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Hello all,

I'm in the process of refining my SOP and completing my writing sample. Writing about myself is more difficult than I'd imagined and I'm looking for a reference point or two.

Would anyone that got into a top 20ish program be willing to share their SOP with me? I've already read many of the popular advice articles, but am looking more for examples

of language used, how in depth you described your academic interests, and what else, generally, you talked about in your SOP beyond academic interests.

Thanks in advance!

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Hello all,

I'm in the process of refining my SOP and completing my writing sample. Writing about myself is more difficult than I'd imagined and I'm looking for a reference point or two.

Would anyone that got into a top 20ish program be willing to share their SOP with me? I've already read many of the popular advice articles, but am looking more for examples

of language used, how in depth you described your academic interests, and what else, generally, you talked about in your SOP beyond academic interests.

Thanks in advance!

i'm applying also this round, so I can't help you out with the sop, but my advisor told me to look at it as a kind of utilitarian document. the writing sample should show off your best thinking, but the sop should be as clear and concise as possible.

The way I'm approaching my (3rd?) draft is to break it up into basic paragraphs 1)what my current interests are 2) my significant research projects and how they relate to/have influenced my current interests 3) future/fit paragraphs, where I discuss what I'd like to do in the future and why ___ school would be a great fit for me.

So as far as language goes, try to be as clear as possible and avoid rhetorical flourishes and what not. (Also--I saw your post in the wgi lounge and I think we have similar research interests--so if you want to send your SOP to me I'll be happy to look at it).

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i'm applying also this round, so I can't help you out with the sop, but my advisor told me to look at it as a kind of utilitarian document. the writing sample should show off your best thinking, but the sop should be as clear and concise as possible.

The way I'm approaching my (3rd?) draft is to break it up into basic paragraphs 1)what my current interests are 2) my significant research projects and how they relate to/have influenced my current interests 3) future/fit paragraphs, where I discuss what I'd like to do in the future and why ___ school would be a great fit for me.

So as far as language goes, try to be as clear as possible and avoid rhetorical flourishes and what not. (Also--I saw your post in the wgi lounge and I think we have similar research interests--so if you want to send your SOP to me I'll be happy to look at it).

Thanks! You've pretty much solidified my approach. The first paragraph, that I'm actually happy with, took me several hours.. haha. I'd be happy to share sometime mid-week when I have it a little more polished.

Edited by mbmott
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The dept. at the U of Illinois--Urbana-Champaign offers the following:

"This statement should be a precise and powerfully written intellectual biography. What writers or authors, courses, literary works, critical texts have influenced you? What critical questions, historical or national issues, disciplinary or interdisciplinary interests do you hope to pursue in graduate school and beyond? Why? Why at Illinois in particular?"

For me, this raises the question of exactly how specific to get re: mentioning authors, critical texts that have influenced my thinking/work, etc. Given the emphasis on writing a clear, concise SOP, I'd be interested to hear how others have handled the question of how much detail to include.

Edited by lady_coffee
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For me, this raises the question of exactly how specific to get re: mentioning authors, critical texts that have influenced my thinking/work, etc. Given the emphasis on writing a clear, concise SOP, I'd be interested to hear how others have handled the question of how much detail to include.

When I applied last year, I kept this in check by only including names of authors and critical texts that had directly influenced the proposal I was presenting in the SoP. (I think I ultimately mentioned three or four in total.) So an example sentence would be, "Drawing from Author X's recent work on Topic Wonderful, I'd like to Blah Blah Research Project."

Hope that helps a bit.

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When I applied last year, I kept this in check by only including names of authors and critical texts that had directly influenced the proposal I was presenting in the SoP. (I think I ultimately mentioned three or four in total.) So an example sentence would be, "Drawing from Author X's recent work on Topic Wonderful, I'd like to Blah Blah Research Project."

Hope that helps a bit.

I'm almost trying to steer clear of mentioning authors/works that have influenced me, because i'm afraid i'll go off into a long tangent (my first sop draft was like 1500 words!). I mention theorists that I used in my MA thesis, and how I used them, so hopefully that is enough.

