I noticed that in US PhD application forms there is no separate portion for attaching a PhD research proposal. The writing sample I have is an essay from an undergraduate class and non-academic articles written for a newspaper. My master's theses were written for a different field and in a different language. So I wrote the PhD research proposal to address the competency in the field I wish to apply. The online applications do not say, and the admissions are not answering this question. Can I submit my research proposal as a writing sample or will combining the shorter undergraduate essay with two newspaper articles into one writing sample be better?

2 Answers 2


I would advise against this. Writing samples and research proposals are distinct documents, and submitting one when you have been asked for the other is not likely to be a successful strategy.

A writing sample should demonstrate, first and foremost, your ability and your potential in the field in question. It should be a polished and high quality example of what you are capable of, hopefully suggesting to its readers that with the right training (i.e. theirs) you will develop into a real scholar and expert in the field. A writing sample is not a place to set out a research programme. If they ask you for a research proposal, then of course you have something to submit, but it is not surprising that many programmes do not: in the US system, you will be expected to work out the subject of your dissertation during your first couple of years in grad school, rather than arriving with a topic in hand that you are ready to start work on.

You would be better off submitting your undergraduate essay, assuming that it's in the right field, but in whatever time you have before submitting the application you should try to improve it as much as possible, so that it reflects as well as possible on your knowledge and ability. I don't know exactly how important writing samples are typically taken to be in the area of the humanities that you are applying in, but in some (e.g. philosophy) they are extremely important indeed, especially for candidates who come from non-US institutions and whose academic transcripts are harder for admissions committees to judge.


Unless there is some expectation of confidentiality in the research proposal you could use it. But most of the things you mention could serve as well. Even something from a different field. The purpose of the writing sample is to judge your competency with writing in the expected language, not necessarily the field of interest. You are applying to a doctoral program not because you don't need to learn what it is designed to teach, after all. I think this is especially true in the US, where most students enter with only a bachelors and aren't expected to have deep knowledge in the field beyond the basics.

Submit something that shows you can write effectively in English for the US, and can effectively carry an argument.

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