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My writing sample does not match what I want to study in the PhD program


Just Jeff
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I want to specialize in 20th century Arab and American lit, but I cannot find my writing samples that parallel with this interest.

 

What should I do? Should I devote a few days to writing a solid 15-page-paper to submit with my PhD applications?

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Do you have something that's reasonably close? Something on either Arab lit or American lit? Something on lit at all? My writing sample didn't match my research goals, either, but it showcased my ability in certain statistical analyses.

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I would highly recommend you create your own paper then. I've written several research length papers however none were related to my area of interested. Therefore I created my own ... well, Im still in the process of finishing it =P

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I would caution against writing a new paper just for the writing sample. You want your paper to be read by at least one professor and you'll want to integrate their comments into your paper. Submitting a raw paper that has not been seen by anyone is dangerous. 

 

The writing sample doesn't have to match your research interests. It's important that it's sufficiently relevant to your field that the adcom members can read it and evaluate it -- so that it's not so far removed from your field that the content cannot be evaluated. But, once that is covered, the topic could be disjoint from your current interests. The purpose of the writing sample is to demonstrate your ability to do high quality research and communicate it in writing to your readers. So all it needs to do is contain arguments that your readers can appreciate. Aside from that, I wouldn't worry about it matching your proposed project because that's not expected. Interests change and develop and that's fine. 

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^^I just want to second what fuzzy said. The sample should showcase your ability to sustain an argument in a well-written paper. If you've got 20th century American lit papers that are up to the task, just use one of those. A 15-page paper that you write in a week will most likely do more harm than good. Go with something you've spent considerable time crafting, have had evaluated by peers and professors, and feel confident in.

 

My writing sample was from an unrelated research area, and it served me quite well in the application process. 

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  • 4 months later...

I had a similar dilemma. I’m English literature, and while I am fine broadly studying Anglophone literature, I am specifically most passionate about Victorian literature. My interests also include Gothic literature, Women’s & Gender issues (sometimes Queer), and honestly? Transgressive acts within literature, especially concentrating on sex.

 

The three strongest essays I have written all have some sort of issue.

 

1. I completed undergraduate research, which has gone through the most comprehensive and extensive editing process, but it is on Aphra Behn (Restoration). It does have a clear women’s/gender studies spin to it. The biggest issue with this sample is that I completed it two summers ago, and have really developed as a writer since then.  This paper was 15-pages.

 

2. Sophomore year I completed a capstone (senior thesis) course on Jane Austen, but again, the paper is horrible compared to what I have written recently.  This paper was 22-pages.

 

3. This past semester (Fall 2013) I completed another capstone course. This course produced a 20-page paper on homoeroticism and the divided self in Melville. This is by far one of the best papers I have ever written, but Melville is not an author I am very interested in.

 

4. This past summer I wrote a paper on how Toni Morrison’s Beloved is the crowning achievement of American Gothic literature. The paper was a masterpiece – my professor, who once told a class that grading papers is soul crushing and the only thing in life that consistently brings tears to her eyes, said it was good enough to be an A+ paper in one of her graduate courses and that it was clear from reading it that I had a bright future in the field. The problem? Well I can get past that it isn’t about British literature, but what I can’t get past is that it is only 10-pages. I definitely could get the paper to be longer – hell, I made notes as I was writing it as to where specifically I could expand points to be longer. I just didn’t have time to do so once the fall semester started.

 

 

When a program allowed it, I submitted all three. But for most programs I submitted Aphra Behn and the Beloved paper.  If a program very specifically stated it only wanted one paper, I submitted Aphra Behn. I just wish I had a paper about British Gothic literature that was about 15 pages in length, because a paper like this would have worked for almost EVERY application.

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  • 1 month later...

My writing sample was a Brit lit paper. My research interests are American lit. I got into my preferred school. Other than that, I have nothing to say about how your adcomms would react to a sample that's in a different area of interest.

Now, I could say a lot about how adcomms use writing samples, but I'll be brief. They want to see your abilities as a scholar. Can you develop an original argument and examine it critically using field-appropriate methods, language, and conventions?

I'm far more handicapped in the writing sample area than having papers on subjects not related to my interests. I write papers better suited for sociology journals than a literature journal (literature-ists think theory exists to interpret literature, sociologists think literature exists to support theory). I gambled that my paper was literature-ist enough for the adcomm and that the PIs were as savvy with soc/theory as I'd hoped. Frankly, I didn't want in a program that couldn't work with this kind of interdisciplinary paper, and the only way I could find out if they could was to write the kind paper I want to write in my career and let them decide if my approach fit in with their program. Still, I got in.

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