Archive for March, 2009

Writing a Professional E-mail Message

Monday, March 30th, 2009

oregonAlthough e-mail is normally a casual and very colloquial medium, people often use it for more important business or academic purposes. Writers of professional e-mails should strive to send the cleanest and most professional messages possible.

At Beaumont Hardy, we edit commercial and professional e-mails for all writers and for all subjects.

The following is an unedited academic e-mail to a professor. Below the unedited version is my edit of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of the post.

Dear Professor Palgrave,

I’m in your modern American film class, and you said we should send you an e-mail to tell you about our topics. I’m not really sure what I want to write about, but I was thinking of writing about how Pretty Woman is like another version of cinderella. The main problem is that there isn’t really a movie of cinderella that I can compare Pretty Woman to, but I think the story of cinderella is well known enough that I might not have to have a movie to compare.

I was basically going to say that the Julia Roberts character in Pretty Woman is like a modern cinderella, because she starts out in a deadend job and doesn’t really have that many opportunities. And then, in the end, some kind of magical things happen (or magical in terms of emotions), and she ends up having a happy ending.

I’m not sure if this is really a good idea for a paper, so I wanted to know if you had any ideas for changing it or making it better.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

[name withheld]

Here is the e-mail in its edited form:

Dear Professor Palgrave,

I am a student in your Modern American Film class, and I wanted to send you some thoughts about my paper topic. I have not yet determined the exact focus of my paper, but I would like to write about Pretty Woman as another version of the Cinderella story. However, I believe that there is no movie version of Cinderella that I can use for comparison. Do you think the Cinderella story is well-known enough that I might not necessarily need to refer to a movie version of it?

The main point of my paper is that the Julia Roberts character in Pretty Woman is a modern Cinderella, because she has a dead-end job and few opportunities at the beginning of the story. Several magical things happen to her (magical in terms of emotions), and she has a happy ending.

Please let me know if this idea will work for my paper or if you have any ideas for changing or improving this topic.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

[name withheld]

Here is the passage with my editing marks visible. 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.)

Dear Professor Palgrave,

I am in your Mmodern American Ffilm [I assume that this class is called Modern American Film.] class, and I wanted to send you some thoughts about my paper topicyou said we should send you an e-mail to tell you about our topics.[I changed this sentence so that you’re not telling the professor what she said. One assumes that she remembers her own instructions.] I have not yet determined the exact focus of my paperI’m not really sure what I want to write about [I’m making it sound like you have given the topic a great deal of thought.], but I would like to write I was thinking of writing[This way, you sound more decisive and sure of yourself.] about how Pretty Woman ais like another version of the Ccinderella story. However, I realize that there is no movie version of Cinderella that I can use for comparison. The main problem is that there isn’t really a movie of cinderella that I can compare Pretty Woman to, Do you think the Cinderella story is well-known enough that I might not necessarily need to refer to a movie version of it? but I think the story of cinderella is well known enough that I might not have to have a movie to compare.[It seems like a good idea to defer to your professor’s expertise.]

The main point of my paper isI was basically going to say that the Julia Roberts character in Pretty Woman is like a modern Ccinderella, because she has starts out in a deadend job and few doesn’t really have that many opportunities at the beginning of the story. Several And then, in the end, some kind of magical things happen to her (or magical in terms of emotions), and she has ends up having a happy ending.

Please let me know if this idea will work for my paper orI’m not sure if this is really a good idea for a paper, so I wanted to know if you hadve any ideas for changing it or improving this topicmaking it better.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

[name withheld]

[Please send me your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]

Creating Believable Dialogue

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

flowersAt Beaumont Hardy Editing, I am particularly interested in dialogue, as it can significantly add to—or detract from—a well-plotted story. When I edit dialogue, I  examine whether it works the way conversation does in real life—whether characters say what their real-life counterparts would and whether the author relies too much on dialogue to convey information. In general, realistic dialogue doesn’t convey as much information as straight narrative would, so using dialogue to provide the reader with facts can be somewhat tricky.

