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I am planning to apply for a PhD in the USA and Canada in fall 2023. I'm applying to English, Film and Media and Gender studies departments. All the programs require only one writing sample of decent length.

My best piece of writing is the preface of my MPhil dissertation which is a discussion about objectivity in research and how my identity and my lived experiences relate to my research questions. It is divided into three sections. The first two are about how the idea of objectivity is based in the nature/culture divide and the last section is about my specific research question.

Pro: The whole thing is pretty academic in my opinion with a good mix of references to theorists and original ideas (in the last section). The last section relates to the research topic I want to explore in my PhD.

Con: The second section the second half of the first section are pretty much a literature review with no original ideas. It also does not directly relate to my research topic (the theorists are the same ones though).

Will it be a good idea to use this as my writing sample instead of a paper (which I'm not as confident about)?

PS: my research is about autobiographies and the last section of the preface is exactly the blend of personal and theoretical I'm going for.

PPS: I haven't put any personal anecdotes that do not directly relate to the theorisation.

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I’m not sure what social science program admission committees look for, so don’t quote me on this. But from my familiarity with how doctoral programs and program committees work in the natural sciences, they probably just want to see whether you are capable of (scientific) writing.

So my (potentially uninformed) advice would be that you submit what you think is your best piece of writing. I don’t know that it matters if it is mostly literature review or if it’s not about your main research interest, but I could well be wrong.

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If you judge it as your best writing it is probably a good choice. Especially so since it seems to be related to the field(s) you want to pursue. It isn't my area of expertise, however.

But you can also ask for local advice of a trusted professor in one of those fields (or several professors).

If the requirements don't say that it has to be an existing piece of writing, you could also spend some time improving it if you get advice to do so. You would need to say that it is "based on" the preface, rather than it "is" of course.

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