- How to Write a Great PhD Research Proposal | FindAPhD.com
How to Write a Great PhD Research Proposal
Written by Mark Bennett
You'll need to write a research proposal if you're submitting your own project plan as part of a PhD application. A good PhD proposal outlines the scope and significance of your topic and explains how you plan to research it.
It's helpful to think about the proposal like this: if the rest of your application explains your ability to do a PhD, the proposal demonstrates the actual PhD you plan to do. Of course, being able to effectively plan and explain a research project is one of the key qualifications for being able to complete one, which is why the proposal is such an important part of the PhD application process.
Thankfully, the secret to writing a good research proposal isn't complicated. It's simply a case of understanding what the proposal is for, what it needs to do and how it needs to be put together.
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What is a PhD research proposal?
First things first, do you need a research proposal for your PhD? It depends on the kind of project you want to do:
- If your PhD is advertised by a university, you probably won't need to submit a research proposal for it. The broad aims and objectives for your PhD will already be defined: you just need to prove you're the right person to do it.
- But, if you're proposing your own research topic to research within a university's PhD programme, you will need to write a proposal for it (the clue is in the word "proposing")
As a rule, advertised projects are very common in STEM subjects, whereas Arts, Humanities and Social Science students are more likely to propose their own PhDs.
Some PhD programmes actually wait and ask students to develop their research proposal during the degree (usually after they've completed some initial training). This is normal in the USA , but it's becoming more common for some UKRI-funded UK PhDs.
For the purposes of this guide we're going to assume that you do need to write a good research proposal for your PhD application. So let's explore what's involved in that.
What should a PhD research proposal include?
It's natural to be a little intimidated at the thought of structuring a PhD proposal, particularly if you've never written anything like this before.
But here's the thing: a research proposal isn't a fiendish test designed to catch you out and stop you ever doing a PhD. It's actually much more boring than that.
All a research proposal really is is a document that demonstrates three things:
- Your PhD is worthwhile
- Your PhD is feasible
- You are capable of completing it at this university
Or to put it even more simply: the PhD is worth doing, it's doable and you can do it.
Demonstrate your PhD is worthwhile (the what and the why)
A successful PhD project has to make a significant original contribution to knowledge. If it doesn't, it won't meet the criteria for a doctoral degree and will probably fail the viva exam .
Your PhD proposal itself doesn't have to meet those criteria (or pass a viva!) but it does need to indicate that your PhD project eventually will.
It does that by first demonstrating that your research topic is original. That means nobody else has studied this same topic (or one very similar) before.
There are all sorts of ways a PhD can be original. You might examine new data or primary sources, to look at existing material from a fresh perspective, or deal with the impact of new events. It doesn't matter how your project is original, so long as your proposal is really specific about what makes it original.
You also need to explain why your proposed research will be academically significant. To do this properly, you'll need to acknowledge relevant existing scholarship and explain how your research will relate to it. You don't need to be exhaustive at this point, but you should be able to show how your PhD will contribute to its field and – ideally – indicate some of the gaps in knowledge it will aim to fill.
The final step in demonstrating your PhD is worthwhile is to suggest what will become possible as a result of your research. How could other researchers use or build upon your results? What might closing those gaps in academic knowledge mean for audiences outside the unviversity?
Demonstrate your PhD is feasible (the how)
It isn't enough just to show that your research is worth doing; it also needs to actually be doable.
The length of a full-time PhD is around three to four years in most countries (it's longer in for a PhD in the USA , but you don't spend all that time doing research).
Three years may seem like a long time, but researching a PhD is a lot of work and you'll probably spend at least some of your time on other activities like teaching, conference presentations or even publication.
So, one of the things your proposal needs to do is demonstrate that your project is feasible: that it fits within the scope of a PhD.
The most important criteria for this is to be clear about what you plan to do. It should be obvious from your proposal what the scope of your project is – what is and isn't included within it.
You also need to outline how you plan to go about your research. Where will you start and what order do you expect to proceed in? Is the logic for that obvious? If not, it's probably a good idea to explain it.
Finally, you need to explain the methodology you plan to use. This could include techniques for collecting data and sources, theoretical perspectives for analysing them – or both. You may also need to detail specific equipment you expect to use or fieldwork you'll need to undertake (including trips to archives or other external resources).
None of this needs to be exact or completely final. The key word here is 'plan' – but you do need to have one.
Demonstrate that you can complete it at this university (the who and the where)
So far we've thought about the project itself: what makes it worth doing and how it's going to get done. But your proposal also needs to address the who and the where: why are you the right person to carry out this research, and why do you want to do it at this particular university?
The first part of this is easier than it probably looks. Writing a good research proposal demonstrates enthusiasm for your project much more convincingly than simply saying you're very interested in it (a classic case of 'show, don't tell').
You also don't need to repeat your grades and academic achievements (other parts of your PhD application will cover those). Instead, try to underline experiences that relate to this project. Has a particular module or Masters dissertation topic prepared you with useful subject knowledge or methodological skills? If so, highlight it.
It's also fine, within reason, to be honest about the skills you don't have and to identify your training needs. This shows you're being practical about your project and thinking seriously about what it will require. Just make sure you can realistically acquire the skills and training you need within the time available (this goes back to the feasibility).
Showing your project is a good fit for the university is also relatively simple. There should already be some reasons why you've chosen this university for your PhD so make sure you explain what they are. Perhaps there's a particular supervisor you'd like to work with , or facilities and resources your research could use. The key is to emphasise the fit between the project and the university – so don't just say you want to research there because it's highly ranked .
PhD research proposal structure
Hopefully the above sections have given you a few ideas for the things your proposal needs to include. Let's be honest though, the scariest thing about a proposal isn't deciding what to include: it's actually writing it.
But, if we flip that on its head, we remember that all a research proposal really is is a piece of writing that follows a pretty standard format. And that's a lot less scary.
Research proposal structure
Because proposals for PhD all have to do the same things, they mostly follow a similar structure. Yours will probably go something like this:
- Title – Keep it simple and descriptive: the clever alliteration and quotes can come later when you write up your thesis. For now, you just want the person reading this to know exactly what your research is about and, perhaps, which prospective supervisor to send it to.
- Overview – Start by defining your research question (the what) and explaining how it contributes to current work in your field (the why). This is also a good place to reference one or two pieces of scholarship: the full literature review can wait until your PhD begins, but you should show that you have some understanding of relevant academic research.
- Methodology – Make sure the reader understands the practical and / or theoretical approaches you'll take to your research. What data will you collect, how will you collect it and how will you analyse it? Ideally refer to relevant research methods and models. It's also a good idea to provide some sort of roadmap for how you'll go about things. Don't worry, you can change it later (and you will).
- Outcomes and impact – What will exist as a result of your research (other than just another PhD on a library shelf) and what will it make possible? You don't need to identify every specific outcome from your project (blue sky research is fine) but you should think about what some potential outcomes might be.
You probably won't need to include a specific conclusion - it should be obvious, by now, what your project is doing, how you're going to do it and why that matters. A quick summary sentence is fine though, if you think it will help.
Being able to effectively communicate academic concepts, ideas and results is a key skill for PhD research in all subjects . Think of your proposal as a chance to demonstrate this.
The good news is that the key principles of good proposal writing aren't that different from other work you've probably done as a Bachelors or Masters student:
- Be clear – The person reading your research proposal should know exactly what it is you're proposing to research, with no room for ambiguity and confusion. This is important on a practical level (they need to know where to send it) but it's also important to the success of your application: a confusing proposal suggests a confused project. Try having a friend read it and ask them "do you know what it is I'm proposing to do here?" (even if they don't understand the details).
- Be concise – You will have more ideas than you can include in your proposal. That's fine. Choose the best ones and leave the others for your interview .
