The first 2-4 semesters of graduate study are in significant part focused upon refining your ability to recognize and to effectively state research-worthy problems. It is largely on the basis of the writing sample that we judge your readiness and aptitude for this inaugural phase of your graduate education.
In addition to assessing the clarity and economy of your prose, we are evaluating:
- the tightness of the relationship between the question you pose and the structure of the inquiry you create to facilitate an answer
- the degree of reading/research discipline and imagination that you display in your analysis
- the explanatory power of your insights
Since scholars typically situate their interpretive work in the context of an existing professional conversation, compelling writing samples typically – although not always – establish their projects in reference to an important scholarly work or modest body of scholarship.
In this evaluative context, it makes sense that writing samples should be between 25 pages (the length of a graduate seminar paper) and 15 pages (on the short-end of a substantive scholarly article).
It also needs to be noted that we make our evaluations, at least in part, in reference to the relative advantages provided by a student’s academic training. In our experience, students who thrive in our program have beforehand maximized whatever intellectual opportunities were available to them.