Writing your proposal.

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

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. For example: ‘’. Whilst of course 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 the 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 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. Literature reviews are not simply descriptive mapping exercises at PhD level. Here you should cite key theories or debates with which your project will engage

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/resources etc. which would be 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.

Three additional points:

  1. Try to be concise. Do not write too much – be as focused as you can on the scope of the proposed research.
  2. Likewise, bear in mind that the proposal is a starting point. You will be able to work the proposal through with your supervisor in more detail in the early months of study.
  3. Take a look at the department’s staff profiles, research centres, and research clusters. Can you identify possible supervisors and intellectual support networks within the department?

When you are ready to submit your research propose, this should be attached as a
"Course Supporting Document" within the online application form.