Is the inclusion of a "proposal" for a project something specific to one/a few of the schools to which you are applying? I kind of thought that future interests were meant to be more broad and were meant to be connected to the 'fields/interests' of the profs mentioned in the fit paragraph. I'm curious to know how you are going about the 'project proposal' thing...how detailed are you getting, exactly? My fear is that if I were to do a specific project proposal it would turn into a paper topic...I have a lot of project ideas, but it would be difficult to turn one into a neat little paragraph...

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Is the inclusion of a "proposal" for a project something specific to one/a few of the schools to which you are applying? I kind of thought that future interests were meant to be more broad and were meant to be connected to the 'fields/interests' of the profs mentioned in the fit paragraph. I'm curious to know how you are going about the 'project proposal' thing...how detailed are you getting, exactly? My fear is that if I were to do a specific project proposal it would turn into a paper topic...I have a lot of project ideas, but it would be difficult to turn one into a neat little paragraph...

The common wisdom on these boards is that your "future research" section should be quite specific when applying to PhD programs, and I would agree based on my personal experience. I basically wrote a (super)micro dissertation proposal that explained the theoretical base I wanted to work from and the questions stemming from it that I wanted to explore. (As silly as it may sound, no one expects you to stick to the research plan you lay out in the SoP. It's more of an exercise that shows the adcomm that you are capable of formulating interesting questions in dialog with important thinkers in your field.)

Edited by BelleOfKilronen
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The common wisdom on these boards is that your "future research" section should be quite specific when applying to PhD programs, and I would agree based on my personal experience. I basically wrote a (super)micro dissertation proposal that explained the theoretical base I wanted to work from and the questions stemming from it that I wanted to explore. (As silly as it may sound, no one expects you to stick to the research plan you lay out in the SoP. It's more of an exercise that shows the adcomm that you are capable of formulating interesting questions in dialog with important thinkers in your field.)

This is very helpful. I'm curious if others handled it the same way. Spinning out a proposal, however micro, is daunting, but it affirms the direction I've been going with my sop and, frankly, encourages me to stay firmly put in the Romantic period and not go wandering off talking about my overarching interests in the long 19th century. :) There's a lot to get lost in there!

Edited by lady_coffee
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The common wisdom on these boards is that your "future research" section should be quite specific when applying to PhD programs, and I would agree based on my personal experience. I basically wrote a (super)micro dissertation proposal that explained the theoretical base I wanted to work from and the questions stemming from it that I wanted to explore. (As silly as it may sound, no one expects you to stick to the research plan you lay out in the SoP. It's more of an exercise that shows the adcomm that you are capable of formulating interesting questions in dialog with important thinkers in your field.)

Can you give an example of just how specific? I know that sounds like a silly question, but I feel like I've outlined a specific project, but I could also see someone saying its still not specific enough.

Ok what the hell, here is the paragraph in question:

"Similar to the way words experience semantic drift, I’m interested in the semantic drift of narratives throughout cultural production. While my writing sample charts the ever-changing historical memory of slavery, for my current research interests and future projects I would like to apply the same methodological approach to early American narratives about environment and geography and the continuing development of the citizen within those confines. For example, the Puritan characterization of the New World as a paradoxical Eden populated by demons inserts the ‘present’ into an established religious narrative to make sense of national identity in American wilderness. "

I do not mention any specific texts or religious figures, so it is not specific in that way. But I feel like it is still a good outline for a future project. Sorry if it seems like I'm workshopping my SoP here, I'm just curious about how deep to go. Thoughts?

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Can you give an example of just how specific? I know that sounds like a silly question, but I feel like I've outlined a specific project, but I could also see someone saying its still not specific enough.

