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Writing sample MUST match interest ?


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A question has been driving me crazy, so I decided to use my first post on it. I've seen a lot of kind people out here, and I would be ever so thankful for any guidance/comments/opinions,etc.

Two questions.

1. So, I know a lot of schools say they "prefer" it if the sample matches the SOP. And I've read a lot of past comments saying this is rather important. Well, my problem is that I can't really tell whether my sample matches my "interest" or not. I'm stating in my SOP that I'm interested in 20th cent American, particularly in African-American literature / "ethnic" literature / race and ethnicity studies. I also have background in postcolonial lit.

The problem is that my WS is on British colonial writing and on representations of race. So far, I've decided to stick with this because it's my most recent work, and has some theory in it, which took me ages to understand. But now I've come across a school that says the sample MUST "MATCH" my interests. And I've emailed them about this and all, but I'm asking for opinions on how this "match" is defined.

I mean, is it a huge problem that I'm writing about Brit-lit while professing that I want to be in American lit? Even if I'm justifying my WS by engaging with issues of race and such?

2. Another Q that rises from the former is: How important is "theoretical engagement" in the WS? I mean, if I really had to change my WS at this point, I could probably get away with it-- I have a couple other papers that need a few additional pages and revising. But their problem is that they are 100% close reading--no theory, no outside texts...just pure close-reading (but close-readings that are probably better than those in my current WS).

I'm just worried that 15 pages of close-reading is not going to cut it.

Please do help -- I'd be extremely , extremely thankful for any advice.

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maybe in your SOP, you can discuss your previous work in postcolonialism, british colonial writing, and representations of race and how that work has informed your current interest in pursuing graduate study in 20th century american lit, particularly with respect to race and ethnicity? that way you show how your WS might dovetail with future projects?

as far as question no. 2, the sense i've gotten based on posts from board members who have worked on AdComms is that it's really important to convey the message that you're both aware of the current state of the scholarly/critical conversation related to your area of interest and clear on how you hope to contribute to that conversation. as such, i'd say a WS that's 100% close reading would probably do you a disservice. that being said, you also want the WS to be representative of your best work. maybe spend some time improving the close reading you conduct in your current WS just to polish it and make it as strong as it can possibly be?

Edited by lisajay
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I've been advised that a strong writing sample should have close reading, theory, criticism, and, if relevant, archival research. You don't want to come off as one-note. Is it possible to get some theory into your earlier paper, especially if that has the stronger close reading?

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It sounds like your writing sample "matches" closely enough with your interests, particularly because of its dealings with race. Like lisajay said, I would perhaps mention how your writing sample has informed your current research interests.

I would definitely submit something that has outside sources/theory in it. Grad school is really theory/secondary reading heavy; learning to become a scholar means learning to act like a scholar, and learning to act like a scholar means reading mass amounts of secondary sources to inform your thinking and, more importantly, your writing. Submitting a paper that incorporates this type of research displays that you are already aware of the critical practices of the discipline.

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asleepawake, Stately plump, thank you both for the advice. It definitely makes sense that admissions will be looking for more than sound close-reading. Idealistically, I'd love to try to work on my other "more relevant" papers to incorporate theory (like asleepawake said), but with the December deadlines looming and the SOP to work on, I think I'll stick with my original WS and try to connect it to my current interests more.

Thanks!!

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I honestly think it'd be a little strange if your SoP matched your WS exactly. Aren't your research ideas supposed to be evolving? If you want to write on the exact same topic for the next 5 years, I'd say that was a little strange.

Just another thing to think about.

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I honestly think it'd be a little strange if your SoP matched your WS exactly. Aren't your research ideas supposed to be evolving? If you want to write on the exact same topic for the next 5 years, I'd say that was a little strange.

Just another thing to think about.

I think it depends on how "final" or "finished" your writing sample is. If you have more to do with the work you submit as a writing sample and you have an idea of how you want to do that work, I think your writing sample can demonstrate your familiarity and know-how in the field already. There's nothing wrong with already knowing a lot about your field as long as you indicate that you're going somewhere else with it, like a tip-of-the-iceberg proposal.

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I think it depends on how "final" or "finished" your writing sample is. If you have more to do with the work you submit as a writing sample and you have an idea of how you want to do that work, I think your writing sample can demonstrate your familiarity and know-how in the field already. There's nothing wrong with already knowing a lot about your field as long as you indicate that you're going somewhere else with it, like a tip-of-the-iceberg proposal.

This. Also, I have a writing sample that is very strongly aligned with my SOP because the writing sample is where I really got to generate these ideas for the first time. It's nowhere near fully developed in certain ideas but it's very clear that I was thinking about those things already.

I also recently met with a professor who mentioned the merits of being able to think about the writing sample very critically--making the SOP in part mention what worked/didn't in the piece of writing. Not in a "man my writing sucks" sort of way but more "while framing question x in terms of y was actually pretty fruitful here, I think looking at z would be how I would want to go forward." So, basically, no. The writing sample doesn't match to the point of actually being the dissertation proposed but as the springboard, yeah. It's in no way exactly what I want to do in grad school but it is damn close and not just in terms of period/continent.

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This. Also, I have a writing sample that is very strongly aligned with my SOP because the writing sample is where I really got to generate these ideas for the first time. It's nowhere near fully developed in certain ideas but it's very clear that I was thinking about those things already.

This is the exact position I'm in as well! My writing sample (disclaimer: it has yet to be written!) is going to be a reflection of what I've been working on up to this point in my independent study. I understood this study specifically to see if the sorts of ideas and questions I'm pursuing are something I want to work on further in graduate school. The answer is "yes," so my writing sample and SOP are very much going to be in alignment.

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This is the exact position I'm in as well! My writing sample (disclaimer: it has yet to be written!) is going to be a reflection of what I've been working on up to this point in my independent study. I understood this study specifically to see if the sorts of ideas and questions I'm pursuing are something I want to work on further in graduate school. The answer is "yes," so my writing sample and SOP are very much going to be in alignment.

Mine too. My writing sample is from my MA thesis, and my SOP talks about how I want to expand that idea into x,y,z. So, long story short, my SOP and writing sample match pretty much exactly.

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The writing sample should match the SoP with respect to field. That is, if you say you are planning to work in Victorian you should send a writing sample on a nineteenth-century text, and so on down the line. The sample need not--in fact, in many cases should not--match some proposed topic of future research, since your future research will almost certainly evolve and change dramatically through course work. The goal should always be to send the writing that demonstrates what kind of critic you might turn out to be. Committees who read your writing sample do not imagine your future work on whatever topic you've chosen for the paper you've sent. They try to future-project your work with them based on the existing evidence you provide, the way you currently questions, read texts, relate to scholarship and theory, etc.

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