- be coherent – Follow something like the structure above. Don't start with your methodology, then say what it is you want to research.
How long should a PhD research proposal be?
Honestly? As long as the university asks for it to be. Most will have guidelines and you should follow them closely if so.
If you honestly can't find a suggested word count for your proposal, then consider asking a prospective supervisor . If you still aren't sure, aim for somewhere between 1,000-2,000 words .
As a very general rule, Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences are a bit longer than STEM proposals (and a lot of STEM students don't have to write one anyway, as we've explained).
Researcgh proposal for PhD - dos and don'ts
Research proposals are a popular topic over on the FindAPhD blog , where we've shared stories of how students wrote theirs , along with mistakes to avoid and a counter-intuitive look at the things a PhD proposal doesn't actually need to do .
Here are a few general tips and mistakes to avoid:
#1 Give yourself enough time to do a good job
Preparing to write a proposal takes time and effort. None of this is wasted as the process of evaluating and framing your ideas for a proposal will improve your project plan immensely. So will the need to decide which ideas to include.
But you need time and space to do that, so make sure you get it. How long it will take to write your proposal is heavily dependent on your personal working style, but you'll likely need to give yourself at least a few weeks to do a good job.
#2 Set out to impress
A good proposal isn't a begging letter. You're approaching the university with a great idea that's going to contribute to and enhance their research. Be honest, be realistic, but don't be unnecessarily humble. They should want you and your project.
#3 Demonstrate original thinking!
You may not need to present original research findings yet, but your proposal does need to present original ideas – and it should be clear why and how those ideas are original.
Make sure you indicate how your project is going to expand, enhance or even correct existing work in your field. Remember that making an "original contribution to knowledge" is a key part of what a PhD is .
#1 Send the same proposal to several universities
A good proposal needs to explain why you want to do your research at a particular university. That's a big part of the feasibility (the fit between project, person and place) and methodology (how are you going to use this university's equipment and archives; when and where will you need to travel).
It's OK to apply to more than one university in parallel, but, in that case, you're writing research proposals .
#2 Use online proposal templates (without evaluating them first!)
It can be tempting to search for PhD proposal samples on the internet, but make sure you evaluate what you find. Some websites may host old proposals from previous PhD students, but there's no way of knowing how relevant these are to your subject and university – or if they were even successful! More 'generic' research proposal examples can offer guidance, but they won't be tailored to your specific project.
The best place to look for a PhD proposal sample is your university. Consider asking your supervisor if they can share a good proposal from a previous student in your subject – or put you in touch with a current student you can ask.
#3 Confuse the proposal with the PhD
We've covered this on the blog , but it's simple enough to include here too.
You're setting out to do a PhD, but you (probably!) haven't done one yet. So you don't need to include research findings, in-depth analysis or a comprehesive literature review. You need to make a case for the research and analysis you want to do.
#4 Ignore your university's help and guidance
The advice on this page is necessarily quite general. We're considering adding guides to writing PhD proposals in specific subjects in future but, for now, the best place to get specific advice for your academic field is probably the university you're applying to.
See if you can get some subject-specific tips by contacting a supervisor , or just checking with the admissions team for your department.
And remember: if they give you a structure and a word count, stick to it.
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How to nail your PhD proposal and get accepted: Examples included
Getting a PhD place is not easy – which is why your PhD proposal needs to be passionate and convincing. A good research proposal will make a difference between acceptance and rejection, between making your project a reality and going back to the drawing board.
Nearly 200.000 people earn a PhD every year in the U.S. alone, making the field incredibly competitive.
That’s why a PhD research proposal is important: it formally outlines the intended research, including your methodology, timeline, feasibility, and many other factors that need to be taken into consideration.
So, here is what your PhD proposal should contain, how the PhD process looks like and how it should look.
What is a PhD proposal?
A PhD proposal represents a brief rundown of your project which highlights its uniqueness and aims to convince the recipients of the importance of your work.
Usually, it contains the following elements and responds to the following questions:
- A clear question
- How do you plan to respond to that question
- Why is your proposal/project significant
- How your proposal impacts, challenges or improves the existing literature
- Why your work is important and why you should be the one to receive this opportunity
In terms of length, there isn’t an exact answer.
This depends on the institution you’re applying to, so always go through guidelines or contact the department in charge to make sure you have the correct information.
Benefits of having a strong PhD application
The main and the most obvious benefit of having a strong PhD application is being accepted to the PhD program. This is the most important step as it can make or break your success.
Most applicants are somewhat confused by the process since it requires a lot of information and a big emphasis is put on using the correct proposal structure.
That doesn’t have to be the issue, though, since you have access to awesome research proposal templates that will do half the work for you.
If you’re still unsure whether applying for a PhD is a good choice, let’s consider the main benefits of going through with the process:
- gaining amazing research skills
- improving your analytical skills
- improving your CV
- more career opportunities
- travel opportunities
- prestige and recognition
Stages of PhD programs
Applying for PhDs and going through the program is a rigorous process that consists of different stages.
Those stages are:
- Writing a PhD proposal.
- Literature review.
- Writing research papers.
- Attending conferences.
- Publishing research papers.
- MPhil upgrade – receiving an official PhD candidate status.
- Writing your PhD thesis .
- Getting your PhD degree.
Step 1. The first words: your project title
This section is pretty self-explanatory: it’s the first page of your proposal that outlines your project’s name and basic information.
Being the first thing potential supervisors will be looking at, your title page should be engaging and invite them to read on.
In other words, your project should have an engaging title that demonstrates the potential of the whole idea in a few words.
However, the title page should go a little further than simply conveying the name of your project – it should some indication of how you’ll approach the problem and what kinds of key questions you’ll be answering.
This page should also contain your information: name, academic title, date of birth, contact, etc.
Step 2. Introduce your research supervisor
Right after your project title, you have to state the name, department, and faculty of your supervisor.
Your research supervisor will also cooperate with you to review and improve the proposal before submission to ensure it meets all the criteria of your subject area.
These details are sometimes included right on the first page, with your project title and description.
Step 3. Outline the proposed mode of research
Your mode of research is essentially the type of research you’ll be doing.
Think of it as a format or style of research – field research, written work, data studies – all of these are modes of research. Different sciences, disciplines, and problems require different types of research, so this will usually be closely linked to your field.
This is usually not needed for research in the sciences field but you should consult with your supervisor to learn how to formulate this section.
It’s also important not to go too deep into describing your research at this point – then you’re going into the methodology. Here, you just need to briefly describe what’s the nature of your proposed project.
Step 4. List your aims and objectives
Now we’re getting into the specifics.
In this section of your PhD or thesis proposal , you need to tell the reader exactly what you’re looking to achieve with your research. It should also reference what’s the reason for your application to get a research degree.
Are you testing a theory, addressing some deficiencies in the current research, or something else?
So, start with the big questions your research is trying to answer – those will usually be your aims.
Your objectives, on the other hand, are your aims broken down, the specific steps that need to be taken to achieve your intended outcome.
Here is a graduate research proposal example:
Aim of the research:
Establish whether the occurrence of adolescent violence can be caused by the portrayal of violence in the media.
- Assess the current relevant literature and establish a potential correlation with incidence and portrayal of violence;
- Analyze the available quantitative and qualitative data on the origin of violence among adolescents;
- Compare the effects of media on individuals from a behavioral standpoint to the effects of other factors like family environments and upbringing;
- Conduct a field study with 112 adolescents […]
As you can see, the aim is a broad statement while objectives are more specific. If this seems too difficult, you might want to try some customizable research proposal templates .
Step 5. Give a brief synopsis (give an example)
A synopsis is a brief summary of what your research is about. Think of it as a shortened version of the proposal that needs to explain to the reader what your research project is looking to achieve without getting into too many specifics.
