Writing your proposal

These guidelines are designed to assist you in developing and writing a project proposal.

Students sat at a table writing.

Do I need to write a research proposal?

All applications for PhD study places in the department of Geography must include a proposal that outlines your topic and proposed programme of research. The only exception to this requirement is when you are applying only for an advertised project, for which the title and description of the project are already given.

Your proposal will help us to make sure that:

  • the topic is viable
  • the department can provide appropriate supervision and other resources
  • you have thought through your interest in, and commitment to, a piece of research

We recommend that you use our Find a supervisor page to identify a staff member who can provide you with advice on your topic and proposal before you apply.

What should my research proposal look like?

We advise that research proposals are approximately 1000—1500 words long and should contain the following elements:

A provisional title

This is the headline for your proposed research and so it should include any key concepts, empirical focus, or lines of inquiry that you aim to pursue. Whilst your title may change, it is important to devise a title that describes what you aspire to research.

A key question, hypothesis or the broad topic for investigation

You need key questions or hypotheses to drive your research. These will need to be original, timely and of importance to the discipline. This could involve investigating something that no-one has looked at before, or it might mean taking a fresh approach to an existing topic or issue.

An outline of the key aims of the research

What will the PhD do? Your aims will be broader than the questions/hypotheses. They should give a prospective statement about the overall destination of the PhD and its potential impact.

A brief outline of key literature in the area (what we already know)

This section should situate your topic with reference to the existing research literature. At PhD level, a literature review is more than simply a descriptive mapping exercise, it should cite key theories or debates and suggest how your project would engage with them.

A description of the topic and an explanation of why further research in the area is important (the gap in the literature - what we need to know)

This section follows logically from the previous one. It highlights what the gap in current knowledge is and how your research will contribute original scholarship. Will your research provide a new perspective, generate new evidence, challenge existing assumptions? By whom might the PhD be valued: scholars looking at a particular issue, communities within specific institutions, certain groups of people?

Details of how the research will be carried out, including any special facilities or resources required and any necessary skills which you either have already or would need to acquire (the tools that will enable us to fill the gap you have identified)

A clear methodological statement shows how you will execute your research project. This section should outline your approach to your research as well as the methods you will use. Of course, the resources you will need will vary according to the nature of the research: access to a particular archive, specialist library, visits to field sites, the use of analytical software, access to databases, training, workshop attendance and so on. It is important to list any of these resources and give a very brief account of how their role in your research.

A plan and timetable of the work you will carry out

Submission of the PhD is expected to take place by the end of the tuition-fee paying period, which for most PhD candidates will be at 3.5 years from the date of commencing PhD study. This section should show how you will carry out your research within that timeframe. Try to be as detailed as you can at this stage.

How do I submit my research proposal?

Upload your research proposal document (as a PDF or Word document) within the online application form as part of your PhD study place application.

If you further intend to apply for a scholarship, we recommend that you consult your proposed supervisor on appropriate scholarship opportunities and on adapting your proposal to meet the requirements of the scholarships section of the online application form.

Writing support for international applicants

The Faculty of Social Sciences has partnered with the English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) to introduce a new Bridge Programme for International Applicants. Find out how this online course can support you at the start of your PhD journey.

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