Writing Sample

In the humanities, the writing sample is just as crucial, if not more crucial, than the statement of purpose. Therefore, an applicant should place considerable importance and a great amount of effort into producing a writing sample. In general, admission committees evaluate an applicant's ability to synthesize ideas, concepts, or theories, and logically take a stand and argue them. Faculty would like to admit potential graduate students whose intellectual abilities and curiosity are highly advanced and are evident in the writing sample. They want to see that the student has mastered a foundation of the discipline, is able to intelligently query new areas of scholarly opportunity, or has contributed to the scholarly foundation with new research. Please consider the following items when contemplating your writing sample.

  • Identify the criteria you must follow for each program to which you will apply. Whatever the criteria, follow them exactly. That is, if the length can be no longer than 15 double-spaced pages, then do not submit more than 15 pages.
  • Do not lift a chapter from a senior or master's thesis or a previously written paper without reworking it. You must rework a paper or chapter to conform to the requirements of the program to which you are applying. Be sure that your writing sample is self-contained, with an introduction, body and summary, and is not dependent upon other work to be fully understood.
  • Do not submit multiple writing samples unless it is allowed.
  • Consider your topic. Although many programs indicate that the topic is not important, too often students submit writing samples on "tired" topics. If you plan to submit a writing sample on a subject, such as Shakespeare, be sure that it is a really new, fresh approach, or that it incorporates cutting-edge research or criticism.
  • Submit your writing sample in English, unless another language is permitted. For some disciplines, such as Italian studies or German, a writing sample in one of these languages may be acceptable, but you must follow the guidelines of the department.