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"Research Thesis" Writing Sample vs. "Close-Reading of Text" Sample


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Posted

Dear all,

I am currently facing a small dilemma in selecting an appropriate writing sample for a PhD program in Romance Literatures. I will obtain a B.A. this May. Sample may be up to 20 pages. Currently, I have two possible writing sample choices:

(1) the first twenty pages from my current Honors thesis (out of 80 pages) on a unique topic has not garnered much attention from within the scholarly community. This excerpt has 37 outside sources, cites a multitude of works, and offers much commentary; however, it is more of a "general" overview of literary works with lots of historical contextualisations than honed-in textual analyses.

(2) twenty pages of a "close-reading" of a work of literature that orbits a question given by a professor of mine. There are 17 outside sources; however, the majority of citations are from the particular work assigned to us. The analyses are more specific (to the one novel) and demonstrate a solid unpacking of the book.

Given that PhD programs are typically more "research bent," would it be advisable to send the Honors thesis sample rather than the close-reading one? Or would a PhD program (especially one in literature) prefer a writing sample that demonstrates mastery of one particular text at the expense of fewer outside sources?

Any opinions would be greatly appreciated! Thank you so much in advance for your help and enlightening suggestions!! :)

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Posted

They both sound good, but which one would be more likely to represent your interests? The first one does have more of a "research bent", but the second sounds more analytical. I don't think the number of sources matters as much as how you used and understood the sources. You might want someone in the department, a phd student or professor, to glance at them if they can. It might be a good way to approach for an LOR too, but do it in person for sure. Good luck: your dilemma sounds better than most.

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Posted

I mean, I know this isn't going to be helpful, but you should go with the stronger piece. It's a tough question since, on one hand, I would lean towards a thesis excerpt because it also demonstrates that you can do sustained, independent research. On the other hand, I'd hesistate to give them the first 20 pages just because you usually don't get to the meat of your argument and really start showing off what you can do in the first 1/4 of your thesis. Also keep in mind that a "research bent" doesn't necessarily mean they're looking to see if you can cite and basically cover a state-of-the-field. It also means original thinking, close analysis, etc. (especially in the humanities, where they're usually not looking for a specific set of methodological skills). I would look back at your choices and look at which of the two best demonstrates your ability to think critically and articulate your ideas well rather than where the citations come from. You might also consider that if you have a 80 page document, you might pull 20 pages together out of it (e.g. a condensed portion of your introduction/reading review, a strong close reading, and a rejiggered conclusion to tie it together) that demonstrates both a depth of analysis and a breadth of skill.

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Posted

go with the research paper.

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