How to write a research proposal

What is a research proposal.

A research proposal should present your idea or question and expected outcomes with clarity and definition – the what.

It should also make a case for why your question is significant and what value it will bring to your discipline – the why. 

What it shouldn't do is answer the question – that's what your research will do.

Why is it important?

Research proposals are significant because Another reason why it formally outlines your intended research. Which means you need to provide details on how you will go about your research, including:

  • your approach and methodology
  • timeline and feasibility
  • all other considerations needed to progress your research, such as resources.

Think of it as a tool that will help you clarify your idea and make conducting your research easier.

How long should it be?

Usually no more than 2000 words, but check the requirements of your degree, and your supervisor or research coordinator.

Presenting your idea clearly and concisely demonstrates that you can write this way – an attribute of a potential research candidate that is valued by assessors.

What should it include?

Project title.

Your title should clearly indicate what your proposed research is about.

Research supervisor

State the name, department and faculty or school of the academic who has agreed to supervise you. Rest assured, your research supervisor will work with you to refine your research proposal ahead of submission to ensure it meets the needs of your discipline.

Proposed mode of research

Describe your proposed mode of research. Which may be closely linked to your discipline, and is where you will describe the style or format of your research, e.g. data, field research, composition, written work, social performance and mixed media etc. 

This is not required for research in the sciences, but your research supervisor will be able to guide you on discipline-specific requirements.

Aims and objectives

What are you trying to achieve with your research? What is the purpose? This section should reference why you're applying for a research degree. Are you addressing a gap in the current research? Do you want to look at a theory more closely and test it out? Is there something you're trying to prove or disprove? To help you clarify this, think about the potential outcome of your research if you were successful – that is your aim. Make sure that this is a focused statement.

Your objectives will be your aim broken down – the steps to achieving the intended outcome. They are the smaller proof points that will underpin your research's purpose. Be logical in the order of how you present these so that each succeeds the previous, i.e. if you need to achieve 'a' before 'b' before 'c', then make sure you order your objectives a, b, c.

A concise summary of what your research is about. It outlines the key aspects of what you will investigate as well as the expected outcomes. It briefly covers the what, why and how of your research. 

A good way to evaluate if you have written a strong synopsis, is to get somebody to read it without reading the rest of your research proposal. Would they know what your research is about?

Now that you have your question clarified, it is time to explain the why. Here, you need to demonstrate an understanding of the current research climate in your area of interest.

Providing context around your research topic through a literature review will show the assessor that you understand current dialogue around your research, and what is published.

Demonstrate you have a strong understanding of the key topics, significant studies and notable researchers in your area of research and how these have contributed to the current landscape.

Expected research contribution

In this section, you should consider the following:

  • Why is your research question or hypothesis worth asking?
  • How is the current research lacking or falling short?
  • What impact will your research have on the discipline?
  • Will you be extending an area of knowledge, applying it to new contexts, solving a problem, testing a theory, or challenging an existing one?
  • Establish why your research is important by convincing your audience there is a gap.
  • What will be the outcome of your research contribution?
  • Demonstrate both your current level of knowledge and how the pursuit of your question or hypothesis will create a new understanding and generate new information.
  • Show how your research is innovative and original.

Draw links between your research and the faculty or school you are applying at, and explain why you have chosen your supervisor, and what research have they or their school done to reinforce and support your own work. Cite these reasons to demonstrate how your research will benefit and contribute to the current body of knowledge.

Proposed methodology

Provide an overview of the methodology and techniques you will use to conduct your research. Cover what materials and equipment you will use, what theoretical frameworks will you draw on, and how will you collect data.

Highlight why you have chosen this particular methodology, but also why others may not have been as suitable. You need to demonstrate that you have put thought into your approach and why it's the most appropriate way to carry out your research. 

It should also highlight potential limitations you anticipate, feasibility within time and other constraints, ethical considerations and how you will address these, as well as general resources.

A work plan is a critical component of your research proposal because it indicates the feasibility of completion within the timeframe and supports you in achieving your objectives throughout your degree.

Consider the milestones you aim to achieve at each stage of your research. A PhD or master's degree by research can take two to four years of full-time study to complete. It might be helpful to offer year one in detail and the following years in broader terms. Ultimately you have to show that your research is likely to be both original and finished – and that you understand the time involved.

Provide details of the resources you will need to carry out your research project. Consider equipment, fieldwork expenses, travel and a proposed budget, to indicate how realistic your research proposal is in terms of financial requirements and whether any adjustments are needed.

Bibliography

Provide a list of references that you've made throughout your research proposal. 

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writing a proposal for a phd

How to Write a PhD Research Proposal

  • Applying to a PhD
  • A research proposal summarises your intended research.
  • Your research proposal is used to confirm you understand the topic, and that the university has the expertise to support your study.
  • The length of a research proposal varies. It is usually specified by either the programme requirements or the supervisor upon request. 1500 to 3500 words is common.
  • The typical research proposal structure consists of: Title, Abstract, Background and Rationale, Research Aims and Objectives, Research Design and Methodology, Timetable, and a Bibliography.

What is a Research Proposal?

A research proposal is a supporting document that may be required when applying to a research degree. It summarises your intended research by outlining what your research questions are, why they’re important to your field and what knowledge gaps surround your topic. It also outlines your research in terms of your aims, methods and proposed timetable .

What Is It Used for and Why Is It Important?

A research proposal will be used to:

  • Confirm whether you understand the topic and can communicate complex ideas.
  • Confirm whether the university has adequate expertise to support you in your research topic.
  • Apply for funding or research grants to external bodies.

How Long Should a PhD Research Proposal Be?

Some universities will specify a word count all students will need to adhere to. You will typically find these in the description of the PhD listing. If they haven’t stated a word count limit, you should contact the potential supervisor to clarify whether there are any requirements. If not, aim for 1500 to 3500 words (3 to 7 pages).

Your title should indicate clearly what your research question is. It needs to be simple and to the point; if the reader needs to read further into your proposal to understand your question, your working title isn’t clear enough.

Directly below your title, state the topic your research question relates to. Whether you include this information at the top of your proposal or insert a dedicated title page is your choice and will come down to personal preference.

2. Abstract

If your research proposal is over 2000 words, consider providing an abstract. Your abstract should summarise your question, why it’s important to your field and how you intend to answer it; in other words, explain your research context.

Only include crucial information in this section – 250 words should be sufficient to get across your main points.

3. Background & Rationale

First, specify which subject area your research problem falls in. This will help set the context of your study and will help the reader anticipate the direction of your proposed research.

Following this, include a literature review . A literature review summarises the existing knowledge which surrounds your research topic. This should include a discussion of the theories, models and bodies of text which directly relate to your research problem. As well as discussing the information available, discuss those which aren’t. In other words, identify what the current gaps in knowledge are and discuss how this will influence your research. Your aim here is to convince the potential supervisor and funding providers of why your intended research is worth investing time and money into.

Last, discuss the key debates and developments currently at the centre of your research area.

4. Research Aims & Objectives

Identify the aims and objectives of your research. The aims are the problems your project intends to solve; the objectives are the measurable steps and outcomes required to achieve the aim.

In outlining your aims and objectives, you will need to explain why your proposed research is worth exploring. Consider these aspects:

  • Will your research solve a problem?
  • Will your research address a current gap in knowledge?
  • Will your research have any social or practical benefits?

If you fail to address the above questions, it’s unlikely they will accept your proposal – all PhD research projects must show originality and value to be considered.

5. Research Design and Methodology

The following structure is recommended when discussing your research design:

  • Sample/Population – Discuss your sample size, target populations, specimen types etc.
  • Methods – What research methods have you considered, how did you evaluate them and how did you decide on your chosen one?
  • Data Collection – How are you going to collect and validate your data? Are there any limitations?
  • Data Analysis – How are you going to interpret your results and obtain a meaningful conclusion from them?
  • Ethical Considerations – Are there any potential implications associated with your research approach? This could either be to research participants or to your field as a whole on the outcome of your findings (i.e. if you’re researching a particularly controversial area). How are you going to monitor for these implications and what types of preventive steps will you need to put into place?

6. Timetable

PhD Project Plan - PhD research proposal

We’ve outlined the various stages of a PhD and the approximate duration of a PhD programme which you can refer to when designing your own research study.

7. Bibliography

Plagiarism is taken seriously across all academic levels, but even more so for doctorates. Therefore, ensure you reference the existing literature you have used in writing your PhD proposal. Besides this, try to adopt the same referencing style as the University you’re applying to uses. You can easily find this information in the PhD Thesis formatting guidelines published on the University’s website.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

Questions & Answers

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we’re asked about the Research Proposal:

Can You Change a Research Proposal?

Yes, your PhD research proposal outlines the start of your project only. It’s well accepted that the direction of your research will develop with time, therefore, you can revise it at later dates.

Can the Potential Supervisor Review My Draft Proposal?

Whether the potential supervisor will review your draft will depend on the individual. However, it is highly advisable that you at least attempt to discuss your draft with them. Even if they can’t review it, they may provide you with useful information regarding their department’s expertise which could help shape your PhD proposal. For example, you may amend your methodology should you come to learn that their laboratory is better equipped for an alternative method.

How Should I Structure and Format My Proposal?

Ensure you follow the same order as the headings given above. This is the most logical structure and will be the order your proposed supervisor will expect.

Most universities don’t provide formatting requirements for research proposals on the basis that they are a supporting document only, however, we recommend that you follow the same format they require for their PhD thesis submissions. This will give your reader familiarity and their guidelines should be readily available on their website.

Last, try to have someone within the same academic field or discipline area to review your proposal. The key is to confirm that they understand the importance of your work and how you intend to execute it. If they don’t, it’s likely a sign you need to rewrite some of your sections to be more coherent.

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How to write a PhD proposal

How to write a good PhD proposal

Study tips Published 3 Mar, 2022  ·  5-minute read

Want to make sure your research degree starts smoothly? We spoke with 2 PhD candidates about overcoming this initial hurdle. Here’s their advice for how to write a good PhD proposal.

Writing your research proposal is an integral part of commencing a PhD with many schools and institutes, so it can feel rather intimidating. After all, how you come up with your PhD proposal could be the difference between your supervisor getting on board or giving your project a miss.

Let’s explore how to make a PhD research proposal with UQ candidates Chelsea Janke and Sarah Kendall. 

Look at PhD proposal examples

Chelsea Janke quote

Look at other PhD proposals that have been successful. Ask current students if you can look at theirs.

Nobody’s asking you to reinvent the wheel when it comes to writing your PhD proposal – leave that for your actual thesis. For now, while you’re just working out how to write a PhD proposal, examples are a great starting point.

Chelsea knows this step is easier if you’ve got a friend who is already doing a PhD, but there are other ways to find a good example or template.

“Look at other PhD proposals that have been successful,” she says.

“Ask current students if you can look at theirs.”

“If you don’t know anyone doing their PhD, look online to get an idea of how they should be structured.”

What makes this tricky is that proposals can vary greatly by field and disciplinary norms, so you should check with your proposed supervisor to see if they have a specific format or list of criteria to follow. Part of writing a good PhD proposal is submitting it in a style that's familiar to the people who will read and (hopefully) become excited by it and want to bring you into their research area.

Here are some of the key factors to consider when structuring your proposal:

  • meeting the expected word count (this can range from a 1-page maximum to a 3,000-word minimum depending on your supervisor and research area)
  • making your bibliography as detailed as necessary
  • outlining the research questions you’ll be trying to solve/answer
  • discussing the impact your research could have on your field
  • conducting preliminary analysis of existing research on the topic
  • documenting details of the methods and data sources you’ll use in your research
  • introducing your supervisor(s)  and how their experience relates to your project.

