The statement of purpose in applications to PhD programs in rhetoric and composition an activity theory analysis

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in English


Department of English


Advisor: Margaret M. Strain


The applications process to PhD programs is complex, as signified by the number and variety of application requirements, including written texts. Of these texts, the statement of purpose in particular is regarded by recent scholarship as an occluded genre, one for which rhetorical purposes and resulting formal and content-related maneuvers are not apparent to applicants. This genre is a high-stakes genre in admissions to many PhD programs, acting as writing sample, evidence of disciplinary knowledge, and tentative proposal of future research. This thesis employs activity theory to investigate and analyze representative graduate programs' admissions processes as activity systems and the role the statement of purpose plays in these systems. This role includes the ways the statement of purpose generates new texts and actions. The author makes both a nonspecific activity system model of admissions to PhD programs in rhetoric and composition and their use of the statement of purpose, and a contrastive model of one program and its use of the statement. The study's findings demonstrate one potential cause of the occluded nature of the statement of purpose as a genre; that is, the expectations for and use of the genre in admissions practices vary from program to program, even within one discipline. Ultimately, this thesis examines the critical role student writing plays in the transition to a PhD program, concluding that the specific nature of this role is context-driven.


Academic writing, Rhetoric Authorship, Doctoral students Rating of, Universities and colleges Graduate work Entrance requirements

Rights Statement

Copyright 2010, author