The following is a passage of dialogue in its unedited form. Below the unedited version is my edit of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

Margaret sat at the table next to her brother. “It’s so good to see you again, Adam,” she beamed. “It’s been too long. Ever since you took that job as a pediatric heart surgeon in San Diego, I only get to see you at Thanksgiving. If it wasn’t for that awards ceremony you invited me to last month, I wouldn’t have seen you in ages. And to think that my little brother is the recipient of such a big award!” Margaret turned to grin at her mother, who passed her the basket of hot rolls.
“Now, Margaret,” her mother admonished. “Leave your brother alone.”
“Yes,” said her father. “As a lawyer, you know you’re just as busy as he is.”
“But being a defense attorney does give me some time to see my family,” argued Margaret.
“You mean a top-notch defense attorney,” laughed Adam. “You became partner faster than anyone else at your law firm, Birch, Birch and Beene.”
“Well, I do work hard,” Margaret smiled. “And I love my work. In fact, if I didn’t have my work, I don’t know what I’d do.”
“How about you, Mother?” queried Adam. “How are things at Midvale Volunteer Center? Are you still struggling with too many deserving children, too small a staff and a shoestring budget?”
“Yes, Adam,” groaned his mother. “I’ve been at that volunteer center for twenty years, and it’s always the same. There’s so much we want to do, and there are so many deserving children. But it’s hard, because, as you say, we’re constantly underfunded.”
“But we’re happy you two are here,” said their father. “Now, let’s start eating before all of this food gets cold.”

Here is the passage in its edited form:

Margaret sat at the table next to her brother. “It’s so good to see you again, Adam,” she said. “It’s been too long. Ever since you moved to San Diego, I hardly ever get to see you. If it wasn’t for that awards thing last month, I wouldn’t have seen you in ages. And to think that my little brother would win such a big award!” Margaret turned to grin at her mother, who passed her the basket of hot rolls.
“Now, Margaret,” her mother admonished, “leave your brother alone.”
“Yes,” said her father. “You know you’re just as busy as he is.”
“But my job gives me some time to see my family,” said Margaret.
“You mean your top-notch lawyer job?” laughed Adam. “You became partner faster than anyone else at your firm.”
“Well, I do work hard,” Margaret smiled. “And I love my work. In fact, if I didn’t have my work, I don’t know what I’d do.”
“How about you, Mother?” asked Adam. “How are things at the volunteer center? Are you still struggling with too many children and too little money?”
“Yes, Adam,” said his mother. “I’ve been at Midvale for twenty years, and it’s always the same. There’s so much we want to do, and there are so many deserving children. But it’s hard, because, as you say, we’re constantly underfunded.”
“But we’re happy you two are here,” said their father. “Now, let’s start eating before all of this food gets cold.”

Here is the passage with my editing marks visible. 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.)

