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Which sample!?


tendaysleft
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Hi everyone,

If anyone is able to offer any advice on this topic I would really appreciate it--I'm applying to art history MA programs for fall 2012 and I have two potential writing samples I could submit.

The first is directly related to my field of study, which is 20th c. art history with a focus on gender issues and craftwork (to be broad). I wrote it my first semester of senior year, and I got a great mark on it, but I'm rereading it now and I'm not sure how strong it is. It's around 16 pages, and pretty research-heavy (lots of contemporary newspaper articles as well as academic sources, etc), but it doesn't engage with any theory, which is something else I want to focus on, methodologically.

The second I also got a great mark on, and it's around 12 pages. I've read through it again recently and I think it's a little bit tighter and much better-written, but it's really not related to my field of study. The paper is on a contemporary Indian photographer with zero emphasis on gender/critical theory issues. As the focus of my research, and my SOP, revolves around the fact that I also minored in women's studies and want to combine art history and women's studies, I'm thinking it might be kind of problematic to submit as my writing sample a paper that has no relation to women's studies at all. However, this paper does at least engage with some of the theory that I'd like to incorporate into my grad studies.

Do you think it's unadvisable to submit a paper as a writing sample that is well-written but has very, very little to do with my research topic? Or would it be worse to submit a paper that is related, but not really as strong, because it might get the adcomm thinking that the quality of scholarship I could perform on my chosen research topic isn't quite as high?

Has anyone been in a similar situation? Which to choose??

Edited by omnibuster
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You should submit your strongest work. It's nice if it turns out it's also related to your proposed research but it's not as important as presenting the best example of your writing that you can. Paper #2 is not related to your current research but it is still within your field and is something your readers will be able to appreciate, correct? It's better written and it engages more with relevant theories? Well, then, unless you can sufficiently improve on paper #1, my vote is for paper #2.

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How (realistically) doable would it be for you to revise the first paper, the one that fits in with your proposed area of study, and add in a theory section? I did something similar last year: I took an existing paper and added about 3 or 4 pages of theory to the opening and did lighter revisions throughout the analysis (tying it into the stronger theory foundation).

But if you think that the paper would just need to be drastically overhauled and completely rewritten in order to represent your best work—or if you know that you won't have the time to do it—then it's best to go with your strongest work.

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Hmm these are good points. Thanks for the input. I think it would be feasible for me to re-edit the first paper so that it would be far better written, but I think I would need a substantial overhaul to fit theory into it... I think i might spend a couple of days looking into any theoretical stuff I think might fit, but if it seems like it would be too obviously jammed into the wrong section, I guess I'd probably use the second paper.

Should I make reference to my writing sample in my SOP at all if it isn't related to my research, or just use it with no explanation?

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What would you explain? I bet the adcom can guess by itself that you didn't submit a paper directly related to your current interests either because you didn't have one or because it wasn't your strongest paper. Just submit your best work and use the space in your SOP to discuss fit and research interests.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm in a similar situation, omnibuster. I have two possible papers. One is not in my proposed field but has secondary connections to some of the things I'll mention in my SoP, uses theory substantially, is the stronger paper in general, and connects to my minor (Gender/Women's Studies, yay!). The other is in my field but is a lot shorter, more based on close-reading, only uses a "splash" of Foucault, and doesn't "do" as much. I'm going with the first, because it's my best piece of writing. I won a departmental award for it and got it accepted for a conference presentation. I'm not positive if it will look like I only have one good paper, but I'm confident that it's the best choice.

Additionally, do any of your programs allow you to submit a combination of papers? A few of my programs (thankfully, some of my top choices!) allow me to do this, and for those programs I will be taking advantage of the option. I think it's a good idea to give them an indication of what I can do in my proposed field, if possible.

Should I make reference to my writing sample in my SOP at all if it isn't related to my research, or just use it with no explanation?

I'm planning on referencing the writing sample at some point in my SoP. I bet you'll find a way to connect it in some way to your primary area of interest. For example, the writing sample I'll be using is on D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, while my primary research area is 18th-c. literature. However, I'm interested mainly in the history of the novel/novel theory and feminist theory, and both of those come into play in the paper on Lawrence, even if he was writing two centuries later. In my case, I think addressing the writing sample will be particularly important, because I've written two papers on Lawrence AND my 18th-c. sample uses an essay by him in its analysis. Even though I'm not interested in studying modernism (only certain post-18th-c. novelists appeal to me), the reasons I've been particularly attracted to his work connect to the reasons I'm more interested in studying the 18th-c., and I think that distinction will be important for adcomms to see. Your case might be different, but if you can make your writing sample connect to your field without it seeming like you're just indulging a justification, I'd say go for it!

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  • 3 weeks later...

The art history DGS at my alma mater first looks at the title and then bibliography of a writing sample before reading anything else. This individual does so because before they review a writing sample, they make sure that the references used are relevant, that there are a mix of articles and books, and that the references used are recent (published in the past 20 years).

I would seriously consider doing the paper that reflects your research potential over your theoretical potential. What many people do not realize in a writing sample is that although the writing and the thought matter, the schools are definitely looking at your ability TO research and how you interpret the materials given to you. Given your original statement, I would most positively tighten up the gender/craft paper and stress in your SOP that you want to focus on theory. I think this would communicate your intentions (and abilities) best.

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