The Personal Interest Project (PIP) is worth 40% of your HSC Society & Culture examination mark. 5000 words you must submit to NESA? Along with your other Society & Culture internal assessments, other subjects and possibly another major. Sounds daunting? Scared? Here in this article, I will give you tips and tricks on how to handle your PIP during your HSC year.

Interesting Topic

NESA is asking you to write a 5000 word research paper on ANY topic. The topic you pick must be something you are passionate about. as this will make it easier for you to up your word count. This can range from veganism to racial discrimination, and even memes! Yes, I’m not kidding when I say you can do memes for your PIP. The amount of people I’ve seen doing this particular topic is quite ridiculous, but the final result is executed perfectly well. Your topic must always relate back to the course concepts (Persons, Society, Culture, Environment etc.) It doesn’t necessarily have to relate to ALL the concepts, but it should be a minimum of at least three or four (with the addition of time as a mandatory concept that you must discuss in your PIP).

As an example, this is how my class related our topics to the course’s concepts.



Casual racism towards Asians in Australia (mine)Persons, Society, Culture, Time, Power, Identity
White PrivilegePersons, Society, Culture, Environment, Time, Authority, Power
Secularisation in AustraliaSociety, Culture, Environment, Time, Power, Identity, Technologies
Body Images in the MediaPersons, Society, Time, Identity, Technologies, Gender,
Women in SportPersons, Society, Time, Gender, Power, Identity
Discrimination towards Minorities in the Criminal Justice SystemPersons, Society, Culture, Time, Environment, Power, Authority
Modern Day SlaveryPersons, Society, Time, Environment, Power, Authority, Technologies, Gender

Notice how the concepts relate back to the topic? There is a definite trend of Persons, Society, Culture and Time being the most common concepts amongst the seven topics. If you can’t relate your topic to at least four concepts, then why are you even doing it in the first place? These concepts must be prominent throughout your PIP. The markers are marking you on your capability to discuss your topic and adapt what you have learnt from your theory lessons into this project. You might be able to relate your topic back to Social Continuity and Change (core topic) or your two other electives (Popular Culture, Belief Systems and Ideologies, Social Inclusion and Exclusion or Social Conformity and Nonconformity)

Your Aim

What exactly are you trying to achieve in your PIP (besides a good mark)? Are you trying to raise awareness of a social issue? Are you trying to give your own perspective on a matter? Are you passionate about your topic? Doing a topic and having no aim will not get you anywhere. You will eventually get lost and stuck. Find a definite aim and build your PIP around that. For example, in my PIP (Casual Racism towards Asians) my aim was to raise awareness of this issue and provide reasons why this is still prominent in today’s society. Having this aim made it easier for me to structure my chapters. Speaking of which…

Structure and Word Count

The structure for the PIP is as follows:

  • Title page

  • Table of Contents

  • Introduction (500 words max)

  • Log (500 words max)

  • Central Material (Chapters) = (2,500 to 4,000 words)

  • Conclusion (500 words max)

  • Resource List

  • Appendix

Ideally, it is preferred to have three chapters with three subheadings, an introduction and if you want, a concluding sentence. The majority of the PIPs I’ve seen have this structure, but I have also seen PIPs that have had two chapters with five paragraphs and PIPs with four chapters and two paragraphs. As long as you stick to the word count, it’s totally fine. The word count for each chapter doesn’t have to be equal either – It all depends on what you’re talking about in that particular chapter.

For example, for my PIP I had these structures for each chapter:

Casual Racism Towards Asians

Chapter One

(History of casual racism)

Chapter Two


Chapter Three

(Why it’s still prominent)




The past

UpbringingAustralian Culture vs Asian Culture

The present


Social Continuity and Change
Cross cultural comparison


Model minority

~1.5k+ words

~2k+ words

~500 words

Notice how all chapters have different amounts of paragraphs and word count. It’s really entirely up to you how many paragraphs you want to include in each chapter, as long as all your chapters add up to 2,500-4,000 words.

