Writing your proposal

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

Students sat at a table writing.

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
  • you are put forward for any university scholarships, research council funding for which your project may be eligible

The research proposal - an outline

We advise that research proposals are approximately 1000—1200 words long.

Your proposal 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

A PhD programme needs to be executed in 3-4 years. This section should show how you will carry out your research within the timeframe. Try to be as detailed as you can at this stage.

This should be attached when you submit your research proposal as a supporting document within the online application form.

Find a PhD

Search for PhD opportunities at Sheffield and be part of our world-leading research.