Statement of Purpose (SOP) for PhD: Writing Tips & Format

Statement of Purpose (SOP) for PhD: Writing Tips & Format

11 mins read1.8L Views 3 Comments
Aishwarya Bhatnagar
Study Abroad Expert
Updated on Jul 9, 2024 13:23 IST

Statement of Purpose for PhDIn presenting your profile to the Admission Committee (Ad Com), every single document submitted during the PhD application process matters. When the university is choosing one candidate from a pool of applications with similar profiles, each document—such as the SOP, a sample research paper, research essay, resume, and LOR—can be a determining element or serve as a tie-breaker. Therefore, during the entire procedure, a PhD Statement of Purpose carries a significant weight. In this article, we will cover all the aspects of an SOP in research including its format and requirements for top universities.

Statement of Purpose (SOP) for PhD: Writing Tips & Format

How is a Statement of Purpose for PhD different from other SOPs?

It is important to understand the difference between a UG SOP, an MS SOP, an MBA SOPEssay and an SOP in research. While there are common guidelines all over the internet on how to frame an effective SOP, not all of them apply to a statement of purpose for PhD. For instance, in a UG SOP, the candidate should concentrate on his or her childhood, interests and hobbies, and other such details. In an MS SOP, one should fundamentally talk about his/her passion for the chosen field and goals. An MBA SOP/Essay is essentially based on goals, leadership, and managerial abilities.

However, the main focus of a statement of purpose for PhD is solely and extensively on research. Whether the candidate is talking about their own studies, research on an interesting topic, or interest in a professor’s research, the SOP needs to highlight their talent for research, efficiency, time management, and analytical and reasoning skills.  Furthermore, the reader of your PhD SOP, in this case, the Admissions Committee (Ad Com), will most likely focus on two important areas. The first aspect they will look at is if you might potentially be considered a scholar and whether you can make a major contribution to the research and academic standing of the university. The second thing they will consider is how your research topic and objective match the goals of the department or faculty at the university, or how your research work might help the department or university.

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How to write a Statement of Purpose for PhD?

While a Statement of Purpose’s format for PhD program is similar to the format of SOPs of other courses, here are a few points to be kept in mind while drafting an SOP for PhD:

Make a statement for yourself: Tell the Ad Com a little bit about yourself in brief. An SOP’s primary objective is to provide an overview of your personal identity. The essay should outline your intellectual journey and explain why pursuing a PhD will help you widen your educational horizons. Instead of spending time telling the faculty and university just how excellent they are, try explaining to them why it is crucial that you receive training from them and how this will further impact your life.

Answer the why question: Try to answer all the reasons for pursuing a PhD in your statement of purpose for PhD. Mention why you are interested in pursuing this degree, why you want to specialise in this area, why you want to attend this particular university, and more.

Be straight-forward with your research interest: In the introduction itself, describe or relate how your interest in or passion for this particular field is initiated. This is where you approach the university with your research idea. You can still discuss the field and the opportunities it offers even if you are unsure about your research topic. You can also mention if you are thinking about two or more subjects. Ensure that you respond to the following queries in the opening paragraph:

  • What is your research topic or field, and why?
  • What have you learned in this field so far that made you take up this topic?
  • How passionate are you about pursuing this further?

Academic and research background: Briefly mention your academic background, starting with your Bachelor's studies. Mention your Master’s thesis or projects and relate them to the research topic you have selected. Here you can talk about your research projects if you already have one or two. Mention the topic or dissertation title clearly and explain what exactly the motive is. You can elaborate a bit on the procedure as well. For instance, a description of how you took help from some faculty member, conducted a survey of the general public, or even referred to other research works. Moreover, note that you do not have to copy your entire research here. You just need to mention its objective, procedure, and the learning or outcome from it. If your paper has been published or is in the process of approval, highlight this fact as well. Focus on the knowledge, skills, and expertise you have gained so far and how they will help you further your research while pursuing a PhD. If you have any practical experience, discuss your learning and the skills you gained through this practice.

Be direct in addressing the previous issues: If your prior qualifications included any negative marks, attempt to address these matters directly in your SOP in research. It is recommended that you discuss these setbacks and how they improved you as a person. By discussing such matters, you will convey to the admissions committee your ability to solve problems independently and your strength of character.