State Library of New South Wales

If possible, visit the State Library. In the HSC section of the library, they have award winning Band 6 PIPs on display. Try and find a PIP similar to your topic and draw their structure as an inspiration for your own PIP. The State Library has a crazy amount of secondary sources that you can use for your PIP. However, if you are unable to visit the library, go on their website and use their eResources. You can find digital copies of (some parts) of PIPS, as well as online articles, newspaper and images. After all, you do need a range of sources for your major.

Primary Research

If you can recall from your preliminary course, your teacher has taught you different research methodologies. They may have provided each of their advantages and disadvantages and how it benefits the researcher. These methodologies are crucial to your PIP and play a significant role when gathering information. The questions you ask in your primary research are so crucial. Pick the correct questions and ensure that they are relevant.

The most common primary research method has to be the ‘questionnaire’. Reason it is so common because it’s accessible, you can reach out to a greater audience beyond your usual social circle and it is simple to make. However, just because you sent out your survey to 500 people doesn’t mean you’ll get 500 responses. You’ll be lucky if you get 100+ responses on your first go. Due to the anonymity of the survey, people are more likely to give stupid answers, not pay attention to the questions properly and might even have a go at you for doing a ‘terrible’ topic. A friend of mine did white privilege for her PIP and oh boy … she got a lot of backlash for that. Though, negative comments doesn’t necessarily equal useless. My friend took these criticisms and used them as evidence for a point she was trying to prove. Please do not be disheartened if you get a negative comment from someone. This is completely normal and may even be deemed useful for your PIP. To gain responses, I would suggest sending your questionnaire to your friends, family, and teachers – Or you can share your survey with the ATAR Notes Community by posting it here.

Interviews are also a common primary research as it provides the researcher the opportunity to ask a diverse range of questions for their interviewee. Ensure you have a proper recording device and have enough storage just in case you go over your time. An interview I thought would last 20 minutes went up to an hour instead.

Focus groups are quite interesting as you pose a question or a statement to a group of 3-8 people and get to watch them agree or argue over your topic. When choosing focus group participants, make sure you pick the people you think you would benefit from the most. Just because they’re your best friend or your girlfriend doesn’t mean they’ll give good answers. Since they are close with you, they might not given serious answers and go off topic. Strangely enough, it’s better to get strangers or acquaintances. That way their answers aren’t biased (they don’t know you on a personal level) and are likely to give genuine answers. If possible, try to have participants of different races, age, gender and beliefs. People might end up in debates which are interesting and useful when writing your PIP. I would recommend using a video camera instead of an audio recording device, as this will make it easier for you to create your transcript.

Yes you have to create a transcript no matter how long your interview or focus group is. Whether it took 20 minutes or 2 hours, it’s expected to write the transcript in its entirety rather than a specific section. PIP Markers need proof that you actually conducted research.

Other primary research methods include content analysis, participant observation, personal reflection and more. Your choice of research methods all depend on your topic, how you want to retrieve primary information and what you want to gain out of it. It is recommended to do at least three methods.

No matter what research method you use, you must include all your results in the appendix.

Secondary Research

This includes books, magazines, published articles and newspapers. Depending on your topic, you might not be able to find as much secondary information compared to other topics. Usually the go-to is the ‘Issues in Society’ series, where one book is dedicated to a specific topic (ie; Australian Identity, Climate Change Crisis, Sexual Orientation and more). Each book has a compilation of the latest news, articles and statistics. You can find these books at ANY library.

As mentioned previously, the state library (in real life and online) have a lot of sources! But when in doubt, visit your local library. They might have hidden gems you might deemed useful.


You must keep a logbook where you log down what you did for your PIP. This can be a digital or a physical logbook. Whatever keeps you motivated, pick that option. Our teacher made us keep a digital logbook (a Tumblr page) so that she could regularly keep an eye on us. You log entry doesn’t have to be long. It could literally say; (date) Today I made the questions for my focus group. I’m still looking for participants for my research. Hopefully I will conduct this focus group by next Monday.

