Writing a good PhD research proposal

The purpose of your proposal is to show that you have a relevant theme, a viable project and the competence to carry it out. The information is vital when we evaluate your proposed study and decide if we have the right staff expertise to supervise you.
The format and length of the proposal is likely to vary according to the type of project. Typically a proposal is no less than 1500 words (3-4 pages) long and will cover the following points.

  1. Provisional title (max 50 words): the title should indicate the central focus of the research and should contain the key words associated with proposed work.
  2. Central question/hypothesis for investigation (max 15-50 words): State the central question/hypothesis of your proposed research. Eg. ‘This thesis asks…’ or ‘This thesis examines the hypothesis that….’.
  3. Key aims of the research (max 200 words): Set out a number of specific aims (3-5) of the research which indicate the intended contribution and impact of the PhD. They should answer the question: ‘what will the PhD achieve’?
  4. Literature review (max 700-1,000 words): This section should situate your chosen topic in the existing research and should show that you are familiar with the key works in the area. Explain how the current literature addresses the issue you have identified, give a summary of recent debates in the area and explain the current shortcomings in the existing scholarship.
  5. Description of your topic (max 300-700 words): Explain how your research will address the gap or shortcomings in knowledge, why it is original and why further research in the area is important.
  6. Methodology (max 300 words) Explain how you will obtain the information necessary to write your thesis. Include an explanation of the approach(es) will you be taking to the research (library-based? empirical?) and any relevant quantitative/qualitative methods (interviews, questionnaires, survey and to whom etc). Outline any ethical concerns (eg interviewing children/prisoners/refugees  etc).
  7. Resources and ethical clearance: Will your research comply with the agreed international standards for good practise in social research? Using published ethical guidelines show that you are aware of the specific documents and clearances you will need.
  8. Project management: You should map out a schedule for your project, from the start date onwards, showing when you expect to conduct periods of fieldwork (if applicable) and the time required for data analysis and writing up your results.
  9. References: You should include a list of the references cited in your proposal, using Harvard notation. This will be useful for potential supervisors to evaluate your knowledge of the research topic.