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Connection between concentration and writing sample


BrandNewName
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Hi all,

I know this has been addressed many times on the boards, but I keep getting conflicting advice, so I'd like to spell out the specifics and get some feedback on what to submit as a writing sample.

Basically, I've heard from a few professors at my UG institution that I should just submit something that shows how well I can write, rather than trying to be sure that the sample matches with what I am planning to do next. The reasoning I've heard is that the adcomms are looking for people who they will "train" once enrolled and that they want to see if you have the tools in your toolbox to ensure that such a training process will be a success.

So, here's the deal.

I am applying to 12 programs -- mostly English and American Studies-esque programs. The project I've proposed cultural studies in nature and draws on issues of class and material culture. I also hint, because of a strong background in gender and sexuality studies, that I am most interested in seeing what insights queer theory might offer to an understanding of the interplay between material culture and those living in destitution.

I've written a few articles and encyclopedia entries, but none of them really fit the bill as a writing sample (too much close-reading, inadequate length, random side interest, etc.). The strongest piece of writing I have is a paper written in a literary theory course discussing binary deconstruction and the hybridization of narrative genres on the example in a postcolonial, feminist short story. Since my applications will indicate my area of concentration as literary theory/criticism and cultural studies, do you think it would be acceptable to send this paper, which touches on theory, even though it is very much in a different vein than my interests in queer theory?

Would it help to offer a note explaining at the start of the paper that the intention of submitting it is to convey my ability to work with theory, but also to display the breadth of my knowledge and willingness to approach a broad range of texts and cultural practices?

I am pulling my hair out over this. The other option is to try and finish one of two articles I have in the works at the moment. Both would thematically match my interests much better, but I worry that anything I try to throw together in the next three weeks will not be nearly as cohesive or convincing as the other paper I have.

Apologies in advance for how long-winded/OCD this post is, I am just so torn as to what to do.

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The writing sample is not about "how well you can write," as you put it, although that also factors into the decision what to submit.

The writing sample's main purpose is to demonstrate how well you can do research.

It would be awesome if your writing sample can be a scholarly work directly in the sub-field that you propose to study in your SOP, but I think it's more important to submit your best piece of academic work. If that work happens to explore some other question than your narrow interests as you define them now, that is fine. Where you should start worrying is if the paper is widely outside your field so that its readers will have a hard time assessing the merits of its arguments (but even then in some cases it's still better to submit a strong paper from another field; it depends on what the other options are like). I don't understand anything about your field but the topic of your paper does sound like something you can reasonably expect the adcom members to understand. If so, then choose your strongest work, not the one that best interfaces with your current interests.

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