Your research proposal

Find advice for prospective archaeology PhD students on submitting your research proposal.

a student is taking a book off a sheld in Western Bank Library

Your research proposal is the most important part of your PhD application. It is a document in which you set out what you aim to achieve with your proposed research project and the methodology you will use.  This helps us to understand your project and will also help us in making a decision on your application.  This information will also ensure that you find the best supervisor to support your research and will be useful to you when you are seeking funding.

Your first step should always be to make contact with our Research Programmes Admissions Tutor and the members of academic staff who you would like to supervise your research to discuss your plans.  Consult our staff profiles to help you identify possible supervisors in your intended field of research.  Staff will then be very happy to help you formulate and develop your research proposal once you’ve written a clear project outline.

Initial planning

When planning your research proposal, please consider the following questions:

  • What specific subject area are you interested in?
  • Which body of data do you intend to work on, and how accessible is it?
  • Will you need to undertake fieldwork to retrieve data, and, if so, where?
  • Who in Sheffield might be able to supervise this project?  Make contact with your intended supervisor to discuss your application.
  • What previous experience do you have of your proposed area of research?

A practical guide to writing your research proposal

The proposal is a starting point. If you are registered to read for a PhD or MPhil you will be able to work the proposal through with your supervisor in more detail during the early stages of your research.  The structure of a research proposal can vary but the following offers a useful guide to what we expect to see:


Try to be concise. Your proposal should normally be in the region of 1,000 words. It should be typed, with clear headings and good English. A brief bibliography should be included.


The proposal will be read by academics in your chosen field, but you should also consider a non-specialist audience. This is particularly important if you intend to use your proposal for funding purposes.


This must clearly set out the nature of your project – it will probably be closely linked to your research question and methodology (see below).   Consult our page on Current PhD student research for further examples or go to our individual PhD student profiles


Give some details of any literature you are aware of or have reviewed that is related to your research topic. Why is your chosen topic important, and what will studying this subject achieve? How does it fit into the context of current thinking on the subject? Will your research contribute something new, fill a gap in existing work or extend understanding in a particular area?

Question or hypothesis

This will provide your motivation to answer the question or prove/disprove the hypothesis. The question/hypothesis will need to be something that has not been posed before. This involves looking at something that no-one has looked at before, or it might mean taking a fresh approach to an existing topic or issue.

Aim of your research project

The aims are broader than questions/hypotheses; they give a prospective statement about the overall destination of the PhD and its potential impact. This should set out, briefly, what the aims and/or research questions of the study are. Ideally, you should show how you have started to identify and develop your research. If you have not developed clear research questions, instead provide a short statement on the focus of the research.


This section should discuss what research approach you are taking and why. It needs to link to the nature of the research questions/aims and justify the methodology. You need to set out a workable methodology and show that it can be done in the time you have, describing what access to material and sites you have secured and which visits to relevant sites and fieldwork you have already undertaken. A timetable for completion with a clear indication of how long you need to prepare and carry out your research should be included.

Resources and data collection

Describe the training, travel, materials and equipment you need and where they fit into your methodology. Consider access to a particular archive, specialist library, visits to field sites, the use of analytical software, access to databases, training, and workshop attendance and so on. It is important to list any of these resources and give a very brief account of how they will enhance the PhD. What data will be collected and how?

Data analysis

How will the data be analysed and findings presented? What type of statistical tests will be undertaken and why? How will qualitative data be analysed?

Writing a research proposal for funding purposes

When considering how to adapt your proposal for a funding application, in addition to any guidance which may be issued by the funding body, the following are key areas which the funding provider is likely to be looking for:

  • A clearly written proposal showing awareness and understanding of previous relevant research with a clear outline of research project and methods.
  • Be clear how the research will add to the body of knowledge in this area.
  • Ensure the proposal is clearly communicated to non-specialists.
  • Evidence of self-awareness relating to career aspirations.
  • How to contribute and use resources of the funding unit (if applicable), including training, cross-institutional research networks.
  • Clear alignment of student to Unit research strategy (if applicable).

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