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I am writing a personal statement to apply to a grad school. At first, I thought that because the role of this statement is to show an image of me as a person, using the tone I usually use when blogging - which uses a lot of idiom and rhetoric - is acceptable (even preferable). However, when I asked about styling to make sure about that, the answer is that it is advisable to keep it professional and formal as if I'm writing to a teacher I respect.

So two-thirds of my statement is using an improper tone, not to mention the errors in English. My English native friend has decided to rewrite them, and fix the other third on the fly (this third is not in a bad tone).

Q: Since the rewritten paragraphs are of course perfect, should I use them without worrying about the conflict in writing styles? I think that in a formal article, there is not much in styles because you don't have much room to use idiom and rhetoric, so my friend's style and my style are not really different, or at least different enough to be noticed. Is that correct?


What tone to use in the personal statement? in Academia

  • don't we have the formalness tag? – Ooker Oct 30 '15 at 12:42
  • Is formalness a word? It'd probably be "formality" if it existed, but it does not. – Yee-Lum Nov 3 '15 at 1:34
  • formalness is not accepted by some dictionaries yet, but some others have – Ooker Nov 3 '15 at 5:30
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Chris is right in saying that a formal tone/neutral voice minimizes individual stylistic differences, but I want to caution you that the difference between the writing of a native English speaker and a non-native speaker can sometimes be fairly obvious. It's in part because non-native speakers tend to have learned grammar and style in classes, whereas native speakers pick it up naturally. The result is a difference in fluidity and construction of the sentences.

Just to clarify, are you saying that your statement combines some sections that are totally rewritten by your friend with some sections that were not rewritten, but were edited for smaller errors?

You may be fine, but it is hard to say without looking at the whole thing. I used to proofread papers for non-native students, and I was careful to never rewrite sections of their papers because a) that's kind of plagiarism depending on how one looks at it but also b) my formal writing usually sounds different from their formal writing. I would recommend that you have a third party look at it.

  • "just to clarify...": yes. Does the third party need to be an English native? – Ooker Nov 3 '15 at 8:09
  • That would probably be best. – Yee-Lum Nov 3 '15 at 9:25
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It's impossible to know for sure without seeing the paragraphs, but yes, formal writing is generally done in a "neutral voice," which tends to minimize the impact of individual stylistic differences.

Of course, a gifted writer can still manage to convey a distinctive authorial voice, even in a formal register, but unless you've striven for that, you probably won't have it.

Therefore my best guess, sight unseen, is that the difference between your friend's paragraphs and yours won't be noticeable (unless his are much better written than yours).

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Regardless of the tone you decide on, your statement should be consistent throughout. So (1) figure out what tone you want to use and (2) revise your piece so it uses that tone from beginning to end.

  • I mean, as a coauthor, I don't know if the tones are different enough so that it will make the end readers suspect – Ooker Oct 30 '15 at 16:22

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