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Best SOP approach


rogue
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I'm starting to work on my SOPs and I can't decide which route to take. Some people (including Donald Asher, whose book I thought must be the definitive source on such things) advocate starting with an anecdote to grab the reader's attention. Others, including those on various fora and a certain professor whose blog I stumbled upon (and his/her commenters), seem to think that's the worst possible thing you can do. So, I'm curious to hear from those of you who have already been accepted. Which tactic did you employ?

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Well, I also read Asher's book and heard it said that you should start with an anecdote to "grab the reader's attention". I wrote several drafts that started off that way. In the end, though, those drafts were criticized by most who read them and I took the anecdotes out. Once I found a good opener (for me, that was the hardest part of writing the SoP!), I ended up liking it better - for two reasons: first, it gave my statement a professional feel; second, it saved me space. Instead of telling a story about my childhood or how I first discovered my field, I could devote 2 more sentences to my current and future research. My opener ended up being a one-sentence summary of my research interests, which led nicely to the "this is what I want to do", and "how I've prepared myself to do it" sections.

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It's a complete sales pitch. There's not one specific method that's going to guarantee you an admission IMHO. All you can do is examine the how and why you are your applying and get the reader invested in you. If there was one "method" I used in my SoP, it was to create an emotional bridge between the reader and I. While some people struggle over SoP's, I found it extremely easy to write. The best advice I can give is to have everyone from all walks of life you know read over it. That feedback is invaluable.

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Asher's book isn't very good. most of the sample essays are gimmicky and highlight extremely unlikely scenarios that just aren't relevant to the average applicant. seriously, some of the essays talk about the applicant witnessing a murder or earning his helicopter's license at age 10 or having escaped to america from a war-torn country. not helpful to a typical 22 year old college graduate who most likely buys a book like this exactly because he or she doesn't have anything extraordinary to discuss.

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I used the same research proposal for my SOP that I used for my external grant app, and was very successful with admissions and funding, although not successful at this round of external grants. It lays out the cultural/literary context that I want to work on, explains my proposed methodology and why it's relevant, narrows the scope down to specific authors and texts, then lays out a rough structure for my proposed dissertation. I only mention my personal experience in the final paragraph, and only to lay out my background on the topic, the topic of my MA paper, my service activities, and which professors at the target school would be a good fit for me.

I think SOPs should be about research, research, research. They're not looking for a gang of nice people to hang around with. They're looking for future members of the academy to staff their classrooms, assist their research, finish in a timely manner, and be productive enough to enhance the reputation of the department.

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It's a complete sales pitch. There's not one specific method that's going to guarantee you an admission IMHO. All you can do is examine the how and why you are your applying and get the reader invested in you. If there was one "method" I used in my SoP, it was to create an emotional bridge between the reader and I. While some people struggle over SoP's, I found it extremely easy to write. The best advice I can give is to have everyone from all walks of life you know read over it. That feedback is invaluable.

Thanks for your advice! Any more specific suggestions for creating an emotional bridge?

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Kittens normally work. Everyone gets all emotional when they see kittens!

Seriously, though, I think the "make everyone you know read it" suggestion is the best advice you can take from this type of discussion. None of us have seen your SoP draft, so we can't get more specific.

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Thanks for the feedback, everyone. It sounds like a straightforward, factual approach is best.

I think part of my problem is that I've been working in marketing and/or as a journalist (mainly covering arts and entertainment) for so long that I keep reverting to those styles of writing instead of adopting a more academic approach. I like engaging stories and vivid language and themes, but I suppose when I only have 500 - 1000 words to sell myself, I shouldn't waste any on window dressing.

Back to the drawing board...

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