Dos and Don'ts for Writing a Statement of Purpose
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The following are lists of dos and
don’ts to consider when writing personal statement. These lists are
based on suggestions which I consider sensible and which are common
to those providing guidance.
Prepare an outline of topics you are
asked to cover by the graduate schools and others you want to
cover and list supporting material under each topic. This
information will be useful when you develop the drafts of your
statement. Typical topics include professional career goals,
academic interests and objectives, research experience, practical
experience, special skills, and related personal material about
your motivation and reason for choosing a program.
When writing your statement, stick
to the points requested by each program. If a program stresses
research, clinical work, or work experience, emphasize those
issues in your statement. Avoid lengthy personal or philosophical
discussions unless the instructions specifically ask for them.
Look on the web or email the
department for information about the professors and their
research. Are there professors whose interests match yours'? If
so, indicate this, as it shows a sign that you have done your
homework and are highly motivated. You might use the names of
faculty and their research interests as examples of what you would
like to do.
Follow the instructions about
length. Usually programs ask for one page, so try to be concise
and stick to this limit. Using small print is not a good solution,
better send 1 and 1/2 pages of print 11-12 than one page of print
size 8 (don't go over two pages though).
Emphasize everything from a positive
perspective and write in an active, not a passive voice.
Demonstrate everything by example;
don't say directly, for example, that you're a persistent person,
you must demonstrate it.
Writing about specific experiences has a number of advantages:
* Specifics keep the reader's attention more effectively than
* Drawing on situations in your life will distinguish you from
other applicants who superficially may be very similar to you.
Make sure your essay is
well-organized and everything is linked with continuity and focus.
Pay special attention to the first paragraph which should capture
the reader’s interest.
Check your grammar, spelling,
punctuation, and capitalization carefully. Errors distract from
the content of your statement and make admission committee members
to assume that your writing ability is weak or you don't care.
Review your essay by asking yourself
the following questions:
Are my goals well articulated?
Do I explain why I have selected
this school and/or program?
Do I demonstrate knowledge of
Do I include interesting details
that prove my claims about myself?
Is my tone confident?
Make changes to your statement for
each school, read as much as possible about their program so that
you can tailor your statement to the program and convince the
admissions committee that you will fit well there.
Ask as many others as possible to
proofread your work for writing style—grammar, spelling, etc. You
should also ask those who currently study in US graduate schools
to critique the content, organization, and clarity since they will
be aware of what graduate schools are seeking.
Use empty, vague, overly-used words
like meaningful, beautiful, challenging, rewarding, etc.
Use overly common phrases and
nonspecific information. For example:
"My above qualifications and my placement in the top 10th of my
class demonstrate that I have the leadership, organization, and
academic ability to succeed well at your school."
This generic statement says nothing specific about you as an
individual. When you're writing, think about whether it's likely
that 100 other people said the same thing you did. The personal
statement is your chance to show how unique you are.
Repeat information from the
application unless you use it to illustrate a point.
Try to be funny—you don’t know your
audience, so humor can backfire.
Use statements like “I’ve always
wanted to be a . . .” or other hackneyed phrases.
Make excuses, but you can talk about
the mistakes you've made as a learning experience. If there is
something important that happened (poverty, illness, excessive
work, etc. ), which affected your grades go ahead and state it,
but write it affirmatively, that is, in a way that shows your
Use special fonts or colored paper.
Use slang, technical jargon., long
Write in an arrogant manner.
Instead, make it clear that you are confident about your ability,
but still eager to learn what the program has to offer.
Do or don’t?
There is mixed opinion about whether
to call attention to and explain any of your obvious weaknesses in
your essay. Some recommend clarifying any weaknesses on your
transcripts or your GRE scores in your essay. Others believe one
should only be positive—that if you feel you need to explain
something, that you should attach an addendum to your application,
make note of it in a cover letter, or ask one of your letter writers
who knows you well to discuss it.