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overlong writing sample - what should I do?


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Hi guys,

I just recently got my MA and it seems all my target faculty expect me to use my MA thesis as writing sample. I intend to use it too, since it most effectively demonstrates my research skills.

However, most schools have put a limit on the writing sample length, which ranges from 15 to 25 pages. My thesis, however is 50 pages long.

I think there are three options for me to choose:

1. send the whole thesis and indicate the pages I want the adcomm to read.

2. send excerpts from my thesis and fit it into the page limit.

3. rewrite my thesis summing up the main points so that it fits into the page limit.

What do you guys think about each option? What have you done or what would you do?

Thanks for your input!

Edited by nurye27
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Can't really help you, sorry. I am dealing with the same problem. Writing my 'thesis' (actually just a very very long essay) was extremely time consuming and took a lot of effort, and while I was writing it I tried to use as few words as possible. The idea of skimming it down even more is horrifying! I am applying to the University of Chicago, and they say to ignore the word limit and submit a longer paper if that's your best work. Should I try to shorten it anyway, to ensure that someone may actually read it? I'll probably have to make it much much shorter anyways, for other schools, so I'm just not sure.

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I would definitely NOT choose option 3. Either take an excerpt that meets the limit and add a short paragraph at the top explaining that it is an excerpt from a longer work. Explain what the argument of the paper was, how this section fits in, etc. etc.

Either that or submit the entire sample, but put a paragraph in italics at the top stating that the writing sample is from pages x to y. Then when you get to page x, put some asterisks or something saying ***writing sample begins here*** and then at the end, ***writing sample ends here***. The benefit of this approach is that you are adhering to the word limit, but at the same time giving them the opportunity to read the entire thing if they wanted to.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hi guys,

I just recently got my MA and it seems all my target faculty expect me to use my MA thesis as writing sample. I intend to use it too, since it most effectively demonstrates my research skills.

However, most schools have put a limit on the writing sample length, which ranges from 15 to 25 pages. My thesis, however is 50 pages long.

I think there are three options for me to choose:

1. send the whole thesis and indicate the pages I want the adcomm to read.

2. send excerpts from my thesis and fit it into the page limit.

3. rewrite my thesis summing up the main points so that it fits into the page limit.

What do you guys think about each option? What have you done or what would you do?

Thanks for your input!

I have a question about this too. I want to use something from my MA thesis.

If you do option one, do you mean send in the thesis in its entirety? It seems a bit excessive.

Or, do you mean send in a chapter of the thesis and indicate which pages you would like them to read. So if the required length is 20 pages, just say, OK, read pages 1-7; 15-20; 22-30. Can you do it like that or is it way too confusing for them?

Edited by peppermint.beatnik
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I have a question about this too. I want to use something from my MA thesis.

If you do option one, do you mean send in the thesis in its entirety? It seems a bit excessive.

Or, do you mean send in a chapter of the thesis and indicate which pages you would like them to read. So if the required length is 20 pages, just say, OK, read pages 1-7; 15-20; 22-30. Can you do it like that or is it way too confusing for them?

What I did (although I haven't yet submitted my apps) was to use the first and last chapters which, after a lottt of editing, are finally down to 19 pages. On the first page after my title page, I have a note to the committee, which explains that this writing sample is an excerpt from my undergrad thesis, and I provide a quick abstract of the whole paper, so that they can at least somewhat understand the broader context of the two chapters that I included for my sample.

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I am doing option 3... Using the final chapter intact, I have taken parts from each other section to make an introduction/first chapter. Well, I am still in the process and it's extremely tedious rewriting things that have already been carefully written and lovingly assembled. I only recommend doing this if it's absolutely necessary and you can't send anything else!

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I did sort of an option three. I sent in a heavily revised version of my honors thesis from undergrad. I cut my thesis down from 40 pages to a 25 page and a 15 page version. Cutting it down to twenty five actually wasn't that difficult, found that a lot of the stuff that at one time seemed incredibly important could easily be cut. I actually think that all of the cutting made my writing sample much better than had I sent in my full thesis and asked the committee to read a specific section.

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Yes, I too have just finished the somewhat grueling task of cutting my writing sample down from 50 pages (1.5 spaced, appx 14000 words) to 23 pages (appx 8000). It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, but I did have to restructure and rewrite several parts in order to make it flow after I cut out a lot of the transitional parts. I'm not sure if it's better or worse now - don't have anyone willing to read it for me just now. But the benefit of doing this is that it makes it usable for different universities, some which require a shorter sample, some which require a complete piece of writing.

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I'm in the same pickle. I've got a 100-page undergrad thesis and I've excerpted a 20 page mish-mash from it. I've taken part of the first chapter and part of the last chapter and written a thingamabob at the beginning of the document that explains the how and why of it all. It's pretty evenly split: 10 pages from the introduction and 10 pages from the last chapter.

