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Is There a Preferred Format or Style?

All the rules of good writing apply to the writing of your statement. Unless you write final-draft quality prose on the first attempt, be prepared to revise your statement. It may be helpful to have other people read and critique a draft of your s tatement.


Check the application instructions. In most cases, the specific format is left to the applicant. I use the term "statement" in these pages only because that's what we call it where I work. Unless you are instructed to the contrary, you can use a letter format if that helps you to write better. (It may help you to think of the statement as being similar in purpose to a cover letter that you would send with your resume to a prospective employer.) The best hint I can give is this: use the format that allows you to organize your thoughts to communicate to your best advantage.

The vast majority of statements which I see are at least typed, if not written with a word-processor. The wide availability of such technology means that it is easy to produce a statement that is free of typographical errors and easy to read. Even if you have very legible handwriting, it is probably better not to submit a hand-written statement.


The application instructions may or may not specify how the statement is to be written. As with any writing, it is important to consider your audience, but it is also important to write in your own voice. Affectation in word choice or syntax usually shows up very clearly.

Your chosen field of study will have a lot to do with what constitutes appropriate style. An applicant to a literature program will be expected to write in a different style than will an applicant to an engineering program. Another factor is whether or not you are required to submit work samples as part of your application. If you are not required to submit separate samples of academic w ork you have done, then it is more important that your statement be well written, as it will be your sole opportunity to demonstrate your writing proficiency.


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