Please note this isn't a universal list of things you need in your PhD research proposal. Depending on your supervisor's requirements, some of these items may be unnecessary or there may be other inclusions not listed here.

Ask your planned supervisor for advice

Alright, here’s the thing. If sending your research proposal is your first point of contact with your prospective supervisor, you’ve jumped the gun a little.

You should have at least one researcher partially on board with your project before delving too deep into your proposal. This ensures you’re not potentially spending time and effort on an idea that no one has any appetite for. Plus, it unlocks a helpful guide who can assist with your proposal.

PhD research isn’t like Shark Tank – you’re allowed to confer with academics and secure their support before you pitch your thesis to them. Discover how to choose the right PhD supervisor for you.

For a time-efficient strategy, Chelsea recommends you approach your potential supervisor(s) and find out if:

  • they have time to supervise you
  • they have any funds to help pay for your research (even with a stipend scholarship , your research activities may require extra money)
  • their research interests align with yours (you’ll ideally discover a mutual ground where you both benefit from the project).

“The best way to approach would be to send an email briefly outlining who you are, your background, and what your research interests are,” says Chelsea.

“Once you’ve spoken to a potential supervisor, then you can start drafting a proposal and you can even ask for their input.”

Chelsea's approach here works well with some academics, but keep in mind that other supervisors will want to see a research proposal straight away. If you're not sure of your proposed supervisor's preferences, you may like to cover both bases with an introductory email that has a draft of your research proposal attached.

Sarah agrees that your prospective supervisor is your most valuable resource for understanding how to write a research proposal for a PhD application.

“My biggest tip for writing a research proposal is to ask your proposed supervisor for help,” says Sarah.

“Or if this isn’t possible, ask another academic who has had experience writing research proposals.”

“They’ll be able to tell you what to include or what you need to improve on.”

Find the 'why' and focus on it

Sarah Kendall quote

One of the key aspects of your research proposal is emphasising why your project is important and should be funded.

Your PhD proposal should include your major question, your planned methods, the sources you’ll cite, and plenty of other nitty gritty details. But perhaps the most important element of your proposal is its purpose – the reason you want to do this research and why the results will be meaningful.

In Sarah’s opinion, highlighting the 'why' of your project is vital for your research proposal.

“From my perspective, one of the key aspects of your research proposal is emphasising why your project is important and should be funded,” she says.

“Not only does this impact whether your application is likely to be successful, but it could also impact your likelihood of getting a scholarship .”

Imagine you only had 60 seconds to explain your planned research to someone. Would you prefer they remember how your project could change the world, or the statistical models you’ll be using to do it? (Of course, you’ve got 2,000 words rather than 60 seconds, so do make sure to include those little details as well – just put the why stuff first.)

Proofread your proposal, then proof it again

As a PhD candidate, your attention to detail is going to be integral to your success. Start practising it now by making sure your research proposal is perfect.

Chelsea and Sarah both acknowledge that clarity and writing quality should never be overlooked in a PhD proposal. This starts with double-checking that the questions of your thesis are obvious and unambiguous, followed by revising the rest of your proposal.

“Make sure your research questions are really clear,” says Sarah.

“Ensure all the writing is clear and grammatically correct,” adds Chelsea.

“A supervisor is not going to be overly keen on a prospective student if their writing is poor.”

It might sound harsh, but it’s fair. So, proofread your proposal multiple times – including after you get it back from your supervisor with any feedback and notes. When you think you’ve got the final, FINAL draft saved, sleep on it and read it one more time the next morning.

Still feeling a little overwhelmed by your research proposal? Stay motivated with these reasons why a PhD is worth the effort .

Want to learn more from Chelsea and Sarah? Easy:

  • Read about Chelsea’s award-winning PhD thesis on keeping crops healthy.
  • Read Sarah’s series on becoming a law academic .

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How to write a successful research proposal

As the competition for PhD places is incredibly fierce, your research proposal can have a strong bearing on the success of your application - so discover how to make the best impression

What is a research proposal?

Research proposals are used to persuade potential supervisors and funders that your work is worthy of their support. These documents setting out your proposed research that will result in a Doctoral thesis are typically between 1,500 and 3,000 words in length.

Your PhD research proposal must passionately articulate what you want to research and why, convey your understanding of existing literature, and clearly define at least one research question that could lead to new or original knowledge and how you propose to answer it.

Professor Leigh Wilson, director of the graduate school at the University of Westminster, explains that while the research proposal is about work that hasn't been done yet, what prospective supervisors and funders are focusing on just as strongly is evidence of what you've done - how well you know existing literature in the area, including very recent publications and debates, and how clearly you've seen what's missing from this and so what your research can do that's new. Giving a strong sense of this background or frame for the proposed work is crucial.

'Although it's tempting to make large claims and propose research that sweeps across time and space, narrower, more focused research is much more convincing,' she adds. 'To be thorough and rigorous in the way that academic work needs to be, even something as long as a PhD thesis can only cover a fairly narrow topic. Depth not breadth is called for.'

The structure of your research proposal is therefore important to achieving this goal, yet it should still retain sufficient flexibility to comfortably accommodate any changes you need to make as your PhD progresses.

Layout and formats vary, so it's advisable to consult your potential PhD supervisor before you begin. Here's what to bear in mind when writing a research proposal.

Your provisional title should be around ten words in length, and clearly and accurately indicate your area of study and/or proposed approach. It should be catchy, informative and interesting.

The title page should also include personal information, such as your name, academic title, date of birth, nationality and contact details.

Aims and objectives

This is a short summary of your project. Your aims should be two or three broad statements that emphasise what you ultimately want to achieve, complemented by several focused, feasible and measurable objectives - the steps that you'll take to answer each of your research questions. This involves clearly and briefly outlining:

  • how your research addresses a gap in, or builds upon, existing knowledge
  • how your research links to the department that you're applying to
  • the academic, cultural, political and/or social significance of your research questions.

Literature review

This section of your PhD proposal discusses the most important theories, models and texts that surround and influence your research questions, conveying your understanding and awareness of the key issues and debates.

It should focus on the theoretical and practical knowledge gaps that your work aims to address, as this ultimately justifies and provides the motivation for your project.

Methodology

Here, you're expected to outline how you'll answer each of your research questions. A strong, well-written methodology is crucial, but especially so if your project involves extensive collection and significant analysis of primary data.

In disciplines such as humanities the research proposal methodology identifies the data collection and analytical techniques available to you, before justifying the ones you'll use in greater detail. You'll also define the population that you're intending to examine.

You should also show that you're aware of the limitations of your research, qualifying the parameters that you plan to introduce. Remember, it's more impressive to do a fantastic job of exploring a narrower topic than a decent job of exploring a wider one.

Concluding or following on from your methodology, your timetable should identify how long you'll need to complete each step - perhaps using bi-weekly or monthly timeslots. This helps the reader to evaluate the feasibility of your project and shows that you've considered how you'll go about putting the PhD proposal into practice.

Bibliography

Finally, you'll provide a list of the most significant texts, plus any attachments such as your academic CV . Demonstrate your skills in critical reflection by selecting only those resources that are most appropriate.

Final checks

Before submitting this document along with your PhD application, you'll need to ensure that you've adhered to the research proposal format. This means that:

  • every page is numbered
  • it's professional, interesting and informative
  • the research proposal has been proofread by both an experienced academic (to confirm that it conforms to academic standards) and a layman (to correct any grammatical or spelling errors)
  • it has a contents page
  • you've used a clear and easy-to-read structure, with appropriate headings.

Research proposal examples

To get a better idea of how your PhD proposal may look, some universities have provided examples of research proposals for specific subjects:

  • The Open University - Social Policy and Criminology
  • University of Sheffield - Sociological Studies
  • University of Sussex
  • University of York - Politics

Find out more

  • Explore PhD studentships .
  • For tips on writing a thesis, see 7 steps to writing a dissertation .
  • Read more about PhD study .

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Grad Coach

How To Write A Research Proposal

A Straightforward How-To Guide (With Examples)

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Reviewed By: Dr. Eunice Rautenbach | August 2019 (Updated April 2023)

Writing up a strong research proposal for a dissertation or thesis is much like a marriage proposal. It’s a task that calls on you to win somebody over and persuade them that what you’re planning is a great idea. An idea they’re happy to say ‘yes’ to. This means that your dissertation proposal needs to be   persuasive ,   attractive   and well-planned. In this post, I’ll show you how to write a winning dissertation proposal, from scratch.

Before you start:

– Understand exactly what a research proposal is – Ask yourself these 4 questions

The 5 essential ingredients:

  • The title/topic
  • The introduction chapter
  • The scope/delimitations
  • Preliminary literature review
  • Design/ methodology
  • Practical considerations and risks 

What Is A Research Proposal?

The research proposal is literally that: a written document that communicates what you propose to research, in a concise format. It’s where you put all that stuff that’s spinning around in your head down on to paper, in a logical, convincing fashion.

Convincing   is the keyword here, as your research proposal needs to convince the assessor that your research is   clearly articulated   (i.e., a clear research question) ,   worth doing   (i.e., is unique and valuable enough to justify the effort), and   doable   within the restrictions you’ll face (time limits, budget, skill limits, etc.). If your proposal does not address these three criteria, your research won’t be approved, no matter how “exciting” the research idea might be.

PS – if you’re completely new to proposal writing, we’ve got a detailed walkthrough video covering two successful research proposals here . 

Free Webinar: How To Write A Research Proposal

How do I know I’m ready?

Before starting the writing process, you need to   ask yourself 4 important questions .  If you can’t answer them succinctly and confidently, you’re not ready – you need to go back and think more deeply about your dissertation topic .

You should be able to answer the following 4 questions before starting your dissertation or thesis research proposal:

  • WHAT is my main research question? (the topic)
  • WHO cares and why is this important? (the justification)
  • WHAT data would I need to answer this question, and how will I analyse it? (the research design)
  • HOW will I manage the completion of this research, within the given timelines? (project and risk management)

If you can’t answer these questions clearly and concisely,   you’re not yet ready   to write your research proposal – revisit our   post on choosing a topic .

If you can, that’s great – it’s time to start writing up your dissertation proposal. Next, I’ll discuss what needs to go into your research proposal, and how to structure it all into an intuitive, convincing document with a linear narrative.

The 5 Essential Ingredients

Research proposals can vary in style between institutions and disciplines, but here I’ll share with you a   handy 5-section structure   you can use. These 5 sections directly address the core questions we spoke about earlier, ensuring that you present a convincing proposal. If your institution already provides a proposal template, there will likely be substantial overlap with this, so you’ll still get value from reading on.

For each section discussed below, make sure you use headers and sub-headers (ideally, numbered headers) to help the reader navigate through your document, and to support them when they need to revisit a previous section. Don’t just present an endless wall of text, paragraph after paragraph after paragraph…

Top Tip:   Use MS Word Styles to format headings. This will allow you to be clear about whether a sub-heading is level 2, 3, or 4. Additionally, you can view your document in ‘outline view’ which will show you only your headings. This makes it much easier to check your structure, shift things around and make decisions about where a section needs to sit. You can also generate a 100% accurate table of contents using Word’s automatic functionality.

writing a proposal for a phd

Ingredient #1 – Topic/Title Header

Your research proposal’s title should be your main research question in its simplest form, possibly with a sub-heading providing basic details on the specifics of the study. For example:

“Compliance with equality legislation in the charity sector: a study of the ‘reasonable adjustments’ made in three London care homes”

As you can see, this title provides a clear indication of what the research is about, in broad terms. It paints a high-level picture for the first-time reader, which gives them a taste of what to expect.   Always aim for a clear, concise title . Don’t feel the need to capture every detail of your research in your title – your proposal will fill in the gaps.

