How to write a research proposal

   
   

How to write a research proposal

Considering a PhD? You may need to produce a research proposal.

Getting this right is one of the most important parts of your application. A well-written research proposal will help us to:

  • evaluate your suitability for graduate level research
  • decide if your research is new and original
  • assess if we can support your proposed area of study
  • identify the right supervisor for you
 

Know your subject

subject

Your research proposal may vary depending on the subject area your PhD will cover. Broadly speaking, arts and social sciences disciplines will require a different type of proposal to engineering, science and health sciences disciplines.

The actual work you will undertake during the course of your PhD may differ to your proposal. However, you will need an understanding of the issues associated with conducting research and the potential to design a research study to address a specific set of issues.

 

Cover the essentials

essentials

We don't expect you to have all the answers, but a successful proposal should:

  • clearly define your intended topic 
  • demonstrate that you understand your research area
  • indicate that you have started to develop an original and interesting research question
  • show that you understand how to conduct research
  • look professional – ensure your proposal is well-structured, clear and legible, and that you have checked for any spelling or grammatical errors
  • focus on quality rather than quantity – as a guide, we typically look for 1,000–3,000 words
 

Structure your proposal

structure
  • Title – this should be clear, concise and describe the theme of your proposal 
  • Overview – include a short summary of your proposal, stating the problem or question you plan to address 
  • Background summary – identify the study area your proposed thesis falls into, explaining its significance, likely impact and how it will contribute to the field 
  • Aim – explain the key aims of your research and the questions you will address in order to achieve them
  • Methods and timescale – detail how you intend to carry out your research (libraries, archives, field studies, interviews) and how you will analyse the data you collect – a schedule of key activities can help demonstrate that your research is achievable within the timeframe of your PhD
  • Bibliography – list the publications and sources you have cited in your proposal – you can also include sources you have read in preparation
 

Get advice before you submit

advice

We recommend that you discuss your proposal with a member of staff who has expertise in your field. This process can also help you identify a supervisor. School, department or research centre websites related to your area of study are a good place to start. You can also contact us directly.

You can make changes to your proposal once you have been accepted for a research degree. As this is the foundation of your working relationship with your supervisor, major changes aren't typically expected.

 

 

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