fit in with my Caucasian appearance, but I feel different. I see events and situations from the perspective of the Asian culture in which I was born and raised and where I lived until university. My second life experience was that my cousin was born with a severe learning disability that made it impossible for him to go to a regular school. His parents hired tutors, but he did better when family members helped him themselves. His parents were both busy, so when I became old enough, I took over the responsibility of tutoring him. I became very interested in childhood learning and teaching methods for the disabled. I got a great deal of early practice in teaching, and I feel that this practice would be useful in the Master’s program. My third important life experience was that I helped to edit an educational textbook when I had just graduated from secondary school in China. My parents knew someone who worked at the university, and I was hired as a summertime research assistant before I went off to university myself. The book is still in print today, and it was about the effect of social context in early childhood development. I believe these three experiences make me a good candidate for the Master’s program.

After editing, the autobiography reads as follows:

I am confident that I can succeed in the Master’s program. Three separate experiences have taught me to appreciate the complexity of living in two different cultures, to understand the reality of education for those with learning disabilities, and to know the importance of the academic study of education. I was born in China to American parents, and I have straddled two different cultures my entire life.  In China, I looked different from most other people, but I spoke fluent Chinese and sounded like everyone else. In the United States, my appearance is unremarkable, but I often see events and situations from an Asian perspective. I still speak fluent Chinese and have learned to appreciate my bicultural sensibility. My educational experience had a certain duality as well, because I was a student as well as a teacher during much of my youth. My cousin was born with a severe learning disability that made it impossible for him to attend a regular school. He needed the help of tutors but worked best when a member of his family tutored him. When I became old enough, I took over the responsibility of tutoring my cousin. I became very interested in childhood learning and teaching methods for the disabled. This hands-on practice developed my ability to think creatively and spontaneously about teaching. I learned a great deal more about the academic aspects of teaching when I helped edit an educational textbook during the summer after I graduated from secondary school in China. I was particularly interested in the subject of the textbook–an analysis of the effect of social context on early childhood development, and I enjoyed working with the professor who wrote it. The book is still in print today and is very important in its field. Because of my cross-cultural background, my teaching experience with learning disability and my work in academic publishing, I believe I am a strong candidate for the Master’s degree.

Below is the piece with my editing marks. My comments to the author are in brackets and italicized. The portions I cut appear with a strike-through, and the portions I added are underlined. (In a normal Word document with “Track Changes,” my editing marks are in red, and my comments are in their own separate section, not inserted into the text.)

I believe that three life experiences prepared me for am confident that I can succeed in the Master’s program, and I will describe each in turn. [Rather than restate the question, it’s better to start with a strong statement about your good fit with the program itself.] Three separate experiences have taught me to appreciate the complexity of living in two different cultures, to understand the reality of education for those with learning disabilities, and to know the importance of the academic study of education. [This sentence summarizes the three life experiences you will mention and gives the reader a quick overview of the essay.] I was born in China to American parents, and I haveknow what it’s like to be straddlinged two different cultures my entire life. [I eliminated some of the unnecessary words in this sentence.] In China, I looked different from most other people, but I spoke fluent Chinese and sounded like the way everyone else did. I spoke fluent Chinese–and still do. In America the United States, [I like the parallelism of “In China” and “In the United States.” I changed “America” to “the United States,” because “America” can include Central and South America as well.] my appearance is unremarkable I fit in with my Caucasian appearance, but I often feel different. I see events and situations from the perspective of the an Asian perspective culture in which I was born and raised and where I lived until university. I still speak fluent Chinese and have learned to appreciate my bicultural sensibility. My educational experience had a certain duality as well, because I was a student as well as a teacher during much of my youth. [I use the previous two sentences to summarize your first life experience and to preview the second.] My second life experience was that my cousin was born with a severe learning disability that made it impossible for him to go to attend a regular school. Heis parents hired needed the help of tutors, but he did worked betterst when a member of his family members helped tutored him themselves. They were both busy, so wWhen I became old enough, I took over the responsibility of tutoring him my cousin. I became very interested in childhood learning and teaching methods for the disabled. I got a great deal of early practice in teaching, and I feel that this practice would be useful in the Master’s program This hands-on practice developed my ability to think creatively and spontaneously about teaching. I learned a great deal more about the academic aspects of teaching when My third important life experience was that I helped to edit an educational textbook during the summer after when I had just graduated from secondary school in China. I was particularly interested in the subject of the textbook–an analysis of the effect of social context on early childhood development, and I enjoyed working with the professor who wrote it. The book is still in print today and is very important in its field. My parents knew someone who worked at the university, and I was hired as a summertime research assistant before I went off to university myself. The book is still in print today, and it was about the effect of social context in early childhood development. I believe these three experiences make me a good candidate for the Master’s program. Because of my cross-cultural background, my teaching experience with learning disability and my work in academic publishing, I believe I am a strong candidate for the Master’s degree.

Please feel free to send me your comments about this edit. I would love to hear from you.

Your Autobiography—Where to Begin, What to Include

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Many of my clients at Beaumont Hardy need help editing their autobiographies or autobiographical statements. At one time or another, almost everyone needs to compose an autobiography of some length—as an application essay for a school or a job, as part of a master’s thesis or dissertation, or as a potential nonfiction book project. These autobiographies can present many challenges.

In general, I recommend that writers think of their own autobiographies as stories, sifting through facts and details until a coherent “storyline” emerges. This “storyline” will often indicate a good starting point for the autobiography and will suggest which details are worth including (or eliminating). I also suggest that writers think of themselves as characters in their autobiographies, presenting details and events in such a way that they emerge three-dimensionally and realistically. The most successful autobiographies have about them a sense of the universal—some theme or idea that speaks to all readers. A writer who discovers and highlights this universality will usually create a very readable autobiography.

These general rules usually work, but autobiographical writing often requires the guidance of an outside editor. Because writers of autobiographies are, by definition, very close to their subject matter, an editor can help them choose details and descriptions that will most effectively present their own stories. I have helped many authors resolve the most common autobiographical dilemmas to produce concise, compelling autobiographies and autobiographical statements.

The first dilemma in writing an autobiography is to determine its scope. The contents of an autobiography are limited only by one’s lifespan. Thus, an autobiography could conceivably begin at the writer’s birth and exhaustively detail every moment until the writer’s last breath. Because only the writer’s mother and closest friends would enjoy such detail, at Beaumont Hardy I step in to cut away extraneous material to reveal only the most salient parts of a life.

Another dilemma of autobiography-writing is knowing how to present the information. Depending on the purpose of the autobiography, a writer might want to highlight some details that would be irrelevant in another autobiographical context. For instance, the focus of a short autobiography for a dissertation might be very different from that of an autobiographical job application essay. At Beaumont Hardy, I have helped many authors tailor their autobiographical statements to suit their particular purposes and audiences.

Writing a book-length autobiography is the most complex autobiographical dilemma, as the issues of scope and presentation become particularly important. Paring down a life to one paragraph or one essay is difficult, but shaping that life into an interesting book can be most difficult of all. I have guided many authors in refining the pacing and focus of their long autobiographies.

Feel free to e-mail me about your particular autobiography-editing needs. I can help you with content, editing and focus.