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I am applying to doctoral programs in the US.

Since I am not an English native speaker, I am wondering if it is okay to have native speakers help make my English perfect in my statement of purpose?

I ask so because I am concerned with that, since the committee definitely knows that I am not a native speaker in English, my perfect English in statement of purpose could lead them to suspect. By "suspect" I mean the argument: If this person's writing is this good, then this person's TOEFL scores must be almost perfect.

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    It's a good idea for native English speakers to have other native speakers help make their English perfect. – mskfisher Nov 4 '14 at 15:55
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It's definitely a good idea (in fact anyone in your situation should do so), I have seen plenty of people around me in my graduate school who had done so. There even exist professional services specialized for this task (it's a pretty big business in some countries).

Regarding your concern that the jury might think that you have been "cheating", forget about it:

  • by providing a flawless statement of purpose despite being non-native, you are showing the jury a lot of motivation;
  • if the statement of purpose was used to assess your true level of English, they wouldn't ask for TOEFL/IELTS;
  • when writing research articles later on, you will still often have a native speaker around to answer questions.
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    And asking others to check/proof your work is a good way to actually learn something new and/or improve your style/facts/etc. – Seth Nov 4 '14 at 23:49
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I think about English grammar and prose like personal grooming. If you are going to a big event where you need to make a good impression, it's fine to ask people to help make sure your clothing is well-chosen and being worn perfectly. Likewise, it's fine to ask people to help make sure your words are well chosen and don't have any distracting errors. A committee should not think any worse of you for asking for help making sure that your words are clean and clear. Rather, they should think better of you for caring enough to make sure you are presenting yourself well.

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Of course this is a good idea. Plenty of non-natives write excellent English, and getting your work proofread by a native English speaker is always a good idea, if possible.

It's not as if you are asking the native English speaker to write the text for you?

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    This. I help proofread and wordsmith several of my friends' grad school papers because they are not native English speakers. This is particularly important when it comes to research papers, as they will be referenced far into the future by others -- it would be a shame to not assist with trivialities like grammar when the content of their papers contributes to the body of human knowledge. The language is incidental. – zxq9 Nov 3 '14 at 21:59
  • should I be worry if my friend rewrite a part of my statement? That means I have written in by myself, and it's awkward enough for my friend to rewrite it. The other parts are good enough to just make fixes on the fly. I'm afraid about the inconsistency between the styles. – Ooker Oct 29 '15 at 14:56
  • @Ooker: The inconsistency in styles will shine through, which will raise questions. It is probably better to write the document yourself and get your friend to help correct your English, rather than rewrite it. – Dave Clarke Oct 29 '15 at 15:32
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Whether you're writing a statement of purpose, an application essay, a novel, a grant application, or even a research paper for publication, I think it's a pretty widely accepted "rule" that the ideas involved should be yours, but the exact way in which they are expressed does not have to be. After all, the goal of all these forms of communication is to convey your ideas to the reader. So it makes sense to take your ideas and express them in the best way possible. If you are not particularly good at expressing ideas (in a manner suitable for the readers) yourself, that means getting someone else to help you out.

People will not assume the writing style in a statement of purpose is necessarily representative of how you would write. If they want to know about your own writing abilities, they will ask about that specifically, for example by asking for a writing sample or by using something like the TOEFL. Now, there is some limit to this; for example, if you could not write or understand English at all, I think it would be misleading to have a friend completely translate your statement into English. But just having someone proofread your writing to improve the quality of the English is fine, and in fact is something even native speakers do all the time.

I would also note that the English doesn't have to be literally perfect. There are many small errors in English that very few native speakers can identify, and even fewer actually care about.

3

Do have somebody to look at the language/grammar you are using. But be aware of letting them write too much.

I have seen applications (for academic programs, but also for jobs) being tossed because of looking "too perfect", especially for non-native speakers. It is not a matter of the grammar being very good, it was a matter of the content "fitting too well", using all the expected buzzwords, and displaying a cultural sensitivity for the German job market/academic milieu a person with this biography could not have. This looks like it has been written by a ghostwriter, or copied from a "how to submit applications" book.

I guess that a person sending such an application still has the chance to get invited for an interview, if the running is not close. But when a prof is paring down a list, a person with this kind of application can get thrown out early, because the information he provides is disregarded as "he is telling me what he thinks I want to hear, and it might or might not be really true".

So, there is indeed a case of an application being too perfect to be regarded as real. And if you are a non native speaker, you are more likely to hit such a barrier than a native speaker, because the professor expects a bit less proficiency from you.

But this barrier comes long after the case which you are describing here. We are talking about the kind of application that can be written by somebody with knowledge not only of the language, but with the whole selection process and the country's and organisation type culture. If you express what you want to say in your best English, and somebody corrects your grammar and a few word choices, the chances that you come close to being regarded as "so perfect he must be fake" are astronomically small. So do let somebody edit your writing, it has advantages (described in the other answers) and it won't become good enough to disqualify you.

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