How To Write A Statement Of Purpose (or Research Proposal): Tips & Outline

In the last few days, I have been taking part in helping a friend construct a "Statement of Purpose" (or "Research Proposal") for a PhD program that he is applying to. Statements of Purpose are not easy to create and they definitely should not be taken lightly. In my opinion, these Statements sort of make you or break you! After all of the networking has happened, after all the emails have been sent, after all the forms have been filled in...the admissions committee finally gets to see what you're all about.

Typically, there are common elements of a Statement of Purpose regardless of what field you're in. Still, people have a lot of trouble getting past the Statment of Purpose hrudle. Before I offer an outline of a Statement below, I want to offer what I consider to be 3 very important points: 1. Make sure your opening sentence is attention-grabbing, 2) Make sure your grammar and spelling are flawless, and 3) Make sure your Statement reveals the necessity of your research for the field, why that institution would do well to have you there, and that you know your stuff! And that last point is incredibly important and something worth building on. Let me just say this: If you're applying to a PhD program, you should realize that you're not going into a program to learn. Instead, you are going into a program because you have "already" learned and now have contributions to make to the field. In my opinion, this is a very significant aspect of the Statement of Purpose; you don't want to appear a student as much as you do a self-motivated researcher who already has offerings to give to the field!

Having said that, because a good number of people have contacted me asking if I could share my Statement of Purpose with them. Well, I cannot do that because the details need to remain private for the time being. However, I do want to give a "very" general outline of my Statement here (this means that all the details have been removed). So, here is a sort of concise overview of my Statement:

1. Attention-Grabbing first sentence. This sentence compliments the institution and reveals that I am aware of the school's rich background and legacy.
2. The second sentence offers a 3-point overview of my research interests.
3. I move into the 2nd paragraph by setting the context for my research. Here, I talk about how I became intersted in this topic, who influenced me and why.
4. At this point, I begin to talk about what research and teaching / writing experience I have on this subject, in other words, I give some of my qualifications in this particular area.
5. Now, in my 3rd paragraph, I start exegeting each of the 3 aspects of the research already mentioned. I commence by giving a contrast between what has already been done in the field and what has not (MY RESEARCH!!!). This continues through paragraph 4.
6. When I transition into paragraph 5, I start to give explicit examples of how my research is valuable (e.g. I offer some insights that hitherto have gone unnoticed in the field). I do this in paragraph 6 as well, where I also begin to incorporate the names of published scholars & works I have interacted with in my research (e.g. this may be a more "essay oriented" way of incorporating a bibliography).
7. In paragraph 7, I offer a general yet detailed sort of skeleton & description of my work and how it will be carried out (e.g. a more "essay oriented" way of incorporating an outline). Here, I also provide some key questions that haven't necesarrily been asked but need to be (and also need to be answered).
8. In the 8th paragraph, I talk about the numerous implications of my work and what sorts of opportunities it will provide for other scholars in the field, once they get to read it. I also mention a few practical implications for the Church and Christian movement in-general.
9. In the last paragraph, I talk about why I am applying to this institution and express my confidence in the fact that, if they accept me, they will make contributions to me and vice versa.
10. In the last sentence I say one more time what an honor it would be to become part of this institution and program.


Of course, every application process is different for every school. For example, some institutions only allowed me to use 300 words for this, so, I really had to crop it down a lot. This brings me to another point: When I was filling out numerous applications, I did not just copy and paste the Purpose Statement but rather, crafted each Statement to that specific school and program. I know this is time consuming but it is a must! Generally, though, each of my Statements ended up being about 3 pages when double-spaced with 1 inch margins using Times New Roman font.

In closing, the one thing I would like to re-stress about the PhD application is: You need to be aware that you are not going to this school to learn (or, at least you need to make it appear that way)! You have already learned and are now going to advance what you've learned and to make a contribution to advance the field!!! This means that you need to have a very good idea of what you will do your dissertation research on, the method(s) you intend to use, the sources you will interact with and the implications and benefits of your study before you ever interview of send in your application!!! Now, I know there are some schools that may take PhD candidates who do not have a clear idea of what their dissertation will be on and more times than not, the very Statement you send in, well, when it actually comes time to do the dissertation, it will have changed a bit! Still, you need to have a plan mapped out! If someone appears to have a clearer plan than you and comes across as more apt to make their research happen (especially as a self-motivator), chances are, they will pass you in the PhD race.

Those are just a few thoughts I have. If you'd like to add anything, feel free to, in the comments section. Again, if you are a student and would like an extra set of eyes to look over your Statement, feel free to get in touch with me and I'll gladly offer my two cents.


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