20 pages is good for most of my schools, but I'm thinking that for the schools that want less (NYU: 10 - 12?!!!), I'll axe the part that's from the introduction and turn it into a 1 - 2 page abstract. That'll be a beast, but I think it's doable . . . I was going to write a whole new paper for this, but then an advisor helped me realize that I busted my hump on that thesis for a year, you know? And no matter how hard I work on a new paper, I won't have a year to research it and I won't get the kind of detailed feedback on it that I got on my undergrad. thesis, for which I had an advisor and a committee and a whole department to help. So, I'm excerpting away --nervously!

Good luck, y'all.

Edited by glasses
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I would say some combination of 2 and 3. You DON'T want to be rewriting the whole thesis at this stage in the game. But I think the sample needs to be able to stand alone. I have one chapter that I think is particularly strong, but my methodology is decribed in a previous chapter, and it keeps mentioning some things I've talked about fully earlier that are quite confusing on their own. You also don't want a sample that is the equivalent of a collection of short stories.

I chose a particular issue (not the most "fun" issue in my thesis but the easiest to pull together) and cut and pasted the relevant bits from each chapter. I still had to edit it down quite a bit, but it was actually pretty manageable. It helped to make up a structure as if I was just beginning to write.

I also found some typos that had slipped through when I was initially writing the thing.

Edited by ridgey
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i am including my intro, so they get a scope, and a chapter from my honors thesis and footnotes as well as images for these sections.

to tack on to this topic- if you're doing an excerpt, do you include just the bibliography for that section? or the entire bibliography?

also, if the school doesn't specify, is it ok to use 1.5 spacing? i am using 1" margins and 12 pt font

Edited by ladyday
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i am including my intro, so they get a scope, and a chapter from my honors thesis and footnotes as well as images for these sections.

to tack on to this topic- if you're doing an excerpt, do you include just the bibliography for that section? or the entire bibliography?

also, if the school doesn't specify, is it ok to use 1.5 spacing? i am using 1" margins and 12 pt font

I'm art history also, I included just the bibliography for the excerpts I submitted. It ended up only being about 10 sources from a 50+ list.

I'd say as long as they don't specify and it's still clear enough to read easily, go ahead and use 1.5, though double seems to be standard across the board. I wish someone published a definitive guidebook for all of this stuff!

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I'm art history also, I included just the bibliography for the excerpts I submitted. It ended up only being about 10 sources from a 50+ list.

I'd say as long as they don't specify and it's still clear enough to read easily, go ahead and use 1.5, though double seems to be standard across the board. I wish someone published a definitive guidebook for all of this stuff!

Thanks! Yep, i went ahead and called the department, and they have no problem with 1.5 spacing. I also am only using the sources from the sections I ended up using. I think it's actually shaping up nicely.

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Hi everyone!

I'm sorry to be joining in on this conversation so late (Dec. 15 deadlines, right?)-- here are some thoughts and suggestions, given to me by some ABD friends.

If you are excerpting your thesis, DO NOT send it in in its entirety with a list of pages to read. Committees might see this as you asking them to do too much logistical work to read your sample. Instead, add "(excerpted)" to the title of the writing sample and then actually go through and take out the pages you think can be omitted. You can also put in square brackets/italics something like: "[Omitted for this sample: Discussion of how the protagonist’s disability is often explicitly connected to her barren amorous life. I show the ways in which these visual connections work with the grain of typical representations of disability, and the ways in which the epilogue—in which she returns to her neighborhood with a baby in tow, cooing that they must go pick up daddy—and certain moments of the narrative work to undercut this loneliness and uncertainty regarding her own sexual desirability.]"

The sample should itself be within the dictated page limit, and readers should only have to read it (rather than also figuring out which pages to read).

When figuring out what to cut --and for those of you summarizing your main points-- keep in mind the fact that the writing sample serves as a showcase for certain writing skills: developing a cogent argument, sure, but also (and this may be something that summarizing may cut out) analysis of a text/close reading, handling theoretical material or secondary literature, etc. It's probably a good idea to determine what skills you feel you should be able to demonstrate and to make sure you've included something in your writing sample that covers each of these bases. This may be reason, though, to cut or summarize the second or third piece of evidence and its analysis (given you've got a strong, fully-fleshed-out first one).

Hope this is some help. Good luck!

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I plan to include my full bibliography for the (different) writing sample I am working on now. As I mentioned on another post, I am going to submit the introduction and one chapter (of three) from my undergrad thesis. The chapters deal with very different themes, which I discuss in the introduction, so I am going to include an outline of the thesis (not very long) for the readers' reference so that they can see where the excerpts are coming from and how they fit in to the greater framework of the thesis. I am going to include the entire bibliography (2 pages... which I am assuming don't count as part of the 25 page allotment) for the same reason, so they can see which sources I am using overall. Also, this is because it is not a works cited page, but a bibliography, so even sources that I don't directly cite in my excerpts are relevant and may have contributed to the argument indirectly. I don't think that's particularly misleading, because if they want to know exactly which sources I used for the excerpted samples, they can just read the footnotes!

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This is what all my advisors tole me unequivocally:

Ignore page restrictions. Send your best work. If it's too long, then they'll just stop reading when they think they've had enough. Honestly, with hundreds of writing samples to read, do you really think they're going to read all 25 pages of yours?

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