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Question about writing sample length


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I'm applying to History PhD programs next year and for most of my programs (five out of seven) I intend to submit the third chapter of my senior thesis as a writing sample. No problem there...this will be about 30-35 pages when I'm done reformatting and editing it for submission and my adviser assures me that it is some of my best work. My problem comes with two programs I am applying to that have WAY different length requirements: one school wants ten pages tops and the other has no limit.

In the first case, I really have NO idea how I'm going to get ten pages out of my 133-page thesis that will both highlight my argument in a way that makes sense out-of-context and show my use of primary sources. The only sections of my thesis that are under the limit are my introduction and conclusion and I really don't have much primary source analysis in either. Any suggestions here? Should I take out a ten page section and use a "cover letter" or something to put it in context?

In the second case, I know that I am allowed to submit my entire thesis but I'm not sure if it will be a good idea. I have had a long-standing correspondence with a professor at that school and I asked her if she thinks it would be a good idea to submit the entire thesis and whether or not she has seen it in the past. She said she "thinks she has seen it before" but didn't really comment on whether submitting the whole thing would be a good idea. What do you guys think? Is anyone else here in History or a similar field thinking of submitting an entire Masters or Senior thesis as a writing sample?

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We are almost in the same boat!

First of all, 10 pages is TOUGH. Two of my programs want 15-20, and I've been struggling with that. My advice would be to submit the chapter with a cover page. I once tried to get my 150+ page thesis down to 20 pages, and it's really impossible........you end up losing a lot of the interesting detailed analytical work that I feel they might want to see. So I'd recommend trying to get a chapter down to 10 pages, and include a good abstract. You might want to ALSO submit the full bibliography for your thesis, though I've heard mixed thoughts on doing this. I feel like it can't hurt. (In my case, I'm preparing a 20 page sampling of my thesis that includes an abridged intro, and abridged chapter 3, and an abridged conclusion...this totally omits the 4 other chapters, but I have a summary in my conclusion AND my abstract, and chapter 3 can stand alone, analytically).

Second of all, the unlimited option is also tough. I emailed a program directly about it, because they actually said "submit your thesis if possible" but I doubt they'd read my entire paper or even want to. In response to my email, they said I could either submit an excerpt or submit the whole thing with a cover sheet sorta pointing them to the good parts. Moral of the story is: they are probably not going to have the time to read your full thesis, so give them the best part or point to the best part.

(For this option, I am submitting an edited but still pretty full Intro-Chapter 3-Conclusion from my thesis, which will amount to 40-50 pages)

Do any of your programs require more than one sample? Almost all of mine do. :( I'm basically writing a new sample and capping it at 15 pages.

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In regards to the second situation, since there is no page limit, I would send the whole document provided that it is your best work.

In regards to the first situation, here's a suggestion. Take a work of history that has influenced you and/or that you found especially significant. See how the person who wrote it used the introduction to provide a 'roadmap' of her overall argument. Use that roadmap as a template on how to use two or three pages to summarize the overall argument of your thesis. Then use the balance to develop a specific point that drives your argument. (Pie in the sky, the historian whose work you consult will have also published previously an article or two in academic journals that either offered an overview of the entire work or a part of the greater whole.)


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