Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts




While browsing through my e-mail recently, I came across a message from a young woman seeking advice on how to complete her application to graduate school. She had no trouble with her transcripts, her GREs, or her letters of recommendation, but she found herself at a loss as to how to best compose her statement of purpose. At this point in her message, she wrote:

But the real question is the statement of purpose. I feel that though I am an excellent writer and (in my opinion) a clear thinker, I don't really know what they want.

Can anyone comment on approaches to take in writing the statement? Perhaps someone who has successfully written a statement of purpose can give me some hints.

Although she understood that she faced a rhetorical problem, she had no idea how to begin creating a solution with potential for success.

I believe her dilemma underscores a problem we continue to encounter in teaching undergraduate composition. Even when we train our students to write and to think clearly, and even when we teach our students the need to attend to matters of audience, we do not prepare them for the kinds of rhetorical problems they will encounter in the real world. In short, although we teach our students questions they should ask in audience analysis, we fail to provide them with an adequate method for finding the answers to those questions.



Digital Repository @ Iowa State University,

Copyright Owner

William Scott Thune



Date Available

May 13, 2013

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