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sub-headings - yes or no?

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The program I'm applying to wants the following in the SoP:


 A written statement of approximately 500 words outlining your  research interests and reasons for pursuing graduate study in X. Your statement should outline a specific research project that you wish to conduct, potential supervisors whom you may want to work with, your preparation for the X  program through previous studies and work experience, and your career objectives and how the program  relates to them.


So, would you put sub-headings in your SoP to make it perfectly clear which sections cover which topic.  E.g. "reasons for graduate study in X" and "specific research project".


To be honest, when I've had to read a bunch of proposals for work, I really appreciated having things laid our clearly for me.  Fatigue sets in after a while and it's annoying to have to deduce where someone has put the info you seek.





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I think they are looking to see if you can write in a way that answers each question clearly but also demonstrates the ability to transition naturally from one topic to the next. Cutting it up with sub-headings won't allow you to show that skill.


I totally get what you're saying.  I'm a plain-style writer (hello George Orwell!) so I think it's clear which parts of my SoP answer which questions.


But I also know what it's like to be stuck in a room for a day, reading one proposal after another, filling out score sheets as you go.  After a while the words swim before your eyes...


I'll do it both ways, sleep on it, and see which one feels right in the morning.


Thanks all.

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I don't think sub-headings are particularly bad but maybe it's my science-field bias. Sometimes sub-headings can eliminate useless transitional phrases and cut down on length too! That is, why use a sentence/phrase to indicate that you are changing topic when a new subheading does just that.


However, I'd think subheadings would really only be useful in really long SOP (like 2 pages or more). I wouldn't personally use sub-headings to clearly delineate the questions and definitely not for something as short as 500 words. That is, I feel that if you break up your SOP into sections that answer each question in the SOP prompt, you are turning something that is supposed to be one continuous unit into discrete chunks and you lose the "narrative" that people expect from a SOP. I also think that the SOP should do more than just simply answer the prompts -- those prompts are there to guide you not constrain your answer! So, I would only use sub-headings for a really long SOP/research proposal.

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I put subheadings on the parts of my SOP that discussed my research projects and ideas.  The "flow" was the sentence before them that said something like, "To give you an idea of the projects that excite me, here are two areas I've been working on:" And then each subsection had a brief subheading.  After those two sections, I picked back up into the SOP.  Sometimes, like when they ask for a specific topic proposal, I think it can be more harmful to the flow to try to make it seem like you just happened to decide to shove a topic proposal in among your career plans.

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