Aside from having the grades to get into the program, writing your research statement is the most difficult part of the whole graduate school application processes.
There is no hard and fast rule of what to include in your application, since every school and every program requires different things.
“You want to discuss how your research will benefit the state of the current knowledge of the field, from your experience as an undergraduate student, working professionals or reading other literature articles.” —Emily George, MA student, University of Victoria
Generally, you want to talk about your experience, education and research, relate these to the school you’re applying to, and explain how the school will benefit your future research. And, of course, all of this has to be crammed into a few hundred of words! (Eek!)
Emily George, a MA in Kinesiology (Physical Education) in the University of Victoria’s School of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education says, “…[Y]our statement of intent/statement of research is based on what you are interested in studying, why you got there, and how it will help you reach your career goals, no matter what discipline you are in.”
This past fall I applied to four programs. I had two very different areas of research I wanted to examine, so it ended up that applications for two schools were on Topic A, while the other two on Topic B. Even when the areas of research I was talking about were the same, what I wrote within the proposal varied because the schools had dissimilar word requirements and wanted information on different things.
The University of Alberta’s English department created a great document (and one of the only ones I’ve seen) for prospective graduate students, that I used to help write my research proposals for all four schools. There was one point that I believe summarizes exactly what masters applicants needs to know in order to apply:
“Pay close attention to the statement of program: although every element of the application is important, it is in this part that you really show yourself to the committee. Be sure to explain what you want to do (what you’re interested in) and why (or how you got there); explain why this university is an appropriate place for you to undertake your studies (do some research related to faculty, departmental strengths, course offerings, cross- and inter-disciplinary factors, library holdings).”
Although the document from the University of Alberta can serve as a jumping off point to writing your proposal, you should research what the program(s) you are applying to say about their research statement, also called the statement of purpose, research purpose, or statement of interest.
If you are thinking applying for a MSc or MEng, the process is similar, but not identical.
George has provided some additional tips for to consider:
“You want to discuss how your research will benefit the state of the current knowledge of the field, from your experience as an undergraduate student, working professionals or reading other literature articles. If you want to research in an area/problem based on your current employment experience, you might want to talk about the practical applications of the information you will discover.
“It would be important to include terminology that is common in your area, but do not fill it with the jargon of the field; the committee members who review applications may not be familiar with it. Tie in your statement of interest to what is currently being done by a research group/lab, the procedures or equipment they have that will help address the field you want to study in.
“Your statement of interest/statement of research should include a specific question/area you want to examine, within the confines of your current ability and knowledge, looking at or describing specific eco-systems interactions, application of certain enzymes chemicals, or even how related past experiences influence current behaviours. Use headings to help keep your statement clear and concise.”
The best way to determine exactly what a department is looking for is to contact that program’s graduate advisor if it is not mentioned explicitly on the program website. Once you know more of what the committee will be looking for when they read your application, you can edit and cater your application further.
This process can be a long one, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to write your research proposal. Give yourself a few days before editing each draft and completing revisions, as this will make it easier to catch errors in your own work.
When you feel you are confident with your proposal, give it to a few other people to read over and edit.
The last and perhaps the most important step to the research proposal process, according to the University of Alberta, is to “Double and triple-check your application for errors, things missing, etc. A big factor for the statement is simply how well written it is – make sure it makes sense but also make sure you’ve got not grammatical errors, poor phrasing, [and] typos.”