Jump to content

Writing Sample Frustration


Recommended Posts

I am working on editing my writing samples, and it sure is a pain! For the MA programs I am applying to, the word/page limit is shorter than anything I have ever written as an undergraduate. Everything I have is at least 1000 words over! I wish they would just let me submit a full-length paper, and then read however much they wanted.

I suppose I don't really have a question to ask, except is everyone else having this problem? For UPenn, the maximum length of a submission is 10 double-spaced pages. The shortest thing I have is 14! Should I cut out whole paragraphs and thereby weaken the entire argument, or should I just submit the first 10 pages?? I know I have asked a similar question several times before on this forum, but I need quite a bit of hand-holding when it comes to this sort of thing.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Man, that's rough. I'm lucky to have a variety of papers around 10pgs in length to choose from, and one of my programs actually wants a writing sample of 20+ pgs, so I'm excerpting my honors thesis for that. It seems to me that you could certainly effectively cut a 14 pg paper down to 10 with judicious edits, especially if it's acknowledged in the application that you've done so.

Link to post
Share on other sites

What I have learned, sadly, from this application process, is that you can almost always cut material out of your undergraduate work and make it more effective than it was before. I cut a 63-page thesis to 20 (didn't excerpt it, just hacked away), and though the argument is slightly different now because I've narrowed its focus considerably, the overall paper is much stronger. For a school that requires a second, shorter writing sample in addition to the longer one, I cut a 15-page paper down to 7. Bear in mind that this was actually a very good paper, which my professor has been using as the example of an "A+ model" paper in her classes since I graduated. To use it as a writing sample, I did have to cut out some well written and even very original thinking, which was quite hard. Nonetheless, I am confident that it is a MUCH stronger paper since I cut it.

This is super aggravating, and I feel your pain. Some months ago when I began the revision process on my writing samples, I was completely convinced that there was no way I'd be able to cut enough pages without weakening my arguments. However, I learned that it is always possible to be more concise and precise. You are likely to improve your papers, not weaken them. And if there's no "fluff" at all, cutting them will require you to refocus your argument more acutely, which will probably improve it.

Any undergrad papers will need serious revision, anyway. As my mentor said, "there is a real gap even between a very respectable honors thesis and graduate work."

Link to post
Share on other sites

On an unrelated note, Pamphilia, have you considered applying to work with Albrecht Diem at Syracuse? I noticed you have medieval queer studies listed in your signature, and when I was looking up some of Diem's work I noticed he teaches on that subject. He's a really interesting writer, although I don't know anything about the program at Syracuse, or about his work on "queering the middle ages" or whatever they call it.

Thanks for the tips. I know whoever reads my sample essay won't really care (or know) much about the finer points, but it's very difficult to rewrite something you thought you were finished with months ago! Especially with medieval history, in which every statement needs to be prefaced with 'potentially,' 'according to manuscript E but not B,' 'during the third quarter of the seventh century' or other seemingly superfluous, but actually vital, verbiage.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I would consider doing that, and in fact part of the reason all my writing samples are so long is that I routinely ignore/exceed the word limits for assessed coursework. However, Penn says not to submit anything over 10 pages, and it says this in bold, capital letters, so I'm guessing that this has been a previous source of annoyance on the part of the admissions committee.

Link to post
Share on other sites

What I have learned, sadly, from this application process, is that you can almost always cut material out of your undergraduate work and make it more effective than it was before.

I concur 100%. Last year when I applied, I was able to just use one chapter of my BA thesis since it was just 20 pages, but now I am using my MA thesis as the base for my writing sample and I've had to cut it down a bit. My whole thesis was around 200 pages, and the central chapter was over 50 pp. I cut it down to 10 pages for my smallest writing sample. Yes I had to cut a lot of good examples but the result is something which is to be honest much better than the original. Remember if you can cut it - do it, even if you are already under the page limit. The professors have a lot to read and you don't want anything superfluous to take away from what it really stellar in your writing.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm having a similar problem, so I've decided to turn in a book annotation that I wrote this semester. It meets the word requirements I just don't know if the format is what they are looking for since its not an essay and its broken into sections that cover the summary of the book, the authors argument, an analysis of his argument and then a reflection. What do you guys think?

