I browse the Web and find advice and tips about writing personal statements. I summarize important tips and advice for you to use when writing your personal statement.
Information available on the Web about writing personal statements is generally written by people who know what they are talking about.
I can conclude with a high probability that it is important to check and recheck your personal statement for errors. Some of the most common errors in personal statements are grammar, spelling (do not rely solely on spell check), exceeding the maximum word count specified, and sending the wrong personal statement to a school (i.e. putting the Harvard personal statement in the Yale envelope).
It is good to have multiple people review your personal statement.
It is generally recommended that you tailor your personal statement to each individual school you are applying to. This doesn't necessarily mean generating a completely unique masterpiece for each school you are applying to, but it certainly does mean addressing the question or topic a school requests.
Think about your audience. What type of students do your readers want in their next incoming class of graduate students? What traits would their "ideal" student possess? Which of these desirable attributes do you possess which are not evident in your other application materials?
Also, be careful not offend your reader by lecturing them or bringing up controversial subjects.
Adding some humor can be a nice touch but be sure not to come across like a clown. Be professional.
Your personal statement is an OPPORTUNITY to discuss things that are not evident in your other application materials.
Some people mention that you can utilize a small portion of your personal statement to explain problems or inconsistencies in your record. However, this could highlight the negative and may prove to be counter productive. I would not make excuses or try and justify poor performance. If you discuss hardships or challenges then be sure to show how these adversities have enabled you to grow into an even more promising candidate. Focus on the positive.
Your personal statement is not a biography, resume, or research paper. I tend to think of a personal statement as something like a non-fiction short story with the applicant being the main character. Ideally the reader should find it effortless to logically arrive at the conclusion that the main character would make an excellent addition to their incoming graduate class.
It would be great if the personal statement is memorable and enjoyable to read.
Try to captivate the reader's attention right from the start and make them want to read more. Some people recommend you try and "hook" the reader with something like a question, anecdote, quote, engaging description of a scene, life-changing experience, etc.
You should show the reader what you want to convey though writing about your experiences and what they mean to you. Stating that you found something stimulating or challenging means nothing compared to showing it though actual experiences and sharing how those experiences affected you.
Avoid cliches and platitudes. They bore the reader and may make you sound naive. Although it is admirable to want to do something like revolutionize a particular field of physics or win a Nobel Prize, stating things of this nature is probably not going to convince the admissions committee that you are a promising candidate with originality and character.
Don't try to impress your reader with big vocabulary words or long, complicated sentences.
Write clearly and concisely. Avoid unnecessary words that do not support the theme of your personal statement.
There were a number of other general writing techniques that were frequently discussed. Brainstorm before you write. Have a friend interview you. Write an outline. Write a rough draft. Write in the active voice and not the passive voice. Vary your sentence structure. Use a thesaurus. Don't be afraid to use the delete key. Use transitions between paragraphs. Avoid qualifiers. Don't use contractions or slang. As always, please share you comments in the forums.