Need a helping hand?

writing a proposal for a phd

Ingredient #2 – Introduction

In this section of your research proposal, you’ll expand on what you’ve communicated in the title, by providing a few paragraphs which offer more detail about your research topic. Importantly, the focus here is the   topic   – what will you research and why is that worth researching? This is not the place to discuss methodology, practicalities, etc. – you’ll do that later.

You should cover the following:

  • An overview of the   broad area   you’ll be researching – introduce the reader to key concepts and language
  • An explanation of the   specific (narrower) area   you’ll be focusing, and why you’ll be focusing there
  • Your research   aims   and   objectives
  • Your   research question (s) and sub-questions (if applicable)

Importantly, you should aim to use short sentences and plain language – don’t babble on with extensive jargon, acronyms and complex language. Assume that the reader is an intelligent layman – not a subject area specialist (even if they are). Remember that the   best writing is writing that can be easily understood   and digested. Keep it simple.

The introduction section serves to expand on the  research topic – what will you study and why is that worth dedicating time and effort to?

Note that some universities may want some extra bits and pieces in your introduction section. For example, personal development objectives, a structural outline, etc. Check your brief to see if there are any other details they expect in your proposal, and make sure you find a place for these.

Ingredient #3 – Scope

Next, you’ll need to specify what the scope of your research will be – this is also known as the delimitations . In other words, you need to make it clear what you will be covering and, more importantly, what you won’t be covering in your research. Simply put, this is about ring fencing your research topic so that you have a laser-sharp focus.

All too often, students feel the need to go broad and try to address as many issues as possible, in the interest of producing comprehensive research. Whilst this is admirable, it’s a mistake. By tightly refining your scope, you’ll enable yourself to   go deep   with your research, which is what you need to earn good marks. If your scope is too broad, you’re likely going to land up with superficial research (which won’t earn marks), so don’t be afraid to narrow things down.

Ingredient #4 – Literature Review

In this section of your research proposal, you need to provide a (relatively) brief discussion of the existing literature. Naturally, this will not be as comprehensive as the literature review in your actual dissertation, but it will lay the foundation for that. In fact, if you put in the effort at this stage, you’ll make your life a lot easier when it’s time to write your actual literature review chapter.

There are a few things you need to achieve in this section:

  • Demonstrate that you’ve done your reading and are   familiar with the current state of the research   in your topic area.
  • Show that   there’s a clear gap   for your specific research – i.e., show that your topic is sufficiently unique and will add value to the existing research.
  • Show how the existing research has shaped your thinking regarding   research design . For example, you might use scales or questionnaires from previous studies.

When you write up your literature review, keep these three objectives front of mind, especially number two (revealing the gap in the literature), so that your literature review has a   clear purpose and direction . Everything you write should be contributing towards one (or more) of these objectives in some way. If it doesn’t, you need to ask yourself whether it’s truly needed.

Top Tip:  Don’t fall into the trap of just describing the main pieces of literature, for example, “A says this, B says that, C also says that…” and so on. Merely describing the literature provides no value. Instead, you need to   synthesise   it, and use it to address the three objectives above.

 If you put in the effort at the proposal stage, you’ll make your life a lot easier when its time to write your actual literature review chapter.

Ingredient #5 – Research Methodology

Now that you’ve clearly explained both your intended research topic (in the introduction) and the existing research it will draw on (in the literature review section), it’s time to get practical and explain exactly how you’ll be carrying out your own research. In other words, your research methodology.

In this section, you’ll need to   answer two critical questions :

  • How   will you design your research? I.e., what research methodology will you adopt, what will your sample be, how will you collect data, etc.
  • Why   have you chosen this design? I.e., why does this approach suit your specific research aims, objectives and questions?

In other words, this is not just about explaining WHAT you’ll be doing, it’s also about explaining WHY. In fact, the   justification is the most important part , because that justification is how you demonstrate a good understanding of research design (which is what assessors want to see).

Some essential design choices you need to cover in your research proposal include:

  • Your intended research philosophy (e.g., positivism, interpretivism or pragmatism )
  • What methodological approach you’ll be taking (e.g., qualitative , quantitative or mixed )
  • The details of your sample (e.g., sample size, who they are, who they represent, etc.)
  • What data you plan to collect (i.e. data about what, in what form?)
  • How you plan to collect it (e.g., surveys , interviews , focus groups, etc.)
  • How you plan to analyse it (e.g., regression analysis, thematic analysis , etc.)
  • Ethical adherence (i.e., does this research satisfy all ethical requirements of your institution, or does it need further approval?)

This list is not exhaustive – these are just some core attributes of research design. Check with your institution what level of detail they expect. The “ research onion ” by Saunders et al (2009) provides a good summary of the various design choices you ultimately need to make – you can   read more about that here .

Don’t forget the practicalities…

In addition to the technical aspects, you will need to address the   practical   side of the project. In other words, you need to explain   what resources you’ll need   (e.g., time, money, access to equipment or software, etc.) and how you intend to secure these resources. You need to show that your project is feasible, so any “make or break” type resources need to already be secured. The success or failure of your project cannot depend on some resource which you’re not yet sure you have access to.

Another part of the practicalities discussion is   project and risk management . In other words, you need to show that you have a clear project plan to tackle your research with. Some key questions to address:

  • What are the timelines for each phase of your project?
  • Are the time allocations reasonable?
  • What happens if something takes longer than anticipated (risk management)?
  • What happens if you don’t get the response rate you expect?

A good way to demonstrate that you’ve thought this through is to include a Gantt chart and a risk register (in the appendix if word count is a problem). With these two tools, you can show that you’ve got a clear, feasible plan, and you’ve thought about and accounted for the potential risks.

Gantt chart

Tip – Be honest about the potential difficulties – but show that you are anticipating solutions and workarounds. This is much more impressive to an assessor than an unrealistically optimistic proposal which does not anticipate any challenges whatsoever.

Final Touches: Read And Simplify

The final step is to edit and proofread your proposal – very carefully. It sounds obvious, but all too often poor editing and proofreading ruin a good proposal. Nothing is more off-putting for an assessor than a poorly edited, typo-strewn document. It sends the message that you either do not pay attention to detail, or just don’t care. Neither of these are good messages. Put the effort into editing and proofreading your proposal (or pay someone to do it for you) – it will pay dividends.

When you’re editing, watch out for ‘academese’. Many students can speak simply, passionately and clearly about their dissertation topic – but become incomprehensible the moment they turn the laptop on. You are not required to write in any kind of special, formal, complex language when you write academic work. Sure, there may be technical terms, jargon specific to your discipline, shorthand terms and so on. But, apart from those,   keep your written language very close to natural spoken language   – just as you would speak in the classroom. Imagine that you are explaining your project plans to your classmates or a family member. Remember, write for the intelligent layman, not the subject matter experts. Plain-language, concise writing is what wins hearts and minds – and marks!

Let’s Recap: Research Proposal 101

And there you have it – how to write your dissertation or thesis research proposal, from the title page to the final proof. Here’s a quick recap of the key takeaways:

  • The purpose of the research proposal is to   convince   – therefore, you need to make a clear, concise argument of why your research is both worth doing and doable.
  • Make sure you can ask the critical what, who, and how questions of your research   before   you put pen to paper.
  • Title – provides the first taste of your research, in broad terms
  • Introduction – explains what you’ll be researching in more detail
  • Scope – explains the boundaries of your research
  • Literature review – explains how your research fits into the existing research and why it’s unique and valuable
  • Research methodology – explains and justifies how you will carry out your own research

Hopefully, this post has helped you better understand how to write up a winning research proposal. If you enjoyed it, be sure to check out the rest of the Grad Coach Blog . If your university doesn’t provide any template for your proposal, you might want to try out our free research proposal template .

Literature Review Course

Psst… there’s more!

This post is an extract from our bestselling Udemy Course, Research Proposal Bootcamp . If you want to work smart, you don't want to miss this .

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29 Comments

Mazwakhe Mkhulisi

Thank you so much for the valuable insight that you have given, especially on the research proposal. That is what I have managed to cover. I still need to go back to the other parts as I got disturbed while still listening to Derek’s audio on you-tube. I am inspired. I will definitely continue with Grad-coach guidance on You-tube.

Derek Jansen

Thanks for the kind words :). All the best with your proposal.

NAVEEN ANANTHARAMAN

First of all, thanks a lot for making such a wonderful presentation. The video was really useful and gave me a very clear insight of how a research proposal has to be written. I shall try implementing these ideas in my RP.

Once again, I thank you for this content.

Bonginkosi Mshengu

I found reading your outline on writing research proposal very beneficial. I wish there was a way of submitting my draft proposal to you guys for critiquing before I submit to the institution.

Hi Bonginkosi

Thank you for the kind words. Yes, we do provide a review service. The best starting point is to have a chat with one of our coaches here: https://gradcoach.com/book/new/ .

Erick Omondi

Hello team GRADCOACH, may God bless you so much. I was totally green in research. Am so happy for your free superb tutorials and resources. Once again thank you so much Derek and his team.

You’re welcome, Erick. Good luck with your research proposal 🙂

ivy

thank you for the information. its precise and on point.

Nighat Nighat Ahsan

Really a remarkable piece of writing and great source of guidance for the researchers. GOD BLESS YOU for your guidance. Regards

Delfina Celeste Danca Rangel

Thanks so much for your guidance. It is easy and comprehensive the way you explain the steps for a winning research proposal.

Desiré Forku

Thank you guys so much for the rich post. I enjoyed and learn from every word in it. My problem now is how to get into your platform wherein I can always seek help on things related to my research work ? Secondly, I wish to find out if there is a way I can send my tentative proposal to you guys for examination before I take to my supervisor Once again thanks very much for the insights

Thanks for your kind words, Desire.

If you are based in a country where Grad Coach’s paid services are available, you can book a consultation by clicking the “Book” button in the top right.

Best of luck with your studies.

Adolph

May God bless you team for the wonderful work you are doing,

If I have a topic, Can I submit it to you so that you can draft a proposal for me?? As I am expecting to go for masters degree in the near future.

Thanks for your comment. We definitely cannot draft a proposal for you, as that would constitute academic misconduct. The proposal needs to be your own work. We can coach you through the process, but it needs to be your own work and your own writing.

Best of luck with your research!

kenate Akuma

I found a lot of many essential concepts from your material. it is real a road map to write a research proposal. so thanks a lot. If there is any update material on your hand on MBA please forward to me.

Ahmed Khalil

GradCoach is a professional website that presents support and helps for MBA student like me through the useful online information on the page and with my 1-on-1 online coaching with the amazing and professional PhD Kerryen.

Thank you Kerryen so much for the support and help 🙂

I really recommend dealing with such a reliable services provider like Gradcoah and a coach like Kerryen.

PINTON OFOSU

Hi, Am happy for your service and effort to help students and researchers, Please, i have been given an assignment on research for strategic development, the task one is to formulate a research proposal to support the strategic development of a business area, my issue here is how to go about it, especially the topic or title and introduction. Please, i would like to know if you could help me and how much is the charge.

Marcos A. López Figueroa

This content is practical, valuable, and just great!

Thank you very much!

Eric Rwigamba

Hi Derek, Thank you for the valuable presentation. It is very helpful especially for beginners like me. I am just starting my PhD.

Hussein EGIELEMAI

This is quite instructive and research proposal made simple. Can I have a research proposal template?

