Youth Canada

How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay - Part 4: Revising the Essay

24-09-2008 by Joshua Liu

How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay - Part 4: Revising the Essay

The following article is cross-posted from - a blog with entertainment and advice for budding physicians.

Congratulations on finishing the most gruelling part of the application process – writing the essay. Although the finish line is in sight, you’re not just done yet. But before we go on any further, there is one very important thing you need to do first.

Take a Break: Come Back in a Day or Two

Yes, you heard me right. Put down your pen. Get off your computer. Go outside, call up some friends, or even grab some homework to do. Whatever you do though, don’t read your essay for at least a day.


You have just been through a fairly intensive thinking and writing process. At this point, your mind is very exhausted, and it is unlikely you will be able to think straight. Not only do you deserve a break, but you need one. You are not going to be able to revise your essay properly if you’re not in a good state of mind.

In fact, because you have been drilling certain ideas into your head recently, you are going to have a very biased point of view about your essay. Sentences that normally would not make sense to you, all of a sudden appear perfect in your essay. Ideas that would usually clash, now seem to magically flow well. Don’t fall into this trap. Take a break!

Rested? Okay, Let’s Do One Personal Revision

Now that you are fairly well-rested, it’s time to go over your essay at least once on your own. Here are some things to look for:

1. Grammar and Spelling. This should be obvious, but I bet there are still scholarship essays submitted with grammar and spelling errors every year – don’t lets yours be one of them! Avoid contractions and short forms, otherwise your essay lacks professionalism. “You’re” should be “You are”, “I’m” should be “I am”, and so on. It’s sometimes easy to forget these little things, but it is important that you look for and fix them.

2. Get Rid of Run-On or Very Long Sentences. A run-on sentence is basically a sentence that is actually composed of two sentences not separated by punctuation. For example, “I started an environmental club it was an amazing experience” should be changed to “I started an environmental club and it was an amazing experience” or something similar. In general, you don’t want your sentences to be way too long. Some people read as if they were reading aloud, and long sentences might make them lose their mental breaths! Short to medium sized sentences are easier to read, separate ideas better, and overall, flow better.

3. Are Your Ideas Easily Understood? Often times, while immersed in writing your essay, you will write something that is honestly confusing and hard to understand; of course, you won’t realize it at the time! Remember, if there is something even you can’t understand, no one else will probably understand it either.

4. Does it Flow? Flow is, in my opinion, one of the most important aspects of a well-written application or scholarship essay. Does the order of the ideas make sense? If the ideas don’t flow, it is easy for the reader to get lost or confused. For example, jumping in and out of chronological order can be very confusing.

Now that you have taken a good look at your essay on your own, it’s time to enlist some outside help.

Get Your Essay Read by Someone Who Knows You Well

By this, I mean someone who knows the story you wrote about in your essay well. This can be one of your references, a peer from your activities, or anyone else who has shared in your experiences. Have them read your essay, and then together, discuss the following:

1. Have You Left Anything Important Out? This person is probably the best person other than you who would know this. It is easy to forget some great ideas about your story when you are writing on your own. Are you missing any details the judges might find interesting? Are there any holes in your story?

2. Are the Facts Correct? Often times when you are immersed in your essay, you might accidentally exaggerate a bit here or accidentally make a factual mistake there. Someone who knows your experiences well can help you pick up on these little mistakes, to make sure everything in your essay is completely accurate.

3. Could You Have Used a Better Idea? In my opinion, it is never too late to rewrite something. Many times I have started writing an essay, and after thinking it over or discussing it with a close friend, I have completely scrapped the original idea. I mean, if you have a better idea, why not replace the old one? I dislike extra work more than anyone, but completely revising your essay might be the difference between winning the scholarship and barely losing it.

Your essay should be fairly solid now, in terms of your ideas and content. But one flaw in the revision process so far is that there has been bias – no one has taken a completely objective look at your essay. Let’s do that now.

Get Your Essay Looked At by a Stranger

Okay, I don’t mean a complete stranger that you just met on the street. I mean a friend or relative who knows you, but knows next to nothing about your essay story and the experiences it is based on. The importance of this revision step is that this individual will be able to evaluate your essay completely objectively, without any prior assumptions. Here are some things to have that person look for, and discuss with you:

1. Do All Parts of Your Essay Make Sense? It is easy for you or the referee/friend who helped you in the previous revision step to assume that certain ideas or sentences in the essay make sense, simply because of how well both of you know your story. Don’t forget: the judges know absolutely nothing about you, so your story must be absolutely clear and not require any prior knowledge. Chances are, if the “stranger” you have asked to read your essay is confused or lost, your judge will also feel the same way.

2. Is Your Essay Interesting? Remember, we want your essay story to be as captivating as a novel or film. For someone who has never read your essay before, does your “stranger” read through your entire essay through without feeling bored? If not, why? How can you make it more exciting without changing the important ideas of your story?

3. Is it Simple Enough to Understand? Remember, clear and concise are necessary for a solid, winning scholarship essay. If your “stranger” finds your essay easy to understand, it is a very good sign. Otherwise, why is it complicated? How can you make it simpler?

The Last Step: Proper Writing

The final step in the essay revision process is to have your essay edited by someone who writes much better than you do. This could be a professional editor, English teacher, English university major, professional author, or even a friend who writes very well.

Remember: this person should not be completely re-writing your essay in his or her own style. Their help should focus on making sure your grammar and sentence structure are proper and correct.

Take One Last Look

For each of the prior steps I have suggested, keep in mind that you don’t need to limit the help you receive to one person, as long as the essay is still yours. You might have two “strangers” and all of your references look at your essay, or something like that. It is really up to you.

But once all of this is said and done, you need to take one last look at your scholarship essay. You need to make sure it meets your expectations. You need to ask yourself: is this the best I could have done?

If the answer is no, then it’s time to go back and see what is bothering you.

But if the answer is yes, then congratulations – you are finished!

It has been a tiring process, but I think you will agree that it was worth it. I hope you have found this series helpful and insightful. Good luck with your essays!

JOSHUA LIU is currently a Biomedical Sciences student at York University. He is the founder of SMARTS: the Youth Science Foundation Canada's national youth science network, which connects over 300 young people and 200 schools today. He also currently sits on Shad International's Board of Directors. Joshua has spoken as a presenter, panelist, and keynote at numerous student conferences. He was named as one of Canada's "Top 20 Under 20" in 2005, and is a recipient of the TD Canada Trust Scholarship for Community Leadership.

For more articles like this one, check out Joshua's blog at

Image courtesy of user "zen" at via Creative Commons License.