Monday Morning Essay Tips: Avoid Platitudes

Platitude (plat’e-tood)

1. Commonplaceness; flatness; dullness
2. A trite or obvious remark, uttered as though it were fresh or original

Many candidates unwittingly start their essays with platitudes. For example, when responding to the HBS essay question “Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision,” a candidate might mistakenly write the following:

“Managers constantly face difficult decisions. Still, everyone hates indecision.”

The writer doesn’t “own” this idea and cannot lay claim to this statement. A simple alternative would be to insert his or her experience and viewpoint into the sentence:

“Yet again, I was in the boardroom with Steve, anticipating that he would change his mind on the mbaMission file.”

By discussing your unique experiences, you take ownership of your story and engage the reader. Avoiding platitudes and generalities and ensuring that you are sharing your experience, rather than one that could belong to anyone else, is a simple but often overlooked step in creating a compelling message.

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