Mathew Yokie Musa

Great! Thanks for rescuing me, because I had no former knowledge in this topic. But with this piece of information, I am now secured. Thank you once more.

Chulekazi Bula

I enjoyed listening to your video on how to write a proposal. I think I will be able to write a winning proposal with your advice. I wish you were to be my supervisor.

Mohammad Ajmal Shirzad

Dear Derek Jansen,

Thank you for your great content. I couldn’t learn these topics in MBA, but now I learned from GradCoach. Really appreciate your efforts….

From Afghanistan!

Mulugeta Yilma

I have got very essential inputs for startup of my dissertation proposal. Well organized properly communicated with video presentation. Thank you for the presentation.

Siphesihle Macu

Wow, this is absolutely amazing guys. Thank you so much for the fruitful presentation, you’ve made my research much easier.

HAWANATU JULLIANA JOSEPH

this helps me a lot. thank you all so much for impacting in us. may god richly bless you all

June Pretzer

How I wish I’d learn about Grad Coach earlier. I’ve been stumbling around writing and rewriting! Now I have concise clear directions on how to put this thing together. Thank you!

Jas

Fantastic!! Thank You for this very concise yet comprehensive guidance.

Fikiru Bekele

Even if I am poor in English I would like to thank you very much.

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Moray House School of Education and Sport

Writing your PhD research proposal

Find guidance on how to write your PhD research proposal and a template form for you to use to submit your research proposal.

By asking you for an outline  research proposal we hope to get a good picture of your research interests and your understanding of what such research is likely to entail.

The University's application form is designed to enable you to give an overview of your academic experience and qualifications for study at postgraduate level. Your outline research proposal then gives us an idea of the kind of research you want to undertake. This, together with information from your referees, will help us assess whether the Moray House School of Education and Sport would be the appropriate place for you to pursue your research interests.

At  the application stage you are unlikely to be in a position to provide a comprehensive research proposal; the detailed shaping up of a research plan would be done in conjunction with your supervisors(s). But it is important for us to appreciate what you are hoping to investigate, how you envisage carrying out the research, and what the results might be expected to contribute to current knowledge and understanding in the relevant academic field(s) of study. In writing your proposal, please indicate any prior academic or employment experience relevant to your planned research.

In your research proposal, please also ensure that you clearly identify the Moray House research cluster your proposal falls under, as well as two to three staff members  with expertise in this area. We also encourage you to contact potential supervisors within your area of proposed research prior to submitting your application in order to gauge their interest and availability.

How to write your research proposal

The description of your proposed research should consist of 4-5 typed A4 sheets. It can take whatever form seems best, but should include some information about the following:

  • The general area within which you wish to conduct research, and why (you might find it helpful to explain what stimulated your interest in your chosen research field, and any study or research in the area that you have already undertaken)
  • The kind of research questions that you would hope to address, and why (in explaining what is likely to be the main focus of your research, it may be helpful to indicate, for example, why these issues are of particular concern and the way in which they relate to existing literature)
  • The sources of information and type of research methods you plan to use (for example, how you plan to collect your data, which sources you will be targeting and how you will access these data sources).

In addition to the above, please include any comments you are able to make concerning:

  • The approach that you will take to analysing your research data
  • The general timetable you would follow for carrying out and writing up your research
  • Any plans you may have for undertaking fieldwork away from Edinburgh
  • Any problems that might be anticipated in carrying out your proposed research

Please note: This guidance applies to all candidates, except those applying to conduct PhD research as part of a larger, already established research project (for example, in the Institute for Sport, Physical Education & Health Sciences).

In this case, you should provide a two- to three-page description of a research project that you have already undertaken, as a means of complementing information given in the application form. If you are in any doubt as to what is appropriate please contact us:

Contact us by email: Education@[email protected]

All doctoral proposals submitted as part of an application will be run through plagiarism detection software.

Template form for your research proposal

All applicants for a PhD or MSc by Research are required to submit a research proposal as part of their application. Applicants  must   use the template form below for their research proposal. This research proposal should then be submitted online as part of your application. Please use Calibri size 11 font size and do not change the paragraph spacing (single, with 6pt after each paragraph) or the page margins.

writing a proposal for a phd

The PhD Proofreaders

Learn how to write a PhD proposal that will stand out from the rest

Feb 27, 2019

phd proposal

Here, we show you how to write a PhD proposal that will stand out from the hundreds of others that are submitted each day.

Before we do though,  know one thing :

The research you describe when you write your PhD proposal won’t look anything like the research you finally write up in your PhD thesis.

Wait,  what ?

That’s not a typo.  Everyone’s research changes over time.  If you knew everything when you were writing up your proposal there wouldn’t be any point doing the PhD at all.

So,  what’s the point of the proposal?

Your proposal is  a guide, not a contract . It is a plan for your research that is necessarily flexible. That’s why it changes over time.

This means that the proposal is less about the robustness of your proposed research design and more about showing that you have

1. Critical thinking skills

2. An adequate grasp of the existing literature and know how your research will contribute to it

3. Clear direction and objectives. You get this by formulating clear research questions

4. Appropriate methods. This shows that you can link your understanding of the literature, research design and theory

5. An understanding of what’s required in a PhD

6. Designed a project that is feasible

writing a proposal for a phd

Your PhD thesis. All on one page. 

Use our free PhD structure template to quickly visualise every element of your thesis. 

What is a PhD proposal? 

Your PhD proposal is submitted as part of your application to a PhD program. It is a standard means of assessing your potential as a doctoral researcher.

When stripped down to its basic components, it does two things:

Explains the ‘what’-  t hese are the questions you will address and the outcomes you expect

Explains the ‘why’-  t his is the case for your research, with a focus on why the research is significant and what the contributions will be. 

It is used by potential supervisors and department admission tutors to assess the quality and originality of your research ideas, how good you are at critical thinking and how feasible your proposed study is.

This means that it needs to showcase your expertise and your knowledge of the existing field and how your research contributes to it. You use it to   make a persuasive case   that your research is interesting and significant enough to warrant the university’s investment.

Above all though, it is about   showcasing your passion for your discipline . A PhD is a hard, long journey. The admissions tutor want to know that you have both the skills and the resilience required.

What needs to be included in a PhD proposal?

Exactly what needs to be included when you write your PhD proposal will vary from university to university. How long your proposal needs to be may also be specified by your university, but if it isn’t, aim for three thousand words.

Check the requirements for each university you are applying for carefully.

Having said that, almost all proposals will need to have four distinct sections.

1. Introduction

2. the research context.

3. The approach you take

4. Conclusion

In the first few paragraphs of your proposal, you need to   clearly and concisely state your research questions, the gap in the literature your study will address, the significance of your research and the contribution   that the study makes.

Be as clear and concise as you can be.   Make the reader’s job as easy as possible   by clearly stating what the proposed research will investigate, what the contribution is and why the study is worthwhile.

This isn’t the place for lots of explanatory detail. You don’t need to justify particular design decisions in the introduction, just state what they are. The justification comes later.

In this section, you   discuss the existing literature and the gaps that exist within it.

The goal here is to show that you understand the existing literature in your field, what the gaps are and how your proposed study will address them. We’ve written a guide that will help you to   conduct and write a literature review .

Chances are, you won’t have conducted a complete literature review, so the emphasis here should be on the more important and well-known research in your field. Don’t worry that you haven’t read everything. Your admissions officer won’t have expected you to.  Instead, they want to see that you know the following:

1. What are the most important authors, findings, concepts, schools, debates and hypotheses?

2. What gaps exist in the literature?

3. How does your thesis fill these gaps?

Once you have laid out the context, you will be in a position to  make  your thesis statement . A thesis statement is a sentence that summarises your argument to the reader. It is the ‘point’ you will want to make with your proposed research.

Remember, the emphasis in the PhD proposal is on   what you   intend   to do,   not on results. You won’t have results until you finish your study. That means that your thesis statement will be speculative, rather than a statement of fact.

For more on how to construct thesis statements, read this  excellent guide  from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who, incidentally, run a great academic writing blog you should definitely visit.

3. The approach you will take

This is the section in which you discuss the overall research design and is the most important component of the proposal. The emphasis here is on five things.

1. The overall approach taken (is it purely theoretical, or does it involve primary or empirical research? Maybe it’s both theoretical and empirical?)

2. The theoretical perspective you will use when you design and conduct your research

3. Why you have chosen this approach over others and what implications this choice has for your methods and the robustness of the study

4. Your specific aims and objectives

5. Your research methodology

In the previous section you outlined the context. In this section you explain   the specific detail   of what your research will look like.

You take the brief research design statements you made in the introduction and go into much more detail. You need to be relating your design decisions back to the literature and context discussion in the previous section.

The emphasis here is on   showing that there is a logical flow.   There’s no point highlighting a gap in the literature and then designing a study that doesn’t fill it.

Some of the detail here will only become clear once you have started the actual research. That’s fine. The emphasis in your proposal should be on showing that you understand what goes into a PhD.

So,   keep it general.

For example, when talking about your methodology, keep things deliberately broad and focus on the overarching strategy. For example, if you are using interviews, you don’t need to list every single proposed interview question. Instead, you can talk about the rough themes you will discuss (which will relate to your literature review and thesis/project statement). Similarly, unless your research is specifically focusing on particular individuals, you don’t need to list exactly who you will interview. Instead, just state the types of people you will interview (for example: local politicians, or athletes, or academics in the UK, and so on).

4. Concluding paragraphs

There are a number of key elements to a proposal that you will need to put in the final paragraphs.

These include:

1. A discussion on the limitations of the study

2. A reiteration of your contribution

3. A proposed chapter structure (this can be an appendix)

4. Proposed month-by-month timetable (this can also be an appendix). The purpose of this timetable is to show that you understand every stage required and how long each stage takes relative to others.

Tips to turn an average proposal into one that will be accepted

1. be critical.

When you are making your design decisions in section three, you need to do so critically.   Critical thinking   is a key requirement of entry onto a PhD programme. In brief, it means not taking things at face value and questioning what you read or do. You can   read our guide to being critical   for help (it focuses on the literature review, but the take home points are the same). 

2. Don’t go into too much detail too soon in your proposal

This is something that many people get wrong. You need to   ease the reader in   gradually .   Present a brief, clear statement in the introduction and then gradually introduce more information as the pages roll on.

You will see that the outline we have suggested above follows an inverted pyramid shape.

1. In section one, you present the headlines in the introductory paragraphs. These are the research questions, aims, objectives, contribution and problem statement. State these without context or explanation.

2. When discussing the research context in section two, you provide a little more background. The goal here is to introduce the reader to the literature and highlight the gaps.

3. When describing the approach you will take, you present more detailed information. The goal here is to talk in very precise terms about how your research will address these gaps, the implications of these choices and your expected findings.

3. Be realistic

Don’t pretend you know more than you do and   don’t try to reinvent your discipline .

A good proposal is one that is very focused and that describes research that is very feasible. If you try to design a study to revolutionise your field, you will not be accepted because doing so shows that you don’t understand what is feasible in the context of a PhD and you haven’t understood the literature.

4. Use clear, concise sentences

Describe your research as clearly as possible   in the opening couple of paragraphs. Then write in short, clear sentences. Avoid using complex sentences where possible. If you need to introduce technical terminology, clearly define things. 

In other words,   make the reader’s job as easy as possible.

5. Get it proofread by someone else

We’ve written a post on  why you need a proofreader .

Simple: you are the worst person to proofread your own work.