Reasons to join this specific course/ programme and university: Perhaps the most important part of your SOP in research is answering the main question of the Adcom, that is, why you chose this course program and why that particular university? This is what makes or breaks your whole profile. Initiate by choosing a particular professor and his or her research group/topic. Refer to the department, faculty, professor, amenities such as labs and research centres, and so on. Also, mention how it will help you achieve your goal (short-term and long-term). Make sure you cover the following points while answering the ‘whys?’:

  • Why this programme?
  • Why this university/ department?
  • Why this specialisation?
  • Why study/ research under the tutelage of a certain professor?

Career goals: Short-term and Long-term: Another vital aspect of your application is your career goals. When writing your SOP for PhD, if you are not clear in your mind about your future career goals, then the reader will instantly lose interest in your profile. It also showcases that the student is not serious about pursuing this course to get something tangible in return and is just applying for admission for the sake of it. Thus, your career goals should align with the course/program chosen and the research you have described previously. You can also write about future research topics you would like to pursue and the amount of impact or kind of contribution they would make to the specified field or society at large.

Divide the goals paragraph into two parts, where in the first section you talk about your short-term goal (what do you want to do just after completion of this course?). It can be further research, practical application of the research, pursuit of other topics or fields, joining the research and development division of any firm or industry, and so on. The next part, the long-term goal, is where you see yourself in the next 10-15 years. This would be your ultimate goal in life, whether it is starting your own firm, holding the post of R&D Manager at a reputed firm, starting your own R&D division, or anything else. However, whatever you are mentioning should be plausible and directly linked to your profile.

Some soft skills to include in your Statement of Purpose format for PhD: In order to pursue your PhD, there are some soft skills that you should highlight in your SOP in research. It is important to talk about the things given below:

  • Problem-solving
  • Creativity
  • Communication
  • Analytical thinking
  • Integrity
  • Teamwork
  • Passion for success
  • Willingness to learn

Letter of Motivation for PhD Programmes

At times, you may be required to write a motivational letter for a couple of PhD programs. This will be slightly different from your statement of purpose format as it will be directed to the department or the professor under whose guidance you will be studying/writing your research paper. For a number of MS fellowships as well, you might be required to draft a motivational letter or letter of interest. To know more about the difference between a PhD SOP and a Motivational Letter, please read How to Draft an Impressive Motivational Letter. 

Statement of Purpose Format for PhD Requirements for Top Universities

Statement of Purpose for PhD at top universities varies as per the course and university requirements. The method of writing an SOP in research does not change; however, the structure, word limit, etc. may vary as per the university requirements. Here is a look at the statement of purpose for PhD requirements for top universities (as per the QS World University Rankings 2024):


SOP for PhD Requirements

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT (QS Rank 1)

Your SOP for PhD must persuade the admissions committee that you will be able to produce to-notch PhD work

Introduction = Background + Motivation behind your research

Body Paragraphs = Background + How do you fit in the university and the school + Career goals

Stanford University (QS Rank 3)

2 pages

The following points are compulsory:

Past work experience

Reasons to choose a particular field

Areas of research

Research projects

Any faculty’s research

University of Oxford (QS Rank 4)

1,500 words

Reasons for pursuing a PhD

Reasons for applying to Oxford

Research interests

Preferred supervisor

Post-PhD plans

Harvard University (QS Rank 5)

1,000 words


Research interests

Motivation for pursuing a particular degree

Why pursue research

Career goals

Past work experience (related to your chosen area of study)

California Institute of Technology, Caltech (QS Rank 6)

800-1,500 words

Not more than 2 pages

1-inch margins

11-12 pt. font

University College London (QS Rank 8)

3,000 characters (not more than 2 sides of an A4 sheet)

Why this programme?

Academic and research interests

Why do you wish to study at UCL?

Professional background

Extracurricular activities and community involvement

Future goals

ETH Zurich (QS Rank 9)

1 page

Reasons and motivations to pursue a particular programme

Relevant information about your background

Why are you the right candidate?

