About a PhD research proposal

Phd research proposal

A PhD research proposal is the draft of your proposed researchthat is intended to do the following:

  • Emphasize the significance and/or originality of your project
  • Identify an exact question and how you are planning to answerit
  • Convince future supervisors of how important your work is andprove that you’re the person to conduct it
  • Explain how the project adds to and/or develops present-dayliterature in the field

Proposals can be various in length and thus it is crucial tocheck with your department about the limit on the word count andother guidelines. Generally, a proposal is approximately 3,000words and is written as part of your application process.

What are the proposals for?

Proposals are applied by potential supervisors and/or funders toassess the originality and uniqueness of your ideas, skills incritical thinking, and practicability of your project.

Proposals are useful in evaluating your knowledge in a particularfield, in which you want to implement research, and yourexpertise of the existing literature and how your project willadd to it. They are also useful in assessing and assigningappropriate supervisors. If you have interest in the work of aparticular potential supervisor and you have already discussedyour project with this person, ascertain to mention this in yourwork. It’s strongly recommended to define a potential supervisorand contact him or her to discuss your PhD research proposalprior to making a formal application to ensure you are bothinterested in the project and get input on the design, size, andrealizability of your research.

PhD proposals also give you an opportunity to talk about yourpassion in the particular field of study and offer a potentargument about what your work can accomplish. Even though youshould have an outline in the research, it’s also recommended toapproach it as a persuasive essay. This is your chance to attractthe interest of readers and convince them of the significance ofyour work.

Arranging a proposal

Prior to writing a proposal, ascertain to check with yourdepartment whether a certain template is required for you tofollow. Usually a good research proposal has the followingelements:

  • Title
  • Overview of the research
  • Arrangement of the research
  • Methodology and research design
  • References


The title can change in the process but you need to make surethat you insert the important words that will correlate with yourresearch to relevant potential supervisors. Create a title thatgoes beyond describing the subject matter. A good title shouldgive an indication of your key questions or approach.

Overview of the research

Phd research proposal

This is a part where you should insert a short overview of yourwork and how it goes within the existing academic literature,debates, or discourses. Attempt to be as concrete as possible indescribing the impact or debates you want to research but do notget carried away. Provide the context into which your researchfits.

In this part, you should also provide links between your work andthe existing advantages of the department you’re applying to.Find out about research that takes place in the department andhow your work can complement this.

If you’re applying to a few departments, ensure to tailor yourproposal to each of them.

You need to set a convincing and strong structure for your workin this part. This has to include:

  • One or three research questions and why you’re asking them
  • The key approaches you will take (theoretical, conceptual,normative, empirical) and the explanation
  • Importance of the work

Arrangement of the research

This part is used to talk about the texts, which are most crucialto your research. Show your understanding of the issues of yourresearch and indicate present gaps both theoretical and practicalthat your work will address. In this part, you need to connectyour ideas and your research questions instead of providing adetailed analysis of existing problems.

Methodology and design of the research

Here, you need to present the way in which you will build yourresearch and the certain methods you will apply. The design ofyour research has to have the following:

  • A short discussion on the timeline for achieving the goals ofyour project
  • Specific objectives and aims (like complete 15 interviewswith the members of the group)
  • A discussion of the overall approach and the explanation forit
  • Characteristics of the research

It is crucial to develop a good methodology section particularlyif you want to implement important and empirical research.Ascertain to include particular techniques instead of justgeneral approach. Include the following:

  • Short rationale for applying the methods
  • Particular techniques (participant observation, statisticalanalysis, or semi-structured interviewing)
  • Methods for analyzing and gathering data
  • Types of resources consulted


The references have to demonstrate your readers that you have agood grasp of the literature and your research can contribute toit. Ensure to offer references to the resources and texts thatyou think play an important role in your analysis. Keep in mindthat you are not writing a bibliography listing all the books andmaterials published on the subject. Your references should showcritical reflection in the choice of appropriate texts.

Possible traps

Phd research proposal

Very often students who meet the entrance criteria fail to beaccepted as PhD candidates due to the weakness of their proposal.To avoid this, keep these in mind:

Make sure that your proposal shows your passion in the subjectmatter through the arguments and the structure within yourproposal. The admission officers may not be the experts in yourfield and thus it is your job to make them engaged in yourproject.

  • Make sure you create a well-structured proposal. Proposalswith the poor structure show that the project you are offeringmay follow the same fate.
  • Ensure that your work is of a reasonable scope. Don’t forgetthat there are limits to the complexity and the size of a workthat can be done and written in three years. The projects areoften assessed not only for their significance and intellectualambition but also for the possibility that the candidate will beable to do the project.
  • Research the departments you want to apply to ascertain thatthe staff is interested in your area and can provide you with asupervisor.
  • Clearly state your research question, idea or problem. Ensureit is persuasive and shows the gap in the literature thatcurrently exists.

Another important point is the format of your proposal. Ensurethat the formatting is consistent throughout the document and thestructure of your proposal is clear. Before submitting aproposal, it is advisable to give it to your colleague oracademic tutor for revision.

Remember that proposals are provisional rather than definitivedocuments. Your proposal will most likely change greatly duringthe first several months of your PhD program. However, during theapplication process it is an important document that assistspotential supervisors to make a decision in relation to yourapplication. Therefore, it is crucial to invest your effort andtime in it.

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