It’s common for many premed and medical students to shy away from writing; after all, you chose a scientific path for a reason. But even though the base of your education and training will focus on math and science, you’ll still need to communicate through written language as you apply to medical school, complete your schooling, and develop your career.
No matter where you are on your medical journey, writing is something you can always improve upon. In this post, we’ll share 8 editing and proofreading tips that will help you become a better, more effective writer. Use these tips for your personal statement, cover letters, school reports, residency applications, and more.
How to Edit Your Writing
1 | Take Time Away From Your Work
After you’ve completed a writing task, it’s natural to want to proofread and finalize it right away, so you can check off that task and move on to the next. But when it comes to editing your own writing, speed is your enemy.
How much time did you just spend on your writing? After all that work, now is not the time to rush through the critical editing phase. No matter how much you may want to just get it over with, don’t quickly read over your work and hit submit without putting time in between your writing and editing.
Your brain is not ready to catch your mistakes after you’ve exhausted it by completing a writing task. Plus, being so familiar with the writing will prevent you from catching mistakes or seeing where you can improve. You’re more likely to think your work is spectacular and perfect right after you finish writing versus coming back to it later with a fresh mind that’s prepared to catch mistakes and make improvements.
When you finish writing something important, take some time away from it before you begin editing and proofreading. The amount of time you spend away depends on the gravity of the piece of writing.
If it’s your personal statement, you may want to take a full day or two away to work on something else and refresh your brain. A clear head will help you to objectively judge your own writing and improve the essay. Do something you find relaxing or rejuvenating, such as meditating, exercising, walking, working on creative projects, or spending time with friends and family.
If the editing task is much smaller, you can spend less time away from it. You might complete a short meditation session, do the dishes, stretch, or take your dog for a walk before coming back to edit your work.
2 | Dedicate Ample Time to the Editing Process
Editing should never be an afterthought; it takes a great deal of concentration and patience. You must pay meticulous attention to the details, which is another way of saying that editing takes a long time to do properly—there’s no way around it.
You can’t rush the editing phase, and doing so can have dire consequences. Admissions committees do not look fondly on sloppily written essays that have glaring grammatical errors, and that job you’re applying to will quickly forget about you if you send an email or cover letter that contains spelling mistakes.
There’s a lot more to writing than cranking out a first draft. A steak needs to rest after it comes out of the oven, and writing is no different. Give yourself plenty of time so that you have the space to write a few different drafts, edit your own work, and get your work edited by trusted peers. A second pair of eyes is much more likely to catch mistakes, and your mentor, family member, friend, or tutor may not be able to drop everything and read your work the moment you need it done.
Do not procrastinate on your writing tasks, particularly when it comes to your personal statement and other essays. Budget your time wisely; editing will almost certainly take longer than you think.
3 | Know That Editing Tools Are Not Always Right
Spellcheck and other editing tools are amazing at catching simple typos and errors, but they can’t do everything. We encourage you to still use these tools when editing your work but don’t rely on bots alone.
The algorithms checking your work still get things wrong, though, and it’s up to you to understand whether or not the suggestion is correct or not. Don’t blindly accept all the suggestions without first checking them over to see if they are accurate.
The main thing editing apps are missing is context, which means they may suggest inaccurate edits. Plus, there are terms or phrases that are unique to the medical industry that these tools may not pick up on.
For example, take a look at the following sentence.
“This puts strain on team relationships and prevents trust from developing between team members.”
Grammarly suggested this edit: “This puts strain on team relationships and prevents rust from developing between team members.”
It’s a clear mistake that you might not notice if you quickly accept all of the editing suggestions without considering them first.
The key takeaway here is to check each suggested edit before accepting it; do not rely on these tools alone.
4 | Read It Out Loud
Reading your writing out loud slows you down and forces you to look at each word individually. This process will help you feel confident about what you’ve written while also pointing out any areas that don’t sound quite right once said out loud.