Ok what the hell, here is the paragraph in question:

"Similar to the way words experience semantic drift, I’m interested in the semantic drift of narratives throughout cultural production. While my writing sample charts the ever-changing historical memory of slavery, for my current research interests and future projects I would like to apply the same methodological approach to early American narratives about environment and geography and the continuing development of the citizen within those confines. For example, the Puritan characterization of the New World as a paradoxical Eden populated by demons inserts the ‘present’ into an established religious narrative to make sense of national identity in American wilderness. "

I do not mention any specific texts or religious figures, so it is not specific in that way. But I feel like it is still a good outline for a future project. Sorry if it seems like I'm workshopping my SoP here, I'm just curious about how deep to go. Thoughts?

What does the rest of your statement consist of if you only have three sentences that sketch out a future project? Showing that you can take research that you have been doing and expand it into larger work that you've been thinking about should take up the bulk of the SOP. To put this into perspective, a good page and a half of my two page statement spoke about some future project, did a fairly rough tracing of how I would get there (this included the fit paragraph which spoke about how professors' research interests could fit into what I wanted to do) and outlined what's at stake for this line of research and analysis. I also didn't mention specific texts or figures and it certainly did not have the same level of detail as a dissertation proposal but you should be able to say a little bit more about what you see happening with "the semantic drift of narratives throughout cultural production."

Edited by diehtc0ke
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What does the rest of your statement consist of if you only have three sentences that sketch out a future project? Showing that you can take research that you have been doing and expand it into larger work that you've been thinking about should take up the bulk of the SOP. To put this into perspective, a good page and a half of my two page statement spoke about some future project, did a fairly rough tracing of how I would get there (this included the fit paragraph which spoke about how professors' research interests could fit into what I wanted to do) and outlined what's at stake for this line of research and analysis. I also didn't mention specific texts or figures and it certainly did not have the same level of detail as a dissertation proposal but you should be able to say a little bit more about what you see happening with "the semantic drift of narratives throughout cultural production."

Hmm. I was just reading another thread, SOP mistakes in the SOP forum, which is really helpful, but all this info is kind of clashing with what my professor/LoR writer is telling me. She advised that I construct a narrative of what I have written about in the past, theorists used, how it has evolved into my current insterests and then to mention a future project. This project directly ties into previous work, so it isn't just thrown in there, but it seems like you guys would advise completely restructuring it to more heavily emphasize current/future?

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Hmm. I was just reading another thread, SOP mistakes in the SOP forum, which is really helpful, but all this info is kind of clashing with what my professor/LoR writer is telling me. She advised that I construct a narrative of what I have written about in the past, theorists used, how it has evolved into my current insterests and then to mention a future project. This project directly ties into previous work, so it isn't just thrown in there, but it seems like you guys would advise completely restructuring it to more heavily emphasize current/future?

That narrative that your professor is talking about still has to be there but it needs to be condensed because the focus should be on how that past leads to some sort of foreseeable future. What you've written in the past and the theorists you've used are only important insofar they relate specifically to the work you want to actually do in a PhD program (this isn't to say that she's telling you to throw the kitchen sink in there but you can't relegate talking about a future project to a scant few lines at the end). I just looked at that thread you're talking about and I think inextrovert lays down some wonderful and crucial advice for how to proceed.

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The common wisdom on these boards is that your "future research" section should be quite specific when applying to PhD programs, and I would agree based on my personal experience. I basically wrote a (super)micro dissertation proposal that explained the theoretical base I wanted to work from and the questions stemming from it that I wanted to explore. (As silly as it may sound, no one expects you to stick to the research plan you lay out in the SoP. It's more of an exercise that shows the adcomm that you are capable of formulating interesting questions in dialog with important thinkers in your field.)

I'm really running out of room in my SOP. GAHH. It's mostly because I spend 3/4 a page discussing my MA thesis, and making a case for how it *is* in fact related to my proposed field of studies (they're two different historical periods).

My advisor seems to think that it is a good idea to discuss the theorists i used in my thesis to come up with my argument/terminology. It seems a little dry to me though, but it *is* important....

How are you guys doing with the length? Some schools don't give any word limit or page limit, but i think it's the unspoken rule that it shouldn't go past 2 pages or roughly 1,000 words.

So hard to do, though! I will be messing with the margins for sure...

