Preparing your research project proposal

The purpose of your proposal is to show that you have a relevant topic, 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 around 1500 words (3-4 pages) long and will cover the following points.


This should be concise and descriptive


You should explain the context for your research, the issues it is concerned with, and the reasons why the research is important and original.  You may need to describe how it builds on your previous academic work or professional experience. You must include references to the existing research and scholarly literature in your field of research.

Statement of the problem or research questions

Clearly formulate the problem you propose to research. This should be expressed as an answerable question, or set of questions. The problem should be substantial but manageable within the timescale of a research degree and it should have originality.

Design of the project

Describe how the project will be structured and where it will take place. Key design decisions (for example between experimental, empirical, comparative, longitudinal or case study approaches) should be justified according to the way in which you have defined the research problem. If your project will be testing hypotheses you should state them here.


Describe your approach to collecting and analyzing data. A proposal may plan to use existing data, gather new primary data through experimentation or do both.  Explain the procedures and techniques you plan to use: the nature of the data; the methods of data sampling and collection; existing sources of information. Here you will demonstrate your knowledge of alternative research methods and make the case that your approach is the most suitable for your research question. Consider questions of access to data sources, to specialised facilities and to experimental subjects, etc. Make sure you adequately identify the skills that you will need to carry out the research, whether you have these skills already, or if not, how you will gain them.

Resources and ethical clearance

Where relevant, you will need to ensure that your research complies with the agreed international standards for good practice in research: for example where data may be politically or personally sensitive; where sampling is subject to environmental or other restrictions; or where there is a risk of compromising safety, well-being and other ethical or legal issues associated with experiential or experimental research. Using published ethical guidelines shows that you are aware of the specific documents, clearances and permissions you will need.

Project management

You should map out an outline 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, experimentation and writing up your results.


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.


When you have prepared a draft of your proposal show it to a teacher or researcher and ask for advice on how to improve it. You can also ask staff at the university with interests in the same research area as your own for their feedback.