While I’d like to preface this anecdote with a cautionary “here’s how to learn from my mistakes,” that is not what this post is about. The moral of this story is that you will check your writing over hundreds of times, you will do everything possible to make sure all of your of your materials are in order, and you will STILL inevitably make a mistake in some capacity.
When it came time to apply to graduate schools, I thought I was ahead of the game on my applications because I already had a 20-page research paper written from one of my advanced writing classes. The paper was from second semester my sophomore year and had received an A+ in a 300-level class, so I figured it was an excellent testimony to my writing skills. Ah, sophomoric hubris.
The alternative was, of course, to write a 20-page research paper from scratch in the fall of my senior year. Three months is already a tight squeeze to properly research and edit a paper of that depth, and to get it done in time to revise didn’t seem feasible. However, when I reread my A+ paper from a year and a half ago, I was shocked at how much my writing had changed. The aspect that had changed the most was my ability to engage scholarly articles and synthesize them with my own work. Looking back, this paper had been one of my first major research projects.
The good news: I had been steadily honing my research skills during my last two years of school. The bad news: “revising” my paper was now a task of epic proportions. It’s one thing to revise the wording on a few sentences and scour for typos. It’s another issue entirely to change the way you engage in the discourse of scholarly sources.
What happened next was a month-long rat-race between my old paper and a new one I was writing from scratch. I read scholarship furiously, waiting for that one piece of inspiration that would make everything come together.
While I eventually found that inspiration (for both papers in time, but the old refurbished paper became my writing sample), I kept many different drafts of my “final” writing sample. However, each time I labeled it final, I would get a new series of revisions at the advice of a professor, or decide to take it into the writing center for some last minute consulting. I had so many different files containing the words “final” and “writing sample” that they became difficult to keep track of.
Well, if you would have asked me back then, I would have told you I scoured my final final draft multiple times for typos before I turned it into a PDF – the computerized equivalent of writing it calligraphy on a leather-bound velum book. The deed was done, and I was pleased with the accomplishment.
It was not until I decided to apply to one more program last minute that I reread the PDF of my writing sample just for kicks. Previously, one of my professors who had made comments on my essay did so by writing his comments embedded in my paragraph and putting them in bold text. As I read, I suddenly realized one sentence was not my own – it was my professor remarking that I my auto-correct had turned “intentionalism” into “internationalism” in the middle of my paragraph. Ironically, I had corrected the typo itself, but somehow my professor’s comment had slipped in there. Not only was it a mistake, it was sure to be confusing to an admissions committee and horribly embarrassing.
I nearly died of embarrassment right there. Why, why hadn’t I read it over one last time??
In order to move on you have to accept one thing: no one can be perfect. It’s hard to proofread a paper that you’ve read 100 times over. You will realize 100 things you could have done better after you turn your applications in, and you will fret over it until the whole application season is over, acceptances, rejections and all. Some schools might let you turn another copy in, that’s worth inquiring. But in the end some probably won’t out of fairness to the other students. Accept this and move on, the only thing you can do is your best – mistakes and all.
Disclaimer: I have not proofread this post.