What sorts of things are you looking for in the Statement of Purpose that is part of the Graduate School application? How important is this part of the application?
Within the English department we call the Statement of Purpose
the Personal Statement, and it is just that: the place where you can speak
in a direct, personal voice about your reasons for wanting to engage in
doctoral study in English. The Personal Statement and Writing Sample are
by far the most important parts of your application, and the parts you
have most control over. While students at some institutions receive intensive
coaching in the writing of their Personal Statement, others receive no
help at all, so the following tips are offered in an attempt to level
the playing field. Even if you are not being coached, do show your Personal
Statement to the people who are writing letters for you, and to others
whose opinion you value: this is a difficult genre to get just right,
and other eyes will be a great help. Having read your statement
will also help your recommenders to write better letters.
Pay attention to style and tone. Remember, the Personal
Statement is the place to speak in a direct, personal voice. One
of the skills that very good writers possess is that of fluently modulating
between styles, and this is something we're looking for in your application.
Thus, while we might expect complex language and lengthy sentences in
your Writing Sample, in your Personal Statement you should strive to
describe your interests using shorter sentences and more ordinary language.
Avoid lapsing into long, complex sentences loaded with abstractions in
your effort to fit everything in. As for tone, it can be easy to veer
into what sounds like arrogance or false humility when describing your
accomplishments (something we often avoid in polite conversation for just
this reason). Try to be as straightforward and authentic as you can as
a way to escape this: avoiding the temptation to provide a biography or
list (see below) can also be helpful here. Showing your Personal Statement
to other readers will help with both these issues.
Keep your audience in mind. Remember that you're speaking to people who are spending their lives in the field where you hope to study. You don't need to justify your interests for this audience in the way you might for friends or family. Instead, try to be as specific and detailed as possible about the things that you love studying and want to pursue further. Convey your enthusiasm as vividly as you can, but don't waste space justifying it.永远记住读者，尽量具体和详细，生动的描述你的热情，但是不要浪费笔墨。
Work for depth and focus, not a biography or a list. It is rarely effective to list all the courses where you've excelled, to attempt to provide a full intellectual biography, or to provide lengthy lists of theorists or literary writers who interest you. Instead, be selective (see below) and work for depth and focus. We'd really like to see you pursue and develop an idea, or a small cluster of related ideas, with all the depth and complexity possible within such a short statement. The rest of your application can do the work of telling us about your accomplishments and recounting your intellectual career thus far. If you feel that the application form doesn't fully represent what you have been doing, then consider submitting a short CV in addition to your other materials, rather than wasting your Personal Statement on this purpose. 要深刻和重点突出，不要写成传记。不要无所不言，把各个奖项列举，应该有所选择。
Choose anecdotes or examples carefully. There are several
ways to craft a good Personal Statement: you should choose the one that
feels best to you, or develop your own variation. Some people begin with
a brief anecdote about a pivotal experience in their studies which led
to their current interests. Pick a good story if you do this, obviously,
and work on making a smooth transition to the in-depth description of
your interests themselves. Some people begin with a concept that fascinates
them, then follow out the connections to the kinds of reading and thinking
they most enjoy. Make sure that this is clear and interesting and seems
fully explained to people other than yourself. Some people begin by explaining
how they became fascinated with one particular historical field (perhaps
through a specific class, perhaps not), then go on to describe which particular
topics and/or texts in that field they find especially interesting. Keep
the explanation brief and limit your examples, rather than describing
every class you've taken in this area in detail. Whichever method of zeroing
in on the your ideas and enthusiasms you may choose, make sure to limit
the number of examples or personal experiences and explain their implications
Keep one eye on the future. Talk not just about what
you've already done and thought, but about what you hope to do next. What
ideas do you want to pursue further, and how? Any specific ideas you might
have about how you might do this at Duke are definitely worth mentioning
: do you want to work with particular faculty members? engage in some
specific kind of interdisciplinary work that would be easy to do here?
If appropriate, explain possible concerns without being defensive. If your GREs or GPA are unusually low, or if your undergraduate record has some unusual aspect, then you might, at your discretion, want to include some brief acknowledgement, and possibly explanation, that could work to allay concerns about your future success that these features of your application might raise. You don't need to defend yourself: people are not machines, and plenty of successful people have blips in their official records. But a brief acknowledgement, usually appearing close to some statement of your future plans and goals, may be useful.
Keep it short. Remember that your audience may be reading more than 200 of these statements. Don't go beyond two pages; and feel free to manipulate font, margins, and spacing in order to achieve this goal, but not to any ridiculous extent: keep your statement easy to read.不要超过两页