English Literature

Pre-application guidance for the PhD in Creative Writing

Find out why and how you should apply for our PhD in Creative Writing, including guidance on the creative and critical components of your degree.

How is the Creative Writing PhD structured?

Doctoral degree candidates in Creative Writing spend three years writing a manuscript in consultation with a supervisor.

This manuscript consists of two components:

  1. A creative component that comprises 75% of the final manuscript.
  2. A critical component, which comprises 25% of the final manuscript.

In practical terms this amounts to the following:

  • Candidates in fiction write a creative manuscript (novel or collection of short stories) that should not exceed 75,000 words in length.
  • Candidates in poetry write a collection of poetry that should not exceed 75 pages of poetry.
  • All candidates (fiction writers and poets) must also write an essay that is approximately 20,000- 25,000 words. This is the ‘critical’ component.

What is meant by ‘critical component’?

The critical component of a thesis manuscript in Creative Writing can be where you analyse how a precise, focused theme or a specific element of craft (character, form, voice, etc.) operates in selected published works. Sometimes, this will be a traditional academic or ‘critical’ essay. Other times, this part of a thesis might tackle more craft-driven questions: in what ways does plot operate in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and how do these ‘operations’ affect readers? How does the use of non-human personae in Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris, Les Murray’s Translations from the Natural World and Edwin Morgan’s poetry reshape reader perceptions?

Alternatively, the critical component may take the form of a critical-reflexive essay, in which you situate your creative project in a critical context. Such an essay is not simply an account of what you did and when you did it; instead, it should be a rigorous and scholarly work that aims for some deeper insight. It is likely to use self-reflection as a means of illuminating the creative process, interrogating the contribution made by your creative writing to a chosen genre and its tradition, and examining how it engages with, and contributes to, wider conceptual or theoretical issues. Examples of critical-reflexive essays can be found in Writing in Practice and Text Journal.

It is not expected that the critical component should constitute an original contribution to knowledge, as would be the case when pursuing a conventional 80,000-word thesis manuscript in literary studies; what is important is that it offers an in-depth analysis of a question that, although explored in part or in whole through the work of other writers, relates to, or grows out of, the creative component of your manuscript, and that the creative and critical components are sufficiently connected for the thesis as a whole to form a coherent body of work.

You have only 20,000 -25,000 words for this essay, so when writing your proposal it is important to be focused and specific.

What form does the application take?

Applicants are asked to supply a sample of either fiction (3,000 - 5,000 words; not exceeding 5,000 words) or poetry (10-15 pages of poetry; not exceeding 15 pages), as well as a shorter sample of academic writing (circa 2,000 words). You’ll also need to supply a summary of your proposed project. This summary should comprise an outline of your creative project as well as detailed discussion of your 20,000 to 25,000-word critical component.

Some questions that your proposal might address could be:

  • What would be the proposed structure of the creative portion of your final manuscript?
  • Which resources would you be using for the critical portion (mention a few critics and/or authors you will be discussing by name or, even better, specific titles)?
  • Is there a single overarching research question that both the creative and the critical work will investigate?
  • Why would Edinburgh be a good place for this project?

Please include a bibliography. The application also asks for a personal statement separate from the proposal. This is where you provide information about your previous experiences and attainments as a creative writer; also give a sense of why you want to do the PhD at Edinburgh.

How long should a proposal be?

There is no official limit or minimum length for a proposal. However, effective proposals tend to be 500-750 words long, excluding the indicative bibliography.

Do I need to find someone to supervise my project before applying?

There is no need to identify a supervisor in advance of your application. Applicants who receive an offer of acceptance are assigned a provisional supervisor, taking into account staff research interests and other factors. However, it’s important to make contact with the team if you’re intending to apply for SGSAH (AHRC) funding.

While you do not need to find a member of staff willing to supervise your project before applying, please do take some time to read over staff profiles, staff research interests, and publications in order to ensure that your project is something we can supervise effectively.

Is there anything else I should consider before applying?

Creative Writing at Edinburgh is staffed by a small cohort of writers of fiction and poetry and we are extremely selective in our recruitment. Sometimes, strong applications from talented writers do not receive offers because the proposed projects fall outside our areas of specialisation. A PhD requires close supervision from a specialist in the field: this holds equally for Creative Writing as for literary studies and applies to both elements of your project.

FAQs about our programme

Do doctoral degree candidates have the opportunity to teach?

In later years, suitably qualified PhD students are offered the opportunity to teach undergraduate tutorials. Please note that these tutorials are linked with pre-honours courses in literary studies, not creative writing.

Would my doctoral manuscript be made available through Open Access?

Conversations regarding Open Access are on-going and ever-evolving. At present, the same policy applies to Creative Writing doctoral manuscripts as to thesis manuscripts written by doctoral students in literary studies and other disciplines within the humanities.

When you submit, you can request a one-year embargo on public access to your thesis. If no embargo is requested then the full text of the thesis is made freely available online via ERA (Edinburgh Research Archive).

Find out more about Access to Thesis restrictions on the Scholarly Communications website

Find out more and apply

You can find out more about language requirements, facilities, fees, funding opportunities and application deadlines for this PhD programme, and formally apply to study on it, on the University of Edinburgh’s online Degree Finder.

Take me to the University of Edinburgh's Degree Finder entry for the PhD in Creative Writing