Organize Your Story Well
Proper structure is a key component of effective essays. It is the glue that blends together all the pieces of your story. Whether you are narrating your cultural experience, setback, or ethical dilemma experience or are discussing your career progression story leading to your goals and accomplishments, your story should contain a proper beginning, middle, and end. All the details of your story should flow so well that it is not only comprehensible but compelling as well. Keeping the following points in mind will help you organize your story well.
1. Do not leave any loose ends:
You are the author of your story, so in order to make a lasting impact on the reader, you should make sure to explain each logical step of your story without leaving any loose ends. Remember, you are not writing a suspense story that would force the reader to make speculations about the details. You are writing an admission essay and its purpose is to provide the Ad Com an understanding of your professional and personal experiences/ accomplishments to help them determine if you are a good fit for that particular school or not. Also, your essay is one of the thousands of other essays that will be evaluated by the Ad Com, and they obviously don’t have time to fill out the missing pieces of your story. So your goal should be to present your story in a succinct and concise manner so it sticks in the mind of the reader.
Let’s look at the examples below:
In the autumn of 2008, overlooking high-rise buildings in Tokyo from my office windows, I was deeply troubled. Two years earlier, shortly after our successful IPO, I moved back to Japan with a mission to establish an Asian operation out of Tokyo. What started out, as a one-person operation from my own bedroom, became the largest market on revenue after 2 years with 25 full-time employees.
In the above example, the writer begins with an announcement of his troubled state of mind while he stood near his office window. He hooks the reader into his story with his first sentence. However, he immediately goes into flashback and begins providing lengthy details that keep the reader speculating, rather wondering about the cause of his worry. Also, he doesn’t provide any info about the country he moved back from.
Now let’s look at the later and revised version of the same paragraph.
In 2006, shortly after our successful IPO, I relocated back to Japan from Norway with a mission to establish Asian operation out of Tokyo. I joined the local company Opera Software as a one-person operation from my own bedroom, and it became the largest revenue source for Opera Software after only two years from its start with 25 full-time employees.
2. Specify time:
When reading a novel, we always want to have a sense of the setting: time and place, as these are the essential components required for appreciating or evaluating the story. Similarly, when sharing your stories (setback, mistake, culture, background, accomplishment or ethical dilemma etc.), make sure to specify the time of the incident.
Not so Good Example:
When I look back, my frustration period in my career was most recent. I was assigned as a Team Lead for a large technical team to handle a challenging project.
In October 2013, I was assigned as a Team Lead for a large technical team to handle a challenging project.
The only difference between the first and the second example is the specification of time which tells the reader how recent the story is.
3. Include your thought process:
Another vital component that you should keep in mind while organizing your essay is your thought process. When writing leadership/ teamwork essays or self-revelation essays (failure/mistake, culture shock, setback, strength and weakness, ethical dilemma, etc.) don’t forget to share what was going on in your mind at that time. It is not enough to describe what you did, it is also important to explain how you felt when you found yourself in a particular situation. This will allow your readers to relate to the situation, providing them with insight into your thought process. Through these questions, B-schools want to know how you process your thoughts, how you navigate through the situations, how you take important decisions, and how you finally translate them into action.
Let’s look at the following examples:
Not so Good Example:
I was in a dilemma of whether to approach the manager to discuss the issue or to approach the interim finance manager who had approved these bills. The interim finance manager was a very good friend of mine; therefore, I did not want to act in haste and reach a wrong conclusion.
I was in a dilemma of whether to approach the manager to discuss the issue or to approach the interim finance manager who had approved these bills. The interim finance manager was a very good friend of mine; therefore, I did not want to act in haste and reach a wrong conclusion. I had many thoughts going through my mind. “How do I handle the situation so nobody gets hurt?” “What should I choose - friendship or duty?” “What will happen if I go wrong somewhere?”
Notice how the inclusion of the writer’s thought process in the second example makes it more impactful.
Thus, you can build a sound structure of your story by including all the relevant details that tie together your beginning, middle, and end. Also, don’t forget to obtain a second perspective by getting your essay reviewed by a friend.
Stay Tuned for Tip #6 of the story development process next week
For questions, email me at email@example.com