Scranton Writes

A Blog of Writing Resources from The University of Scranton's Writing Center

Personal Statements for Graduate School

by Dimitri Bartels-Bray

Beginning the graduate school application process might seem like a daunting task. Sure, you’ve applied to internships or scholarships in the past couple of years, but when’s the last time you sat down and applied to a school? Probably over four years ago. What’s worse is that this time, there’s the personal statement.

Fortunately, applying to graduate school, regardless of which type of degree you anticipate getting, does not need to be as harrowing as it initially seems. Today, we’ll be helping you step-by-step to create the personal statement, one of the largest pieces of your application. Let’s dive right in:

  1. List Your Goals

It might seem straightforward, but often students jump into the writing without doing the planning first! Schools normally restrict personal statements to only one or two pages, which isn’t a whole lot of room to tell them about yourself and your aspirations. That’s why it’s important to go in knowing the main points you plan to get across. Consider questions like:

  • What inspires you to go into this field?
  • What skills or activities best prepare you for this field?
  • Why are you applying to this school in particular?
  1. Create an Outline

Once you have your goals listed out, consider creating an outline. This is a great way – as it

is with any paper – to expand and organize your ideas. To begin, consider this common format:

  • Introduction: The introduction often begins with a story or some sort of theme that can tie the piece together. This is the more personal aspect of your statement, and often describes the moment you recognized your aspirations. It needs to pull the reader in and lead into your skills in some way.
  • Body Paragraph(s): This/these paragraph(s) focus on describing your experiences and skills. What have you done in relation to the field you plan to enter? Even if you think there are no direct links between your work now and your work in the future, consider the skills obtained during internships, work, or other activities. For instance, perhaps you are a philosophy major aspiring to gain an MBA, and you had an internship that focused on creating presentations and strengthening communication skills. This is also a great location to end your template if you plan on applying to multiple schools. That way, you only need to make minor adjustments (if any) for each application before writing the concluding paragraph.
  • Conclusion: Here, focus on mentioning the school itself. It’s important to connect yourself with the institution. Consider if there are research opportunities or institutes unique to the school, for instance. What draws you specifically to this school? The end of this paragraph is also the prime location to reconnect to the story, theme, or idea from your introduction; it doesn’t need to be lengthy, but a good conclusion sentence will be able to wrap it all up like a present with a ribbon on top.
  1. Write, write, write!
  2. Revise and Repeat

After you finish writing your rough draft, it’s best to walk away for a bit if you have the time, which is why we recommend beginning the writing process as early as possible. Not looking at your work will enhance the editing process as it won’t be as fresh in your mind – it’s much easier to critically edit when the document isn’t familiar!

Once you’ve let it sit for a while, return to the document, and read it aloud. Reading it aloud is the easiest way to check for clear grammar and flow errors. Also take this initial session to ensure that you cover all the points you hoped to discuss. Remember that this is the chance for admissions’ officers to get to know YOU. After reading, make any necessary edits, and rewrite portions if you find your statement lacking information.

After you feel that you have a solid draft with all the information you want to include, this is a great time to get feedback from others. Visit your school’s career or writing center to go over it with you; ask professors in your field if they’d have the chance to read it. Gain as much feedback as possible. After each time, return to your paper and adjust. Repeating this process again and again will help gather different perspectives on your work and ensure that your ideas translate to an outside audience.

Though we hope these steps help you in completing you, we understand how overwhelming it can be to begin the process. In addition to offering these guidelines and our services, here are some external resources that might help:

A Great Shakespeare Resource

 

 

Litcharts is a great resource if you are new to navigating the works of Shakespeare. The website offers the original full-text of most of Shakespeare’s plays with modern translations on a parallel screen. The lines are color-coded, which makes it easy to read and compare the two versions of the text.  Additionally, you can get the act, scene, and line number by hovering over any piece of text. It also gives you the full reference for the webpage,  just in case you’d like to use any of their modern translations in a paper.  Check it out!

Shakespeare Translations at LitCharts

 

 

Free Dictate and Text to Speech Program

Speech Notes is a free website that will type your text as you speak it. In the column to the right, it has basic instructions for inserting punctuation as you talk. From there, it’s easy to copy and paste your sentences into a word document with the “Copy to Clipboard” icon. You can also upload your document directly to a google drive, Word document, or email it to yourself using the icons to the right. It’s functionality also available in multiple languages. Check it out!

In addition, you can also upload text, and it will read it aloud to you.  Just click “Text to Speech” at the top of the page:

 

Check it out here!

Writing a Paper for a Conference

Conferences are ideal ways to connect with professionals in your field and increase your visibility within your discipline. They are wonderful opportunities for professional development and presenting at conferences can be crucial lines for your CV.  However, crafting a paper to be accepted and later presented at a conference is a unique art. Here’s some of our favorite resources to guide you through the process.

 

1.) How to write a conference paper

2.) What to avoid when crafting a conference paper.

3.) Some possible templates to help you draft your conference paper:

4.) Here’s a sample conference paper

Our Favorite Resource for Literature Reviews

Our favorite resource for literature reviews was created by The University of Waterloo.  First, these modules define what literature reviews are, where they appear, and  why they are beneficial. The website talks about discipline-specific writing conventions and the different organizational approaches. Then, it walks writers through the process of composing literature reviews in a highly visual and interactive guide.  The images, in particular, can help writers understand the various forms of knowledge gaps. Ultimately, this is  a quick but highly beneficial resource that can guide novice writers who are unfamiliar with the conventions of literature reviews.  

      1.  Here’s the entire guide
      2. Here’s the recommended writing  schedule
      3. Here’s an annotated sample paper
      4. Here’s a template to help guide your writing process 

Tips for Writing a Philosophy Paper

  1. Philosophy papers are not reports, or research papers, or reflection papers. Generally, they ask students to use their reasoning skills to defend a particular idea or test the validity of an argument. Considering that, look at the prompt. Does your instructor want you to apply a philosophical argument to a new situation? Does the prompt ask you to amend an existing argument? Or object to an argument? Read the prompt closely and take a look at these frequently used tasks to better understand the prompt.

 

  1. Choose a stance to argue for or against. Do not choose both sides or neither side. Playing the middle-ground can be much more difficult and might require a longer paper.

 

  1. Have a precise thesis statement that defines your stance, how you will prove your stance, and why your stance should matter to your reader. Check out some adaptable thesis templates here.

 

  1. Define any abstract terms, concepts, or perspectives before you dive into your draft. Have the definitions accessible so you can use them correctly to support your reasoning. Make sure you are using philosophical terms correctly. Here’s a brief guide with frequent concepts. Here is a guide with vocabulary to help you describe arguments as you analyze them.

 

  1. Make a detailed outline before you start writing. When dealing with abstract concepts, it’s easy to go on tangents or lose focus. One possible way to approach these papers is to use the They Say/I Say method, which is further explained here.  Another point-by-point method of organization is here.

 

  1. Use your instructor’s office hours once you have a detailed outline to make sure you are on track for success.

 

  1. Write a brief introduction. Be concise and respond directly to the main question within the prompt.

 

  1. Don’t use too many direct quotes. Remember, philosophy instructors generally want to see your reasoning skills, not your summary skills. Select and integrate material from others that best illustrates or supports your idea. Don’t let them overshadow your ideas.

 

  1. Communicate your stance and thought process clearly. Avoid all vague words (a lot, stuff, things) and empty language (basically, just, great, fine)  unnecessary adverbs (really, very, importantly) that can distract your reader. Make sure you are choosing the most appropriate words.
      1. Use examples and illustrations to demonstrate your thoughts.
      2. Use transitions and signposts to indicate how ideas relate to each other.
      3. It’s wise to have a peer review your argument to make sure it’s clear with no gaps in your logic.
  1. Be confident—don’t preface your ideas behind phrases like “In my opinion,” “I believe,” or “For me at least,” because it discredits your argument.

 

Other Resources 

Student Sample Papers An Annotated Student Sample Paper

A Student Sample Paper with Instructor’s Commentary

Common Issues  in Philosophy Papers  Examples of What Not To Do
Strong Writing vs. Poor Writing

in Philosophy Papers

Examples of Student Writing

How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis

  • Read the prompt closely to make sure you understand what you need to do within your essay. Generally, in a rhetorical analysis, your instructor wants you to determine why text is or isn’t effective in persuading the audience. However, you may not always be analyzing text—you may instead be asked to look at speech or an even an image. Sometimes the instructor will present you with the item you have to analyze, but other times you may have the opportunity of choosing your own item. Both situations have pros and cons.  Is the prompt asking you to do a task like this? If so, it may be a rhetorical analysis. Check out this sample prompt here.

 

  • Read the text closely.  Annotate as you read in order to identify parts of the text that you found to be persuasive or that stood out. Those memorable moments are likely rhetorical devices or appeals. Additionally, try to understand the author’s thesis and organizational strategy as you read. Does the presentation of topics work?  Are there any images used? Are any stories used? Are there jokes or word-play? Is the word choice crafted in an unusual way?

 

  • Determine the purpose of the text you are evaluating.  Because you are examining the effectiveness of a text, you first need to understand its aim in order to know if it is truly fulfilling its purpose. What is the author’s intention? What is the author trying to convey to the audience?  Are they informing their audience? Entertaining their audience? Persuading their audience? Is that goal achieved?

 

  • Determine the target audience. Students struggle with this because they often assume that there is no target audience because the text will almost never state “I am trying to convince this specific population about this specific thing.” Rather, this idea is usually implied or hidden in the subtext.
    •  First, ask yourself, what is this text about and who would be motivated to read this text? For example, is it the text about updated baseball regulations? Then players, coaches, and sports enthusiasts would be interested.
    • Where was this text published? What other materials does that source publish? Who generally reads the content that is published? Is it in a scholarly journal? A newspaper? A magazine? The publisher usually indicates something about the target audience.
    • When and where was it published? What was happening at this location when the text was published? What issues were potential readers interested in?
    • Who is the author? What makes them a credible source on this topic? What else have they written? Who generally reads their writings?
    • How much background knowledge does the author present. Are they writing for content experts or a more general audience?
    •  In the text, are there any references or allusions the author makes? For example, are there references to shows, events, or trends from this generation or another generation?

 

  • Don’t summarize, but analyze. As you start to outline your first draft, it’s important that you do not focus on the content of the text. You should instead be writing about the composing choices that make the text effective. This is difficult for many students, since high school trains us to demonstrate our knowledge by reciting what was presented.  Even if you picked the text you are evaluating, you do not need to summarize it to your instructor. A sentence or two of summary in the introduction is typically expected, because it orientates your reader. Generally, you do not use multiple body paragraphs to describe in detail what you read. Instead, you are going to focus how the text was crafted to persuade the target audience.
    • In order to prevent your writing from falling into summary, we suggest you use EMPHATIC ORDER, not Chronological Order, so you will NOT have  an essay that mirrors the presentation of topics in the original text (For example, “First, the author presented this idea, and then this idea.”). Instead, organize your essay based on frequency or importance of the rhetorical devices used. (One powerful moment was the use of ethos at in the middle of the text . . .  Another important element was the way anaphora was used at the end  . . .) You can read more about organizational patterns here.