A good test is to simply give someone your synopsis to read without looking at the rest of the proposal. Then simply ask them if they understand what you’re trying to do and what the project is all about.
Here is an example of a brief summary.
My PhD project will be situated within the field that takes a look at all the social impacts of environmental degeneration. The research will focus on how climate change affects inequality, violence, and other social issues that take place in many Eurasian countries. I will specifically address my primary research question towards the case of the Phillippines as a country rich with natural resources that are being exploited by Western countries and which has been experiencing high levels of violence and inequity. It’s an understudied case that has been affecting the entire region […]
Step 6. Get into details with your background
This is where you give the reader the “why” of your research.
What has been happening in your field and what is the current research client on the topic? Provide some context through an existing literature review and introduce the reader to the specific issues you’ll later be addressing.
This does two things:
- It tells the reader you’re well-versed with the problems in your field;
- It builds a foundation for the rest of the proposal and draws the reader in.
Make sure you rely on the existing research of notable scholars in your area of research and explain how they have affected the field so far.
Step 7. Expected research contribution: what are you bringing to the table?
In this section, you want to tell the reader not only why there’s a need for your proposed research but how it will affect the entire field of study.
Start by answering the following questions:
- What is lacking in the current research?
- How is your research idea innovative and different from what’s already been done?
- How will it impact the entire discipline?
- What will be the final outcome of your research?
- Why are the faculty and supervisor you’ve chosen the perfect options to tackle this question?
The last question is particularly important and it plays a vital part in creating a connection with the reader. It shows that you’re applying at the right place, for the right reasons.
Step 8. Explain your proposed methodology
In the research methodology section, you need to explain the how – what techniques you’ll be using to conduct your research.
Don’t be afraid to go into great detail here: describe what equipment, personnel, and subject you’ll need. Tell the reader how you will collect your data and which theoretical frameworks you’ll be drawing on.
Make sure to explain why these particular research methods are suitable for your project but also cover why some others might not be.
This will demonstrate that you took the time to find the perfect solution to carrying out your research.
When writing the methodology section , you should also anticipate any potential issues like time constraints, ethical considerations, personnel challenges, and anything else you might think of.
Address these issues and offer potential solutions.
Ultimately, this section should leave the reader with no questions about your research design and data collection.
They should have a clear picture of how you’ve thought out the practical aspect of the project and how you plan to tackle everything that goes with it.
Step 9. Provide a detailed work plan
Your work plan is essentially a detailed timeline that shows how you plan to execute your research through the course of your postgraduate studies.
Remember, PhD students can take up to four years to complete their studies so you have to show that you understand the time involved with the project.
You need to demonstrate your planning capabilities and give a plan that covers everything with realistic, thought-out deadlines.
It’s a good idea to separate your Goals from your Activities so that the reader can see both what you’re planning to do and the specific activities you’ll be participating in to make everything happen.
You can also provide a detailed plan for year one with more general overviews for later years.
Here is an example of a work plan for the first year.
Step 10. List all your required resources
This is another section where you need to demonstrate just how much thought and planning you’ve put into your PhD application.
In the resources section, your goal should be to list everything you’ll need to make your project a reality: materials, equipment, travel expenses, staff – everything that could be considered a cost or resource.
It should all be boiled down to a single proposed budget.
Resources are often presented in the form of a table to make things easier to track and identify.
Step 11. List all your sources in the bibliography section
Finally, there is the obligatory Bibliography section where you need to mention all the references you used throughout the proposal.
Where possible, provide links to the publications.
A bibliography section will usually look something like this.
Federici, S. (2012). The Reproduction of Labor Power in the Global Economy and the Unfinished Feminist Revolution (2008). In S. Federici (Ed.). Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction and Feminist Struggle. Oakland: PM Press, pp.91-111.
Virdee, S. (2019). Racialized capitalism: An account of its contested origins and consolidation. The Sociological Review, 67(01), pp.3-27. [Online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/0038026118820293.
Bhattacharyya, G. (2018). Social Reproduction: Gender, Racism, Nature. In G. Bhattacharyya (ed.). Rethinking Racial Capitalism: Questions of Reproduction for Survival. London: Rowman and Littlefield, pp.39-69.
The pros and cons of templates for PhD proposals
There are no particularly strict rules when it comes to the format of PhD proposals – your supervisor will be more than capable of guiding you through the process.
Still, since everything is so structured and formal, you might want to use a template to help you get started. Templates can help you stay on track and make sure your proposal follows a certain logic.
A lot of proposal software solutions offer templates for different types of proposals, including PhD proposals.
But, should you use a template? Here are some pros and cons to help you make a decision.
- Makes the process quicker
- Gives you a structure that helps you get started instantly
- Each section comes with pre-filled examples for inspiration
- Looks and feels better than your average Word document
- May be limiting if you stick to it too much
- Might not be perfectly suited to your specific research topic
In our research proposal template , we give you just enough direction to help you follow through but we don’t limit your creativity to a point that you can’t express yourself and all the nuances of your research.
For almost all sections, you get a few useful examples to point you in the right direction. The template provides you with a typical PhD proposal structure that’s perfect for almost all disciplines.
It can come in quite handy when you have everything planned out in your head but you’re just having trouble putting it into pen and paper!
Conclusion: writing a PhD proposal
Writing and completing a PhD proposal might be confusing at first: you need to follow a certain logic and share all the required information without going too long or sharing too much about the project.
And, while your supervisor will certainly be there to guide you, the brunt of the work will still fall on your shoulders.
That’s why you need to stay informed, do your research, and don’t give up until you feel comfortable with what you’ve created.
If you want to get a head start, you might want to consider our research proposal template . It will offer you a structure to follow and give you an idea on what to write in each section.
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Frequently asked questions about PhD proposals
How long should a phd proposal be.
There really isn’t a specific rule when it comes to the length of a PhD proposal. However, it’s generally accepted that it should be between 1,500 and 2,000 words.
You can’t elaborate on such a serious project in less than 1,200-1,500 words but going over 2,000 is overkill. You’ll lose people’s attention and water down your points.
What’s the difference between a dissertation proposal and a PhD proposal?
There seems to be some confusion over the terms “dissertation” and “PhD” and how you write proposals for each one. However, “dissertation” is just another name for your PhD research so the proposal for a dissertation would be the same since it’s quite literally the same thing.
Does a PhD proposal include budgeting?
Yes, as mentioned, you need to demonstrate the feasibility of your project within the given time frame and with the resources you need, including budgets. You don’t need to be 100% exact but you need to have accurate, based estimates for everything.
More importantly, you need to show that you thought of every little detail.
How is a PhD proposal evaluated?
This will change from one institution to another but these things will generally have a big impact on the reviewers:
- The contribution of the project to the field
- Design and feasibility of the project
- The validity of the methodology and objectives
- The supervisor and their role in the field
Proposals 18 min
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How to write a good PhD proposal
Study tips Published 3 Mar, 2022 · 5-minute read
Want to make sure your research degree starts smoothly? We spoke with 2 current PhD candidates about overcoming this initial hurdle. Here’s their advice for how to write a good PhD proposal.
Writing your research proposal is an integral part of commencing a PhD with many schools and institutes, so it can feel rather intimidating. After all, how you come up with your PhD proposal could be the difference between your supervisor getting on board or giving your project a miss.
Let’s explore how to make a PhD research proposal with current UQ candidates Chelsea Janke and Sarah Kendall.
Look at PhD proposal examples
Nobody’s asking you to reinvent the wheel when it comes to writing your PhD proposal – leave that for your actual thesis. For now, while you’re just working out how to write a PhD proposal, examples are a great starting point.
Chelsea knows this step is easier if you’ve got a friend who is already doing a PhD, but there are other ways to find a good example or template.
“Look at other PhD proposals that have been successful,” she says.
“Ask current students if you can look at theirs.”
