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Graduate School statement of purpose

Tips for writing Graduate School statement of purpose

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Background Issues

  1. Ask yourself why you want to study further. Take a piece of paper and start writing down all the reasons. Spend about half an hour on this, so that you can go beyond cliched ideas like wanting to improve your prospects or contribute to society. Write a few sentences on any reason that particularly strikes a chord with you.
  2. Make lists of instances you can use in your SoP. For example, if you've been asked to talk about an important event in your life, list down events that have made a significant impression on you. Don't worry if these are events that are not 'conventionally' important or seem insignificant; what matters is that they have had some influence over you. Similarly, make a list of people you admire or who have influenced you - this could be a friend, a family member, a teacher, etc. and need not necessarily be a famous person.
  3. Go through your resume and reflect on what you have learned from your various experiences: how have they molded your interests and led you to this point? Pick one or two cases that you can talk about in-depth. For graduate school, it is best to take at least one professional situation and show what you did and learned.
  4. Make a list of schools you plan to apply to. As you continue through the background check, you will add a few universities and delete several. A final shortlist of ten to fifteen schools is common. Ask yourself why you wish to study at each of the schools you have listed. For graduate study, it is important to ensure that your interests are compatible with the research interests of the department you are applying to. As you progress through the background check and understand more about your interests through subsequent revisions of the SoP, add to and improve the list.

General Tips for Better Writing

  1. Express yourself in positive language. Say what is, not what is not.
  2. Use transitions between paragraphs. Transitions tie one paragraph to the next. A transition can be a word, like later, furthermore, additionally, or moreover; a phrase like After this incident...; or an entire sentence.

    If you are writing about Topic A and now want to discuss Topic B, you can begin the new paragraph with a transition such as "Like (or unlike) Topic A, Topic B..."
  3. Vary your sentence structure. It's boring to see subject, verb, object all the time. Mix simple, complex, and compound sentences.
  4. Understand the words you write. You write to communicate, not to impress the admissions staff with your vocabulary. When you choose a word that means something other than what you intend, you neither communicate nor impress. You do convey the wrong message or convince the admissions officer that you are inarticulate.
  5. Look up synonyms in a thesaurus when you use the same word repeatedly. After the DELETE key, the thesaurus is your best friend.
  6. Be succinct. Compare:

    • During my sophomore and junior years, there was significant development of my maturity and markedly improved self-discipline towards school work.
    • During my sophomore and junior years, I matured and my self-discipline improved tremendously.

    The first example takes many more words to give the same information. The admissions officers are swamped; they do not want to spend more time than necessary reading your essay. Say what you have to say in as few words as possible.

  7. Make every word count. Do not repeat yourself. Each sentence and every word should state something new.
  8. Avoid qualifiers such as rather, quite, somewhat, probably, possibly, etc. You might improve your writing somewhat if you sometimes try to follow this suggestion.

    The example contains nonsense. Deleting unnecessary qualifiers will strengthen your writing 1000%. Equivocating reveals a lack of confidence. If you do not believe what you write, why should the admissions officer?

  9. Use the active voice. Compare:

    • The application was sent by the student. (Passive voice)
    • The student sent the application. (Active voice)

    They both communicate the same information. The active voice, however, is more concise; it specifies who is performing the action and what is the object. The passive voice is wordier and frequently less clear.

  10. Read and re-read Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. Containing basic rules of grammar, punctuation, composition, and style, this indispensable classic is available in paperback and is only eighty-five pages long.

This information is provided by, Inc. Further information is available at or via e-mail at

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