How familiar you are with the degree, course, university, etc.

Future plans

University of Chicago (QS Rank 10)

1,000 words


Strengths, achievements, and accomplishments

Future goals

Note: The above information has been sourced from the official university web pages. However, it is important for students to visit the official university and course webpage for exact and any other relevant information.

Statement Of Purpose for PhD FAQs

Q. When writing my Statement of Purpose for PhD application, what should I focus on?

A. Highlight your educational background, prior research experiences, and particular research interests in your SOP for PhD application. Emphasize any publications, projects, or collaborations that show you are up to speed for work leading to a doctorate. Explain in detail your reasons for being interested in the PhD program and how it fits with your professional objectives. Demonstrate your enthusiasm for research and dedication to the advancement of knowledge within your selected field.

Q. What are some crucial writing tips for creating a strong SOP for PhD?

A. We have listed below some crucial writing tips for creating a strong SOP for PhD:

  • Be succinct and precise: Pay attention to important facets of your academic career and areas of interest in research.
  • Exhibit drive and enthusiasm: Give a detailed explanation of your motivation for the PhD program and how it fits with your professional objectives.
  • Highlight your research experiences: Emphasize accomplishments, publications, or partnerships that show you are prepared for a PhD.
  • Adapt to the scheme: Make your SOP in research unique to each university, highlighting the ways in which their resources complement your areas of interest.
  • Proofread and make revisions: Make sure your SOP is error-free and written in a formal manner. To improve, ask mentors for their opinions.

Your PhD application will be stronger if you follow these suggestions.

Q. How can I make sure my distinct research perspective is reflected in my statement of purpose for PhD?

A. Your SOP in research should highlight your unique research viewpoint and inquisitiveness. In order to do this, concentrate on clearly stating your unique research interests, approaches, and possible contributions to your field. Emphasize any fresh perspectives or cutting-edge concepts you intend to investigate throughout your PhD study. You can make your SOP stand out and make an impression on the admissions committee by showcasing your unique research vision and enthusiasm for inquiry.

Q. What techniques may I use to create an impactful and memorable SOP in Research?

A. Use innovative storytelling tactics, colourful anecdotes, or personal tales to add impact and memorable elements to your statement of purpose format for PhD. Offer engaging stories that highlight your goals, research experiences, and academic path. Additionally, express your enthusiasm for the subject matter you have chosen and your dedication to using your study to make a significant contribution by using language that is descriptive. You may make an impression that will last with the reader and raise your chances of being chosen from a field of applicants by writing a narrative that speaks to their emotions. Although there are a ton of resources and statement of purpose format and samples online, it is best to write your own documents or seek professional assistance if you need assistance with the format or the kind of content that is needed. However, if you replicate any sample—online or off—plagiarism becomes a serious problem. The Ad Com rejects plagiarized documents outright because they are in direct opposition to them. It becomes more of a criminal offense when it comes to PhD applications. Therefore, it is advisable that you write the documents yourself and be truthful about your background and accomplishments. For further help and support in regard to your PhD applications, contact our experts here.

About the Author
Written by
Aishwarya Bhatnagar
Study Abroad Expert

Aishwarya is a professional Writer currently working as a Study Abroad Expert in the Editorial Team at Shiksha. She has over 5 years of experience and is skilled at creating Online Content with leveraged knowledge i... Read Full Bio

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5 years ago

Thanks for your valuable information. Would you please let me know about the differences between CV and SOP ? According to these descriptions, we should only write about our academic interests of experiences. Then, what about our biography, our social activities or volunteer careers and etc.?

Reply to

To know about CV, please read: PhD SOP should mainly focus on academics and research. Other activities can be highlighted in your CV/Resume and in SOP, you can mention it only if it aligns with your academic interest/research.

5 years ago

can we mention something more than two times like some example which is related to other thing also

Reply to

Hi Faizan, it all depends on what you are mentioning, the context of the matter and relevance. Extracurricular activities, too, need to be aligned with either your work or future goals. For more help related to your application, you can enrol for our expert services for free:


5 years ago

at which place should we include extra curricular activities

Reply to


Aprant Agarwal

10 months ago

Please refer to the following link: