Writing a research proposal

Every PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield is required to submit a research proposal prior to acceptance onto the programme.

Postgraduate students writing and concentrating

This document is vital to the success of your application. It should be fully referenced and approximately 1,500-2,000 words in length (excluding bibliography).

You proposal should include:

  • The title of your proposed PhD research
  • The main aims and objectives of your research, including an awareness of how your thesis will be an original contribution to knowledge
  • Proposed chapter titles
  • Discussion of relevant existing literature
  • The motivation for your research question(s)
  • The proposed methodology and a plan and timetable of work
  • Any resources available and any additional ones required
  • An explanation of why you would like to study in the School of English

Next steps


Creative Writing PhD proposal

The proposal for the Creative Writing PhD is distinct from the proposal for other programmes. This three-year program consists of a full-scale creative project, novel, collection of short stories or poetry collection, accompanied by a 40,000 word critical project. 

The creative and critical projects should be intimately related: the creative element must be complete and potentially publishable, whilst the critical project must be a free-standing research project, with the specific research question(s), methodology, and set of primary and secondary texts for analysis. We welcome interdisciplinary, mixed media and multimedia projects, and are able to host complex projects with co-supervision from specialists in music, architecture, theatre and film.

The research proposal for this PhD should be approximately 1,500 words, outlining both the creative and critical sides of the project. The outline of the critical side of the project should be structured similarly to any research-based PhD, although the discussion of the creative side may be much more flexibly formatted.

If you are applying for funding, we will match you to one of our creative writing team, who will then work with you to improve and refine your proposal. This will help maximise your chances of securing funding. 

Critical component

The critical component makes up 40% of your PhD and typically comprises of three chapters of 10,000 words, with 10,000 for introduction and conclusions.

In your research proposal, you should outline the research questions you will address in each chapter, how these fit into the wider project, and the texts and secondary source material that you plan to use. For example, if the overall topic is the Cold War in fiction, with a chapter that focuses on the Berlin airlift as represented in fiction, you would include:

  • A list of authors and key texts
  • The archives that might be consulted
  • The critical approach you plan to take, e.g. Adorno or feminist-materialist historiography
  • The specific research question you plan to answer, e.g. how haunted by fascism is the Berlin in these texts?

Creative component 

The creative component makes up 60% of your PhD. For prose, you will be expected to produce at least 60,000 words of fiction (a full and coherent collection of stories, or a novel) although we welcome projects that range in length from 60,000 - 80,000 words. For poetry, the submission needs to be a full and potentially publishable collection (around 50 poems or equivalent).

In your proposal, you should indicate the projected themes of the novel, collection of stories or poems. You should also indicate what kinds of research the writing will entail, and give a description of the structure, with subsections, subtopics, and as full an abstract as you can - though clearly this will be exploratory.