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm having a similar problem, so I've decided to turn in a book annotation that I wrote this semester. It meets the word requirements I just don't know if the format is what they are looking for since its not an essay and its broken into sections that cover the summary of the book, the authors argument, an analysis of his argument and then a reflection. What do you guys think?

Is this for a research based program? I'm not sure it's advisable to submit a paper that contains little or no original work. You want to present a paper that argues some (new, original) point, not just reviews a point others have made.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Is this for a research based program? I'm not sure it's advisable to submit a paper that contains little or no original work. You want to present a paper that argues some (new, original) point, not just reviews a point others have made.

Its not research based. Its the LSMA in Human Rights at Columbia. This is what they ask for:

Please provide a short paper no more than 1,000 words in length or a similarly-sized coherent excerpt from a longer paper that you have written for a course. Alternatively, provide a focused essay written in an academic style in which you analyze an article, book, exhibit or event relevant to your field of interest

The Annotation was written for a course, a Human Rights literature course at that, which is why I am tempted to turn it in. Hopwever, like you mentioned, I was concerned about it being more of a review than original work, though the 'reflection' portion is original work as it allows you to create a thesis of any topic and just requires that you substantiate your claim with details from the book. However, this reflection portion is only 2 pages of the 4 page annotation.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Do you think it's okay to use other "tricks" to cut it down like: using a somewhat smaller font size and convert some arguments into footnotes?

And another question: My writing paper exceeds the page requirement when I add the literature list. Do you think only the writing part counts for the limitation or the whole essay including literature list?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Do you think it's okay to use other "tricks" to cut it down like: using a somewhat smaller font size and convert some arguments into footnotes?

And another question: My writing paper exceeds the page requirement when I add the literature list. Do you think only the writing part counts for the limitation or the whole essay including literature list?

I'm relatively certain only the writing part counts toward the page limit.

As for using tricks, I wouldn't mess with font size, spacing or margins too much. Changing from 12 pt to 11 pt isn't too bad, but using 9 or 10 pt might be. Similarly, changing spacing by a couple tenths probably wouldn't be a big deal, and tiny changes to margins shouldn't matter either. I just wouldn't make it obvious that you're desperately squeezing stuff in. (Many schools I'm applying to firmly specify 12 pt double spaced, so I'm hesitant to play with my sample too much.)

Link to post
Share on other sites

yeah, you're probably just going to have to cut a paper down to size. i feel your pain though- i'm going to try to combine three papers in order to create a mega paper and i will probably have to condense that. ugh.

Link to post
Share on other sites

On an unrelated note, Pamphilia, have you considered applying to work with Albrecht Diem at Syracuse? I noticed you have medieval queer studies listed in your signature, and when I was looking up some of Diem's work I noticed he teaches on that subject. He's a really interesting writer, although I don't know anything about the program at Syracuse, or about his work on "queering the middle ages" or whatever they call it.

To JerryLandis: Yeah, Diem's pretty awesome. My primary focus is early modern, though. I love the Medieval stuff, but it very much a secondary interest (and I haven't the bazillion languages under by belt that are necessary for acceptance as a Medievalist). My priorities for applying are to programs with strong early modern and gender/queer studies faculty. Thanks for the thought, though!

Link to post
Share on other sites

What I have learned, sadly, from this application process, is that you can almost always cut material out of your undergraduate work and make it more effective than it was before.

SO true.

Anyways, I would suggest contacting the admissions department and asking directly about how strict the page limit is. So far, I've found two universities already that don't mind if you're five or fewer pages over the limit.

(Of course, if UPenn really says in bold not to go over, I wouldn't suggest asking...) ;)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.