Margaret sat at the table next to her brother. “It’s so good to see you again, Adam,” she beamedsaid. [In general, I think “said” works best for dialogue. Many authors use colorful verbs, like “muttered” or “whinged,” but these verbs are often too much of a distraction. You might even cut “she said” altogether, since it is sufficiently clear that Margaret is speaking.] “It’s been too long. Ever since you took that job as a pediatric heart surgeon in[Although “took that job as a pediatric heart surgeon” adds important background information about Adam, it seems unlikely that Margaret would actually mention Adam’s specific position. After all, they both know what he does. It seems more likely that Margaret would just refer to the fact that Adam has moved.] to San Diego, I only hardly ever get to see you at Thanksgiving. [Once again, both Margaret and Adam probably know that they only see each other at Thanksgiving, so it might be unnecessary for Margaret to mention it.] If it wasn’t for that awards ceremony you invited me to thing last month, [I changed “ceremony” to “thing” so that Margaret’s speech would sound more colloquial.] I wouldn’t have seen you in ages. And to think that my little brother is the recipient of would win such a big award! [I changed “is the recipient of” to “would win” to, once again, make Margaret’s speech more colloquial.]” Margaret turned to grin at her mother, who passed her the basket of hot rolls.
“Now, Margaret,” her mother admonished,.lLeave your brother alone.”
“Yes,” said her father. “As a lawyer, [“As a lawyer” is unnecessary. Both Margaret and her father know that she is a lawyer. The reader might not yet know, but there are other ways to convey this information to the reader. If Margaret is the main character, it will soon become very clear to the reader that Margaret is lawyer.] Yyou know you’re just as busy as he is.”
“But my job being a defense attorney does gives [Once again, Margaret probably wouldn’t mention her specific job. I also changed “does give” to “gives,” as it seemed more colloquial.] me some time to see my family,” saidargued [“Said” is sufficient here, because the reader can tell that Margaret and her father are engaged in a good-natured argument.] Margaret.
“You mean youra top-notch lawyer job?defense attorney,” laughed Adam. “You became partner faster than anyone else at your law firm, Birch, Birch and Beene.” [I tried to make Adam’s comment a little more conversational and lighthearted. He can indicate to the reader that Margaret is a very good lawyer, although he probably would not mention the exact name of her law firm. One would assume that everyone in the family already knows its name.]
“Well, I do work hard,” Margaret smiled. “And I love my work. In fact, if I didn’t have my work, I don’t know what I’d do.”
“How about you, Mother?” askedqueried [“Queried” is one of those verbs that might be a little too colorful.] Adam. “How are things at theMidvale vVolunteer cCenter? [Adam probably wouldn’t use the name of the center when talking to his mother, although he might call it “Midvale.”] Are you still struggling with too many deserving children and too little money, too small a staff and a shoestring budget?” [I shortened Adam’s question, because it seemed unlikely that he would put so much information into it when talking to his mother. They have obviously talked about this subject previously, so he wouldn’t need to convey so much detail to her.]
“Yes, Adam,” saidgroaned [Although the volunteer center is a subject close to the mother’s heart, it seems unlikely that she would be so affected by the conversation that she would actually groan.] his mother. “I’ve been at Midvalethat volunteer center [This might be a good place for the reader to learn the name of the center. But is it necessary for the reader to learn its name? Perhaps the mother could just call it “the center” if it isn’t going to play a big role in the rest of the story.] for twenty years, and it’s always the same. There’s so much we want to do, and there are so many deserving children. But it’s hard, because, as you say, we’re constantly underfunded.”
“But we’re happy you two are here,” said their father. “Now, let’s start eating before all of this food gets cold.”

[Please send me your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]

Descriptive Passage

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

cementWriting effective descriptive passages is an exercise in balance. An effective description does not need multiple adjectives, adverbs and figures of speech. Paring away descriptors and leaving a few well-honed phrases can often be the most effective way to describe something or someone.

The following is an unedited passage that describes the physical appearance of a building that has undergone two phases of construction. While the shape and configuration of the building are important to the story, the reader of the unedited version can get lost among too many details.

Below the unedited version is my edit of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

The building was kind of narrow in the middle, almost like it was a person that had a waist. This was because of the way the building’s construction had been planned. At the beginning, when the building was first built, it was just a normal twenty-story building. It was rectangular, and the top was as wide as the bottom all the way up to the second to last floor. The last two floors were narrower than the rest of the building. Then, about ten years later, it was decided to put an addition on the building. They just started building right on top of the narrow top part of the original building. Because the floors of the new addition were as wide as the lower floors of the original building, the building had kind of an hourglass shape.

Drake stood in the park and focused his binoculars on that narrow part.

The edited passage reads as follows:

The building was narrow in the middle, almost as if it had a waist. Its unusual shape was due to its two-part construction. At first, the building was a near-perfect twenty-story rectangle. Each of its floors was as wide as the one above and below it, except for the top two floors. These two were narrower than the rest of the building. About ten years after the building’s original construction, the developer added several floors to it. This new construction began on top of the narrow upper two floors of the original building. Because the floors of the new addition were as wide as the lower floors of the original building, the building developed an hourglass shape.

Drake stood in the park and focused his binoculars on that narrow part.

What follows is the passage with editing marks visible. My comments to the author are in brackets. 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.)

The building was kind of narrow in the middle, almost like as if it was a person that had a waist. Its unusual shape was due to its two-partThis was because of the way the building’s construction had been planned. At the beginning, when the building was first built, the building was a near-perfect it was just a normal twenty-story rectanglebuilding. Each of its floors was as wide as the one above and below it, except forIt was rectangular, and the top was as wide as the bottom all the way up to the second to last floor. Tthe toplast two floors. These two were narrower than the rest of the building. Then, aAbout ten years laterafter the building’s original construction, the developer added several floors to it it was decided to put an addition on the building. [Is the developer the one who added the floors? I’m trying to change this sentence from passive to active.] They just started building rightThis new construction began on top of the narrow upper two floorstop part of the original building. Because the floors of the new addition were as wide as the lower floors of the original building, the building had kind of developed an hourglass shape.

