The Statement of Purpose: A Methodological Study

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Posted on 19 Apr 2013 01:57

Created by Nelsyda PerezNelsyda Perez

Betty Samraj and Lenore Monk in their piece "The statement of purpose in graduate program applications: Genre structure and disciplinary variation" focused on looking at analyzing and performing a study on the statement of purpose that students write when going on to graduate studies. Both authors point out how the statement of purpose is a valid genre despite there being little research on the statement of purpose as a genre. The statement of purpose also varies depending on the graduate program that one is willing to apply for. Samraj and Monk conducted a survey where they checked what does the statement of purpose hold for each department tested. They studied three types of statements of purpose for these graduate programs:

  1. Business Administration,
  2. Linguistics, and
  3. Electrical Engineering.

The first thing the authors looked at was how much information was available to the students by looking at what websites and what handbooks are available for each graduate program. The standard and statements of purpose used by the authors was provided by experts in each graduate program. Using this information, the authors concluded that the resources available fall into three categories:

  1. books for the general prospective graduate student population that does not distinguish between disciplines,
  2. books specifically targeting more popular graduate professional programs, and
  3. books intended to help entrants to more specialized programs such as psychology graduate programs (Samraj and Monk, 2008, p.197).

There were also websites that they evaluated which lead to the conclusion that "that information on [the statement of purpose] genre is not nonexistent. However, it is clear that information on this genre for professional master’s programs (such as the MBA) is more readily available than information on statements for other master’s programs" (Samraj and Monk, 2008, p.199). By doing this, the authors revealed that the genre is semi-unknown, but not completely unknown.

The authors follow up with a survey that looked at the organization of each statement of purpose that was provided for each graduate program. Using the genre studies of authors such as John Swales and revealed that each statement of purpose had 5 categories to them. By looking at what each student applying for their corresponding program included and left out, the statements of purpose revealed common characteristics that would be apparent for each student. It also revealed a common structure/format that the heads of each department would be looking for, thus giving us a better idea as to how statements of purpose should be approached. Each student applying for either of the three different programs made sure to emphasize certain things and undermine others depending on which ones would be most useful or most detrimental to them.

Overall, this method seems to somewhat mirror my own method of study in terms of the qualitative standard that they placed on the statement of purpose. Looking at genre studies as a basis I could probably take a similar approach to evaluating the papers that I would ask the volunteers in my test group to write for my study in the adaptability of student engineers. It wouldn't be as specific since each person has about 5-10 minutes to write and not an entirely long period of time like when writing the statement of purpose. I am also focusing on one type of student and not three. The other type of student that I am using is not for testing but rather for setting a standard that I can work with. Perhaps I can look at Swales' piece on genre analysis that we read a while back and see how exactly I will be able to properly integrate it into my project just as the authors of this piece did.

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