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Currently I am applying for a LLM programme at SOAS and am having certain difficulties while writing the required personal statement. According to their guidance, the statement should be "describing your ambitions, suitability and interest for the programme you have chosen. This should be around 1,000 words in length", but I simply can't even fall under 2,000 words.

So my question is should I post the longer version that describes me better and for which I believe gives me a greater chance to be accepted, or should I simply delete half the text so I could manage their quota?

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7  
You should NOT "simply delete half the text". You should remove unimportant details wherever they appear. That's a lot more work than removing entire paragraphs, but gives a much better end product as well. –  Ben Voigt Jan 31 at 22:26
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Watson and Crick's famous paper in Nature on the double helix structure of DNA is almost 1000 words. Seems to me 1000 words should be sufficient for a personal statement. –  Bitwise Feb 1 at 2:33
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You should choose the 1000 best words from your current statement. The 3 answers below are all at least twice as long as they need to be. ;) –  vadim123 Feb 1 at 3:57
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There is a certain irony in the fact that, of the last 50 questions asked on Academia.SE, only 3 have titles that spill onto a second line. Of those three, yours is the longest. Perhaps therein lies the problem? –  J.R. Feb 1 at 4:26
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Writing concisely takes time and effort. It's not in the writing, it is in the editing. Edit your statement 20 times, if needed, to get your word count down without losing important content. –  earthling Feb 1 at 5:35

5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

There's some variability about how strict people are about word limits, so if you have any kind of inside knowledge (like someone who knows the culture at SOAS), they may be able to give you better guidance for this specific case.

In the absence of reason to think they don't care about the word limit, I'd worry about going over, especially about going way over, like double the suggested length. You should consider that if you're that far over the limit, your personal statement may not actually be quite what they're looking for. Perhaps it's overly detailed, or trying to make too many separate points at once. In other words, you should at least consider that this indicates a problem with your statement of purpose that you're not seeing. (And you should try to get input from someone else who could give you a fresh eye on it.)

The risks are:

  • It's possible they count words and ignore/mark applications that don't follow directions.
  • Even if they don't count words, people reading your application are likely to notice that you're statement is double (!) the length of most others. At a minimum, they'll probably discount your statement of purpose on the grounds that you had a lot more space than everyone else, which might take away much of the benefit of the longer statement.
  • Worse, they might be annoyed at having to read twice as much or upset that you didn't follow directions.
  • And, they might take it as an indication that you're not that serious about the application: it could mean that you weren't paying attention, or that you're recycling a statement you wrote for someone else without much effort.
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If the writing style in your statement matches the writing style in your question, you should just do some creative revising. Cut the fluff and write more concisely; for example:

Currently I am applying for a LLM programme at SOAS and am having certain difficulties while writing the required personal statement. According to their guidance, the statement should be "describing your ambitions, suitability and interest for the programme you have chosen. This should be around 1,000 words in length", but I simply can't even fall under 2,000 words.

So my question is should I post the longer version that describes me better and for which I believe gives me a greater chance to be accepted, or should I simply delete half the text so I could manage their quota?

Much of that is extraneous and overly wordy:

Currently I am applying for a LLM programme at SOAS and am having certain difficulties while writing the required my personal statement. According to their guidance, the statement should be "describing your describe your "ambitions, suitability and interest" for the chosen programme you have chosen. This should be in "around 1,000 words in length", but I simply can't even fall under I'm over 2,000 words.

So my question is should I post the longer version that describes me better and for which I believe gives me a greater chance to be accepted, or should I simply delete half the text so I could manage and meet their quota?

yields:

I am applying for a programme and am having difficulties writing my personal statement. The statement should describe "ambitions, suitability and interest" for the chosen programme in "around 1,000 words in length", but I'm over 2,000 words.

Should I post the longer version that describes me better, or should I delete half the text and meet their quota?

Original version: 99 words. Revised version: 58 words. I've cut your word count almost in half but I believe there is minimal loss in content.

Maybe you've done this already, but I thought this was worth mentioning, in case you haven't. By the way, in the past, when I've had to meet word count ceilings, I've usually been able to do it without eliminating core information.

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Maybe add how the question title is also too long -- perhaps the longest i've ever seen. –  martin f Feb 1 at 6:20
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Thats actually a very good illustration. –  xLeitix Feb 1 at 8:03
    
I broadly agree here but it's significant that the application is for an LLM so that shouldn't be deleted. Being able to get the point across in a given amount of space or time is much more important in law than it is in, say, particle physics. –  David Richerby Feb 1 at 10:23
    
@martinf - I already did – in a comment I left under the question. :^) –  J.R. Feb 1 at 12:09
    
@David - I think you're right, it would be better to leave that in for the purposes of this question. However, it might not be necessary to state the programme name in an application itself, if it's obvious which programme is being applied for. My last comment is a bit tongue-and-cheek: If the legal profession really values "getting a point across in a given amount of space," they could've fooled me. :^) –  J.R. Feb 1 at 12:14

It depends a bit on the programme, but the general answer is "stick to the 1000". Here are some good reasons for a committee enforcing such policies:

  1. Someone has to read it. All of it. From everyone.
  2. It would be unfair, if everyone stays within the limit and you don't. Some people just stop reading after 1000 words
  3. Most things which can not be described in 1000 words are not better described using 2000 words.

Some tipps:

  • Try to be focused
  • Avoid empty phrases

Best luck

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Look at it from the point of view of the person who has to read 200 of these things.

  • 1,000 words: expected;
  • 1,100 words: not noticeably different;
  • 1,200 words: looks maybe a touch long but whatever;
  • 2,000 words: "wow, long [turns the page] blah, blah, blah [turns over again without even reading] why does this idiot think I want to read all of this?"

You're applying for an advanced degree in law. A critical skill in law is getting your point across concisely and simply, without extraneous waffle and without going on so long that the jury gets bored and the judge gets annoyed. If your personal statement is twice as long as it should be, the person reviewing applications can see that you lack a key skill without even reading the words.

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Part of assigning a word count limit is to determine if you can be concise AND follow directions AND still get your message across to the reader. For example, if you are asked to drive someone across town but in an effort to impress you take them to the next state that isn't accomplishing the assigned task. If you can't get your message across within the word limit then you are failing the assignment.

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