Four tasks for crafting an effective research statement

Writing a research statement can be daunting. Whether you’re applying for a job, an award, or tenure, there’s usually a lot riding on the outcome. That’s why I recommend reading and saving this article by Drs. Gernsbacher and Devine in the latest APS Observer.

They outline four tasks. I’ll copy a key sentence from each section here, but you really should read the whole article. It’s short yet packed with great advice.

  • Task #1: Understand the Purpose of the Research Statement. Most problematic, treating your research statement as though it’s a narrated walk through your vita misses the primary purpose of the research statement, which is to make a persuasive case about the importance of your completed work and the excitement of your future trajectory.
  • Task #2: Tell a Story. Although the five-paragraph persuasive essay format feels formulaic, it works. The Detective Story format is more difficult to write, but it’s more enjoyable to read.
  • Task #3: Envision Each Audience. Some details are important, but an intelligent reader outside your area of study should be able to understand every word of your research statement.
  • Task #4: Be Succinct. Consider three pages a maximum, and aim for two.

All of these tasks actually apply to projects beyond research statements too. Understanding the purpose, telling a story, envisioning the audience, and being succinct are cornerstones of writing effective prose.


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