“If you don’t know anyone doing their PhD, look online to get an idea of how they should be structured.”
What makes this tricky is that proposals can vary greatly by field and disciplinary norms, so you should check with your proposed supervisor to see if they have a specific format or list of criteria to follow. Part of writing a good PhD proposal is submitting it in a style that's familiar to the people who will read and (hopefully) become excited by it and want to bring you into their research area.
Here are some of the key factors to consider when structuring your proposal:
- meeting the expected word count (this can range from a 1-page maximum to a 3000-word minimum depending on your supervisor and research area)
- making your bibliography as detailed as necessary
- outlining the research questions you’ll be trying to solve/answer
- discussing the impact your research could have on your field
- conducting preliminary analysis of existing research on the topic
- documenting details of the methods and data sources you’ll use in your research
- introducing your supervisor(s) and how their experience relates to your project.
Please note this isn't a universal list of things you need in your PhD research proposal. Depending on your supervisor's requirements, some of these items may be unnecessary or there may be other inclusions not listed here.
Ask your planned supervisor for advice
Alright, here’s the thing. If sending your research proposal is your first point of contact with your prospective supervisor, you’ve jumped the gun a little.
You should have at least one researcher partially on board with your project before delving too deep into your proposal. This ensures you’re not potentially spending time and effort on an idea that no one has any appetite for. Plus, it unlocks a helpful guide who can assist with your proposal.
PhD research isn’t like Shark Tank – you’re allowed to confer with academics and secure their support before you pitch your thesis to them. Discover how to choose the right PhD supervisor for you.
For a time-efficient strategy, Chelsea recommends you approach your potential supervisor(s) and find out if:
- they have time to supervise you
- they have any funds to help pay for your research (even with a stipend scholarship , your research activities may require extra money)
- their research interests align with yours (you’ll ideally discover a mutual ground where you both benefit from the project).
“The best way to approach would be to send an email briefly outlining who you are, your background, and what your research interests are,” says Chelsea.
“Once you’ve spoken to a potential supervisor, then you can start drafting a proposal and you can even ask for their input.”
Chelsea's approach here works well with some academics, but keep in mind that other supervisors will want to see a research proposal straight away. If you're not sure of your proposed supervisor's preferences, you may like to cover both bases with an introductory email that has a draft of your research proposal attached.
Sarah agrees that your prospective supervisor is your most valuable resource for understanding how to write a research proposal for a PhD application.
“My biggest tip for writing a research proposal is to ask your proposed supervisor for help,” says Sarah.
“Or if this isn’t possible, ask another academic who has had experience writing research proposals.”
“They’ll be able to tell you what to include or what you need to improve on.”
Find the “why” and focus on it
Your PhD proposal should include your major question, your planned methods, the sources you’ll cite, and plenty of other nitty gritty details. But perhaps the most important element of your proposal is its purpose – the reason you want to do this research and why the results will be meaningful.
In Sarah’s opinion, highlighting the “why” of your project is vital for your research proposal.
“From my perspective, one of the key aspects of your research proposal is emphasising why your project is important and should be funded,” she says.
“Not only does this impact whether your application is likely to be successful, but it could also impact your likelihood of getting a scholarship .”
Imagine you only had 60 seconds to explain your planned research to someone. Would you prefer they remember how your project could change the world, or the statistical models you’ll be using to do it? (Of course, you’ve got 2000 words rather than 60 seconds, so do make sure to include those little details as well – just put the why stuff first.)
Proofread your proposal, then proof it again
As a PhD candidate, your attention to detail is going to be integral to your success. Start practising it now by making sure your research proposal is perfect.
Chelsea and Sarah both acknowledge that clarity and writing quality should never be overlooked in a PhD proposal. This starts with double-checking that the questions of your thesis are obvious and unambiguous, followed by revising the rest of your proposal.
“Make sure your research questions are really clear,” says Sarah.
“Ensure all the writing is clear and grammatically correct,” adds Chelsea.
“A supervisor is not going to be overly keen on a prospective student if their writing is poor.”
It might sound harsh, but it’s fair. So, proofread your proposal multiple times – including after you get it back from your supervisor with any feedback and notes. When you think you’ve got the final, FINAL draft saved, sleep on it and read it one more time the next morning.
Still feeling a little overwhelmed by your research proposal? Stay motivated with these reasons why a PhD is worth the effort .
Want to learn more from Chelsea and Sarah? Easy:
- Read about Chelsea’s award-winning PhD thesis on keeping crops healthy.
- Read Sarah’s series on becoming a law academic .
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- Postgraduate Research
How to write a PhD research proposal
Creating a focused and well-written research proposal - a concise and coherent summary of your proposed research - is an essential part of a successful PhD application.
A research proposal is normally required for self-funded PhDs (where you develop your own idea for a thesis), but isn't usually needed for funded studentships or pre-defined research projects.
What is a research proposal?
A research proposal sets out the central issues or questions that you intend to address. It outlines the general area of study within which your research falls, referring to the current state of knowledge and any recent debates on the topic. It should also demonstrate the originality of your proposed research.
What it should include
As a guide, research proposals should be around 2,000-3,000 words and contain:
- A title – this is just tentative and can be revised over the course of your research
- An abstract – a concise statement of your intended research
- Context - a brief overview of the general area of study within which your proposed research falls, summarising the current state of knowledge and recent debates on the topic
- Research questions - central aims and questions that will guide your research
- Research methods - outline of how you are going to conduct your research, for example, visiting particular libraries or archives, field work or interviews
- Research significance - demonstrate the originality of your intended research
- A bibliography.
Crucially, it is also an opportunity for you to communicate your passion for the subject area and to make a persuasive argument about the impact your project can achieve.
Your research proposal will be assessed by our academic schools to assess the quality of your proposed research and to establish whether they have the expertise to support your proposed area of PhD study.
Thesis writing classes and support for international research students
The University’s English Language Centre (ELC) provides thesis writing support for international PhD students. Classes run throughout semesters one and two and are designed to help develop the academic writing skills needed to write up research effectively.
The sessions are taught by tutors with their own research experience. They have PhDs themselves and have many years of experience in analysing writing in different disciplines.
The course also provides an opportunity for students to receive individual feedback on samples of their own writing.
The following classes are available:
- Thesis Writing for Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine
- Thesis Writing for Humanities and Social Sciences
In addition to these thesis writing classes, the ELC also provides a 1:1 Academic Writing Consultation service.
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How to Write a Successful PhD Proposal for Australian Universities?
Are you struggling with writing a successful PhD proposal for an Australian university? If so, don't worry, you're not alone. In this post, we'll provide you with tips and examples to help you write a successful PhD proposal and take the next step in your academic journey.
Understand the Requirements: Before you start writing, make sure you understand the requirements for your PhD proposal, including the length, format, and content.
Identify a Research Gap: Identify a gap in the existing research that you can address in your proposal. This will help you make a strong case for the significance of your research.
Develop a Clear Research Question: Develop a clear and concise research question that your proposal will answer. This will help you stay focused and ensure that your proposal is coherent and relevant.
Choose a Methodology: Choose a methodology that is appropriate for your research question and will enable you to answer it effectively.
Provide Evidence of Feasibility: Provide evidence that your research is feasible, including a timeline and resources needed.
Use Examples: Use examples of successful PhD proposals from Australian universities to guide you in writing your own proposal.
Seek Feedback: Seek feedback from your peers, advisors, or a trusted editor to get an outside perspective on your proposal and identify areas for improvement.
By following these tips and using the examples provided, you can write a successful PhD proposal for an Australian university and take the next step in your academic journey. To learn more, check out this comprehensive blog article, ' How to Write a Successful PhD Proposal for Australian Universities: Learn with Examples ,' for more in-depth guidance and advice.
