The Writing Center @ The University of Wisconsin - Madison
The Writer's Handbook
Writing Application Essays

Getting started: Brainstorming exercises

This webpage provides spaces for you to brainstorm and draft parts of your essay.

At any point during your use of this page, you can send the writing you've done to yourself in an email message by filling out and submitting the form at the bottom of this page.

Writers of application essays often feel that they have either too much to say or too little. In either case, a good way to get started is to do some writing that will help generate and focus your ideas.

Use the space below to do some brainstorming and mail your writing to yourself later (using the form below) to keep a record of what you've written. If you're more comfortable writing by hand, take this opportunity to brainstorm on paper in response to the questions and suggestions below.

Some specific questions to consider

1. What experiences and/or education have made you want to pursue this degree program?

2. When did you first become interested in this field of study? How have you been pursuing your interest (e.g., education, volunteer work, professional experience)?

3. What most appeals to you about this program -- in general (i.e., the field of study) and more specifically (i.e., the particular department or school's program)? What makes you and your interests a good fit?

4. What do you plan to do with the education you hope to receive?

5. What do you think is the most interesting or notable thing about you? How do you think it might relate to the program that you want to pursue? How could you use it as a jumping off point or organizational device for your essay?

Send yourself an email message with what you've written so far by filling out and submitting the form below.

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Writing a draft: From outline to essay

Now that you have a sense of what you want to write about, draft your essay.

Make an outline

Use the space below to make an outline for your essay. What will the main theme be? What points do you want to be sure to include? If you already have a draft written, use this space to jot down the organization of your essay based on what you've already written.

Develop your body paragraphs with example and explanation

Try developing examples and explanations for one statement that you'd like to make about your experience or interest in this program. Be on the lookout for those cut-and-pastable sentences and replace them with details that show, rather than tell.

Once you've gotten a good draft of the main body of your essay, go to the next section on introductions.

Send yourself an email message with what you've written so far by filling out and submitting the form below.

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Back to the beginning: The introduction

Once you have a good sense of your essay's focus, try writing an introduction that will engage your reader and suggest the direction in which your essay will go.

Not every essay has to have a clever or original introduction. One which is straightforward and to the point can also be effective and may, in some cases, be what a particular program wants to see. Most important is its effectiveness in setting a tone and direction for what follows.

Take a look at these sample introductions.

Now, try drafting your own introduction in the space below:

Send yourself an email message with what you've written so far by filling out and submitting the form below.

To mail yourself a copy of the writing that you've done so far, fill out the form below:

Your name:

Your email address:

To send the writing that you've done to yourself via email, fill in your name and address and press the button below.

(Please make sure your e-mail address is correct!)

To clear the page of the writing you've done, press this button: