BP 7: Quantifying Quality for Data

Blog » BP 7: Quantifying Quality for Data

Posted on 19 Apr 2013 02:10

Betty Samraj, Lenore Monk, "The statement of purpose in graduate program applications: Genre structure and disciplinary variation"

Betty Samraj and Lenore Monk take a careful look at the personal statements that students submit as part of their applications to graduate programs. Their interest was in the differences in moves made by the students who wrote these statements, amongst different disciplines. The statement of purpose is, as the duo describes, an occluded genre, in that it’s not one that most linguists consider. It is a genre that serves to help admissions officers at gradate programs understand the applicants in a more humanistic way as compared to simply looking at their track record. It is also occluded because it is confidential. The works submitted in this genre are not meant to be seen by anybody other than the admissions officers. However, occluded, or not, this genre still plays an important role in academic writing and Samraj’s and Monk’s research has the impact of understanding the writing that is expected of this body of students and, perhaps, providing better examples of how to write in this genre.

The duo first took to studying all of the literature that was readily available about how to successfully write a statement of purpose. They found that there weren’t very many books that helped students in a specific discipline. The vast majority of the available literature gave a generic, vague description of a successful statement of purpose, with little variation as per discipline. The researchers also studied actual written samples submitted by graduate students applying to one of three programs at a California university, electrical engineering, linguistics, and business. Out of this research, they were able to conclude that there is, indeed, a variation in how the students in each discipline write.

The most interesting aspect of this study, to me, is how the two researchers were able to conduct a qualitative study that had actual data. In my experience, it’s difficult to objectively judge the goodness of any body of work, so I found this study to be useful to me in that Samraj and Monk expressed quality in a numerical way, simply by keeping a tally of how many specific literary moves were made, as compared to the standard of a successful paper. This alone is an extremely useful method of gathering data.

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