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How to Write a Successful PhD Proposal
UK Writer and Teacher
Ready to write your PhD proposal? It’s your opportunity to showcase your passion, explain why your research is necessary, and convince potential supervisors that you’re the right person to carry it out.
A PhD is a huge undertaking. You need to show how determined you are to take on this long, gruelling process and demonstrate the resilience that will see you through. You must be persuasive about why your research is important and worth funding. Your proposal must demonstrate that you have the skills needed to be successful.
- What you want to research
- What you expect to find and why this is important
- Your understanding of existing literature, theories, and current debates
- How you will answer the original question you’re researching
Sound daunting? Don’t worry, following this simple structure will help your proposal stand out for all the right reasons. Here’s how to do it.
Planning Your Proposal
What should you include in a phd proposal, before submission.
Your final thesis will look very different from the proposal. Think of it as a roadmap. It structures your thinking and shows the path you want to follow during your studies.
You need flexibility rather than a rigid plan. Create a distinctly defined original research question and a clear approach to your objectives. Then explain how you will answer this question through your research.
To be successful, it’s essential your proposal is feasible and demonstrates your critical thinking skills. You’ll show your understanding of current thinking and relevant literature in your field. Your proposal explains how you will add to this, develop current research, or challenge existing beliefs.
Every institution has specific requirements for a proposal, so check carefully before you write yours. They have set rules about formatting, organising, and word count.
Most proposals will need to include:
- An introduction
- Aims and objectives of your research
- Literature review and background context
- Your research approach
- Ethical considerations
There are plenty of tools you can use to help you write it. Check out EssayJack which is specifically designed for academic writing. It lets you easily build each section of your proposal with helpful questions and prompts to keep you on track.
There’s an art to writing a good academic introduction . This section of your PhD proposal needs to be absolutely clear.
Make it easy for them to see what you are proposing. Share your research questions, explain why your research is significant, and the contribution it will make to existing literature.
Don’t add lengthy explanations here. You don’t need to justify your decisions. Focus on your aims and objectives and keep it as concise as possible.
In this section, you’ll provide context to your proposal. You’ll show you have a deep, broad understanding of the research landscape.
- What research has already been carried out?
- Who are the most important authors?
- What are the latest findings?
- What are the current theories, concepts, and debates?
You’ll show there are knowledge gaps in the existing literature and explain how your proposed study can fill them.
Your Approach Methodology
This section is the most important part of your proposal. After sharing the context, you’ll now give the specific details to explain what your project will look like. It lets you go into far more detail about how you will undertake your research.
You have the challenge of showing a well-structured plan that maintains the necessary flexibility to allow your research to develop. Whilst you want a clear question and focus, keep some details general. For example, you don’t need the exact questions you’ll ask or a precise list of who you’ll interview. Keep your methodology broad.
Explain your overall approach:
- Will you use primary or empirical research?
- Is it purely theoretical?
- What are the ethical considerations?
- Why have you chosen this approach over other methods?
Think about your specific aims and objectives. As you’ve highlighted the gaps in existing literature, make sure you carefully design your research to fill them.
Your conclusion is more than just restating your research question, although this is important. Use it to highlight the contribution your research will make to this field.
It’s also vital you show your awareness of the limitations of your research, explaining the parameters you will introduce. It’s far better to explore a narrow topic deeply than try to cover a wider one.
Help your potential supervisors evaluate how feasible your project is by thinking carefully about the time you have and the scope of your proposed research. You could share a proposed chapter structure and monthly timetable (or include them as appendices) to show you have thought about how long each stage will take compared to others.
This is your opportunity to show the significant texts and resources that give context to your research.
Show your critical thinking and reflection by only including the most appropriate sources. Check your institution’s formatting preferences carefully to get the presentation right.
A grammar guru, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.
Don’t ruin your chances by submitting poorly presented work. Spend time carefully checking the little details that make all the difference. If possible, ask an experienced academic to check you’re fitting the academic standards expected.
ProWritingAid is a comprehensive spelling and grammar checker that lets you set the style of your writing to "academic." This gives you specific suggestions suited for academia and twenty comprehensive reports to improve your overall writing ability.
You’ll see suggestions to help with the overall readability of your work...
...as well as a whole host of detailed reports on your writing.
With ProWritingAid, you can:
- Check your spelling and grammar
- Use the passive voice suggestions to check if your meaning is clear
- Check that you've introduced any acronyms , and that you've punctuated them consistently
- Find repeated words and phrases and replace them with contextually relevant synonyms
After running your proposal through ProWritingAid, read it aloud to check it has a logical structure and is easy to read. Remember to number the pages, add a contents page, and use headings to make it simple to navigate.
The most important thing you can do before starting your PhD proposal is to read and re-read your institution’s specific requirements carefully. Whilst articles like this provide a general overview, you need to be sure about the exact details they’re looking for.
Make sure you understand:
- What to include
- Formatting requirements
- Overall organisation
- Word limits
A good proposal is one that’s persuasive. After explaining the gaps in current knowledge, make sure you show how your research will specifically fill these gaps. The more you show how much your work is needed, the greater your chance of success.
But don’t forget that your proposal is as much about you as it is your research. Show them you have a solid grasp of your field, and the resilience to see it through. Demonstrate you have considered the scope and scale of your work. Whilst there should be flexibility, you’re creating a road map, not sharing a pipe dream.
Helly Douglas is a UK writer and teacher, specialising in education, children, and parenting. She loves making the complex seem simple through blogs, articles, and curriculum content. You can check out her work at hellydouglas.com or connect on Twitter . When she’s not writing, you will find her in a classroom, being a mum or battling against the wilderness of her garden - the garden is winning!
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University of Bristol Law School
How to write a phd proposal.
We are delighted to consider applications for PhD research. We have a fantastic, diverse and energetic student body who are making the most of fabulous resources for postgraduate students. We welcome you to join us.
In order to help you with your application, the information below aims to give some guidance on how a typical research proposal might look.
Please be aware that if you are applying for ESRC funding then the proposal must be no longer than 1,300 words , and if you are applying for University of Bristol Postgraduate Research Scholarship then the proposal must be no longer than 1,000 words (incl. footnotes).
Your aim here is to showcase your ability to carry out postgraduate research. PhD research often travels and what you apply to study for may differ from your ultimate PhD. It is perfectly acceptable for research to move over time in response to findings or changes in preference/supervision.
Please note: we do not generally have the expertise to supervise PhD proposals that are exclusively in a jurisdiction outside UK, EU or international law. We have many expert supervisors in comparative, international and regional law but if your proposal is only to study the law in your home country, we may not be able to offer you supervision even if you meet the admission requirements.
Title. A short, indicative title is best.
Abstract. This is a succinct summary of your research proposal that will present a condensed outline, enabling the reader to get a very quick overview of your proposed project, lines of inquiry and possible outcomes. An abstract is often written last, after you have written the proposal and are able to summarise it effectively.
Rationale for the research project. This might include a description of the question/debate/phenomenon of interest, and the context(s) and situation in which you think the research will take place; an explanation of why the topic is of interest to you; and an outline of the reasons why the topic should be of interest to research and/ or practice (the 'so what?' question).
Issues and initial research question. What legal or governance question(s) do you intend to investigate? (This may be quite imprecise at the application stage); what might be some of the key literatures that might inform the issues (again, indicative at the application stage); and, as precisely as you can, what is the question you are trying to answer? A research proposal can and should make a positive and persuasive first impression and demonstrate your potential to become a good researcher. In particular, you need to demonstrate that you can think critically and analytically as well as communicate your ideas clearly.