Drake stood in the park and focused his binoculars on that narrow part.

[Please send me your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]

Descriptive Paragraph #1

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

threadsCharacter descriptions are a key part of fiction writing. As with all description, a character description is most effective when a writer uses words sparingly. At Beaumont Hardy, I work with writers to fine-tune their character descriptions, keeping only those elements that contribute effectively to description.

The following is an unedited descriptive paragraph of a woman. Below the unedited version is my edit of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

She was a small, skinny woman with long, dull looking hair and thick, smudged glasses. Her clothes looked dark and shabby and made her look somewhat like a witch but without the broom or the black cat. She looked like someone who would be really mean or really unhappy, and she wasn’t wearing any jewelry at all. Her hands were bare, and Gordon wasn’t at all surprised to notice that she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. Who would want to marry someone like her? She looked like she wished someone would talk to her, but she was looking down at the floor, which made it difficult for Gordon to make eye contact. Her skirt was black and almost long enough to touch the floor, and she kept tucking her hair nervously behind her ears. Gordon rested his hands gently on the counter and cleared his throat for a moment. “Excuse me, Ms. Prince” he said quietly looking at her name tag. “I wanted to look at one of your files.” She looked up at him, and Gordon was very startled to see that her eyes were a clear, sparkling, bright blue.

After editing, the paragraph reads something like this:

She was a skinny woman with long, dull-looking hair and smudged glasses. Her clothes were dark and shabby and made her look like a witch, but without the broom or the black cat. She seemed mean or unhappy, and she wasn’t wearing any jewelry. Her hands were bare, and Gordon wasn’t surprised to notice that she wore no wedding ring. Who would want to marry someone like her? She looked like she wished someone would talk to her, but she stared at the floor, making it difficult for Gordon to establish eye contact. Her black skirt was almost long enough to touch the floor, and she kept tucking her hair nervously behind her ears. Gordon rested his hands on the counter and cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Ms. Prince,” he said, looking at her name tag. “I wanted to look at one of your files.” She gazed up at him, and Gordon was startled to see that her eyes were a clear, bright blue.

What follows is the paragraph with its 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.)

She was a small, skinny woman with long, dulllooking hair and thick, smudged glasses. [I cut out two adjectives to eliminate the repetition of adjective-adjective-noun constructions in the sentence. I think “skinny” includes the idea of “small” and that “smudged” is more descriptive than “thick” and implies the same idea of ponderous glasses.] Her clothes looked were dark and shabby and made her look somewhat like a witch, but without the broom or the black cat. [Because she has no broom or cat, the idea of “somewhat” becomes clear without using the word.] She looked like someone who would be really seemed mean or really unhappy [I changed “looked like someone who would be really mean or really unhappy to “seemed mean or unhappy,” which eliminates several words but conveys the same idea.], and she wasn’t wearing any jewelry at all. Her hands were bare, and Gordon wasn’t at all surprised to notice that she wasn’t wearing a wore no [I’m trying to avoid the repetition of “wasn’t” in this sentence.] wedding ring. Who would want to marry someone like her? She looked like she wished someone would talk to her, but she was looking [Instead of “was looking,” could you say “stared,” so that you don’t say “looked” and “looking” in the same sentence?] down stared at the floor, which made making it difficult for Gordon to make establish [By using “establish,” you don’t say “made” and “making” in the same sentence.] eye contact. Her black skirt was black and almost long enough to touch the floor, and she kept tucking her hair nervously behind her ears. Gordon rested his hands gently on the counter and cleared his throat for a moment. “Excuse me, Ms. Prince,” he said, quietly [This adverb is unnecessary.] looking at her name tag. “I wanted to look at one of your files.” She looked gazed [I changed “looked” to “gazed,” so that you don’t repeat “looking,” “look” and “looked” in consecutive sentences?] up at him, and Gordon was very startled to see that her eyes were a clear, sparkling, bright blue [“Clear” and “bright” imply, “sparkling.”].

In general, a description is strongest when an author uses only a select few modifiers. In this case, the author has done a good job of creating well-rounded characters. Paring down the adjectives and adverbs reveals the characters and their actions more clearly.