At the end of the day, the log section in your PIP only asks for 500 words max. When writing the log in your PIP, don’t just talk about what you did in the days leading up to your PIP. Talk about the challenges you encountered, talk about what made you decide to do your topic or mention what happened in the allocated lessons for your PIP. The HSC markers are looking for a consistent performance, not a PIP that was written the night before/morning of the PIP’s due date.

Social Theory

This isn’t mandatory BUT this just adds extra ~pizzazz~ to your PIP. You may talk about the theories from the ‘Social Continuity and Change’ topic, such as conflict, fundamental, functionalist and interactionist. Maybe even talk about the generational and communication accommodation theories? You can even talk about a theory you haven’t learnt at all in class. Whatever is relevant to your topic.

Cross Cultural Comparison

This however IS mandatory. Somewhere in your PIP, you must have a cross cultural comparison. This can be a comparison between two ethnic groups, two genders or two religions. It just has to be relevant to your topic and must make sense. If you’re talking about racial discrimination, talk about a minority group and compare it with Caucasian people. If you’re talking about body images, compare and contrast male and female body ideals. If you’re talking about secularisation, compare a religious country with Australia or America. This should be around 400-750 words in your PIP.

Resource Annotations

Do not leave your annotations at the last minute. It was a pain having to do 60 resource annotations in one go! Once you are done with a source, annotate it immediately. That way you still have the source fresh in your mind.

When doing your resource annotations, summarise the source’s content in 1-2 sentences. Talk about how useful or useless the source was. Where in the PIP did you include the source. Possibly talk about biases. Word limit for each resource annotation is 50-200 words.

Include the resource annotations in the resource list (by order of type of source and in alphabetical order)


When referencing a source in your PIP, whether that’d a it’s written word by word or a summary, remember to footnote your source! Use SLASA (or any reference generator) to reference secondary sources in your footnotes or a quick summary of what primary research you got the information from. Some examples I used to reference my primary resources included “Male, 31, Caucasian, Interview #2” or “Female, Japanese (Asian), 17, Focus Group”. It just has to be straightforward and clear.

Avoid Bias

It is so important to be a socially and culturally literate student in SAC. You can’t be biased towards anything. You must be socially aware and must avoid making assumptions. As hard it maybe to talk about your topic on a neutral level, you must stray away from giving a biased opinion. It can’t be a research paper if you only give one perspective. Avoid using highly emotive language as much as possible. Give a neutral opinion on the matter.


At the end of the day, you gotta maximise your mark for your PIP. Constantly submit parts of your PIP to your teacher. They are always willing to give you feedback on areas that need improvement. They may provide suggestions and other pathways that you may delve into.

Time Management

A personal interest project is a major, therefore you must manage your time well. Work on this PIP during allocated lessons, a few studies per cycle and at home. The allocated lessons shouldn’t be the only time where you work on your PIP. This is when you get one on one feedback from your teacher. For more information on handling time management for your major, check out this article. PIPs are usually due around trials and must be submitted electronically to your teacher.

Some final words…

I know it may be such a drag to write a 5000 research paper on top of your other SAC assessments, other subjects and possibly another major. But once you get in the zone, you can’t stop. Honestly, it was exhilarating talking about a social issue that I was so passionate about. I was able to conduct two interviews and two focus groups, pushing me out of my comfort zone. I loved reading online articles on my topic and seeing other perspectives on the matter. Strangely enough, the moment I submitted my PIP to my teacher, I felt a little bit sad. Sad in the sense that this PIP journey has finally come to an end. I was so used to working on my PIP at least four days a week. But at the end of the day, you’ve pushed yourself to create an amazing research paper. You’ve created social awareness and you’ve learnt to become a more open minded person. The PIP is really not just a HSC major, it’s motivation to become a better version of yourself. You grow as a person with the PIP.

I wish everyone the best for their PIP journey. If you have any questions, you can check out our Society and Culture Question Thread and ask for any help you need!