Writing a Statement of Purpose｜SoP書寫指南
The statement of purpose (SoP) can make or break a university application. In just 500-1500 words, an applicant must outline pertinent aspects of their personal background, research interests, and academic goals in such a way that differentiates their application from thousands of other well-qualified candidates. The statement of purpose is often the only chance to speak directly to an admissions committee and make an individual case for acceptance. It’s an opportunity that should never be jeopardized by poor grammar or a mechanical regurgitation of information that the committee either already knows or never needed to know in the first place.
Some preliminary preparation is essential for crafting an effective statement of purpose; without it, even the best statements risk falling flat with the admissions committee. Such groundwork includes:
- Have a basic research plan. This doesn’t mean a final draft; after all, you’re only just beginning. What it does mean, though, is that you’ve identified a research question and have a general sense of the work that other academics are doing in the field. Reviewers want applicants who are highly motivated and passionate about their academic goals. Being confident and informed in your research interests shows that you are that type of applicant. Moreover, it also helps with the next two steps:
- Familiarize yourself with the institution(s) and department(s) you’re applying to. A truism of dating can be applied to writing a statement of purpose: always make the department you’re applying to feel special. You must be able to elaborate why the faculty, academic focus, location, and/or on-campus resources are essential to your research plan, and this requires a familiarity with the university in question.
- Reach out to potential advisors. At a minimum you will need to identify faculty members who could serve as potential research advisors in your statement of purpose. Ideally you will have already reached out to these professors and developed a basic rapport about your research.
- Know the application guidelines for the statement of purpose. Read the guidelines, memorize the guidelines, live the guidelines.
Grammar is a means to an end, and that end is to convey information to a reader in an efficient and engaging manner. The goal is not to mystify them, bore them, or demonstrate some higher knowledge of English syntax. I would argue that this is especially true of writing a statement of purpose, a document that is frequently size-constrained, requiring applicants to make the most out of their limited allocation of words. Furthermore, given that admissions committees are reading hundreds if not thousands of these statements every school year, it’s safe to say that they too value a grammar philosophy favoring clarity and conciseness above all.
With that in mind, here are some grammar tips for writing a statement of purpose:
- Shorten your sentences. It’s not uncommon for Chinese ESL students to produce long, run-on sentences and to overuse commas. Don’t be scared to break up these leviathans into more manageable chunks. When unsure, try reading the paragraph out loud to yourself.
- Adopt a formal tone. The language should always have a formal tone. It’s the content itself where an applicant’s individuality is allowed to shine through.
- Be concise. Convey information succinctly and cut all unnecessary words.
- Avoid spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. Speaks for itself.
- Vary your vocabulary. If a word keeps cropping up in your statement, consider replacing duplicates with an appropriate synonym.
- Write a compelling topic sentence. A statement of purpose is like any other piece of writing in that you want to grab the reader’s attention and hold onto it until the end. The topic sentence is where you hook them.
The content of a statement of purpose depends on the application guidelines of the university being applied to. These guidelines can be regarded as an impromptu checklist; once your first draft is finished, perform a sentence-by-sentence audit that asks: Does this sentence help fulfill the criteria laid out in the application guidelines? If the answer is ‘no,’ you might want to consider replacing it with one that actually does.
Here are some additional content tips for writing a statement of purpose:
- Never exceed the word limit. Many have tried and it never ends well.
- Don’t repeat yourself. This is a red flag for the admissions committee. Like spelling mistakes, it projects laziness on the part of the applicant.
- Show, don’t tell. If at all possible, use personal anecdotes to convey the messages you want to send the admissions committee, such as how you became interested in your research topic, why you want to study overseas, why you want to live in a specific city, etc.
SoP Editing Services｜SoP修改
I am a professional writer, editor, and translator from Canada, with over 15 years of experience. My academic background is primarily in international relations and political science (SOAS University of London), a thematic focus that has been reinforced by my working as managing editor for a popular global affairs website for over a decade. I have written dozens of ESL textbooks for a Taiwanese publishing company, and worked on translation projects spanning everything from government documents to engineering dissertations to massively-multiplayer online games. Over the course of my career, I have also prepared and edited numerous statements of purpose for academic admissions and government funding applications.
The lion’s share of my professional work involves English, my mother tongue. However, years of living and studying in Taiwan have left me a fluent Mandarin speaker. This familiarity with the Chinese language has proven invaluable when helping Chinese ESL learners compose application documents, as I am already aware of the common grammatical and structural hurdles that they are most likely to encounter. It also allows me to communicate directly with my clients and advise them on best practices for academic writing.
What My Clients Receive｜超越修改的服務
The statement of purpose is often merely the first step in a years-long journey in academia, one in which a student’s writing skills will be called on time and time again to capably draft research papers, grant applications, and correspondence with professors. As such, my editing process favors a consultative approach whereby the client is left with the tools needed to thrive at the highest levels of academia. It’s not just about getting into the top universities on your list; it’s also about ensuring success after you get in.
The initial consultation includes content advice from my wife, YZ, who is currently a PhD student at York University in Toronto. YZ has a wealth of experience writing personal statements, research proposals, and funding grants, and is a previous recipient of Canada’s illustrious Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant, among others.
I never take on more work than what would allow me to give my clients the time and attention that they deserve. Writing a statement of purpose or personal statement is a highly idiosyncratic exercise, with the product varying on the basis of an applicant’s personal background, research interests, and most importantly, the requirements of the particular department or program that’s being applied to. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and every project merits careful attention. As such, I will decline a commission outright if my workload is already excessive.
No editor can guarantee a successful application; that’s down to the sum total of an applicant’s qualifications. But what I can promise is to produce a statement of purpose that will boost an application’s chances of success. Because in a fiercely competitive field consisting of thousands of similarly qualified applicants, it’s the applicant who manages to stand out in the mind of the reviewers who is most likely succeed.
Cost for SoP editing service:
500-1000 words: CAD$500
1000-1800 words: CAD$650
Additional SoP drafts in excess of six: CAD60$
- Opening consultation where initial draft is evaluated. YZ and I provide structural and content advice, after which the client produces a new draft with these pointers taken into account.
- Secondary consultations where draft is edited and additional revisions are made by the client as needed. These will continue until a final draft is produced that all parties are happy with.
- Initial cost includes editing for up to six different schools using the same SoP as a template. Note: additional applications must be for the same department and consistent primarily of content from the original statement of purpose.
Written by Zac, September 2021