[Please send me your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]

An Effective Letter of Complaint

Monday, March 9th, 2009

ropeComplaint letters are one of my specialties at Beaumont Hardy. I have written many successful complaint letters for people unhappy with various different services or companies. I would be happy to write a letter for your particular complaint. Send me the details, and I will write you a powerful, effective complaint.

The following is a passenger’s unedited complaint letter to an airline, after an egregious loss of luggage. Below the unedited version is my edit of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

Dear Customer Service Representative:

Last week, I flew from Seattle to Kansas City and from Kansas City to Boston. My connection at Kansas City was close, so I think my luggage did not make it onto the same plane that I did. It was my fault for making the reservation, so I don’t mind that my luggage didn’t arrive in Boston when I did. In the end, my luggage never arrived in Boston. Someone from your airline just called to tell me that my luggage is completely lost and that you will only pay me $150 for my loss. My belongings were worth more than that, so I think you should pay me the amount that they’re actually worth.

My main complaint is that I think your airline was really careless in handling my luggage. I understand that it didn’t make the connection from Kansas City, that was my fault. But what gets me is the part that happened next.

Someone called me from your airline after I arrived in Boston and told me that they had found my luggage, it came on the next flight after mine. I said that was great and they told me they would deliver my luggage to me right then. Well, three hours later, they called and told me that the delivery person had lost my luggage. They said it fell out of his truck, and he couldn’t find it. First of all, I find that hard to believe, but I also think that even if it’s true, the airline people are careless. I am shocked that your airline is so irresponsible.

I trusted you with my bag and you were responsible for it. I know it was my fault that my bag didn’t make it onto my flight from Kansas City, but you were responsible for my bag once you found it and put it on the delivery truck.

It’s not my fault that my luggage fell onto the street, so I think you should pay me for the full value of my things.

The final edited letter reads as follows:

Dear Customer Service Representative:

I just had a terrible experience with your airline and am shocked that your company is so irresponsible about passenger luggage.

Last week, I flew from Seattle to Boston, with a layover in Kansas City. Because of poor planning on my part, my connection at Kansas City was too close; my luggage did not make it onto my flight to Boston. After I arrived in Boston, a representative of your airline called to tell me that my luggage had arrived on the later flight. Your representative said that the airline would deliver my luggage immediately. I was very pleased.

However, my pleasure was short-lived because of what happened next. Three hours after the first telephone call, a representative of your airline called to tell me that my luggage had been completely lost. According to this representative, an airline delivery person put my luggage on a truck and started to deliver it to me at home. Apparently, my luggage fell off the delivery truck, and the delivery person was unable to find it on the street.

I find this story very difficult to believe, but more importantly, I believe your company has been extremely careless. I trusted you with my bag, and you were responsible for it.

Your airline has offered to pay me only $150 for my loss. My belongings were worth more than that, and I think you should pay me the amount that they are actually worth.

What follows is the letter with its 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 just had a terrible experience with your airline and am shocked that your company is so irresponsible about passenger luggage. [This loss of luggage is so shocking that I think your letter needs a stronger opening sentence.]

Last week, I flew from Seattle to Boston, with a layover in Kansas City. and from Kansas City to Boston. Because of poor planning on my part, mMy connection at Kansas City was too close,; so I think my luggage did not make it onto my flight to Boston. the same plane that I did. It was my fault for making the reservation, so I don’t mind that my luggage didn’t arrive in Boston when I did. In the end, my luggage never arrived in Boston.[Although you may have been at fault in planning your flight, I think it’s best to focus on the fault of the airline.] After I arrived in Boston, a representative of your airline called to tell me that my luggage had arrived on the later flight. Your representative said that the airline would deliver my luggage immediately. I was very pleased.

However, my pleasure was short-lived because of what happened next. Three hours after the first telephone call, a representative of Someone from your airline just called to tell me that my luggage is had been completely lost. According to this representative, an airline delivery person put my luggage on a truck and started to deliver it to me at home. [I assume the delivery was going to your home.] Apparently, my luggage fell off the delivery truck, and the delivery person was unable to find it on the street.

I find this story very difficult to believe, but more importantly, I believe your company has been extremely careless. I trusted you with my bag, and you were responsible for it.