6. Work with your proposed supervisor, if you’re allowed

A lot of students fail to do this. Your supervisor isn’t your enemy. You can work with them to refine your proposal. Don’t be afraid to reach out for comments and suggestions. Be careful though. Don’t expect them to come up with topics or questions for you. Their input should be focused on refining your ideas, not helping you come up with them. 

7. Tailor your proposal to each department and institution you are applying to

Admissions tutors can spot when you have submitted a one-size-fits-all proposal. Try and tailor it to the individual department. You can do this by talking about how you will contribute to the department and why you have chosen to apply there. 

Follow this guide and you’ll be on a PhD programme in no time at all. 

If you’re struggling for inspiration on topics or research design, try writing a rough draft of your proposal. Often the act of writing is enough for us to brainstorm new ideas and relate existing ideas to one another. 

If you’re still struggling, send your idea to us in an   email   to us and we’ll give you our feedback. 

Hello, Doctor…

Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Be able to call yourself Doctor sooner with our five-star rated How to Write A PhD email-course. Learn everything your supervisor should have taught you about planning and completing a PhD.

Now half price. Join hundreds of other students and become a better thesis writer, or your money back. 

Share this:

13 comments.

Moazzam

A wonderful guide. I must say not only well written but very well thought out and very efficient.

Dr. Max Lempriere

Great. I’m glad you think so.

Musonda

Thanks for sharing. Makes navigating through the proposal lot easier

Great. Glad you think so!

S. U. Tanko

An excellent guide, I learned a lot thank you

Simeon Sebastian Kormon

Great job and guide for a PhD proposal. Thank you!

You’re welcome!

Lameck Bonaventure Luwanda

I am going to start writing my Ph.D. proposal. This has been so helpful in instructing me on what to do. Thanks

Thanks! Glad you thought so.

Fiona Lynne GALLIANO

A very reassuring guide to the process. Thank you, Max

ilan

I appreciate the practical advice and actionable steps you provide in your posts.

Glad to hear it. Many thanks.

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  • Writing a research proposal for a PhD application

How to write a research proposal for a PhD application

What is a research proposal.

A research proposal gives details of the direction of your future research, usually based on a research question and a chapter-by-chapter approach to answering it.

For PhD applications, this proposal will be assessed to see:

  • whether the project is likely to be completed within three years of full-time research
  • whether it can be effectively supervised at the university
  • whether you are competent and keen enough to complete it.

There may be other factors affecting whether you get a place at the University of Brighton:

  • whether the project fits a growing or established research priority of the university
  • how the proposal fits with a current cohort and the research environment

A successful proposal will leave the panel in no doubt on these, and you should prepare to show the strength of your idea and demonstrate your suitability.

Within the proposal, you should take the opportunity to clearly outline your research idea; your research methodology and critical approaches; your experience in this field of research where you can; and how your work will be offering an original contribution to knowledge, theories and/or practice. 

Find more details about a PhD in your discipline at the University of Brighton

How to get a prospective supervisor's help with your proposal

The strongest proposals are often ones that have been written jointly between a prospective student and prospective supervisor.

As Professor Pollen states in our film, supervisors have an understanding of the language used in proposals and the skillsets that asessors will want to see -- whether for a university position or a funding application.

To develop a strong proposal, we recommend you  work with a possible supervisor  at the University of Brighton who can help shape your project for feasibility and suitability within our institution. This person may then become your lead supervisor.

Please enable targeting cookies in order to view this video content on our website, or you can watch the video on YouTube .

What journey leads to a PhD application?  This film was made by the University of Brighton for UKRI and features University of Brighton students and academics as well as those from other partner universities.

Finding a PhD theme and understanding the university research environment

You may be responding to an advertised call for a particular project that has already achieved funding. Alternatively, you may want to propose a personally developed project. 

If you are responding to a call then the advertisement will have clear guidance as to what research experience and interest a candidate will need. This should help you structure your PhD research proposal.

If you are proposing a personally developed project then it should be carefully written to show the viability within the university's current research environment and a specific supervisory possibility at the university.

Some applicants have found our repository of theses helpful for the development and refinement of their research idea. You can find over 1000 theses completed at the University of Brighton over the past 40 years at our repository of successful PhD student theses . 

Our research database has useful leads to potential supervisory staff and a strong idea of the university's current research priorities online:

  • Explore our PhD disciplinary programme search tools including free search and A-Z 
  • Explore our research centres (COREs)  or our research groups (REGs) 
  • Visit our research database of staff, projects and organisational units.

Once you have identified a potential lead researcher of a research project most aligned to yours, do not hesitate to email them.

Explain who you are, your motivation to do a PhD in their field of study and with them. They will let you know if they are interested in your project and would be interested in potentially supervising your PhD. If they cannot commit, they may be able to help you identify another researcher who could be available and interested.

By liaising with a suitable supervisor, your proposal will benefit from expert help and be channelled towards the appropriate disciplinary environment.

If you are in doubt about whether we can offer the appropriate supervision, please contact the  Doctoral College .

Find out more about your opportunities for a PHD on our FAQ page

What should a research proposal contain?

A research proposal should include the following:

1. Indicative title of the topic area

This should accurately reflect what it is that you want to study and the central issues that you are going to address.

It may be useful to present this in the format of a statement (perhaps a quote) and a question, separated by a colon. For example: '"The tantalising future of research": how are research proposals developed and assessed?'

2. Context / rationale / why is this study important? (300 – 500 words)

Introduce your specific area of study. You should identify the theoretical context within which your research will be developed by discussing the discipline(s) and or field/s of study relevant to your research.

This means outlining the key theoretical area(s) you will draw upon to enable you to find out what it is that you want to know (for example, how it is underpinned from methods in the social sciences; arts and humanities; life, health and physical sciences).

What we are looking for here is an indication that you understand and have done some research into the wider theoretical context.

Developing the context is just one part of this section; you are building a case / rationale for the study area. Why is this study important, which theoretical areas support this? Can you identify any gaps in current understanding that help you build the case for this research study?

For example, this section might take the form of: a series of statements on the current landmark areas of thought; a recognition of what has not yet been done thoroughly enough or where there is territory for research between these landmark studies; and where your study will fill the gaps you have identified.

3. Literature review (approximately 700 – 900 words)

Here you are demonstrating that you are aware of what has been and what is currently being written about your topic.

It will certainly include the up-to-date and relevant past landmark academic literature. It may also include other evidence of current thought and attitude, for example, government documents or media coverage. Practice-led PhD studies may make reference to innovation and trends in industry or professional practice.

We are looking for you to make links between this body of literature and your proposed area of study. This will support the ways you have identified gaps in the current global knowledge-base. A PhD thesis arises from original research leading to new knowledge or a significant contribution to existing knowledge. If, at this stage, you have some thoughts on how your research is likely to contribute to knowledge then include details in your proposal.

This section should include citations which are compiled into a reference list at the end of the document (see point 7).

4. The research questions or hypotheses (approximately 200 words)

Having told us what you want to study and why, and then illustrated these ideas with reference to a body of literature, the next task is to distil your ideas into a tentative set of research questions, hypotheses, aims and objectives (as per the underpinning discipline requires) that are manageable and achievable within a normal PhD timeframe (see 6 below). There are typically between three and ten questions/aims of this kind.

5. Research approach/ methodologies / methods (approximately 400 words)

There will be many research approaches open to you. In your proposal, suggest the methodological approach that you might take and make a reasoned case as to why the research questions you have posed are best addressed by this approach.

You might also suggest what methods you would use to generate data that can help you address your research questions.

6. Timescale/research planning (approximately 200 words)

A full-time PhD should take three years to complete, although you may require more time to acquire the relevant skills prior to commencing your research. Part-time study will take longer (up to five - six years). Within this timeframe, you will need to demonstrate your awareness of time management and planning, for example the length of time for primary research/ fieldwork.

7. Reference list 

You should include a reference list of all the sources that you referred to in the text using a recognised referencing style appropriate to your discipline (for example Harvard or Vancouver for Sciences).

Evidence of thorough background reading might include between ten and twenty citations at this point. They should demonstrate to an expert that you are knowledgeable of the landmark work in your field.

There are a number of books widely available that may help in preparing your research proposal (as well as in completing your research degree), here are a couple to point you in the right direction:

Bell, J (2010, 5th edn) Doing Your Research Project: A Guide for First-time Researchers in Education & Social Science , Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Baxter, L, Hughes, C and Tight, M (2007, 3rd edn) How to Research , Buckingham: Open University Press.

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Research proposals in practice-led and professionally-based disciplines

The University of Brighton prides itself on the quality of its research in areas that intersect with professional practices and direct impact through in-the-field relationships with co-producers.

We are very supportive of doctoral projects that bring positive results from these methodolgies and practices.

Some of the subject areas that have supported personal practice as research include: design, art, architecture, media production and creative writing, with successful approaches including autoethnographic methods and public participation or site-specific interventions. 

Some of the areas that have benefited from significant professional practice and industry relationship-focused research have included: engineering, nursing, business administration and teaching. 

The research proposal will still need to demonstrate your capability as a researcher with a project that is workable and fits with the university's interests and capacities. 

You should, however, adapt your proposal to demonstrate the value that your practice can bring to the research. This should be in tandem with a clear understanding of the relationship between practice and research.

A clear competence in practice should be evidenced, but do be aware that your proposal will be judged on its research and the new knowledge that is developed and shared, rather than the quality of practice in and of itself.

Personal practices, experiences and data gained through professional relationships may form part of a standard PhD thesis and proposal as description of work and resulting data. You will only be appyling for a practice-led component to be taken into account if this will form a significant part of the representation and examination of the knowledge-base. In such cases, the thesis is signficantly shorter.

Some pitfalls in the applications for practice-led or practice-focused research include:

  • An imbalance between the practical and theoretical elements
  • Too arbitrary a divide between the practice and theory
  • Using practice to simply provide personal illustrations of established theories or concepts
  • Insufficient sense of how the research knowledge will be held and disseminated
  • Insufficiently contained scope for a three-year project – for example, where the practice is described as a life-long investigation – with no clarity on an end-point
  • A project that could be better or similarly tackled through a standard PhD in terms of efficient response to the research questions. For example where the practice element might be represented as data or results instead of examined practice.

Your potential supervisor will be able to advise where a proposal will include significant elements beyond the traditional thesis. For further information, please contact the Doctoral College .

Hand gripping toothbrush designed with two flexible handles designed to be squeezed as help for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers

A set of designed objects submitted as part of a practice-led PhD project in medical therapeutic design, by Dr Tom Ainsworth, who went on to become a teacher, researcher and supervisor at the University of Brighton.

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  • PhD and Professional Doctorates
  • How to apply

Writing a research proposal

Your research proposal is the most important part of your doctoral application. Find out how to write a proposal for your own research, for advertised PhD projects, and for Professional Doctorates.

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What is a research proposal?

A research proposal is the beginning of your doctoral project. The proposal outlines the intended focus of your research, the question you intend to explore, and the possibilities.

Doctoral research should be an original contribution to an academic field, and the research proposal should demonstrate that.

Research proposal structure

A research proposal should be concise and direct - the panel won’t be expecting you to know all the answers yet, but they need to see the need for the project, your planned approach or methodology, and its potential impact. Make sure your proposal includes these elements:

  • a relevant title for the project - the first step in writing your proposal is to decide on a title that clearly indicates the focus of your research.
  • an outline of your chosen research question or focus  - this should be outlined at the beginning of your proposal, clearly stating any factors that make the project unique.
  • a brief overview of existing academic work on or connected to your topic  - all proposals should include this, and a clear reason as to why your project will differ or add something new.
  • details of the methodology you intend to use  - your proposal should also include your plan for the research over the course of your degree and what's called your 'research impact' - the effect your research will have beyond academia.

