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Prof L

I've seen 15,000 word dissertation chapters as writing samples. Or long, meandering journal articles. Obviously this is bad for the committee, but also bad for the candidate. I wonder if this wording is simply meant to discourage people from sending in long writing samples (over 20 pages).

But if I saw that wording I would think that anything from 10-20 pages is acceptable. Idk, though, I work in history. I would also ask the contact person what this means.

Bill Vanderburgh

This is a tough one to interpret but probably it doesn't matter much in the end. I think you should just send your best work, rather than a good enough but short thing you happen to have ready. After all, they can stop reading at a certain point. That said, sending long chapters or papers longer than 20 pages is risky in any application, since (with huge applicant pools) readers might not go deep enough into the sample to see the philosophical value of it. Related note: Don't send an introductory chapter, send something where you are doing real philosophy.

non-tt faculty

Don't really feel that page numbers are informative. For roughly 10k-words papers, I have one published with 25 pages, and one with just 15 pages.

Spaced Out

Basic question: is everyone talking about 20 pages single spaced (12-point font)? Or double spaced?

an expert on short things

Not to be cute, but short papers are those that are shorter than the long papers one has. Short papers, I think, should be those under 7000 words. What is the real point of this request? The real point is that the committee is not going to keep reading a paper if it is too long. Applicants do not want that to happen - they do not want a committee member to stop after 7000 words, for example. Especially in small departments that are not research focused, there is not time to do this. So do yourself a favour and submit a short paper. I hereby call all papers under 7001 words SHORT PAPERS (this is a Christening, think H2O).

Marcus Arvan

@an expert: if that's the expectation, then it seems to me to be a really bad one that favors philosophers who write shorter papers. I think I've published one paper under 7K words in my entire career--and while I think it's pretty decent, it's by no means my best work. Virtually all of my papers are close to 10K words, and many of them are between 10-15K words.

If a department wants to hire the best person for a job, why put your 'thumb on the scale', as it were? Why not just say, 'send your best work' and stop reading if you don't like it?


Yes, it is exceedingly rare in certain areas of the history of philosophy to publish a sub-7k paper unless it is a note and not an article, i.e. not someone's most groundbreaking or interesting work.

On the market

The comments here have prompted a question in me about the purpose of a writing sample. Some people are suggesting that your writing sample should be your most groundbreaking or interesting work. (Someone above said your "best" paper, which has multiple interpretations.)

I had always thought that your writing sample should be a paper that most clearly displays the care with which you think and the approach you take to philosophical questions. And then the search committee infers that you have the same approach when it comes to the content described in your research statement, your CV, and mentioned by your letter writers.

I suspect that different search committees are looking for different things here (and obviously it would be best if you have one paper that is most representative of you *and* your most interesting). Any thoughts here?

Trevor Hedberg

Most journal articles are 6000-8000 words. (Or at least that's what they'll state on their official webpages.) Given that convention, I always interpreted "short" writing samples as being under 6000 words. Preferably in the 4000-5000 word range. The commonness of these requests means that it's useful to try and publish a shorter piece at some point early in one's career -- something I did not do until after I had already been on the market a couple of times.

Marcus Arvan

@On the Market: my own experience as a search committee member is probably what you would expect—that every search committee member has their own ideas about what a good writing sample is like, and indeed, what good philosophy is like more generally. Some of us like really ambitious work, whereas others are turned off by stuff that seems to them to be “too ambitious.” Some people like short articles, others long articles. Some like articles on popular topics, others are sick to death of what’s currently popular.

I could go on, but you get the picture: philosophers are a diverse bunch. Your task as a job candidate is not to impress every search committee member or even most of them. Your task is to impress *someone* enough by what you do that their department ends up interviewing and hiring you. It might come as a bit of a surprise, but sometimes this can involve impressing just *one* person on a search committee enough to go to bat for you—saying, in essence to the rest of the search committee, “we must interview this person.” In my experience, search committee members often negotiate with each other. They tend to interview people that most of them agree upon, but sometimes say “I’ll interview this person you really want if you agree to interview that person that I really want.” Then, once you get to interviews, all bets are off. It can turn out that the candidate that the one search committee member insisted upon interviewing impresses the heck out of everyone else, they are invited to campus, everyone “falls in love with them”, and they get the job. I’ve seen this happen on multiple occasions.

It’s for this reason that I’m a big proponent of “send your best work.” Your task is to put forward the best version of yourself—as a researcher, teacher, etc.—and hope that what you send impresses someone enough to get you to move forward in the hiring process. Then it’s up to you and (unfortunately) a lot of luck!

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