 

  • How do you analyze the text?  Look for the following elements in your text.  You probably learned these items in class; however, if you did not learn some of these elements in your class, DO NOT use them.
    • Rhetorical appeals:  Ethos, Pathos, Logos, and Kairos   
      • Ethos:  Are there any places in the text that made you want to trust the author? Does the author demonstrate their credibility or moral code?
      • Pathos: Are there any places in the text that caused you to laugh or cringe? Was there any section that made you feel excited or sad?
      • Kairos: Are there references to other events that are happening? What made this text relevant when it was published? How is the text “timely”?
      • Logos: Are there any numbers, facts, or pieces of expert testimony used? Does the author use any logical reasoning?
        • Obviously, logic is a crucial element of an argument. One way to check logic is to look for fallacies or specific flaws in the way logic is used.  For example, circular reasoning and proof-by-too-few examples are common fallacies. Here’s some examples of poor logic.
  • Rhetorical Devices: anaphora, anthesis, hyperbole, pleonasm, oxymoron, etc. Aside from the appeals, are there other rhetorical devices that convey the information in a specific way to elicit a response from the audience? Some of them may look familiar because they are also literary devices.

 

  • Other Rhetorical Strategies or “Slanters”: euphemisms, down-players, and innuendo.   These are some specific techniques used to subtly portray information in a positive or negative light to a target audience.

 

  • Have a strong thesis. Here is a general template and sample of a thesis for a rhetorical analysis paper:
    • Templates: The author uses ________, ________, and ______  to  effectively persuade the audience on this topic.
    • Example:  Smith uses ethos, pathos, logos  in his article “Updated Baseball Rules Strike Out” to persuade his readers that the new regulations in baseball hinder the game-play.
  • Use the present tense when describing actions in the piece.
  • Use the present tense when describing what the author does.
  • Write the author’s name correctly. When you reference the author, write their first and last name the very first time you reference them. Use only the last name when referring to the author later in your paper.
  • Use direct quotes from the text. Generally, it’s better to use the quotes than to paraphrase  so your reader can see the exact form of rhetoric. Since you are talking about how a text is crafted, the reader needs to see the original text. Here’s some examples of integrating quotes.
  • You must provide an explanation of each quote. What is the significance of the quote? What does it show or how does it demonstrate rhetoric?
  • Make sure you cite your quotes correctly by using in-text citations. Check out this quick guide. If you have multiple works by the same author, you’ll need to include some extra information.
  • Indicate titles correctly. Titles of larger works or containers (like books, plays, anthologies) are italicized. Shorter works within containers (like articles, chapters, poems, short stories) have “quotes” around them.
  • Use strong verbs. Let’s avoid “is”, “are”, “has”, “does”, and maybe even move away from “says” and “states”. Check out the list of strong verbs for literary essays here.
  • Use your professor’s office hours. Once you have a rough draft, go to your professor’s office hours and see if you’re on the right track. Don’t skip this step. Professors may look for different qualities in papers, and you need to know what they expect from you.
  • Beware of the internet and Chat GPT. I know students will browse the internet as a way to get their own ideas flowing. Don’t do it! But, if you can’t resist this temptation, then keep track of each source you read and remember to cite it correctly if you use that idea or a very similar idea anywhere in your paper. Remember, your analysis is your opinion on how devices were used in this text; you don’t need to know what other people think about this text. Instead, learn the rhetorical appeals, devices, and strategies because they will help you approach the text from a critical perspective.
  • Take full advantage of peer review or meet with a writing consultant. A reader can help you see the gaps in your argument or indicate where more explanation is needed. They can also help your analysis become more thorough by questioning your claims and adding their own perspectives on the quotes you use as evidence.
  • Make sure you are conforming to rules of the format indicated by your instructor. Usually, composition instructors use MLA, but sometimes they use APA. Check out our style guides if you need more information.   

 

Other Tools and  Resources

Student Sample Papers An Annotated Sample Paper with Essential Components in Footnotes

An Annotated Sample Paper with Essential Elements in Comment Boxes

 Paired Samples  This website annotates the rhetorical appeals in the original text and then it shows the final essay. 
Graphic Organizer A table to keep track of rhetorical elements as you read.
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