Writing a research proposal
Whether you’re applying for an existing PhD opportunity or creating your own project, you will need to provide a research proposal. Follow our guidance on how to structure your proposal and what to include.
What is a research proposal?
A research proposal is a short document that summarises the research you want to undertake. It will outline the question you intend to address, the subject background, your proposed research methods, and importantly will demonstrate how your research is original, and what it will contribute to the current understanding in the subject. You may also be required to include a bibliography and your CV.
Before you start
The desired length of the proposal can vary from as little as 500 words to over 5,000, so you should check the application details for your school or department before you start.
Although your proposal will be assessed by academics who are experts in their field, please keep in mind that they may not be the only academics involved in the selection process, so your proposal should be comprehensible to a broad academic audience.
The information on this page is intended as a guide only. Some schools/departments require you to complete a more detailed proposal before they make a final decision on your application. Check to see if this applies to the department/project you are applying to by contacting the school or department directly.
If you do not have a firm research proposal you should still provide as much information as possible including potential topic areas and intended source(s) of funding.
If you have a question about your research proposal, please contact the academic supervisors who will be overseeing the project. If you are unsure who to contact, you can find a list of contact details here.
1. Aims/research interests
The aims should outline the purposes of the research you wish to undertake with reference to the general field and/or discipline you wish to examine.
2. Contribution to academia
You should outline how your research will contribute to existing knowledge of your research are, discipline or field.
3. Explain why your research is valuable
Include the rationale for your research and demonstrate why your contribution is interesting or valuable – if similar research has been done before, include references in your proposal and explain why a new approach is necessary. Alternatively, if your research fills a gap in the literature, outline the sources that currently exist and why this gap in knowledge should be filled.
4. Discuss the sources
Outline which sources of data you will use to complete your analysis, relevant to your research. Be explicit if you can and confirm whether you will make use of published/unpublished data, academic and scientific literature, archival or policy documents. If you intend to conduct field work, you should give details. In all cases, you should assess how feasible it will be to gain access to these sources including university or additional external resources.
5. Explain your research methods
You should include a discussion of the research methods you will use to analyse your sources, for example, sampling, theory, surveys or interviews, data collection and generation, laboratory work, modelling, discourse analysis or other methods.
6. Share your study skills
It is useful to provide an outline of your study skills, including research and analysis techniques, language ability, familiarity coordinating interviews, experience processing data and/or any other skills that may be of value when undertaking research.
Can’t find a research proposal to suit you?
Find out how to develop your own research proposal and approach one of our academics to see if they provide a good fit to your interests.
Make sure you discuss your proposed research area with a potential supervisor before submitting your application. If you know the subject area you wish to work in, but do not have a particular supervisor in mind, you can contact the department’s administrator who will be able to help.
To make sure you have all the support and information you need to write a successful research proposal, we’ve provided some advice and information you might find useful in the ‘what to include in your research proposal’ tab.
You initial research proposal should:
- Be approximately 500 words
- Include an outline of your research interests
- Detail your initial thoughts about a topic
- Have references to previous work
- Discuss the methodology and general approach you wish to take
- Indicate how your research will make an original contribution to knowledge.
Some schools/departments require you to complete a more detailed proposal before they can make a final decision on your application. Check to see if this applies to the department/project you are applying to. If you do not have a firm research proposal you should still provide as much information as possible with your application, including possible topic areas and intended source(s) of funding.