Writing your research proposal

How to write a successful research proposal

Creating a focused and well-written research proposal - a concise and coherent summary of your proposed research - is an essential part of a successful PhD application.  A research proposal is normally required for self-funded PhDs (where you develop your own idea for a thesis), but isn't usually needed for funded studentships or pre-defined research projects.

What is a research proposal?

A research proposal sets out the central issues or questions that you intend to address. It outlines the general area of study within which your research falls, referring to the current state of knowledge and any recent debates on the topic. It should also demonstrate the originality of your proposed research.

What it should include

As a guide, research proposals should be around 2,000-3,000 words and contain:

  • A title – this is just tentative and can be revised over the course of your research
  • An abstract – a concise statement of your intended research
  • Context - a brief overview of the general area of study within which your proposed research falls, summarising the current state of knowledge and recent debates on the topic
  • Research questions - central aims and questions that will guide your research
  • Research methods - outline of how you are going to conduct your research, for example, visiting particular libraries or archives, field work or interviews
  • Research significance - demonstrate the originality of your intended research
  • A bibliography.

Crucially, it is also an opportunity for you to communicate your passion for the subject area and to make a persuasive argument about the impact your project can achieve.

Your research proposal will be assessed by our academic schools to assess the quality of your proposed research and  to establish whether they have the expertise to support your proposed area of PhD study.