If you are writing a graduate thesis or a dissertation, then it usually means you have to put in a lot of long hours at the keyboard. Writing a research proposal for a scientific journal or presenting your findings at a conference can also take a lot of time, so when you add all the editing and revising that needs to be done, then you are usually looking at a minimum of 500 – 1,000 hours of solid writing time.
But how long should your writing sample be? The answer to this question will depend on several factors:
The Type of Paper
The first thing to consider is what type of paper you are writing. Are you writing a narrative or an analytical essay? A narrative paper is usually easier to write as you just need to tell the story, but it can be quite difficult to draft if you have never done so before. So, if you are used to writing long-winded emails to your friends, then you might struggle to condense all that into a few pages of text. And then there’s the matter of spelling and grammar; you will want to make sure everything is perfect because even the smallest error can throw off the entire message you are trying to convey.
An analytical essay, on the other hand, is much easier to write as you will be breaking down a specific topic into logical sub-points that can be proved through evidence. So, it’s all about the writing, nothing more. You don’t have to worry about spelling as much, but you do need to make sure you have included all the relevant sources so that the reader can trace back your ideas to their original sources. Once you have done this, then all that is left is to sit back and watch the compliments roll in.
The Subject Matter
The second thing to consider when setting the length of your paper is the subject matter. You will want to reflect on what you know and understand about the topic you are writing about. If you are writing about literature, then you will want to include numerous literary references and quotes. But if you are focusing on gender equality, then you will want to avoid using words like ‘theory’ and ‘literary theory’, as these are generally used to describe large bodies of work, not specific articles. You will also want to look at what is currently happening in your chosen field and make relevant conclusions about the future of your topic.
Think of specific events that have shaped your personal or academic views on the topic you are writing about. For example, if you are writing about gender equality and how the MeToo movement has changed our views on sexual harassment, then you will want to include lots of quotes from and references to prominent figures involved in the movement. If you are writing about immigration, then you might want to include relevant statistics and figures. If you are writing about the Holocaust, then you will want to include plenty of primary source documents (e.g. diaries, letters, and memoirs).
The Size Of The Paper
The third factor to consider when setting the length of your writing sample is the size of the paper you are writing on. Obviously, the smaller the paper, the more you can fit on it. Just keep in mind that the smaller the paper, the more likely it is to be rejected. So, you will have to work that little bit harder to get it accepted. You also need to decide how many pages you need to get the point you are making across. There is no exact formula for this, so you will have to use your best judgement. You could start by writing a short outline for the paper, adding in more details as you go along. When you have finished, then you can go back and re-read what you have written, making any necessary edits. Remember: you are not writing a novel, you are writing a paper for a college or university.
If you are turning in a short paper, then you will want to take into account how much space you have to work with. If you are doing this as an assignment for a class, then you will have to work within the parameters set by your instructor, but if you are doing it for a competition, then you have a little more freedom.
How Much Research Do You Have To Do?
The fourth factor to consider when setting the length of your writing sample is how much research you have to do. This is a bit like the third point, but it depends on how much time you have to devote to the paper. If you are starting from scratch, then you will have to do a lot of research to make sure you have included all the necessary information. The more you know about the topic, the easier it will be to write about it. So, by doing some research and proper planning, you can greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to draft a high-quality paper.
Some academic disciplines place more value on originality than on the amount of research that went into a paper, so you will have to work on your grammar, spelling, and the like, more so than you would for a creative writing assignment. But this is totally normal and just part of the process of becoming a well-rounded, critical thinker. You will appreciate this side of academics once you are done.
Revising And Editing
The fifth and final factor to consider when setting the length of your writing sample is how much you need to revise and edit it. This is where most writers trip up, thinking that just because they have finished writing everything down that it is perfect. But this is not so. You will want to go back and edit everything you have written, particularly if you are doing this as an assignment for a class. Professors are often very picky about the quality of work submitted by students, and they will often point out even the tiniest spelling errors or grammatical errors in your work, no matter how many times you have gone over it. The best thing you can do for yourself and your writing sample is to re-read it aloud, making notes of any errors you find and fixing them as you go along. Once you are happy with the content, then you can submit your work.
The Final Word
So, there you have it. This is what you need to know about writing samples for graduate school. Keep all these things in mind as you begin your academic career and make sure you work within the constraints set by your instructors while also striving for originality and quality. And remember: everything you put out there for the world to see will be judged by you, so take this into consideration before you upload that embarrassing photo of yourself to social media.