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Writing Sample


MarcusXavier
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Hey guys,

New on the board. I am thinking about applying to grad schools this year and started doing research on different departments. I think I should be fine regarding grades and LORs, but the thing that worries me a bit is the writing sample. Is there anything in particular admissions people are looking for in terms of length or content.

I didn't do a thesis as an undergrad and although I was a sociology major, I only took the minimum number of classes needed since I also carried a biochemistry degree. So I only have about 4-5 papers that are of decent quality and they are by in large qualitative and most aren't more than 10-12 pages long.

Did people here touch up what they wrote or did you guys write entirely new papers before sending them off as a sample?

I noticed some department sites don't even mention sending in a writing sample.

Any input you guys could give me would be really appreciated.

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Did people here touch up what they wrote or did you guys write entirely new papers before sending them off as a sample?

I've had two rounds of grad school applications. The first time, I was applying with a psych degree and no thesis, so I used a solid piece of research I had done for a class, maybe a 20-pager. I was waitlisted at my top-choice program, and decided to do a master's degree at another school. On my second application, I used my master's thesis as a writing sample and got a fully-funded admit to my top choice program.

To be honest, I don't think the master's degree helped all that much in my chance of admission, though it did change the area of research in which I want to work. For the writing sample, all the admissions committee wants to know is whether you're a good researcher, and a good communicator. And with all the applications they get, I'm sure they'd appreciate a shorter, solid piece of research over a lengthy thesis.

I don't think writing an entirely new paper is wise, especially since you have a few papers you'd consider using. Why reinvent the wheel?

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I've also done two rounds. My undergrad also never had me write a paper more than 8 pages or so. My first writing sample, I expanded the most interesting paper I had in my subfield subject area, but it wasn't the most scientific piece of writing. That year didn't go so well. The second year, I took theory and stats grad classes over the summer and fall, and through them generated a totally new paper, where I went through an IRB and collected my own data to analyze. The final paper wasn't a huge treat to read (boring), and it didn't have much to do with what I wanted to specialize in, but it showcased the theory and methods that I was familiar with - and THAT'S what they want to see! That wasn't the only thing I improved in my applications, but I know it helped that they were able to see "oh, she already knows how to do such and such regressions." It was definitely a good idea for me to start from scratch, but you just need to ask yourself if the papers you have on hand really represent the level of methods and theory that you can apply to your work. A 15-page paper was enough for me to satisfy requirements.

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Guys,

Thanks for all your responses. Looking around at various sites I'm still a bit thrown. Some places are asking for 15 page papers, others (like Harvard) say the sample is optional, and other places are kind of nebulous about what exactly they want.

I have one research paper I did for a research methods class that is mostly based on simple SPSS based GSS analysis and not that great in terms of the theory or conclusions . All the other papers are short papers that were mostly papers related to interpreting readings in class.

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If it makes you feel any better, I have *nothing* I can use for a writing sample. I've been out of school forever and the few MBA papers I still have are completely inappropriate for applying to soc programs. I'm floundering about trying to figure out what the hell I can write 15 pages about in the next two to three months, especially since I have no data to work with.

As for schools that say the sample is optional, I'm going to send them one anyway. Once it's written and being sent to other schools, why not?

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  • 1 month later...
The final paper wasn't a huge treat to read (boring), and it didn't have much to do with what I wanted to specialize in, but it showcased the theory and methods that I was familiar with - and THAT'S what they want to see! That wasn't the only thing I improved in my applications, but I know it helped that they were able to see "oh, she already knows how to do such and such regressions."

I thought this was great advice, but I'm struggling with whether this writing sample would be appropriate. I have an decent 18-20 page paper that I did for an econometrics class for my econ major that presented a somewhat interesting research question (did race riots in the 1960s have a demonstrably disproportionate labor market effect for black men?), reviewed the existing literature thoroughly, and used simple OLS regressions. However, the paper is clearly looking at things through an economics lens - Is this entirely inappropriate? I'm not sure I wrote anything this sophisticated for a sociology class. Do ya'll think this would be okay as is, would be better to try to refine this paper to put a more sociological slant on it, or should I scrap it entirely and do something new?

Sorry for all the questions today. :)

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I thought this was great advice, but I'm struggling with whether this writing sample would be appropriate. I have an decent 18-20 page paper that I did for an econometrics class for my econ major that presented a somewhat interesting research question (did race riots in the 1960s have a demonstrably disproportionate labor market effect for black men?), reviewed the existing literature thoroughly, and used simple OLS regressions. However, the paper is clearly looking at things through an economics lens - Is this entirely inappropriate? I'm not sure I wrote anything this sophisticated for a sociology class. Do ya'll think this would be okay as is, would be better to try to refine this paper to put a more sociological slant on it, or should I scrap it entirely and do something new?

Sorry for all the questions today. :)

Definitely use this paper. It sounds interesting and sociological by nature. The writing sample isn't necessarily used as an assessment of your understanding of sociology, but rather, as an indication that you can produce research. It shows that you can lay out a research question, sort through and understand relevant literature, formulate hypotheses, test them, and interpret your results. The specific lens that you use to do this is secondary as long as it coordinates well with your question.

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Definitely use this paper. It sounds interesting and sociological by nature. The writing sample isn't necessarily used as an assessment of your understanding of sociology, but rather, as an indication that you can produce research. It shows that you can lay out a research question, sort through and understand relevant literature, formulate hypotheses, test them, and interpret your results.

Agreed, absolutely.

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