Look for inconsistencies, errors, pacing, and anything else that detracts from the quality of your writing. How do your sentences flow from one to the next? Does each point smoothly lead into the next one? Are you conveying your points as clearly as possible? Do you repeat the same point too often or overuse the same words? Are there any areas you have difficulty reading?
If you have trouble reading or comprehending your own writing, other people will too. Take the time to read your writing out loud to experience it as someone else would.
5 | Use a Ruler to Focus on Each Individual Line
As you read through your work from line to line, a ruler can help you focus on each individual word. Hold the ruler underneath each sentence and only move it down when you get to the end of each line. This process will slow you down and make it easier to catch typos or punctuation errors.
The catch with this trick is that it’s easiest to do with a physical piece of paper. If you can, print your piece of writing so that you can easily move a ruler or colored piece of paper down the page from line to line. Depending on your computer, you may be able to do this by placing a piece of paper underneath each line on your screen, so long as you don’t push too hard. You don’t want to add the cost of a new laptop to your mounting medical school debt.
6 | Change the Font
Changing the font of your text so that it looks distinctly different from the font you were using when you originally wrote the piece can help you discover errors you missed initially. After reading the same font for so long, your brain will become accustomed to the style, which can cause you to overlook small mistakes or formatting issues.
The more you change the font, the better. Choose one that’s as far away from your original font as possible, and change the font size to make your writing look completely different.
Do you notice any formatting issues that appear once the font has changed? Are there any typos or punctuation errors that you didn’t notice before?
7 | Keep Track of Your Common Mistakes
Are there spelling or grammar errors you make all the time? No matter how often you type, do you constantly spell “you” when you’re trying to spell “your?” Do you get there, their, and they’re mixed up when you write too quickly?
Understanding the mistakes you consistently make can help you root them out when it comes time to edit. Do a search of the words you commonly misspell to ensure you’re not making any obvious or embarrassing mistakes. If you notice you are correcting the same aspect of your writing over and over again, make a note of it. Take the time to learn about the mistake further, so you can stop making it. Leave yourself a reminder to check for this mistake when editing your future writing.
8 | Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help
No matter how many times you read through your own writing, simple errors can slip through. And when you’re revealing something deep about yourself that not many people know or are describing a sensitive or profound moment from your past, it can be difficult to remain objective about the quality of your writing. You may feel that what you wrote was extremely clear, powerful, or poignant, but it may lack crucial context to someone who didn’t live through the experience themselves.
The best way to know if your writing is clear and effective is to go straight to the source—other people. Try as you might, it’s impossible to remain completely objective about your own writing. If you want to know how your writing sounds or how you can improve, ask.
Reach out to trusted friends, family, peers, and mentors to get advice on your writing. If you’re worried about something specific, ask them to watch for that. Did they understand you fully? After reading your writing, did they have any questions? Did you use simple enough language? Did they feel like the sentences flowed well from one to the next? Did you provide too much information or not enough? When you described something, someone, or a situation, were they able to clearly picture it?
Never send a piece of writing off without getting someone else to read it over first.
Get Ahead of the Competition
We don’t need to remind you that there’s steep competition when it comes to getting into medical school, and gaining every possible edge on your fellow candidates is an absolute must. Your application is filled with writing, including your personal statement, other essays, and the work and activities section. A simple mistake in your application or a rushed editing phase can result in a sloppy, lackluster application.
If you don’t have a mentor, advisor, or family member with adcom experience to edit your personal statement, seek out a reputable admissions consulting service.
Ensure the service you choose is run by real doctors who have admissions committee experience. If you are unsure, ask this question directly. In the case of medical school applications, you don’t need another grammar edit; you need professional advice from people who intimately understand how the admissions process works and what schools are looking for in medical school candidates.
Med School Insiders is made up of a vast team of industry-leading physicians who have years of experience serving on admissions committees. You’ll never get a cookie-cutter approach; instead, you’ll receive key, personalized insights from people who have been intimately involved with the selection process.
We offer a range of personal statement editing packages, including in-depth editing with a physician who will be there to advise you every step of the way. We encourage you to learn more about our process, read our reviews, and make use of our massive database of resources.