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I'm really running out of room in my SOP. GAHH. It's mostly because I spend 3/4 a page discussing my MA thesis, and making a case for how it *is* in fact related to my proposed field of studies (they're two different historical periods).

My advisor seems to think that it is a good idea to discuss the theorists i used in my thesis to come up with my argument/terminology. It seems a little dry to me though, but it *is* important....

How are you guys doing with the length? Some schools don't give any word limit or page limit, but i think it's the unspoken rule that it shouldn't go past 2 pages or roughly 1,000 words.

So hard to do, though! I will be messing with the margins for sure...

Even if the page limit isn't specified, you're right to assume you shouldn't go past 2 pages. I'm struggling with this as well, and putting everything I told freshman writers about being concise and specific to very good use! It's just so hard to do in your own writing :) I've actually found reviewing writing books like Elements of Style and the like very useful, and would recommend to anyone struggling with length to read a few chapters from Style:Toward clarity and grace or something similar and then ruthlessly edit applying the principles discussed. And I'll also be messing with margins!

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Even if the page limit isn't specified, you're right to assume you shouldn't go past 2 pages. I'm struggling with this as well, and putting everything I told freshman writers about being concise and specific to very good use! It's just so hard to do in your own writing :) I've actually found reviewing writing books like Elements of Style and the like very useful, and would recommend to anyone struggling with length to read a few chapters from Style:Toward clarity and grace or something similar and then ruthlessly edit applying the principles discussed. And I'll also be messing with margins!

It is a brutal process. I really think writing this 2 page document is harder than writing my entire Ma thesis, which was 90 pages. I'm having friends who were writing tutors look at my sop, and they're like--"you don't need that, that doesn't say anything new, don't need that either..." and I'm like 'noooo but I dooooo!!' It's painful. I feel like I need a scalpel and scissors instead of alphanumeric keys.

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I had a longer SOP and mercilessly sliced it down. Some of my schools ask for a 300-500 word statement, so this is a necessity. I say things only once, that's rule number one. Theorists get a quick gloss - mostly: this is who they are and this is how I've re-purposed their concept for my own ends. Being very, very familiar with my sample is important for this step.

The next paragraph explores the things I didn't get the chance to discuss in my sample - the things I want to keep exploring. They related back to my specific author, subject, and time period. I ask specific questions based off of my sample and several other authors whose work I'd like to explore; I give titles of potential work and reasons why it is relevant to my topic - potential areas of conflict with my original assertions, as well as supporting ideas. Again, my familiarity with my sample - both its strengths and its weaknesses - is essential here.

As far as cutting it down goes, it certainly helps that I've spent some time in academic editing, and that I'm focusing on removing wordiness and adding detail/concise wording with my comp students. I'm as honest and straight forward with myself as I have been/am in both of those situations (or, at least, I try to be!). I also follow the golden rules of multiple drafts with significant revision and, most importantly, several days off between drafts.

My statement is about 370 words before the fit paragraphs.

And, ugh, the fit paragraphs... There's a whole other kettle of fish :mellow:

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Just to throw in my two cents: the fit paragraphs are critical to the success of your SOP. (Also, I'm not sure if I would confine the topic of "fit" to a single paragraph--it might be best to return to this repeatedly throughout your SOP.) I am currently attending a top-20 program and am on fellowship. When I received the phone call telling me I had been admitted, one of the first things mentioned by the DGS was my SOP's demonstration of what I, personally, might offer to the program and what, in return, the program could offer to me. I mentioned the strengths of the program in my particular area of study, one professor who has influenced my work & whom I would like to work with, the university's excellent special collections, etc. I cannot stress how important it is to demonstrate how you "fit" the program and how the program "fits" you.

And, judging by the amount of good and yet conflicting advice being given, it's clear that the ideal SOP will vary from institution to institution. The best way to ensure a successful SOP, in my opinion, is to get a feel for the current scholarship produced by each department. This will help you to get a feel for which individual qualities you should market to a particular program.

Hope that helps. Good luck to everyone!

Edited by divinemg
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