Intended methodology. How do you think you might go about answering the question? At Bristol we supervise an incredibly wide range of PhDs, including doctrinal, theoretical, empirical, historical, comparative or policy-focused work. Even if your methods are, for example, doctrinal, please do make this clear and give some indication why you think this is the best methodology for your proposed study. If you have a key theorist in mind, do please outline this in your application, together with some understanding of any critiques that have been raised. If you are planning to do empirical work, do please give some indication of what your methods might be (quantitative (surveys, statistics etc); qualitative (interviews, ethnography etc)
Expected outcomes and impact. How do you think the research might add to existing knowledge; what might it enable organisations or interested parties to do differently? Increasingly in academia (and this is particularly so for ESRC-funded studentships) PhD students are being asked to consider how their research might contribute to both academic impact and/or economic and societal impact . This is well explained on the ESRC website if you would like to find out more.
Timetable. What is your initial estimation of the timetable of the dissertation? When will each of the key stages start and finish (refining proposal; literature review; developing research methods; fieldwork; analysis; writing the draft; final submission). There are likely to overlaps between the stages.
Why Bristol? Why –specifically - do you want to study for your PhD at Bristol? How would you fit into our research themes and research culture (please see the ’10 reasons to study for a PhD at Bristol’ section on the website for more information). You do not need to identify supervisors at the application stage.
Bibliography. Do make sure that you cite what you see as the key readings in the field. This does not have to be comprehensive but you are illustrating the range of sources you might use in your research.
A number of scholarships are available to study for a PhD at Bristol. You can see more information regarding scholarships on our fees and funding page. If you have any questions about which scholarship to apply for and how your research might fit in please contact the PGR Director, Yvette Russell [email protected] .
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How to write a successful research proposal
As the competition for PhD places is incredibly fierce, your research proposal can have a strong bearing on the success of your application - so discover how to make the best impression
What is a research proposal?
Research proposals are used to persuade potential supervisors and funders that your work is worthy of their support. These documents setting out your proposed research that will result in a Doctoral thesis are typically between 1,500 and 3,000 words in length.
Your PhD research proposal must passionately articulate what you want to research and why, convey your understanding of existing literature, and clearly define at least one research question that could lead to new or original knowledge and how you propose to answer it.
Professor Leigh Wilson, director of the graduate school at the University of Westminster, explains that while the research proposal is about work that hasn't been done yet, what prospective supervisors and funders are focusing on just as strongly is evidence of what you've done - how well you know existing literature in the area, including very recent publications and debates, and how clearly you've seen what's missing from this and so what your research can do that's new. Giving a strong sense of this background or frame for the proposed work is crucial.
'Although it's tempting to make large claims and propose research that sweeps across time and space, narrower, more focused research is much more convincing,' she adds. 'To be thorough and rigorous in the way that academic work needs to be, even something as long as a PhD thesis can only cover a fairly narrow topic. Depth not breadth is called for.'
The structure of your research proposal is therefore important to achieving this goal, yet it should still retain sufficient flexibility to comfortably accommodate any changes you need to make as your PhD progresses.
Layout and formats vary, so it's advisable to consult your potential PhD supervisor before you begin. Here's what to bear in mind when writing a research proposal.
Your provisional title should be around ten words in length, and clearly and accurately indicate your area of study and/or proposed approach. It should be catchy, informative and interesting.
The title page should also include personal information, such as your name, academic title, date of birth, nationality and contact details.
Aims and objectives
This is a short summary of your project. Your aims should be two or three broad statements that emphasise what you ultimately want to achieve, complemented by several focused, feasible and measurable objectives - the steps that you'll take to answer each of your research questions. This involves clearly and briefly outlining:
- how your research addresses a gap in, or builds upon, existing knowledge
- how your research links to the department that you're applying to
- the academic, cultural, political and/or social significance of your research questions.
This section of your PhD proposal discusses the most important theories, models and texts that surround and influence your research questions, conveying your understanding and awareness of the key issues and debates.
It should focus on the theoretical and practical knowledge gaps that your work aims to address, as this ultimately justifies and provides the motivation for your project.
Here, you're expected to outline how you'll answer each of your research questions. A strong, well-written methodology is crucial, but especially so if your project involves extensive collection and significant analysis of primary data.
In disciplines such as humanities the research proposal methodology identifies the data collection and analytical techniques available to you, before justifying the ones you'll use in greater detail. You'll also define the population that you're intending to examine.
You should also show that you're aware of the limitations of your research, qualifying the parameters that you plan to introduce. Remember, it's more impressive to do a fantastic job of exploring a narrower topic than a decent job of exploring a wider one.
Concluding or following on from your methodology, your timetable should identify how long you'll need to complete each step - perhaps using bi-weekly or monthly timeslots. This helps the reader to evaluate the feasibility of your project and shows that you've considered how you'll go about putting the PhD proposal into practice.
Finally, you'll provide a list of the most significant texts, plus any attachments such as your academic CV . Demonstrate your skills in critical reflection by selecting only those resources that are most appropriate.
Before submitting this document along with your PhD application, you'll need to ensure that you've adhered to the research proposal format. This means that:
- every page is numbered
- it's professional, interesting and informative
- the research proposal has been proofread by both an experienced academic (to confirm that it conforms to academic standards) and a layman (to correct any grammatical or spelling errors)
- it has a contents page
- you've used a clear and easy-to-read structure, with appropriate headings.
Research proposal examples
To get a better idea of how your PhD proposal may look, some universities have provided examples of research proposals for specific subjects:
- The Open University - Social Policy and Criminology
- University of Sheffield - Sociological Studies
- University of Sussex
- University of York - Politics
Find out more
- Explore PhD studentships .
- For tips on writing a thesis, see 7 steps to writing a dissertation .
- Read more about PhD study .
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How to write a good phd proposal
How to write a phd research proposal, how to write a phd proposal in 8 practical steps (plus tips).
Your research proposal should include: your interest in the particular research area and the topic you want to study the specific research questions you want
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Learn how to write a PhD proposal that will stand out from the rest
Feb 27, 2019
Here, we show you how to write a PhD proposal that will stand out from the hundreds of others that are submitted each day.
Before we do though, know one thing :
The research you describe when you write your PhD proposal won’t look anything like the research you finally write up in your PhD thesis.
Wait, what ?
That’s not a typo. Everyone’s research changes over time. If you knew everything when you were writing up your proposal there wouldn’t be any point doing the PhD at all.
So, what’s the point of the proposal?
Your proposal is a guide, not a contract . It is a plan for your research that is necessarily flexible. That’s why it changes over time.
This means that the proposal is less about the robustness of your proposed research design and more about showing that you have
1. Critical thinking skills
2. An adequate grasp of the existing literature and know how your research will contribute to it
3. Clear direction and objectives. You get this by formulating clear research questions
4. Appropriate methods. This shows that you can link your understanding of the literature, research design and theory
5. An understanding of what’s required in a PhD
6. Designed a project that is feasible
Your PhD thesis. All on one page.
Use our free PhD structure template to quickly visualise every element of your thesis.
What is a PhD proposal?
Your PhD proposal is submitted as part of your application to a PhD program. It is a standard means of assessing your potential as a doctoral researcher.
When stripped down to its basic components, it does two things:
Explains the ‘what’- t hese are the questions you will address and the outcomes you expect
Explains the ‘why’- t his is the case for your research, with a focus on why the research is significant and what the contributions will be.
It is used by potential supervisors and department admission tutors to assess the quality and originality of your research ideas, how good you are at critical thinking and how feasible your proposed study is.
This means that it needs to showcase your expertise and your knowledge of the existing field and how your research contributes to it. You use it to make a persuasive case that your research is interesting and significant enough to warrant the university’s investment.
Above all though, it is about showcasing your passion for your discipline . A PhD is a hard, long journey. The admissions tutor want to know that you have both the skills and the resilience required.
What needs to be included in a PhD proposal?
Exactly what needs to be included when you write your PhD proposal will vary from university to university. How long your proposal needs to be may also be specified by your university, but if it isn’t, aim for three thousand words.
