Guidance for PhD Candidates

Your Application

Guidance for English Literature and Creative Writing PhD candidates.

This guide will offer practical advice on each component of your application. The application must give a clear description of the research you would like to do, show your potential as a research student, highlight your achievements so far and demonstrate why Lancaster University is an appropriate place for you to pursue your proposed research project.

Application for the PhD programme is through our electronic applications system, but you should provide the following documents as well as other statutory requirements such as transcripts of degrees. All statements of length are indicative, but you should be careful not to make your application too lengthy, as it is unlikely to add to its appeal.


For candidates for the PhD in English Literature, the pre-requisite for PhD study is an MA in English Literature or a related subject.

For candidates for the PhD in Creative Writing, you may have an MA in Creative Writing or a related subject, but we will also consider applications from students who have a track record of publication or performance credits.

As a general guide, applicants who hold a Merit or Distinction at MA level will stand the best chance of success on either of our PhD programmes.

If you intend to apply for a NWCDTP (AHRC) PhD Studentship or Lancaster University Faculty funding, then that is unlikely to succeed unless you have a very strong academic track record including a Distinction at MA level, or (in the case of some applicants) have significant publications.

Elements of the Application

1. Personal Statement

This should briefly detail your proposed research project, your suitability – including prior experience in the research area – for the proposed course of study, and the reasons you wish to undertake it in the Department of English Literature and Creative writing at Lancaster University. This is a good place to mention that you wish to be considered for University or Research Council (NWCDTP) funding. Do not go into exhaustive detail: think of this as a summary of your intentions and suitability as a doctoral candidate at this institution. If you have had initial contact with a prospective supervisor who specialises in your proposed research area and they have indicated a willingness in principle to supervise the project, you should say that here.

2. PhD Proposal (1500 words max including all elements a-f)

a) Title

The overarching title of your proposed PhD.

(For Creative Writing candidates, this title may include the title of the creative work that you propose to submit alongside your reflective thesis.)

b) Research Abstract

This is a condensed version of your entire project and shows your ability to think and speak in academic terms. It should be no more than 300 words and should express the focus, methodology, and contribution to the knowledge of your research.

c) Research Questions (for Creative Writing Candidates)

These are a vital part of your application and should relate to both the creative work you propose to work on as well as the reflective element of your thesis. We recommend no more than five questions at this stage. Research questions are the intellectual underpinning of your project and indicate the focus of what it is you wish to find out. Good research questions are nuanced and open-ended and are engaged with the ‘how’ of genre, form, structure, voice and other artistic techniques as much as they are with the ‘what’ or ‘why’ of the subject matter. They will lead to a dynamic creative and critical process and to a range of possible outcomes rather than to specific answers.

c) Research Questions (for English Literary Studies candidates)

We recommend no more than five questions at this stage. Research questions are the intellectual underpinning of your project and indicate your research focus, how you plan to approach it, and the significance of that project in scholarly terms. Good research questions are informed by existing scholarship, nuanced and open-ended. They will lead to a range of possible outcomes rather than to specific answers.

d) Detailed Project Description (3 pages max – for Creative Writing candidates)

This should outline your intended project in more detail, identifying themes, genres and intended literary form (novel, poetry collection, short story cycle), clearly describing your research context (other recent creative and scholarly writing on the subject), your intended methodology, and why your own project might be considered an ‘original contribution’ to the field.

You should describe the overall composition of the project, specifically how you see the weighting between creative and reflective work (usually 80/20 or 50/50) and how the components might relate to each other.

Remember that your creative work will pursue primary research objectives. In the case of the 80/20 model, the shorter reflective account is most often a reflection upon process and decisions in the formation of the creative work; in the case of the 50/50 model, the reflective thesis usually engages with aspects of critical theory or methodology that runs in parallel with the creative work and creates a dialogue with it.

d) Detailed Project Description (3 pages max – for English Literary Studies candidates)

This should outline your intended research in more detail, identifying key issues to be explored, saying something about the research context (scholarly writing on the subject), your intended methodology, and why your own project might be considered a distinctive contribution to the field.

e) Timetable

A brief timetable to the Project outline, showing how you think your research will unfold over the three-year period of the PhD. This can be useful in showing how methodically you are approaching your project. Please note: all research students are expected to draft thesis material (creative and / or critical) from the beginning of the programme.

f) Indicative Bibliography

An indicative bibliography, with scholarly bibliographic referencing, shows books and articles you have read or have identified as relevant in your field. This demonstrates up-to-date awareness of the research context for your proposed study.

3. Writing Sample

Prospective Creative Writing candidates should submit 10-20 pages of creative work relevant to their proposed project.


The information you put in your application for PhD will form the basis of the study, if successful. It will be reviewed on an annual basis, so you should think of it as a starting point and as a rigorous but flexible framework at this stage and not as an unchanging commitment.