MBA Essay Writing Tip #16: Being Brief Vs. Being Detailed

Knowing when to add detail to a story and when to be brief is an art in itself.

Woman with hand on laptop

While there’s no substitute for practice and experience when it comes to adding detail to a story, there are a few key rules to keep in mind when structuring an essay to avoid wasting space on content that won’t benefit your application.

Detail is like cholesterol: there’s the good kind and the bad kind. The good kind adds depth to your story, giving the reader insight into your thought process and proving your claims. The bad kind is dry, technical material with no emotional resonance that causes the reader’s attention to drift. Follow these quick tips, however, and you’ll be certain that your essay is 100% killer and 0% filler.

  1. DON’T get technical. TECHNICAL details should be kept to a minimum. Detailed programming or engineering specifications are meaningless to most readers and serve only to blunt the emotional impact of your story, making it seem long-winded and boring. If it sounds like dialogue on Star Trek, it’s almost definitely worth cutting out. Here’s an example of how NOT to write about a technical problem: “Because the motherboard was over-heating, it became necessary to increase our cooling system in a way that didn’t require an increase in voltage. Running a full hardware scan, it became evident that our previous attempts to patch the bug in the XR8’s software hadn’t done the job and a full recode was in order.”
  2. Tell us what you felt at the time. On the other hand, detail that tells us “how you felt” or your “thought process” during an event is almost always worth including. This material both allows the reader to connect with you emotionally and, by detailing out the reasons for your action, you can PROVE all of the qualities you claim to have. Take this sentence for example: “Despite working on this project for 24 consecutive hours, I wasn’t ready to give up; I was determined to hand in a final build in time and when I finally rendered the last file, I knew it had all been worth it.”
  3. Quantify your achievements. While it’s important NOT to get technical, you SHOULD use numbers when it comes to backing up your claims. Don’t just tell the reader that you “earned a bonus,” let him know that “after raising company profits 15%, you were promoted to senior management, earning a 10% raise to become the fastest rising employee in company history.”

So remember:

  • Don’t get technical.
  • Do tell us how you felt at the time.
  • Do quantify your achievements.

Like this post? Check out more of our MBA Essay Writing Guide Tips!

Northwestern Kellogg: Five Things You Need To Know Before You Apply