Check the requirements for each university you are applying for carefully.
Having said that, almost all proposals will need to have four distinct sections.
2. the research context.
3. The approach you take
In the first few paragraphs of your proposal, you need to clearly and concisely state your research questions, the gap in the literature your study will address, the significance of your research and the contribution that the study makes.
Be as clear and concise as you can be. Make the reader’s job as easy as possible by clearly stating what the proposed research will investigate, what the contribution is and why the study is worthwhile.
This isn’t the place for lots of explanatory detail. You don’t need to justify particular design decisions in the introduction, just state what they are. The justification comes later.
In this section, you discuss the existing literature and the gaps that exist within it.
The goal here is to show that you understand the existing literature in your field, what the gaps are and how your proposed study will address them. We’ve written a guide that will help you to conduct and write a literature review .
Chances are, you won’t have conducted a complete literature review, so the emphasis here should be on the more important and well-known research in your field. Don’t worry that you haven’t read everything. Your admissions officer won’t have expected you to. Instead, they want to see that you know the following:
1. What are the most important authors, findings, concepts, schools, debates and hypotheses?
2. What gaps exist in the literature?
3. How does your thesis fill these gaps?
Once you have laid out the context, you will be in a position to make your thesis statement . A thesis statement is a sentence that summarises your argument to the reader. It is the ‘point’ you will want to make with your proposed research.
Remember, the emphasis in the PhD proposal is on what you intend to do, not on results. You won’t have results until you finish your study. That means that your thesis statement will be speculative, rather than a statement of fact.
For more on how to construct thesis statements, read this excellent guide from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who, incidentally, run a great academic writing blog you should definitely visit.
3. The approach you will take
This is the section in which you discuss the overall research design and is the most important component of the proposal. The emphasis here is on five things.
1. The overall approach taken (is it purely theoretical, or does it involve primary or empirical research? Maybe it’s both theoretical and empirical?)
2. The theoretical perspective you will use when you design and conduct your research
3. Why you have chosen this approach over others and what implications this choice has for your methods and the robustness of the study
4. Your specific aims and objectives
5. Your research methodology
In the previous section you outlined the context. In this section you explain the specific detail of what your research will look like.
You take the brief research design statements you made in the introduction and go into much more detail. You need to be relating your design decisions back to the literature and context discussion in the previous section.
The emphasis here is on showing that there is a logical flow. There’s no point highlighting a gap in the literature and then designing a study that doesn’t fill it.
Some of the detail here will only become clear once you have started the actual research. That’s fine. The emphasis in your proposal should be on showing that you understand what goes into a PhD.
So, keep it general.
For example, when talking about your methodology, keep things deliberately broad and focus on the overarching strategy. For example, if you are using interviews, you don’t need to list every single proposed interview question. Instead, you can talk about the rough themes you will discuss (which will relate to your literature review and thesis/project statement). Similarly, unless your research is specifically focusing on particular individuals, you don’t need to list exactly who you will interview. Instead, just state the types of people you will interview (for example: local politicians, or athletes, or academics in the UK, and so on).
4. Concluding paragraphs
There are a number of key elements to a proposal that you will need to put in the final paragraphs.
1. A discussion on the limitations of the study
2. A reiteration of your contribution
3. A proposed chapter structure (this can be an appendix)
4. Proposed month-by-month timetable (this can also be an appendix). The purpose of this timetable is to show that you understand every stage required and how long each stage takes relative to others.
Tips to turn an average proposal into one that will be accepted
1. be critical.
When you are making your design decisions in section three, you need to do so critically. Critical thinking is a key requirement of entry onto a PhD programme. In brief, it means not taking things at face value and questioning what you read or do. You can read our guide to being critical for help (it focuses on the literature review, but the take home points are the same).
2. Don’t go into too much detail too soon in your proposal
This is something that many people get wrong. You need to ease the reader in gradually . Present a brief, clear statement in the introduction and then gradually introduce more information as the pages roll on.
You will see that the outline we have suggested above follows an inverted pyramid shape.
1. In section one, you present the headlines in the introductory paragraphs. These are the research questions, aims, objectives, contribution and problem statement. State these without context or explanation.
2. When discussing the research context in section two, you provide a little more background. The goal here is to introduce the reader to the literature and highlight the gaps.
3. When describing the approach you will take, you present more detailed information. The goal here is to talk in very precise terms about how your research will address these gaps, the implications of these choices and your expected findings.
3. Be realistic
Don’t pretend you know more than you do and don’t try to reinvent your discipline .
A good proposal is one that is very focused and that describes research that is very feasible. If you try to design a study to revolutionise your field, you will not be accepted because doing so shows that you don’t understand what is feasible in the context of a PhD and you haven’t understood the literature.
4. Use clear, concise sentences
Describe your research as clearly as possible in the opening couple of paragraphs. Then write in short, clear sentences. Avoid using complex sentences where possible. If you need to introduce technical terminology, clearly define things.
In other words, make the reader’s job as easy as possible.
5. Get it proofread by someone else
We’ve written a post on why you need a proofreader .
Simple: you are the worst person to proofread your own work.
6. Work with your proposed supervisor, if you’re allowed
A lot of students fail to do this. Your supervisor isn’t your enemy. You can work with them to refine your proposal. Don’t be afraid to reach out for comments and suggestions. Be careful though. Don’t expect them to come up with topics or questions for you. Their input should be focused on refining your ideas, not helping you come up with them.
7. Tailor your proposal to each department and institution you are applying to
Admissions tutors can spot when you have submitted a one-size-fits-all proposal. Try and tailor it to the individual department. You can do this by talking about how you will contribute to the department and why you have chosen to apply there.
Follow this guide and you’ll be on a PhD programme in no time at all.
If you’re struggling for inspiration on topics or research design, try writing a rough draft of your proposal. Often the act of writing is enough for us to brainstorm new ideas and relate existing ideas to one another.
If you’re still struggling, send your idea to us in an email to us and we’ll give you our feedback.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Be able to call yourself Doctor sooner with our five-star rated How to Write A PhD email-course. Learn everything your supervisor should have taught you about planning and completing a PhD.
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A wonderful guide. I must say not only well written but very well thought out and very efficient.
Great. I’m glad you think so.
Thanks for sharing. Makes navigating through the proposal lot easier
Great. Glad you think so!
An excellent guide, I learned a lot thank you
Great job and guide for a PhD proposal. Thank you!
I am going to start writing my Ph.D. proposal. This has been so helpful in instructing me on what to do. Thanks
Thanks! Glad you thought so.
A very reassuring guide to the process. Thank you, Max
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How to write a good proposal - ESRC
The content and quality of the proposal you submit to us will determine whether or not you are successful. Therefore it is vital that you have a full understanding of what is required, as well as knowing the various stages of the application process, so that you maximise your chances of gaining a grant.
This video features two of our grant assessment panel chairs discussing what makes a good research proposal and offers a helpful overview for applicants.
These notes are intended to assist you in the preparation of proposals to the research grants scheme and should be read in conjunction with the ESRC research funding guide .
They provide informal guidance on points for applicants to remember when drafting proposals.
You may also find this information helpful if you’re applying to another scheme although you should take care to follow any scheme-specific guidance provided.
Careful attention will help you to avoid some of the basic pitfalls and improve the funding chances of your research idea.
Our guidance for writing a good research grant application
Allow yourself time.
Preparing a draft proposal and consulting on it, preparing the project costings and getting advice on these, as well as reading the regulations of the Research Grants (open call) to learn what is and what is not permissible, are all time-consuming parts of the process of application.
There are four key documents for applicants applying to our research grants scheme:
- research grants (open call) specification
- research grants (open call) Je-S guidance
- research funding guide
- research grants (open call) FAQs
The first two documents can be found in the additional info section of the ESRC research grant page .
