If you’re applying to an institution of higher study, it is extremely important that you maintain an appropriate tone in your admissions essays. This article provides some tips for checking your tone, specifically for finding a confident tone and avoiding arrogance. “Tone” refers to a writer’s attitude toward their subject and their readers. Your tone comes across in your choice of vocabulary, whether you choose formal or informal language, and so on. It can be subtle, but it is very important. A strong personal statement or SOP communicates confidence and professionalism, along with your spirit of collaboration, your intellectual curiosity, innovation, and inquisitiveness. How can you ensure your writing conveys the right attitude?

Here are five pointers for a professional tone:

What is a “professional” tone?

Think about whom you’re writing for: admissions professionals, and possibly professors (depending on your field). In other words: a. educated professionals; and b. members of the field you’re hoping to enter. This means that you should address them as you would someone you respect. No need for stilted formality – but this isn’t an email or text message to a friend, either. Grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation all count.

Follow all of the admissions committee’s directions

This means several things: answering the questions as they are asked, keeping to the requested length, not submitting additional materials they haven’t asked for, etc.

Describe your experiences, interests, and goals in a thoughtful way

There is, for example, both a content and a tonal difference between saying you want to study a particular language because it will give you the skills to work in international development in country X, and saying you want to study that language because you just always liked the way it sounds.

Your tone shows your positive outlook

When you describe work you did with a team, use language that reflects that cooperation (“we”), and take a positive tone (for example, show what you gained/learned from your collaboration and how it prepared you for graduate school).

Your tone should cover written or spoken communication

Each email, phone call, visit, interview – every interaction with every person you meet at your target school must contribute to their overall picture of you as a courteous, professional, positive candidate.

To summarise

  • Keep your audience in mind
  • Keep every interaction you have with the adcom professional, courteous, and positive
  • One of the most common miscalculations in tone relates to this very issue of positivity. If your tone veers into the negative, the adcom will have reason to worry about your attitude