USF Writing Studio

Archive for May, 2016


Tell a Story: the Personal Statement

Thursday, May 5th, 2016 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

I think we’ve all had our share of writers working on their Personal Statements. I’m also sure that each of us remembers (sometimes with dread) writing our own Personal Statements for graduate school. It certainly is a trying experience at best. Personal Statements seem to “break”many of the conventions of academic writing: using first person, a more casual tone, and talking about ourselves – our beliefs and our experiences. I always have advised such writers to start early and expect to edit their Personal Statement more than any other writing they may have done.
I think that the most effective Personal Statement walks a very fine line. In some ways, it is like a cover letter, or other letter of introduction. It is the writer’s chance to let their readers into their circle. It must strike a tone that reflects the writer’s personality more than any other writing, but still remain professional. It is a chance for applicants to let their own voice come through. The remaining application documents are impersonal: GPA, standardized test scores, basic data not unlike what appears on a traditional resume. The Personal Statement is a chance to connect those experiences and those numbers to a real, live human being. That can only be accomplished through reflection and allowing our personality to shine through the page (or screen).
So, I contend that an effective Personal Statement musttell a story, more than any other writing. The story of the writer’s life. I will start suggesting future writers of Personal Statements begin the process by watching the following video. I apologize if you find One Direction trite, but I think that this song strikes a perfect balance of distance and reflection.

Narrative, then, is important. But the story needs to do more than just reflect on past experiences; it must also connect each of those experiences to the writer’s future, a future that both requires and deserves admission to the particular institution. The writer needs to connect each of the experiences to faculty members, the program, and the institution. Part of the reflection needs to answer a critical question: “Why can ___________ program best achieve its objectives when they admit me as a student?” Again, it is a deeply personal reflection that will answer this question successfully. The writer must connect with the readers (who may or may not be one of the identified faculty). It should outline what the writer intends to do within the program and after they have finished. And it all needs to relate to the “Story of [the writer’s] Life” to date. It must be a seamless narrative that entertains the readers, connects with them emotionally, and convinces them that the writer will complete the program (with a pretty-specific plan in mind) in a timely manner. It must show that the writer has thought about their experiences to date and show how those experiences (including failures and successes) have shaped them as a person. It must also show how that person belongs at that school.
A Personal Statement should be deeply reflective, completely personal, and eloquently convincing. It should be a window into the writer’s heart and soul, while connecting each part of the writer’s past and future to that institution and the people who make it exceptional.
Make sure your writers allow themselves to speak through their Personal Statements and to let the essay express who they are. Press them to tell their story openly and honestly.
Although they’re selling an editing service, check out this website for more on developing a narrative personal statement:

By Philip Davis, M.A. in History 

When Your Writer Is Writing about You

Thursday, May 5th, 2016 | Posted in Uncategorized by dmfarrar | No Comments »

By Sandra Carpenter, M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies

I often find myself approaching students’ papers through a much different lens than the ones through which I approach my own work. As a feminist researcher, I am in a critical discipline and am constantly dissecting power relations, particularly in terms of identity. So it becomes especially challenging for me when writers bring in projects that reinscribe certain power dynamics that may have a personal effect on my own lived experience. 

To paint a much clearer picture of what I am discussing: I’m a fat woman. I say fat in a reclamatory way that challenges the idea that fat = bad. So it becomes an interesting, sometimes amusing, but always trying, experience when students bring in papers discussing “the obesity epidemic.” Most of us have experienced an instance or two where we feel like the writer is analyzing some part of our lives or experiences, but what happens when the writer is explicitly criticizing an aspect of ourselves that we cannot hide from the consultation? In my case, I can’t shrink my tight fit in the armchair I sit in beside them. As I’m sure you know, the “obesity epidemic” is a popular topic, so I’m faced with this particular challenge often.

What, then, can we do during situations like these? Where we feel like the writer is writing about us? For me, it becomes useful to remind myself of my own growth as a writer (and as a cultural critic). Doing so allows me to somewhat remove myself from the situation—despite the fact that my thighs betray me—and approach the project as just that: a research project. I can then feel especially equipped to suggest opposing points of views that the writer should consider in order to strengthen their own arguments. Much of my growth as a writer and as a researcher has resulted from moments where my reviewers identify holes in my projects and rationale, so I try and do the same for projects such as these.
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