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I am applying to PhD programs in educational sciences and they sometimes ask for a writing sample. I am undecided about sending part of my MA thesis or an empirical paper that is in preparation. Each has its own limitations.

MA thesis: It is not recent (I defended it in 2014) and its sections are usually longer than the required page number or word limit. Breaking up these sections to make them fit the requirements doesn't feel right either.

Empirical paper: It is still in preparation and is sometimes shorter than the required length.

I should also mention that I have a first-author publication with two other co-authors, but I keep reading that I should not send it as my writing sample.

So how should I proceed? Do I have to exactly meet the length requirements? Should my writing sample be on a recent topic? Is the published article or the paper in preparation a better choice?

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Some thoughts that might help you decide.

  • You want to submit good writing that's easy to read. Consider how a random person in your field might react to your prose. The source of the text (thesis, published paper, work in progress) probably does not matter.
  • Submitting somewhat less than the suggested amount might please readers processing many applications. Definitely don't provide more.
  • Consider a small part of the thesis and the introduction or abstract and conclusion of the paper, with a brief note explaining that choice.

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