The Research Proposal

The research proposal is the most important part of your application. In it you will convey your exciting idea for a research project.

In it you will convey your exciting idea for a research project. It is key that you do this in an informed, yet concise manner. You need to demonstrate that you have knowledge of the literature in your field of study and that you have identified a gap in the knowledge base. Such a gap needn’t mean there is a whole topic area missing; it might just mean that some particular approach or issue hasn’t yet been fully considered. The important thing is that you have identified a need for your research project. Based on this, you will need to develop research aims and questions. You then should explain your choice of methodology to answer these questions. You also need to provide a concise plan of your research for each year of study, taking into account the sorts of research activity you are likely to be engaging with over time.  

The research proposal should not exceed 1,500 words (including references but excluding bibliography). 

Sample structure: 

Research Context  

Research Aims/Questions 


Research Plan  



A few pointers: 

  • Make sure you strike a balance between the literature review (research context) and the rest of the proposal. Remember we are looking to see your contribution.  
  • Make sure that you pick methods that will help you achieve your research aims or answer your research questions. 
  • For your plan, think about what would be feasible for you to achieve in a given timeframe. 
  • Think about the members of staff in the School and what their areas of research interest are. You may wish to suggest a preferred supervisor for your research project (but remember to give reasons why). 
  • Research projects may change over time. Your proposal is a useful start but do not feel trapped by it, as development and refinement of your research project is an expected part of being a successful researcher.   

 You may also find PhD guidance books useful, such as Patrick Dunleavy (2003) Authoring a PhD: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation (Palgrave Study Guides) Chapters 1 and 2.