Your airline has offered to and that you will only pay me only $150 for my loss. My belongings were worth more than that, so I think you should pay me the amount that they are’re actually worth.

My main complaint is that I think your airline was really careless in handling my luggage. I understand that it didn’t make the connection from Kansas City, that was my fault. But what gets me is the part that happened next.

Someone called me from your airline after I arrived in Boston and told me that they had found my luggage, it came on the next flight after mine. I said that was great and they told me they would deliver my luggage to me right then. Well, three hours later, they called and told me that the delivery person had lost my luggage. They said it fell out of his truck, and he couldn’t find it. First of all, I find that hard to believe, but I also think that even if it’s true, the airline people are careless. I am shocked that your airline is so irresponsible.

I trusted you with my bag and you were responsible for it. I know it was my fault that my bag didn’t make it onto my flight from Kansas City, but you were responsible for my bag once you found it and put it on the delivery truck.

It’s not my fault that my luggage fell onto the street, so I think you should pay me for the full value of my things.

[Please post your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]

Application Essay

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

A well-written essay is an important part of any strong school or job application. At Beaumont Hardy, I work with job applicants and students of all ages to craft effective and compelling application essays. Send me your essay draft, and I will help you perfect it.

The following is an unedited essay written as part of an application to an M.F.A. program. Below the unedited version is my edit of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

The reason that I would like to attend this program is because I think that I would fit in really well in the program. I have a BA in Language Arts, and I have written a lot of poetry in my past life. Actually, one of my poems was even printed in a magazine, the Southern Poetry Journal, and it was also selected as the Best Poem by a Young Poet of 2007. I feel like I have a lot more poems in me, and I have a lot of good ideas. Your program is one of the best in the country, and I would appreciate the opportunity to work with Sara J. Williamson, the poet.

The edited essay reads as follows.

I would like to attend this program, because I believe it is particularly suited to my poetic style and my publishing background. I have a bachelor’s degree in Language Arts, and I have written many poems.One of my poems, […], was published in the […] Southern Poetry Journal. It was also selected as the Best Poem by a Young Poet of 2007. I feel I have just begun to discover my potential as a poet, and I have many more creative ideas that I would like to explore. Your program is one of the best in the country, and I would appreciate the opportunity to work with Sara J. Williamson. […]

Below is the text 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.)

The reason thatI would like to attend this program [Instead of “this program,” it might be better to mention the specific name of the program: “I would like to attend Western University’s M.F.A. program in poetry,” for example.], is because I believe it is particularly suited to my poetic style and my publishing backgroundthink that I would fit in really well in the program. I have a bachelor’s degree BA in Language Arts [Where did you get your bachelor’s degree? You could insert the name of the school here: “I have a bachelor’s degree in Language Arts from…University”], and I have written many poems a lot of poetry in my past life. Actually, oOne of my poems, [Insert the name of the poem here.], was published in even printed in a magazine, the [Insert the edition and date of the poetry journal here: “One of my poems was published in the January 2007 issue of Southern Poetry Journal,” for example.] Southern Poetry Journal., and iIt was also selected as the Best Poem by a Young Poet of 2007 [Can you make this into an active sentence, instead of a passive one? Who selected the poem? You could say, “The ABC Poetry Association selected ‘name of poem’ as the Best Poem…”]. I feel like I have just begun to discover my potential as a poeta lot more poems in me, and I have many more creativea lot of good ideas that I would like to explore. Your program is one of the best in the country, and I would appreciate the opportunity to work with Sara J. Williamson, the poet. [Could you provide specific reasons for wanting to work with Sara J. Williamson or, perhaps, reasons you admire her work? (“… work with Sara J. Williamson, whose poetry uses natural imagery in much the same way as I would like to use dialogue in my work,” for example.]

This essay includes the information it should—the applicant’s eagerness to participate in this program, the applicant’s relevant accomplishments, and the reason the applicant would like to attend this particular program (to work with Ms. Williamson). However, the essay would benefit from more specific details. Adding information about the name of the school and program makes the essay feel more particularized and less like a document sent to dozens of different schools. Details about the applicant’s published poem and about the organization naming the Young Poet of the Year are of great interest to the admissions committee. Providing more information about the relevance of Ms. Williamson’s work to the applicant’s own poetry will further strengthen the essay.

[Please post your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]