Improve your Statement of Purpose from the get-go by applying the inversion theory.
Applying the Inversion Theory is a great way to start your thought process when writing a statement of purpose or personal statement for graduate programs. The simplest way of understanding this is that if you avoid the negatives, you will automatically implement at least some of the positives.
For instance, as a citizen of a nation, if you just avoid breaking laws, you will inadvertently be a good citizen. Similarly, if you avoid bad practices when writing a statement, you are directing it towards being a good statement. Here are some of the most common bad practices I have seen that an applicant must avoid (in no particular order, just avoid all of them), with a brief explanation for each.
1. Do not repeat the information in your resume/CV:
Applicants are often lost when writing and, unfortunately, rely on their CV for content. Such statements inevitably become an elaborated version of the CV, sometimes with exactly the same information. That introduces a lot of redundancy, and will not help your application at all.
2. Do not begin with a random childhood story:
“When I was four years old, I visited the Burj Khalifa and that is when I thought of becoming a civil engineer to build the next tallest building.” Or “Even since my childhood days, I have been fascinated by…”. If this sounds familiar, it is because such points are by far one of the most common, as well as a terrible mistake.
Faculty absolutely abhor reading statements that begin with such sentences, and even if the rest of the statement is good, the first impression was not, which matters. Such lines are often a major red flag that the applicant lacks creativity and strong writing skills.
3. Do not write an autobiography:
Similar to the first point, even if you are not repeating their CV, and if your statement is structured as if you were narrating your life up to the present, your statement will leave a poor impression. Again, that is not the information that reviewers seek. You may present certain relevant past experiences, but only in the context of your overall motivation.
4. Do not deviate from the prompt given in the application:
Some applications provide a prompt or a brief set of guidelines about what they want to see in the statement. Although prompts across programs largely ask for similar information, there may be certain nuances that you may have not come across earlier. Cover each point in the prompt in your statement, without fail.
5. Do not overly praise the programme/university:
When writing about the programme or university, do not go on and on about how it is highly ranked, globally reputed, has the best faculty, etc. Stick to the facts, and how the programme and you are a good fit for each other.
6. Do not use the same statement by just changing names:
Always make substantive modifications to your statement, especially when describing aspects of the program that attract you. You must align each statement with the requirements of the application to maximize the potential fit between you and the program. It is quite unlikely that you will get away with making minor changes to their statement.
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7. Do not write vague general statements:
The statement has to be all about you. Avoid using valuable words on general content.
8. Do not discuss intricate details of your work in detail:
What you did matters in terms of goals and results achieved, but how you achieved your goals matters less. I come across statements going into excessive detail about certain projects or their concepts which is quite likely to bore the reader, if not annoy them, and it is safe to assume the faculty will know concepts (it is quite literally their livelihood).
9. Do not begin or end with a famous quote:
This is also an immensely common way of beginning statements. You are not achieving even the slightest by writing a quote, as opposed to the prevalent thought that you are beginning smartly. Only in extremely rare circumstances will a quote make sense. If you seem to have an irresistible urge to add a quote, write your own original quote.
10. Do not skip a description of your career goals:
Admissions committees want to know how their program will help your career, and will often encourage applicants to write about their career intentions. A good description will involve specific objectives in the short term and a potential direction for your career in the long term.
11. Do not be disrespectful at any point:
This may seem obvious, but I have come across statements in which the applicant ‘blamed’ their undergraduate department or faculty, in a demeaning tone for their poor academic performance. While that may be true, such information must be presented very differently. You should never talk about your institution or any individual disrespectfully. This leaves a poor impression of your character.
12. Do not add new information in the conclusion:
The conclusion should wrap key points of the SOP into a positive, short and reassuring (to the reader) paragraph. Adding new information will disrupt the purpose of the conclusion.