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

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Srishti Chatterjee
Study Abroad Expert
Updated on Feb 21, 2022 12:59 IST

Statement of Purpose (SOP) for PhD

For a PhD application, each and every document in the application process plays a significant role in pitching your profile to the admission committee. Each of the documents such as SOP, sample research paper, research essay, resume, and LOR can be a deciding factor or act as a tie-breaker, for the university, while selecting one candidate from a pool of applications with the same profile. Thus, a statement of purpose for PhD carries a lot of weight in the whole process.

How is a PhD SOP different from an SOP for UG, MS and MBA SOPs?

It is important to understand the difference between a UG SOP, MS SOP, MBA SOP/ Essay and a PhD SOP. While there are common guidelines all over the internet on how to frame an effective SOP, not all of them apply to a PhD SOP. For instance, in a UG SOP, the candidate should concentrate on his/her childhood, interest and hobbies, etc. on the other hand, an MS SOP should fundamentally talk about his passion towards the chosen field and goals. Similar to an MS SOP, an MBA SOP/Essay majorly is essentially based on goals, leadership and management abilities etc. Similarly, a PhD SOP is largely centred on research, research, and more research. Whether it is talking about one’s own research, an interesting field of research, or interest in a professor’s research, the SOP should showcase the candidate’s research ability, time-management skills, efficiency, analytical and reasoning abilities. Also, the reader (or the admission committee) are likely to focus on two major points in a PhD SOP. The first thing that they will note is whether you have the potential to qualify as a scholar and will you be able to contribute significantly to the research work/ university’s reputation. The second thing they will analyse is the alignment of your research goals (topic) with that of the faculty and university or how the university/ department can benefit from your research topic (research work).

How to write an SOP for PhD programme?

While the format of a statement of purpose for a PhD programme is similar to the format of other courses’ SOPs, here are a few points to keep in mind while drafting an SOP for a PhD programme:

Be straight-forward with your research interest

In the introduction itself describe/ relate how your interest or passion towards this particular field-initiated. This is where you propose your research topic to the university. Even if you are not clear about your research topic, you can talk about the field instead and what possible options it might provide you with. If you are considering 2-3 topics, you can mention that as well. Make sure you have referred to these questions in the first para itself:

  • What is your research topic/ field and why?
  • What has been your learning in this field so far that made you take up this topic?
  • How passionate are you to pursue this further?

Academic and research background

Briefly mention your academic background starting with your bachelor studies. Mention your Masters’ thesis/ projects and relate it to the research topic you have selected. Here you talk about your research work if you already have one or two. Mention the topic or dissertation title clearly and explain what exactly its motive was. You can elaborate a bit on the procedure as well, for instance, you took help from some faculty or conducted a survey, help from the general public, referred to other research works, etc. Also, note that you do not have to copy your entire research here. You just need to mention its objective, procedure and the learning/ outcome of 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 it will help you further while pursuing a PhD. If you have any practical experience, discuss your learning and the skills you received through this practice.

Reasons to join this specific course/ programme and university

Perhaps the most important part of your SOP is answering the main query of the Adcom, i.e why this course/ programme and why this particular university? This is what makes or breaks your whole profile. Initiate with choosing a particular professor and his/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. Whether it is a UG student or an MS/MBA aspirant, 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 your course/programme chosen and the research you have talked about previously. You can also write about future research topics you would like to pursue and the amount of impact or the kind of contribution it would be towards the field or the society as a whole. Divide the goals para into two parts where, in the first section you talk about your short-term goal, i.e what you want to do just after this course? It can be further research, apply the research practically, pursue other topics/fields, or join an R&D division of any firm in the said 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, being a GM of a reputed firm, starting your own R&D division, etc, it can be anything. However, whatever you are mentioning should be plausible and directly linked to the kind of profile you have.

Letter of Motivation for PhD programmes

At times, you may be required to write a motivational letter for a couple of PhD programmes. This will be slightly different from your SOP format as it will be directed to the department or professor under whose guidance you will be studying. For a number of MS fellowships as well, you might require 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? 

While a lot of information and samples are available on the internet, it is advisable to write your own documents or take help from experts to help you with the format or the type of content required. However, plagiarism becomes a major issue you are copying any sample online or otherwise. Plagiarised documents are rejected outright by the Adcom as they are strictly against it, and in cases of PhD applications, it becomes more of a criminal offence. Hence, it is best to write the documents yourself and be honest about yourself and your achievements.

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For further help and support in regards to your PhD applications, contact our experts here.

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About the Author
Srishti Chatterjee
Study Abroad Expert

Srishti has spent six years in the Education industry helping study abroad aspirants draft their application documents for their dream universities. Experienced in creating impressive SOP, LOR, and Essays, she knows... Read Full Bio




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


Srishti ChatterjeeStudy Abroad Expert


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.


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

Reply to


Srishti ChatterjeeStudy Abroad Expert


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: https://studyabroad....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:


at which place should we include extra curricular activities

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