Writing A Research Statement

Ten Tips for Writing a Compelling Research Statement (A non-exhaustive list)

1. Focus on your intellectual interests and professional goals.

  • Although many programs ask for ‘personal statements’, these are not really meant to be biographies or life stories.  What we hope to find out is how well your abilities, interests, experiences and goals would fit within our program. 

2. Describe your relevant experience (e.g., honors thesis, research assistantship) in specific detail.

  • If you have worked on a research project, what was the research question, what were the hypotheses, how were they tested, and what did you find?
  • Being specific shows us that you really were a key part of the project and that you understand what you did!

3. Whenever possible, demonstrate rather than simply state your knowledge.

  • Not very convincing: “In this project, I learned a great deal about the psychology of persuasion”
  • More convincing: “In this project, I learned about the elaboration likelihood model of persuasion (Petty & Caccippo, 1986), and came to understand the importance of distinguishing between central and peripheral information processing when examining why different types of messages influence people."

4. Honestly identify concrete skills you would bring to graduate school, and also describe the skills you hope to acquire.

  • For example: “I am familiar with conducting t-tests and ANOVAs in SPSS, but am eager to advance my statistical knowledge.  In particular, structural equation modelling will be an important technique to learn given the types of research questions I intend to pursue.”

5. Articulate why you want to pursue a graduate degree. 

  • What are your career goals and how will pursuing a graduate degree advance them?

6. Articulate why you want to pursue a graduate degree at this specific institution!

  • How can we help you achieve your goals?

7. Outline your core research interests and explain why you think they are scientifically and/or practically important.  Again, be specific.

  • Not very convincing: “I am interested in investigating why people discriminate against others because discrimination is a very important social problem."
  • More convincing: “I am interested in investigating why people discriminate against others.  In particular, I want to examine the role that implicit attitudes and stereotypes play in causing people to make biased decisions. Biased decisions – in hiring, promotion, law enforcement, and so on – can result in widespread societal disparities.  Research by Correll, Park, Judd and Wittenbrink (2007), for example, suggests that racial disparities in shootings of suspects may be partially due to automatically activated stereotypes…”

8. Link your research interests to the expertise and research programs of faculty here. 

  • Identify at least one faculty member with whom you would like to work.
  • Read some of their papers, and describe how you think the research could be extended in one or more novel directions.  Again, specificity is a good idea.
  • This is where you really have the opportunity to demonstrate your fit to a program and your ability to think critically, creatively and generatively about research.

9. Ask at least one professor at your current (or prior) institution to give you feedback on your statement.

10. Proofread!  Or better yet, have a spelling and grammar-obsessed friend proofread your statement.