This has been compiled from my experience of reading personal statements over the years. It is aimed as a guide to prevent these mistakes from creeping into your PS. Any statistics I have used are only to be used as guidelines and are based on PS Help reviews. They are not guaranteed to be accurate.
1. Capital letters
Capital letters should only be used when a proper noun is being used. Countless numbers of people tend to capitalise the following words: medicine, chemistry, biology, doctor, hospital, general practice. The words are correct as written there. Exceptions to this do exist if you write the word as a proper noun. For example, if I were to write 'I am applying for the Medicine A100 course,' then capitalising the 'M' would be correct. Similarly, if I were writing 'I worked at Central Manchester University Hospital for a period of three weeks,' then it would be correct to use capital letters. At least half of all statements make a mistake with incorrectly capitalised words.
Something which should always be capitalised is 'I'. It is correct to say 'I am twenty years old and I like to play the piano.' It is not a very common mistake, but it has been seen.
It is rare to see the perfect use of commas throughout a personal statement. More often than not, commas are completely missed out from sentences. Most commonly, this occurs after a clause such as 'During my hospital work experience, I learnt about empathy.' More than three quarters of all statements will miss out the comma after the first clause. A comma would therefore also be needed here: 'In September, I played a football tournament.' A final example where commas are often missed out is when coordinate clauses are used. 'Medicine, in my opinion, is the perfect career choice for me.' Similarly: 'I like the rewarding nature of medicine, but I am not too fond of the hard work.'
Used invariably incorrectly or not used at all.
The semicolon has many uses. Its main use is to separate items of lists or series'. For example: 'I observed several departments: I watched surgery in Orthopaedics; learnt about ECGs in Cardiology; was taught about Diabetes in Endocrinology and viewed a CT scan in Radiology.'
It can also be used between independent clauses which are related. 'I went to A&E; it was really busy.'
It is also used to link clauses and semi clauses. 'It is most common on wards 6 and 9; however, it is not restricted.'
If you are not sure whether to use a semicolon or not, alter your sentence so that you don't have a need to.
As semicolons, colons are usually used incorrectly or not used at all.
The colon is most commonly used to introduce a list. 'I went to three wards: ward 4, ward 9 and ward 14.'
It is also commonly used when one sentence is linked to its preceding sentence via consequence or effect. For example: 'I had a wonderful romantic dinner last night, but I awoke with a stomach pain: It must have been dodgy food.' Similarly, it can be used in apposition: 'I couldn't get up for hospital: I was still hungover.'
This is something that really annoys me. First, when not to use them. If you are turning something into a plural, there is no need to use an apostrophe. For example: GCSEs, GPs, PSs.
Having read an endless number of personal statements, the most common apostrophe mistake concerns the word patient.
patients - this is the plural of patient i.e. There are many patients in this waiting room.
patient's dignity - this is the dignity of one patient i.e. I was concerned about the patient's dignity during the PR exam.
patients' views - the views of many patients i.e. The patients' views regarding Dr X were very positive.
patience - this is a totally different word i.e. That man has been waiting for 5 hours! I'm amazed by his patience.
6. Inappropriate Punctuation
Avoid the temptation to use brackets, slashes and dashes in your personal statement. This is a professional piece of writing and including these into your writing make it look less formal. The same can be said of exclamation marks. Very rarely do they warrant use. Some applicants try using rhetoric in their statements using questions. Once again, this is not formal or professional and should be completely avoided. Therefore, it is also unlikely that you will have the need to use a question mark in your statement.
- Exclamation Marks
- Question Marks
(There is a really good internet tool to check your grammar for you: http://ed.grammarly.com/editor/view/?f=1)
It takes no longer than a couple of minutes to check your spelling. Paste your personal statement into Microsoft Word and do a spell check or use an online tool such as http://www.spellcheck.net/. There's nothing worse than starting your paragraph with 'Medecine is the perfect career choice for me.'
Numbers describing age or time periods (for example) should always be fully spelt out. For example: 'When I was fourteen years old, I conducted a three week course in A&E.' If you are writing a specific date such as 1998 or 2012, then you do not have to spell this out.
3. Using apostrophes to shorten words
Don't use 'don't' in a personal statement (ironic, huh?). Always use the full word. Mustn't should be written as must not and can't as cannot. The same applies for I'm which becomes I am. Don't even consider using I'd, which could stand for 'I had,' 'I did,' 'I would' or 'I could.' These are self-explanatory but are very common mistakes in around 20% of statements.
4. There, their and they're
Really common mistake made in under a quarter of statements.
There is a word which aims to indicate a location or an expletive word which can be used to start sentences. For example: 'There are seven consultants on the ward.' 'It is over there near the table.'
Their is a word used to indicate possession. For example: 'It is their box of chocolates.'
They're is the short form of 'they are.' So in a sentence it may be used as such: 'They're over there. Look, they're both really busy.'
5. Its and it's
Its is a possessive form of it. Use it when something belongs to another object i.e. 'The cat licked its paw.'
It's is a short form of 'it is.' So for example: 'It's cold in the hospital today.'
6. Using also, furthermore, however and therefore
Essentially, try not to use the word also. Especially, if every other sentence is starting with it. It is a waste of characters and becomes repetitive.
7. Etcetera and exempli gratia
You should not consider using 'etc.' and 'e.g.' under any circumstances. It does not appear professional and sentence can almost always be rephrased to avoid use of them.
There are some words, phrases and sentences that come up too often. These include, but are not limited to: passion, fascination, love, aspiration, intrigued by, broadened my knowledge, enhanced my skill, as a result, affirmed/confirmed my decision, fuelled, enthralled, 'quenched my thirst for' and 'sparked my interest in'.
Stages in the drafting process
If you are having trouble putting a PS together, try these steps:
1. Write a list of everything you want a med school to know about you (achievements, talents, experiences, personal qualities, etc)
2. Allocate each item to one of the paragraphs in the recommended PS structure (you can reallocate things later if you decide there are better fits).
3. Write each paragraph so that you cover all the items allocated to it, but without worrying too much about phrasing or character/line limits (but don't be too flowery). Don't worry if the intro and/or conclusion are hard to write - just get something down on paper (you can improve it later).
4. Now start hacking. Combine sentences, reorder sentences, shorten sentences, delete anything that doesn't add much. Phrase everything for maximum impact, and save every character (the lines will take care of themselves, almost). You'll spot opportunities to rephrase sentences, but don't strain the rules of English grammar to force it - it's all got to flow nicely.
5. You can save characters by using abbreviations, but beware of using unfamiliar ones. Anything that appears on a med school website, an NHS website or BBC Health should be OK, likewise common abbreviations used in the education system (GCSE, EPQ, etc).
6. Don't ask people to do a proper review until you are close (within 10%) to the character limit (you can make an exception for close family, but most reviewers will only do one proper review for you). Ask several people for opinions but make your own mind up about what changes you make (not all reviewer opinions are compatible with each other). Be very careful about using medical terminology - if you can get a medic to take a look, that would be prudent.
7. If you are struggling with the line limit and using Word, try this tip... convert the text to Courier size 9, a font in which every character occupies the same space on a line. Then adjust (drag) the margins to show exactly 94 characters on each line (no more, no less - insert a string of 94 characters on the first line to help you get it exactly right). Now you can see where characters are being 'wasted'. You'll have 'wasted' spaces at the end of some lines, because long words don't fit and move to the next line, and you may have paragraphs with 1-2 words on the last line - a small cut could save a whole line.
8. KEEP ALL YOUR DRAFTS! Good stuff goes missing during editing, so save each draft with a different filename (PS01.docx, PS02.docx, etc)