The Research Proposal


Check out our 'How to Write a PhD Proposal' at the bottom of this page, or as a PDF from the Downloads box.

Choosing a research topic

Consider what area of research particularly interests you, and how it fits in with the research interests of the Information School. Consider which of our Research Groups your proposed topics would best fit, and explore the research interests of the academic members of this group:

Our Research Groups
Chemoinformatics Digital Societies
Health Informatics Information Retrieval
Information Systems Information, Knowledge and Innovation Management
Libraries and Information Society

Once you have thought about your idea in some detail, it may be useful to contact an appropriate member of academic staff for feedback

The Research Proposal

PhD Research should contain elements of originality and innovation, backed up by sound methodological practices and a logically reasoned, evidence based argument. Your research proposal is the best way to demonstrate to your prospective supervisor that you have original ideas, strong methodological skills and a firm grounding in the literature already published in your area.

It is the main document that is used to judge the acceptability of your proposed research to the Information School.

The research proposal should be around 2,000 words in length and should contain the following elements:

Title of proposed thesis

Background to your research topic - you must show why the topic area you intend to study is interesting and how it is of theoretical and practical significance. You also need to demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about what has already been published in this field.

Specific aims and objectives - set out what contribution to knowledge your study will make: this could be based on identifying current gaps, areas of contention in the field or new empirical findings. The aim of the project should be clearly stated and you should include focused and specific steps (objectives) required to address your aim.

Methods of research proposed, and a plan and timetable of your work. You should show an understanding of the methodological tradition within which you intend to work. If you plan to collect empirical data, you should provide a detailed justification of your proposed data collection methods, sampling strategy and methods of analysis. You should propose an ambitious but feasible plan of work to be completed within three years. You should show some awareness of the ethical issues surrounding your proposed research.

Your research proposal is extremely important in helping the School to make an informed decision about whether your proposed research is interesting, significant and viable. However, the majority of 1st year PhD students will adapt their proposal once they begin studying in more depth on the advice of their supervisory team. So, whilst the proposal should be a coherent, realistic, well thought-out description of your planned research, it is not a binding document, and it is likely to be revised and developed once your studies commence.

Your research proposal must be original, and must represent your own work. All proposals are checked by similarity detecting software to ensure that the work is your own, and an application may be rejected if the proposal has excessive similarity matches with other sources. You must not copy and paste from other sources, however authoritative. All the text must be in your own words.

A few tips:

  • Undertake an up-to-date, critical literature review of your topic, to ensure that your proposed work is genuinely innovative. Explain clearly the connection between your work and previous studies.
  • If you have experience of using particular methods or useful contacts that will enable you to collect richer data, make reference to this in the application.
  • Your proposal should be ambitious and aim to make a significant contribution to knowledge, but your plan must be practical to complete within three years, and feasible.
  • A gannt chart is a useful way to show that you have a well thought through plan of how to complete your proposed study.
  • Your proposal should be well structured. Poorly formed or rambling proposals suggest a lack of clarity in thinking.
  • Present your work in a professional manner. Refine your proposal and edit it a number of times. Check that your references are presented in a consistent way. Proof read the proposal carefully before final submission.