The writing sample for English PhD Watch

chequemate
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Hi all!

I'm applying for Cambridge's English PhD and have to submit a 5000-7000 word writing sample. I'm planning on submitting an excerpt of my master's dissertation, which got a first (from a non-Oxbridge Russell uni). However, I'm kind of stuck on which section to pick for my writing sample. I've narrowed it down to (a) my intro and the whole of my first chapter, and (b) my abstract, first chapter and first half of my second chapter. (a) and (b) both have roughly the same word count. I had initially planned to submit (a), but when I asked my dissertation supervisor about this, he told me that he felt I should submit something from the main text (ie b) rather than the intro, since he felt that the intro was mainly a contextualisation of my work, whereas the main text was where I did my "real work." He was exceptionally complimentary on my introduction section however in the dissertation feedback, and I too feel that it was written rather better than (b), which in my opinion delineates sometimes from the main topic/isn't written quite as well. I also feel that the intro gave a much better indicative of how my research was situated against previous scholarship etc.

Does anyone have any advice on this? Is it advisable to submit the intro as part of the writing sample?

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
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alleycat393
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I'm in a very different field but I'd think a writing sample is just that-they want to see if you can write to academic standards which is critical. I'd think a lit review in which you critique the lit and talk about how your research questions fit in with and contribute to current literature would do well. Your research proposal and personal statement are where they will be looking at your work so far and your research interests.
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chequemate
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(Original post by alleycat393)
I'm in a very different field but I'd think a writing sample is just that-they want to see if you can write to academic standards which is critical. I'd think a lit review in which you critique the lit and talk about how your research questions fit in with and contribute to current literature would do well. Your research proposal and personal statement are where they will be looking at your work so far and your research interests.
Ah I see. Do you mind me asking which field you're in? Consequently we're not asked for a personal statement (apart from the funding boxes) so all they've got to go on is my research proposal and my writing sample. I'm just concerned as to whether an introduction would be suitable or not to submit as a writing sample.
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alleycat393
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Not sure what you mean by funding boxes...? There will be somewhere where you talk about current or past research experience, motivation for doing a PhD and why this particular uni.

My sig should tell you which field I'm in! It's the biological sciences!
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chequemate
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(Original post by alleycat393)
Not sure what you mean by funding boxes...? There will be somewhere where you talk about current or past research experience, motivation for doing a PhD and why this particular uni.

My sig should tell you which field I'm in! It's the biological sciences!
Haha, I meant the boxes where you fill in stuff. I was thinking about the Gates personal statement and Cambridge trusts personal statements, since the other ones you mentioned aren't labelled as such, but I see what you mean! Thanks
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mg198
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Hi! I'm also applying for a PhD in English, and I submitted the final chapter and conclusion of my Honours thesis, around 6000 words total (I'm Australian so the system works a bit differently but an Honours thesis is like one step down from a Masters dissertation in Aus). I know what you mean - I wanted to submit the chapter as it's where the 'meat' of the analysis is, but also wanted to submit something that would give a bit of context to whoever is reading it (thus submitting the conclusion, which talks about how my research could be extended - and that extended research is what I'm proposing for my PhD so it seemed to fit nicely!). I would probably submit (b), as even though the introduction will set it up, I always take time in introductions to set everything out and that might read as less impressive to any potential assessor. Only you and your supervisor really know what the best option is though, so I guess just submit whatever you feel best showcases your research and writing abilities! Good luck!
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chequemate
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(Original post by mg198)
Hi! I'm also applying for a PhD in English, and I submitted the final chapter and conclusion of my Honours thesis, around 6000 words total (I'm Australian so the system works a bit differently but an Honours thesis is like one step down from a Masters dissertation in Aus). I know what you mean - I wanted to submit the chapter as it's where the 'meat' of the analysis is, but also wanted to submit something that would give a bit of context to whoever is reading it (thus submitting the conclusion, which talks about how my research could be extended - and that extended research is what I'm proposing for my PhD so it seemed to fit nicely!). I would probably submit (b), as even though the introduction will set it up, I always take time in introductions to set everything out and that might read as less impressive to any potential assessor. Only you and your supervisor really know what the best option is though, so I guess just submit whatever you feel best showcases your research and writing abilities! Good luck!
Hi, nice to meet you! Yes, my abstract contextualised my stuff, but I just feel that my intro's written a lot better. I'm curious as to how "setting everything up" would read as less impressive, since I would think that it would actually show how your mind map functions and thus give the assessor an indicative of your potential?

Argh this is all so tricky. Yes my supervisor also said to submit the chapters, but then again I don't feel they were written as well.

Thanks a lot for replying, and good luck on your application too! I hope we'll see each other in Cambridge next fall, with any luck
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mg198
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(Original post by chequemate)
Hi, nice to meet you! Yes, my abstract contextualised my stuff, but I just feel that my intro's written a lot better. I'm curious as to how "setting everything up" would read as less impressive, since I would think that it would actually show how your mind map functions and thus give the assessor an indicative of your potential?

Argh this is all so tricky. Yes my supervisor also said to submit the chapters, but then again I don't feel they were written as well.

Thanks a lot for replying, and good luck on your application too! I hope we'll see each other in Cambridge next fall, with any luck
Thanks! It's so hard to know what's going to give you the best chance. I know what you mean about the introduction - I guess at least my introduction spends time introducing texts, authors, theories etc, but the real detailed analysis and argument comes later on in my chapters.

And yes - hope to see you there, let me know how you get on!
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