Your research proposal should be no more than 1500 words (not including references). Once you’ve drafted your proposal, ask your potential supervisor for feedback and work on any edits alongside them. Once both you and your supervisor are happy with the proposal, you can submit your application.

Top three tips for your research proposal

1. be distinct.

Amplify the originality of your research, particularly if your work will spotlight an underrepresented area of research or offer a new perspective on a major issue. Outline the need for your research and any elements that might facilitate real-world change.

2. Maximise the potential

How will your project contribute to the research community? Will it have potential for public engagement or be of benefit to a certain community? What could the outcomes be?

Demonstrate your project's scope in your proposal to help it stand out to a decision panel, and to highlight your potential as a researcher.

3. Show your skill

Use your proposal to demonstrate your knowledge of the field, your grasp of methodologies and key concepts, and your abilities as a researcher. Make sure your research plan is feasible and shows your understanding of research practice. The panel will be looking out for good planning and project management.

Research proposals for named PhD projects

Academic support

Make sure you state which of the projects you are choosing to apply for. Your statement should be concise, with your key points clearly emphasised and detailed. This will help you make a strong impression on the application panel.

Your proposal should provide an outline that demonstrates your understanding of the research project you are applying for, its goals and potential impact, and the approach that you would take as a doctoral candidate. Demonstrate your knowledge of the field and current academic work on the topic and outline what sort of methodology you would choose.

For example, what do you think would be the best way to collect data for the project, and why? Include any potential avenues you would pursue, sharing the project’s research outcomes and possible long-term impacts you could facilitate. Make sure that your proposal has a clear plan for undertaking the research in the proposed timeframe. Your potential supervisor may be able to offer guidance on this.

The statement should be 1500 words, not including any references or appendices.

Personal statements for Professional Doctorates

The researcher is at the heart of any research project -  what is about this research that inspires you? Does your personal or professional background give you a unique insight?

Your personal statement should be a snapshot of you as an individual, your professional identity and your experience. The purpose is to demonstrate to the panel that you have the potential to be an excellent researcher and that you are the right person for your proposed project.

Ready to apply?

When you’ve thought about your proposal, the next step is to submit your application. Read our guide on how to apply.

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  • Knowledge Base
  • Dissertation

How to Write a Dissertation or Thesis Proposal

Published on September 21, 2022 by Tegan George . Revised on July 18, 2023.

When starting your thesis or dissertation process, one of the first requirements is a research proposal or a prospectus. It describes what or who you want to examine, delving into why, when, where, and how you will do so, stemming from your research question and a relevant topic .

The proposal or prospectus stage is crucial for the development of your research. It helps you choose a type of research to pursue, as well as whether to pursue qualitative or quantitative methods and what your research design will look like.

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Table of contents

What should your proposal contain, dissertation question examples, what should your proposal look like, dissertation prospectus examples, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about proposals.

Prior to jumping into the research for your thesis or dissertation, you first need to develop your research proposal and have it approved by your supervisor. It should outline all of the decisions you have taken about your project, from your dissertation topic to your hypotheses and research objectives .

Depending on your department’s requirements, there may be a defense component involved, where you present your research plan in prospectus format to your committee for their approval.

Your proposal should answer the following questions:

  • Why is your research necessary?
  • What is already known about your topic?
  • Where and when will your research be conducted?
  • Who should be studied?
  • How can the research best be done?

Ultimately, your proposal should persuade your supervisor or committee that your proposed project is worth pursuing.

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Strong research kicks off with a solid research question , and dissertations are no exception to this.

Dissertation research questions should be:

  • Focused on a single problem or issue
  • Researchable using primary and/or secondary sources
  • Feasible to answer within the timeframe and practical constraints
  • Specific enough to answer thoroughly
  • Complex enough to develop the answer over the space of a paper or thesis
  • Relevant to your field of study and/or society more broadly
  • What are the main factors enticing people under 30 in suburban areas to engage in the gig economy?
  • Which techniques prove most effective for 1st-grade teachers at local elementary schools in engaging students with special needs?
  • Which communication streams are the most effective for getting those aged 18-30 to the polls on Election Day?

An easy rule of thumb is that your proposal will usually resemble a (much) shorter version of your thesis or dissertation. While of course it won’t include the results section , discussion section , or conclusion , it serves as a “mini” version or roadmap for what you eventually seek to write.

Be sure to include:

  • A succinct introduction to your topic and problem statement
  • A brief literature review situating your topic within existing research
  • A basic outline of the research methods you think will best answer your research question
  • The perceived implications for future research
  • A reference list in the citation style of your choice

The length of your proposal varies quite a bit depending on your discipline and type of work you’re conducting. While a thesis proposal is often only 3-7 pages long, a prospectus for your dissertation is usually much longer, with more detailed analysis. Dissertation proposals can be up to 25-30 pages in length.

Writing a proposal or prospectus can be a challenge, but we’ve compiled some examples for you to get your started.

  • Example #1: “Geographic Representations of the Planet Mars, 1867-1907” by Maria Lane
  • Example #2: “Individuals and the State in Late Bronze Age Greece: Messenian Perspectives on Mycenaean Society” by Dimitri Nakassis
  • Example #3: “Manhood Up in the Air: A Study of Male Flight Attendants, Queerness, and Corporate Capitalism during the Cold War Era” by Phil Tiemeyer

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The research methods you use depend on the type of data you need to answer your research question .

  • If you want to measure something or test a hypothesis , use quantitative methods . If you want to explore ideas, thoughts and meanings, use qualitative methods .
  • If you want to analyze a large amount of readily-available data, use secondary data. If you want data specific to your purposes with control over how it is generated, collect primary data.
  • If you want to establish cause-and-effect relationships between variables , use experimental methods. If you want to understand the characteristics of a research subject, use descriptive methods.

A thesis or dissertation outline is one of the most critical first steps in your writing process. It helps you to lay out and organize your ideas and can provide you with a roadmap for deciding what kind of research you’d like to undertake.

Generally, an outline contains information on the different sections included in your thesis or dissertation , such as:

  • Your anticipated title
  • Your abstract
  • Your chapters (sometimes subdivided into further topics like literature review , research methods , avenues for future research, etc.)

A well-planned research design helps ensure that your methods match your research aims, that you collect high-quality data, and that you use the right kind of analysis to answer your questions, utilizing credible sources . This allows you to draw valid , trustworthy conclusions.

The priorities of a research design can vary depending on the field, but you usually have to specify:

  • Your research questions and/or hypotheses
  • Your overall approach (e.g., qualitative or quantitative )
  • The type of design you’re using (e.g., a survey , experiment , or case study )
  • Your sampling methods or criteria for selecting subjects
  • Your data collection methods (e.g., questionnaires , observations)
  • Your data collection procedures (e.g., operationalization , timing and data management)
  • Your data analysis methods (e.g., statistical tests  or thematic analysis )

A dissertation prospectus or proposal describes what or who you plan to research for your dissertation. It delves into why, when, where, and how you will do your research, as well as helps you choose a type of research to pursue. You should also determine whether you plan to pursue qualitative or quantitative methods and what your research design will look like.

It should outline all of the decisions you have taken about your project, from your dissertation topic to your hypotheses and research objectives , ready to be approved by your supervisor or committee.

Note that some departments require a defense component, where you present your prospectus to your committee orally.

Formulating a main research question can be a difficult task. Overall, your question should contribute to solving the problem that you have defined in your problem statement .

However, it should also fulfill criteria in three main areas:

  • Researchability
  • Feasibility and specificity
  • Relevance and originality

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  • Dissertation

How to Write a Dissertation Proposal | A Step-by-Step Guide

Published on 14 February 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on 11 November 2022.

A dissertation proposal describes the research you want to do: what it’s about, how you’ll conduct it, and why it’s worthwhile. You will probably have to write a proposal before starting your dissertation as an undergraduate or postgraduate student.

A dissertation proposal should generally include:

  • An introduction to your topic and aims
  • A literature review  of the current state of knowledge
  • An outline of your proposed methodology
  • A discussion of the possible implications of the research
  • A bibliography  of relevant sources

Dissertation proposals vary a lot in terms of length and structure, so make sure to follow any guidelines given to you by your institution, and check with your supervisor when you’re unsure.

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Step 1: coming up with an idea, step 2: presenting your idea in the introduction, step 3: exploring related research in the literature review, step 4: describing your methodology, step 5: outlining the potential implications of your research, step 6: creating a reference list or bibliography.

Before writing your proposal, it’s important to come up with a strong idea for your dissertation.

Find an area of your field that interests you and do some preliminary reading in that area. What are the key concerns of other researchers? What do they suggest as areas for further research, and what strikes you personally as an interesting gap in the field?

Once you have an idea, consider how to narrow it down and the best way to frame it. Don’t be too ambitious or too vague – a dissertation topic needs to be specific enough to be feasible. Move from a broad field of interest to a specific niche:

  • Russian literature 19th century Russian literature The novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky
  • Social media Mental health effects of social media Influence of social media on young adults suffering from anxiety

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Like most academic texts, a dissertation proposal begins with an introduction . This is where you introduce the topic of your research, provide some background, and most importantly, present your aim , objectives and research question(s) .

Try to dive straight into your chosen topic: What’s at stake in your research? Why is it interesting? Don’t spend too long on generalisations or grand statements:

  • Social media is the most important technological trend of the 21st century. It has changed the world and influences our lives every day.
  • Psychologists generally agree that the ubiquity of social media in the lives of young adults today has a profound impact on their mental health. However, the exact nature of this impact needs further investigation.

Once your area of research is clear, you can present more background and context. What does the reader need to know to understand your proposed questions? What’s the current state of research on this topic, and what will your dissertation contribute to the field?

If you’re including a literature review, you don’t need to go into too much detail at this point, but give the reader a general sense of the debates that you’re intervening in.

This leads you into the most important part of the introduction: your aim, objectives and research question(s) . These should be clearly identifiable and stand out from the text – for example, you could present them using bullet points or bold font.

Make sure that your research questions are specific and workable – something you can reasonably answer within the scope of your dissertation. Avoid being too broad or having too many different questions. Remember that your goal in a dissertation proposal is to convince the reader that your research is valuable and feasible:

  • Does social media harm mental health?
  • What is the impact of daily social media use on 18– to 25–year–olds suffering from general anxiety disorder?

Now that your topic is clear, it’s time to explore existing research covering similar ideas. This is important because it shows you what is missing from other research in the field and ensures that you’re not asking a question someone else has already answered.

You’ve probably already done some preliminary reading, but now that your topic is more clearly defined, you need to thoroughly analyse and evaluate the most relevant sources in your literature review .

Here you should summarise the findings of other researchers and comment on gaps and problems in their studies. There may be a lot of research to cover, so make effective use of paraphrasing to write concisely:

  • Smith and Prakash state that ‘our results indicate a 25% decrease in the incidence of mechanical failure after the new formula was applied’.
  • Smith and Prakash’s formula reduced mechanical failures by 25%.

The point is to identify findings and theories that will influence your own research, but also to highlight gaps and limitations in previous research which your dissertation can address:

  • Subsequent research has failed to replicate this result, however, suggesting a flaw in Smith and Prakash’s methods. It is likely that the failure resulted from…

Next, you’ll describe your proposed methodology : the specific things you hope to do, the structure of your research and the methods that you will use to gather and analyse data.

You should get quite specific in this section – you need to convince your supervisor that you’ve thought through your approach to the research and can realistically carry it out. This section will look quite different, and vary in length, depending on your field of study.

You may be engaged in more empirical research, focusing on data collection and discovering new information, or more theoretical research, attempting to develop a new conceptual model or add nuance to an existing one.

