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All the advice for writing a Statement of Purpose (otherwise referred to as 'Personal Statement') for graduate (Masters) on the internet usually pins it down to narrowing down your interest to specific research topics. But what if one just wishes to dig deeper into a range of subjects without committing at the outset to research?

For example, I have broad interests in computer systems (which includes the OS, compilers, processor architecture and so forth). Specifically, I like writing low-level embedded software and am very interested in learning new ways of designing CPUs. I've written toy OSes and compilers and I like reading about CPU architectures. But none of that seems relevant to current research in the field.

Maybe, if I force myself to, I can come up with a narrow research topic or two but would it be too wrong to say that I want to go to graduate school just to learn more? (Of course, I could read papers on the internet forever but I feel directed learning would serve me better)

By my own admission, I am nowhere near to knowing the state-of-the-art in systems research. If I do try to make up a topic, I am afraid it might appear superfluous in my Statement. Should I try harder to find a research topic or am I better off writing what I actually feel?

  • More related to your interests rather than the question, have you thought about machine learning or neural networks? I'm more software than low-level coding, so I don't really know much about that field, but I am definitely sure there's topics out there for study. – Compass Oct 15 '14 at 13:38
  • Keep in mind that the statement of purpose isn't a thesis proposal. – jonescb Oct 15 '14 at 14:38
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Why not do both? The value of a narrow statement is to show that you are capable of focus and thinking deeply about a subject. In fact, if one makes it too narrow, then it can exclude you from projects you would like because people think you won't be interested.

So you might formulate your statement as follows:

  • Start by expressing your broad interests and the accomplishments that you have made in the past. For a Masters, it's more important to illustrate that you were able to build complex things than that those thing were novel. Your breadth will be good here.

  • Shift to looking toward the future. Express your desire to be doing something novel and intellectually significant. Then say, "For example, one thought that I have considered ... " and give a narrow statement focused on something that you think would be new and significant. Just make it clear that it is a possible direction rather than something that you are committed to.

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