I am very interested in a particular PhD program that I feel is in line with my professional background. Specifically, I am thinking of doing a PhD in Communication Rhetoric and Digital Media.

However, I haven't been in academia for over 18-19 years. I was told by one of the program directors that I would need to have "academic" writing samples and if I didn't then it would be very difficult to compete for the program.

How and where could I write?

  • Usually you are required to write some kind of research proposal for your PhD application. If you can ace that, all is good.
    – Gimelist
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 23:10

3 Answers 3


You don't need anyone's permission to write, but you do need a subject and a milestone. Narrowing in on your subject is deeply connected to performing your literature review (see questions on LR). Reading published work will attune you to the concerns and norms that matter in your field. As you read, keep a list of open questions.

Developing writing skill takes time, so don't assume that you can rush through it. Outlines are crucial, because without them, you won't know what you are writing. Always seek feedback: peers or friends can reveal both important problems and new angles of attack.

The ultimate test of accomplishment in academic writing is publishing journal articles (see questions on publications). While you might not need this achievement in hand to enter that PhD program, insofar as publishing is a main goal of academic endeavor, you can expect to work on it later on. Therefore, your proximate goal could be to produce writing similar in tone, finish, and advancement to what you see in your field's main journals.


I would suggest you start a blog and read and write daily. That will get you into the swing of things and show a track record of diligence.

You didn't say your discipline. But you can possible put together a review article. There is something called systematic review these days. When you are 90% there, approach the professors you want to work with and ask them if they want to help you finish it off for publication. They will be very pleased!

  • Thank you! This is quite helpful. I am thinking of doing a PhD in Communication Rhetoric and Digital Media. You are right though about having a blog. I do own and manage a website in which I have had around 50 writers around the world that contribute. I was told by one of the new alumni's that the site itself could be used as a "product" but I personally didn't write substantive articles on it. PS: what is "systemic review"? Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 19:43
  • 2
    For a program that specifically asks for an "academic writing sample" (as do e.g. most humanities PhDs), a typical blog will not provide such samples. A blog is usually a series of relatively short, informal pieces that do not include very deep analysis of a subject; an "academic writing sample" is a single piece that is long, formal, and demonstrates depth of analysis and insight. They are essentially "opposite" kinds of writing.
    – ff524
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 23:34

You could ease back in by taking an isolated class in your field that requires a fair amount of writing. A strong letter of recommendation from the instructor would support your application.

If you want to save some money, you could formally audit the class rather than taking it for credit. When you audit, you can still do the assignments, labs, exams, etc.

  • Would a class on something like Edx suffice? And if so, would it be an english class? Or a class which subject is closer to what the degree calls for? Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 22:35
  • I was going to say, a class whose subject is in the field you would like to study. However, in the case that you live in the U.S. and are a non-native speaker of English, I would suggest instead that you take a couple of English classes at your local community college first. That's where you'll get the biggest bang for your buck. Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 22:56

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