Dissertation research often involves both, but the content of your methodology section will vary according to how important each approach is to your dissertation.

Empirical research

Empirical research involves collecting new data and analysing it in order to answer your research questions. It can be quantitative (focused on numbers), qualitative (focused on words and meanings), or a combination of both.

With empirical research, it’s important to describe in detail how you plan to collect your data:

  • Will you use surveys ? A lab experiment ? Interviews?
  • What variables will you measure?
  • How will you select a representative sample ?
  • If other people will participate in your research, what measures will you take to ensure they are treated ethically?
  • What tools (conceptual and physical) will you use, and why?

It’s appropriate to cite other research here. When you need to justify your choice of a particular research method or tool, for example, you can cite a text describing the advantages and appropriate usage of that method.

Don’t overdo this, though; you don’t need to reiterate the whole theoretical literature, just what’s relevant to the choices you have made.

Moreover, your research will necessarily involve analysing the data after you have collected it. Though you don’t know yet what the data will look like, it’s important to know what you’re looking for and indicate what methods (e.g. statistical tests , thematic analysis ) you will use.

Theoretical research

You can also do theoretical research that doesn’t involve original data collection. In this case, your methodology section will focus more on the theory you plan to work with in your dissertation: relevant conceptual models and the approach you intend to take.

For example, a literary analysis dissertation rarely involves collecting new data, but it’s still necessary to explain the theoretical approach that will be taken to the text(s) under discussion, as well as which parts of the text(s) you will focus on:

  • This dissertation will utilise Foucault’s theory of panopticism to explore the theme of surveillance in Orwell’s 1984 and Kafka’s The Trial…

Here, you may refer to the same theorists you have already discussed in the literature review. In this case, the emphasis is placed on how you plan to use their contributions in your own research.

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You’ll usually conclude your dissertation proposal with a section discussing what you expect your research to achieve.

You obviously can’t be too sure: you don’t know yet what your results and conclusions will be. Instead, you should describe the projected implications and contribution to knowledge of your dissertation.

First, consider the potential implications of your research. Will you:

  • Develop or test a theory?
  • Provide new information to governments or businesses?
  • Challenge a commonly held belief?
  • Suggest an improvement to a specific process?

Describe the intended result of your research and the theoretical or practical impact it will have:

Finally, it’s sensible to conclude by briefly restating the contribution to knowledge you hope to make: the specific question(s) you hope to answer and the gap the answer(s) will fill in existing knowledge:

Like any academic text, it’s important that your dissertation proposal effectively references all the sources you have used. You need to include a properly formatted reference list or bibliography at the end of your proposal.

Different institutions recommend different styles of referencing – commonly used styles include Harvard , Vancouver , APA , or MHRA . If your department does not have specific requirements, choose a style and apply it consistently.

A reference list includes only the sources that you cited in your proposal. A bibliography is slightly different: it can include every source you consulted in preparing the proposal, even if you didn’t mention it in the text. In the case of a dissertation proposal, a bibliography may also list relevant sources that you haven’t yet read, but that you intend to use during the research itself.

Check with your supervisor what type of bibliography or reference list you should include.

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  • Graduate School

Oxford PhD Proposal Sample: The Best Proposal

Oxford PhD Proposal Sample

An Oxford PhD proposal sample, like Oxford personal statement examples , should give you an idea of how to structure and write your own PhD proposal, which is a key element of how to get into grad school . Should you pursue a master's or PhD , you should know that, with few exceptions, all graduate programs require that applicants submit a research proposal. It can vary in length (usually between 1,000 and 3,000 words) and must outline your main research goals and methods and demonstrate your facility with the topic. The almost 35,000 applications Oxford received in a recent year should give you some idea of how competitive getting into a master's or PhD program is.

Writing a stellar proposal is important to make your application stand out, so, to that end, this article will show you an expert-approved Oxford PhD proposal sample based on the actual requirements of an Oxford graduate program. 

>> Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here . <<

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Oxford phd proposal sample.

PhD Program : DPhil in Migrant Studies

Research Proposal Length: minimum 2000 - maximum 3000 words

To: Matthew J. Gibney, Professor of Politics and Forced Migration

Name: Adrian Toews

Title: Wired and Hungry Masses: Social Media, Migrants and Cultural Bereavement in the Digital Sphere

Proposed Research Topic: Does social media help migrants cross the cultural barriers of their adopted home and succeed in helping them preserve touchstones of their home culture? 

Abstract: The ascendance of social media platforms has increased and, strangely, decreased interconnectedness among disparate groups in society. But, while social media has been implicated, rightly, as a catalyst for the rise of disinformation, hate speech, and other anti-social behaviors, I would argue that its ubiquity and prevalence provide those experiencing cultural bereavement with a more-effective coping mechanism, as social media is able to replicate, in a non-physical space, the culturally specific mechanisms they know and which, prior to digital communications, could not be replicated in new, adopted countries and cultures.

Objective: I want to present social media as an informal networking tool, expressive outlet, and cultural road map with which migrants who are experiencing cultural bereavement can engage for two specific reasons: 1) to assuage the grief that accompanies anyone who has left their homeland as a migrant or refugee, and 2) to help them assimilate into their new identity by giving them a window into the cultural norms and practices of their new country or culture. 

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An Oxford PhD proposal sample like this one is only one version of what a proposal can look like, but it should contain at least these basic elements. You should know how to choose a PhD topic at this point in your career, but if you still feel like you need help, then you can hire PhD admission consultants to help you choose your topic and research interests.

Above all, you should know why you want to do a PhD . Answering this question first will be effective in helping you ultimately decide on a program, which can then make it easier for you to write any number of different doctorate-related texts, such as a PhD motivation letter and a statement of intent .

Understanding your true motivations, passions, and research interests is doubly important when pursuing a PhD since you do not want to invest so much time and resources in a subject you are only partially interested in. If you can honestly answer why you want to pursue a PhD, you can then take concrete steps toward defining your research goals and how they can be fulfilled by the program you choose.

Your Oxford PhD proposal should adhere to the requirements set forth by the program you wish to enter. Regardless of your discipline or field, almost all PhD programs at Oxford require that you submit a research proposal of between 2,000 and 3,000 words. 

A statement of intent is another type of essay that applicants are often asked to submit to graduate schools. It involves talking about your past academic experiences and achievements, what you intend to do in graduate school, and why you want to go there. A PhD proposal, on the other hand, contains no personal details or experiences.

Instead, a PhD proposal should be a focused, concrete road map built around a specific research question. In your proposal, you list the theoretical approaches that you are going to use, research methods, past scholarship on the same topic, and other investigative tools to answer this question or present evidence from this research to support your argument. 

A statement of purpose is another common essay that graduate school applicants must submit. The line between a statement of purpose and a statement of intent is a fine one, but the line between a statement of purpose and a PhD proposal is much more prominent, and there is no mistaking the two. So, you should not read over graduate school statement of purpose examples to learn how to write a PhD proposal.

A statement of purpose can also be research-focused, but in an undefined way. A PhD proposal combines theory and practice and requires that you demonstrate your knowledge of proper scientific research, investigative methods, and the existing literature on your topic. 

You should include a title page where you list your name, the program you are applying to, and a title for your research project. You should address it to a specific faculty member, who can perhaps, if they agree, show you how to prepare for a thesis defense . The proposal itself should include an abstract, an overview of the existing scholarship on your topic, research questions, methods, and a bibliography listing all your sources. 

The usual length of PhD proposals is between 1,000 and 3,000 words, but your program may have different requirements, which you should always follow. 

There are up to 350 different graduate programs at Oxford, all with their own particular requirements, so the university does not set forth a universal set of requirements for all graduate programs. Many of these programs and their affiliated schools offer students advice on how to write a PhD proposal, but there are few, if any, stated requirements other than the implied ones, which are that you have familiarity with how to conduct graduate-level research and are knowledgeable in the field you are researching. 

A majority of programs do, yes. There are always exceptions, but a fundamental part of pursuing a PhD involves research and investigation, so it is normal for any PhD program to require that applicants write a PhD proposal. 

It is quite possible for your research interests and direction to change during your research, but you should not be discouraged. Graduate programs understand that these things happen, but you should still do your best to reflect the current state of research on your topic and try to anticipate any changes or sudden shifts in direction while you research. 

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writing a proposal for a phd

Decan Times

The Best PhD Research Proposal Writing Service in 2024

W riting a research proposal is a crucial part of education worldwide. It involves PhD students summarizing their proposed research in a concise yet organized manner. This process not only demonstrates the student's understanding of the subject matter but also serves as a roadmap for the research journey ahead. 

In a well-crafted research proposal, students outline where their research fits into the bigger picture and what's already been debated or discovered on the topic. Despite the varying rules worldwide, a PhD proposal needs to convey a clear rationale for the chosen research area and establish the relevance of the proposed study. It's not just about sharing your idea; it's about showing you're ready for serious investigation. Can you tackle complex ideas and express yourself clearly? That's the question this type of work aims to answer through a systematic examination of the research questions, objectives, and methodologies.

Typically, a research proposal for PhD is around 2,500 to 3,000 words. However, word counts vary across universities, so always remember to check your guidelines. Moreover, make sure your work contains the following components:

  • A working title that can be refined later.
  • An abstract summarizing the problem you're addressing and your main question.
  • Background information to contextualize your investigation.
  • Your research questions.
  • The methods you'll employ in your study.
  • The significance of your research.
  • A bibliography.

In case you get stuck and need a helping hand with your PhD research proposal, the two services below are your best bet, and now we'll explain why. 

Phdresearchproposal.org —Best Research Proposal Writing Service

Phdresearchproposal.org stands out as a trusted and established platform, offering confidential assistance to PhD students seeking expert support with their complex research projects. Operating as a registered business since 2012, the platform accumulated over a decade of expertise in delivering professional research proposal writing services. Unlike "all-in-one" services, this platform focuses exclusively on crafting tailored proposals for PhD students, catering specifically to the unique demands of doctoral-level research. 

Key Benefits:

  • Wide Range of Specialized Services

The platform's experts offer assistance with various aspects, including choosing a topic, creating any chapter of your PhD project (e.g., methodology, results), crafting the entire paper based on your material or their findings, and editing or formatting your final draft. PhD-level samples on their website provide insights into the expected quality.

  • Experienced Research Proposal Writers

The platform employs solely writers with PhD credentials specializing in popular subjects like Health Sciences, Nursing, Business and Management, Law, and various other disciplines. Proficient in qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods analysis, their expertise ensures the delivery of high-quality PhD-level work with quick approval.

  • Access to All Scholarly Databases 

From Scopus to ProQuest, the service has extensive access to a variety of databases. This ensures writers incorporate only relevant sources related to your research area into the completed work.

  • Original, Human-Written Content

The platform's experts craft all content from scratch, adhering to the specific requirements of your PhD program. Their dedicated Quality Assurance Department meticulously checks final drafts for plagiarism, source credibility, and generated content. Furthermore, they provide originality reports upon request.

The only drawback we've noticed with this research proposal writing service so far is the necessity to pay extra when selecting top and premium PhD experts.

This is what recent clients are saying about them on platforms like Sitejabber and Reviews.io:

“I'm glad that I ordered a PhD proposal on this site. The writer explained in depth what methods I have to use in my research and what steps I need to take. I'm sure that the committee will agree with that." – Sutton T.

"I was stuck on my PhD paper before I decided to use the platform. Their writers really came through in a clutch with quality work that met my instructions." – Cree K. 

