What Should Be the Tone of Your Personal Statement?
In my last post I discussed how a Pakistani applicant could tackle a low GPA and low grades in a personal statement. As you can clearly see, there are many convincing ways in which you can do that. However what matters the most is the way in which you describe your attitude towards your ambitions; how you portray your piece of the mind and how you put your story into words. Normally, applicants from Pakistan including Fulbright applicants struggle a lot when it comes to writing a good personal statement. I have seen bizarre statements that an admissions committee would dismiss in the first few seconds.
Therefore the tone of your personal statement is very crucial towards the outcome of your graduate school application. It has the ability to keep the admission committee glued to your application, making it easier for them to quickly assimilate in your writing. The universities generally receive thousands of applications, so you have to make sure that your application stands out in its content and tone. The obvious pitfalls include sounding too condescending or frivolous while energetic and vigorous tones are definitely positive. A few dos and don’ts regarding the tone of any SOP are elaborated below.
Don’t be too casual
The tone of your SOP must be balanced and moderate. It shouldn’t be casual because it can give an impression of non-seriousness of you as an applicant – just don’t sound naive. Do not use colloquial expressions, sentence fragments or slang. Your language should be serious; words should come out naturally and not overwrought. The statement below describes an overly casual tone which is highly NOT recommended:
“Yo, the way I look at it, someone needs to start doing something about this sensor. What’s the big deal? Power Plants have started running into issues. But the average organization doesn’t think twice about it until it affects them. Or someone they know.”
Don’t be too formal
Some people err on the other side and use an overly formal tone. They become too objective and write as if they were providing some logical evidence for a research paper. They even use such arcane vocabulary that a reader gets flustered and dumbfounded by every single sentence and word. Try to avoid such a tone – make sure your writing is easily understood the very first time someone reads it.
Your goal is to make your essay sound personable and active rather than detached and passive. In the pursuit of using a formal tone, you shouldn’t forget to write in the first person. The usage of ‘I’, ‘we’ or ‘they’ is not considered an anathema here as you were taught in your first grade. This can make a reader sense that there is a more personal stake involved here. Also use transitions like ‘however’ and ‘therefore’.
“My father, the lepidopterist and the author have been treated as discrete manifestations of a prodigious and probing mind. To say the my culmination would not have coalesced into the current incarnations had his vocation been, say, cricket is simply reaching too far.”
Your personal statement should have a passionate, and enthusiastic tone. You shouldn’t sound as if you are applying to ten other places and another rejection won’t make a difference. Downplay the negative aspects and highlight the positive aspects of your career. You should be sure about your goals and the reader must be able to sense this through the energetic and positive tone of your SOP.
The following statement clearly indicates an ambiguity in author’s tone:
“I was not sure what to do next, but then a great internship opportunity came up.”
This statement should be written as:
“I explored a wide range of career opportunities and then came across this internship opportunity that intrigued me the most”
Don’t be arrogant
You shouldn’t be vigorously persuasive or pushy in your statement of purpose. While you should be positive, you should avoid boasting and bragging about your strengths and accomplishments. Avoid using a pushy tone as a pesky merchandiser trying to ‘sell’ his product. Use a humble and a polite tone and honestly present your strengths, talents and skills.
The following statement is too condescending and should be avoided:
“I admired him at one time because he reminded me of when I was young and stupid.”
SEE ALSO: Sample Personal Statement for MBA
Avoid being humorous and witty
Not that you shouldn’t be humorous in your tone while writing a personal statement, its just that being funny in writing is very difficult. It depends upon the reader how he or she interprets your intended humor. A humorous tone can be easily mistaken to be as flippant or overly sarcastic. But if you are confident that you can bring a smile on reader’s face by using a clever witticism, then you should go ahead but do not aim too high.
To conclude, remember not to hit the extremes. The key is moderation. Try to sound confident, alive and give an impression that you actually want to make a difference.