In a Ph.D. application, a statement of purpose (or more precisely, research statement) is required. I think a candidate should use this statement to showcase his/her good research qualities backed up by the research experience to the admission committee.

In order to make those qualities (i.e., those positive adjectives) stand out, can one emphasize those adjectives by italicizing them?

Specifically, I am referring to qualities such as "independent thinking ability, rigorous"...

In my opinion, the research interests and professors of interest should be highlighted in bold so as to facilitate the faculty reader allocation. This way, highlighting these adjectives also in bold will be pretty messy. So it may be a good idea to highlight the adjectives in another and less catchy form, i.e., the italic form. Am I right?

  • "... research qualities..." Such as?
    – 299792458
    Oct 26, 2014 at 14:29
  • @New_new_newbie such as independent thinking ability, rigorous... Oct 26, 2014 at 14:33
  • 1
    Your letter of recommendation writers are in a better position to address your research abilities.
    – Drecate
    Oct 26, 2014 at 18:03
  • @Drecate True, but shouldn't the applicant try to show them as well himself? Oct 27, 2014 at 9:48
  • Yes, but not by talking about them.
    – JeffE
    Dec 29, 2014 at 14:28

3 Answers 3


The preferred details for typesetting your research statement are likely to be highly subjective. Different things are likely to be pleasing, striking, or off-putting, depending on the individual preferences of whoever is reading your application.

I would agree that italics are one of the preferred methods to provide emphasis without being too flashy or distracting. Whether or not that is the appropriate choice for your research statement should probably depend to some extent on the style and content of the rest of your application as well. If you have access to a university writing center, you should try to speak with someone there to decide on the style and arrangement of your application.

To speak to my own experience, I generally will not consider a candidate more capable or skilled in independent thought, rigorous work, or attention to detail, because it is typographically emphasized on their application.

  • Thanks a lot for the suggestion. Indeed, it is case-dependent. My case, it seems that I have too many italics. ;( Oct 27, 2014 at 9:50
  • 1
    No problem. These things are hard to calibrate, so you really need to see the whole document to give any reasonable advice. I agree with the suggestions by @jakebeal in his answer, but illustrative examples can be overdone as well; it really depends on the context, so you need to use your own judgment and probably get feedback from someone in person.
    – dionys
    Oct 27, 2014 at 10:00

The most effective way of emphasizing an attribute is not by typography, but by illustrative examples. Compare the declaration:

I am capable of great attention to detail

versus a more illustrative:

I am well known for my attention to detail: other members of my lab group always ask me to review their proofs before submission.

The real meat of the statement is not the bit you might want to fiddle with typography on, but the larger sentence that demonstrates how you display the attribute in question. In this "show, don't tell" sort of presentation, messing with typography will distract from your point rather than adding to it.

  • Makes complete sense. I do have illustrative examples to demonstrate each character that I mentioned. So in this case, you think italicizing them backfires? Oct 27, 2014 at 9:51
  • @FarticlePilter My personal feeling is yes, because it draws the eye to the (uninformative) statement rather than in illustrative example. Others might disagree.
    – jakebeal
    Oct 27, 2014 at 12:45
  • Like I said, it makes total sense. Thanks again! Btw, does your username produce that special effect on purpose or is it an innocent bug? ;) Oct 27, 2014 at 14:19
  • @FarticlePilter It must be an innocent bug because I have no idea what special effect you are talking about...
    – jakebeal
    Oct 27, 2014 at 16:08

I would skip the italics. There is no rule against italicizing things in your personal statement. That said, you should remember that this is a formal piece of professional writing. Bolding words comic book-style seems unprofessional and italics only seem slightly better.

More importantly, if I wasn't convinced by the unitalicized version, I am not going to change my mind because of the slanted letters. I would focus on finding a way to let your virtues speak louder than your typography.

  • Thanks for the suggestion. Maybe I will remove the italics. But I think bolding my research interest (which is only one line or so) and interested professors' names will be a good idea? (For the reasons mentioned in the question) Oct 27, 2014 at 9:53

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