In light of the above, Phdresearchproposal.org stands out as a legitimate and reliable service for PhD proposals. However, what truly sets them apart as the best research proposal writing service is their commitment to customer satisfaction. They provide a 14-day window for unlimited free revisions to guarantee the approval of your PhD project. Moreover, if any issues arise, they promptly refund your money.

Phdresearch.net —#1 Research Proposal Writing Service for Rare Subjects

The next best option to obtain quality help with writing a PhD research proposal is Phdresearch.net. The platform has been ranked #1 for student satisfaction for three consecutive years. It also focuses on assistance with complex academic projects and offers comprehensive help with PhD proposals at any project stage. The consistently positive feedback attests to the excellence of their services.

  • Skilled, qualified PhD specialists across 80 fields.
  • 100% report-validated uniqueness and absence of AI-generated content.
  • Complete confidentiality of all interactions.
  • Free adjustments until you're satisfied, plus a follow-up quality check.
  • Access to the major online databases.
  • Adherence to instructions.
  • Strong refund policy.
  • You need to pay extra for additional services like an added plagiarism report, initial draft, etc.
  • Response time via email can take time, so it's better to contact them through chat.

Here's what the company's customers are sharing on popular review platforms:

"After placing an order, I realized that I messed up instructions a little and ordered a slightly different work. But even though the writer started working on the order, we managed to settle down the updated requirements easily, and he was still able to deliver the work on time. The writer was responsive, and we had productive communication throughout the process" – Brendan H.

"I feel confident with this company; the help I got is tremendous. I had a writing block and was running out of time, but thanks to their support, I managed to get the job done on time. They're real professionals, and it was pure luck I found them" – Jacob F.

While offering a broader range of services and being less specialized in PhD proposal writing, Phdresearch.net is another decent option for students seeking a trustworthy writing service that delivers on its promises and offers strong satisfaction guarantees.

What Is the Structure of a Research Proposal PhD? 

The structure of a PhD proposal typically includes the following sections:

  • Abstract (usually around 200-300 words)
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Significance and Contribution of the Study
  • Ethical Considerations
  • Budget (if applicable)

Note that the specific requirements for a research proposal PhD may vary depending on the field of study and program. Always check with your advisor or the guidelines provided by your institution.

How Important Is It to Write a PhD Proposal for Research?

Research proposal writing is crucial for several reasons:

  • It helps you articulate and clarify the focus of your study and ensures a clear understanding of your research objectives.
  • It aids in identifying the necessary time and materials required for your PhD project.
  • It helps demonstrate the significance of your study and how it fills a gap in current knowledge.
  • It enables a thorough evaluation of the feasibility of your PhD project.
  • It increases the likelihood of successfully obtaining grants or financial support.
  • It showcases your interests in the field, background, and ability to formulate a coherent and impactful work plan.

Follow also this useful link to learn more about the evolution of writing a research proposal.

Can I Pay Someone for Writing a Research Proposal?

Yes, you can, especially if you find yourself stuck, have limited access to credible sources on the topic, or lack the time for in-depth study and producing a well-organized PhD-level copy. However, make sure that the service you choose is reliable and employs qualified writers capable of delivering quality work. Click for more information about reputable services you can trust.

Who Writes Proposals in a PhD Research Proposal Writing Service?

If speaking about top services like the ones described above, the individuals writing PhD proposals are typically qualified, hand-selected experts with 5-8 years of hands-on expertise in the field and hundreds of positive reviews from satisfied clients. 

Is Every PhD Research Proposal Writing Service Listed Legit?

Yes, the above PhD research proposal writing services are all legit and have over a decade of experience crafting proposals for domestic and international students from different PhD programs.

In Conclusion

Considering the challenges most students encounter in determining suitable methodologies, it becomes quite demanding to allocate sufficient time and energy to craft an impeccable PhD proposal. This is where the support of a specialized PhD research proposal writing service, such as Phdresearchproposal.org, becomes invaluable.

The service's focused approach ensures that its writers comprehend the nuances of the process and the challenges you face, enabling them to efficiently assist you in resolving them. Therefore, if you find yourself overwhelmed with the complexities of PhD proposal writing, consider seeking help from reputable professionals. With proper assistance, you can confidently present a compelling PhD proposal that meets the highest standards and achieves the desired result.

Writing a research proposal is a crucial part of education worldwide. It involves PhD students summarizing their prop

IMAGES

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  2. (PDF) A PhD Proposal

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  4. Well-Written PhD Research Proposal Sample

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  6. 10 Easy Steps: How to Write a Thesis Proposal in 2023

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VIDEO

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COMMENTS

  1. How to Write a Great PhD Research Proposal

    The best place to look for a PhD proposal sample is your university. Consider asking your supervisor if they can share a good proposal from a previous student in your subject - or put you in touch with a current student you can ask. #3 Confuse the proposal with the PhD. We've covered this on the blog, but it's simple enough to include here too.

  2. How to nail your PhD proposal and get accepted

    When writing your PhD proposal you need to show that your PhD is worth it, achievable, and that you have the ability to do it at your chosen university. With all of that in mind, let's take a closer look at each section of a standard PhD research proposal and the overall structure. 1. Front matter.

  3. PDF A Guide to Writing your PhD Proposal

    Therefore, in a good research proposal you will need to demonstrate two main things: 1. that you are capable of independent critical thinking and analysis. 2. that you are capable of communicating your ideas clearly. Applying for a PhD is like applying for a job, you are not applying for a taught programme.

  4. How to Write a Research Proposal

    Writing a research proposal can be quite challenging, but a good starting point could be to look at some examples. ... In a PhD, students spend 3-5 years writing a dissertation, which aims to make a significant, original contribution to current knowledge. A PhD is intended to prepare students for a career as a researcher, whether that be in ...

  5. How to write a research proposal for a strong PhD application

    A research proposal should present your idea or question and expected outcomes with clarity and definition - the what. It should also make a case for why your question is significant and what value it will bring to your discipline - the why. What it shouldn't do is answer the question - that's what your research will do.

  6. Research Proposal Example (PDF + Template)

    Research proposal example/sample - PhD-level (PDF/Word) Proposal template (Fully editable) If you're working on a research proposal for a dissertation or thesis, you may also find the following useful: Research Proposal Bootcamp: Learn how to write a research proposal as efficiently and effectively as possible; 1:1 Proposal Coaching: Get ...

  7. How to Write a PhD Research Proposal

    How to Write a PhD Research Proposal. 1. Title. Your title should indicate clearly what your research question is. It needs to be simple and to the point; if the reader needs to read further into your proposal to understand your question, your working title isn't clear enough. Directly below your title, state the topic your research question ...

  8. How To Write a PhD Proposal in 10 Steps (With Tips)

    2. Create a title. Some universities require a separate title page at the beginning of your Ph.D. proposal that includes your proposal title, name, academic title, date of birth and contact details. The title of the proposal is typically around 10 words and clearly states your idea and the discipline to which it belongs.

  9. How to write a good PhD proposal

    Chelsea and Sarah both acknowledge that clarity and writing quality should never be overlooked in a PhD proposal. This starts with double-checking that the questions of your thesis are obvious and unambiguous, followed by revising the rest of your proposal. "Make sure your research questions are really clear," says Sarah.

  10. How to write a successful research proposal

    This section of your PhD proposal discusses the most important theories, models and texts that surround and influence your research questions, conveying your understanding and awareness of the key issues and debates. ... Explore PhD studentships. For tips on writing a thesis, see 7 steps to writing a dissertation. Read more about PhD study.

  11. How To Write A Research Proposal (With Examples)

    Make sure you can ask the critical what, who, and how questions of your research before you put pen to paper. Your research proposal should include (at least) 5 essential components : Title - provides the first taste of your research, in broad terms. Introduction - explains what you'll be researching in more detail.

  12. Writing your PhD research proposal

    All applicants for a PhD or MSc by Research are required to submit a research proposal as part of their application. Applicants must use the template form below for their research proposal. This research proposal should then be submitted online as part of your application. Please use Calibri size 11 font size and do not change the paragraph ...

  13. How to write a PhD proposal that succeeds

    This means that the proposal is less about the robustness of your proposed research design and more about showing that you have. 1. Critical thinking skills. 2. An adequate grasp of the existing literature and know how your research will contribute to it. 3. Clear direction and objectives.

  14. How to write a research proposal for a PhD application

    1. Indicative title of the topic area. This should accurately reflect what it is that you want to study and the central issues that you are going to address. It may be useful to present this in the format of a statement (perhaps a quote) and a question, separated by a colon.

  15. How To Write a PhD Proposal in 8 Practical Steps (Plus Tips)

    Here are a few aspects to include and remember when writing your PhD proposal: 1. Include a title page. The working title is usually around ten words long and indicates what you plan to study. Try to choose an interesting and thought-provoking title that attracts the reader's attention.

  16. How to write a research proposal

    Top three tips for your research proposal. 1. Be distinct. Amplify the originality of your research, particularly if your work will spotlight an underrepresented area of research or offer a new perspective on a major issue. Outline the need for your research and any elements that might facilitate real-world change. 2.

  17. How to Write a Dissertation or Thesis Proposal

    Writing a proposal or prospectus can be a challenge, but we've compiled some examples for you to get your started. Example #1: "Geographic Representations of the Planet Mars, 1867-1907" by Maria Lane. Example #2: "Individuals and the State in Late Bronze Age Greece: Messenian Perspectives on Mycenaean Society" by Dimitri Nakassis.

  18. How to Write a Dissertation Proposal

    Table of contents. Step 1: Coming up with an idea. Step 2: Presenting your idea in the introduction. Step 3: Exploring related research in the literature review. Step 4: Describing your methodology. Step 5: Outlining the potential implications of your research. Step 6: Creating a reference list or bibliography.

  19. PDF How to Write Your PhD Proposal: A Step-By-Step Guide

    to make sure that it is free from individual interest). This guideline further examines the procedures for writing a practical and a realistic PhD proposal. Further, this critical evaluation assists PhD students by providing them with a complete roadmap on how to write an internationally recognized PhD proposal. Lastly, in this

  20. How to Write a Successful PhD Research Proposal

    References: Do not forget to specify all the references at the end of the proposal. An obvious but very important point is the format of your research proposal. Make sure that the formatting of the document is consistent throughout and that the structure is clear. If possible, it can be a good idea to give the document to your academic tutor or ...

  21. (PDF) How to Write a PhD Proposal

    Abstract. A PhD proposal is a focused document that introduces your PhD study idea and seeks to convince the reader that your idea is interesting, original and viable within the allocated study ...

  22. Oxford PhD Proposal Sample: The Best Proposal

    An Oxford PhD proposal sample, like Oxford personal statement examples, should give you an idea of how to structure and write your own PhD proposal, which is a key element of how to get into grad school. Should you pursue a master's or PhD, you should know that, with few exceptions, all graduate programs require that applicants submit a research proposal.

  23. (PDF) Writing a Good PhD Research Proposal

    Martin Davies. [PLEASE USE WITH ACKNOWLEDGEMENT] Written for students. I overview the skill of writing a research proposal (from my book *Study Skills for International Postgraduates* (2nd Edition ...

  24. The Best PhD Research Proposal Writing Service in 2024

    Writing a research proposal is a crucial part of education worldwide. It involves PhD students summarizing their proposed research in a concise yet organized manner. This process not only ...

  25. Dissertation Writing Service

    938 likes, 5 comments - drfred_phd on March 8, 2024: "Send me an email using details in bio to get help with your research proposal, thesis and dissert..." Dissertation Writing Service | Dissertation Coach on Instagram: "Send me an email using details in bio to get help with your research proposal, thesis and dissertation writing.