Study your funding source
All funding agencies will have their own criteria for deciding on allocation of their resources. It is worthwhile taking time to familiarise yourself with these and ensuring that your proposal clearly addresses your targeted source of support.
We are an agency funded by the government and its mission is “to promote and support by any means, high quality, basic, strategic and applied research and related postgraduate training in the social sciences; to advance knowledge and provide trained social scientists which meets the needs of users and beneficiaries, thereby contributing to the economic competitiveness of the UK, the effectiveness of public services and policy, and the quality of life; and, to provide advice on, and disseminate knowledge and promote public understanding of, the social sciences”.
All successful ESRC research grants demonstrate four characteristics. They must:
- promise excellent research
- be of value to potential users outside or within the research community
- convince of the ability to deliver research
- demonstrate value for money (not necessarily the same as cheapness).
Further information relating to how proposals are peer reviewed and the standards against which you will be judged are provided within ESRC’s Peer Reviewer Training tool – this is an online course which takes around an hour to complete, although it is possible to dip in and out as well.
Read the guidance documents
You should read the guidance and the Je-S which is designed to help you through the filling in process. This cannot be overstressed; familiarising yourself with the content of the Research Funding Guide may seem tedious but will help you to avoid basic mistakes which at best will require clarification with office staff and at worst may prejudice chances of success. Please abide by the rules, since they are there to ensure a level playing field for all applicants, and applications which break the rules will either be returned for amendment or office rejected. Make sure you are using the current versions of guidance as rules and regulations are subject to change. If in doubt, check with the named ESRC contact for the call.
Guidance on Je-S electronic applications.
Discuss your proposal
You should discuss your proposal with peer groups, colleagues and, if you are a relatively new researcher, with senior and more experienced researchers. Experienced collaboration or mentoring rarely goes amiss. If you have never sent in a proposal to us before, try to get the advice of someone who has already been successful.
Talk to your research office and draw on the support that they can give you in putting together your application and calculating your costings.
Remember to contact the people you intend to nominate as referees to ensure that they are willing to act in this capacity. It is not uncommon for nominated referees to be unaware of the substance of the work they are asked to comment on, have little knowledge of the applicant or their work, or give a very poor grading. Some have even declined to comment!
Justify your costings
When you justify your costings, they should be considered with care and close reference to our Research Funding Guide.
A maximum of two sides of A4 is allowed on the compulsory Justification of Resources attachment to the application. Be realistic – lavish costings are unlikely to find favour with panel members and a proposal which promises the earth at remarkably low expense will be regarded with caution.
Panels take a very dim view of proposals where the costings have been padded to reach the lower financial threshold for the call, and if potential cuts would take the overall cost of the proposal below the threshold the proposal will not be funded.
You need to provide clear and convincing justification of your costings and should think carefully about the time and resources needed to complete the research successfully within the specified period.
Grants will be based on the eligible costings included in proposals and will be subject to standard indexation and be cash limited at the time of announcement so it is important to get costings right when applying.
A well thought out financial plan helps to create confidence in the proposal generally. Give as detailed a breakdown of costs as possible so that the Panel can properly assess the case for support.
Do make sure that what you are asking for is allowed within the regulations. Bear in mind that ESRC is looking for value for money, and that proposals which offer poor value for money will be scored down by Panels, even when the science may be excellent.
Content and presentation
The research proposal is the means by which you will be trying to convince the panel that your proposal is worth funding so think carefully about what information you are going to give and how it is presented.
Make sure you think your project plan through and cover all stages of the research lifecycle. The project lifecycle includes the planning and research design stage, the period of funding for the project, and all activities that relate to the project up to and including the time when funding has ended.
The research lifecycle therefore also includes knowledge exchange and impact realisation activities, the dissemination process including reporting and publication and the archiving, future use, sharing, and linking of data.
Many proposals are unsuccessful not because they lack interesting or important research ideas, but because they fail to communicate adequately how these research ideas will be explored and translated into an achievable plan of action.
Many proposals devote too much space to explaining why the research is important and too little to detailing how the research will be conducted. Therefore it is vital that you have a full understanding of what is required, as well as knowing the various stages of the application process, so that you maximise your chances of gaining an award.
Convey to the panel your genuine interest, understanding and enthusiasm for the work.
The case for support is the core of your application. It is also important to make sure that you devote enough space in the proposal to describing the research you intend to conduct and the research design and methods – the panels find it very frustrating when applicants devote pages to explaining why their proposed research is exciting but then provide only a short and inadequate explanation of how they propose to explore this in practice.
Write in plain English. Your proposal is likely to be seen by many people, including some who will not be familiar with your particular specialism. Detail and specification may necessitate the use of disciplinary or technical terminology and this will be clear to peer reviewers, but the ideas you wish to convey and your reasons for doing so should be apparent to a wide audience.
Do not try to cram too much into your case for support and remember that we will be checking font size and page margins (please check the guidance for details).
Peer reviewers and panel members do not welcome dense blocks of text which have not been broken down into paragraphs and sub sections. By the same token, do take the trouble to check spelling, grammar and punctuation. These are all part of the quality of presentation and presentation matters.
Knowledge exchange and impact
Our mission places emphasis on ensuring that researchers engage as fully as possible with the users of research outcomes. These may be:
- other academics
- government departments
- public bodies
- voluntary organisations
- other interested parties
Try to consult with and involve people who could make a valuable contribution to the research and who could provide support and interest. Involving stakeholders and users in the planning stages can be highly beneficial.
In line with the common position on excellence with Impact adopted by research councils, we expect that the researchers we fund will have considered the potential scientific, societal and economic impacts of their research.
You should actively consider how these can be maximised and developed through the impact plan in your application. Consideration of the detail provided here will form part of the peer review and assessment process. You are expected to take impact seriously. If you believe that your research project is purely theoretical or methodological and will only have impacts within academia you should consider your impact strategy to justify your belief.
Opportunities for making an impact may arise, and should be taken, at any stage during the lifecourse of the research. It is important that researchers have in place a robust strategy for maximising the likelihood of such opportunities arising and their own capacity for taking advantage of these.
Further information on impact, innovation and interdisciplinarity.
Check the details
Once you have completed the application form make sure that all the required information is provided. Some of the most common issues are:
- an unrealistic start date
- missing details of previous or current proposals with reports on current projects or end of award reports where required. We will not process new proposals if an end of award report is overdue
- case for support exceeding the specified length
- no covering letter in the case of invited resubmissions
What happens next?
For the research grants (open call).
Proposals receiving an average score of at least 4.5 (out of 6) from external academic reviewers are forwarded to the panel members (introducers) for a funding recommendation.
Proposals receiving a lower average score from reviewers are rejected as not meeting the requisite scientific standard. In this case, the referee comments that will be sent to you with the decision letter may offer some helpful guidance for any future submissions of new proposals.
At the full panel meetings a proportion of proposals will be recommended for funding. Unsuccessful proposals fall into two categories – those which are unsuccessful due to lack of funds, and those which do not meet the requisite scientific standard.
A ranked list of recommendations is then considered by the grants delivery group for a final funding decision.
Anonymous comments will be sent with your decision letter, and the feedback may be helpful if you submit a new proposal in the future.
We accept only invited resubmissions. We do not allow the resubmission of any previously unsuccessful proposals (including proposals previously submitted to another research council), unless applicants have been specifically invited to do so.
In the majority of cases funding decisions are made around six months from the submission of your proposal, so please bear this in mind when applying.
If your research is time-critical you will need to allow enough time from submission for the proposal to go through the full application process, and the post-award checks/contracting process which takes an additional two months, on average.
If you are successful
Congratulations, and we hope your project goes well.
However, if difficulties arise such as delays in recruitment, staff illness, replacements, or changes to the work plan then please let us know immediately via your research office.
Under our research funding guide rules you will not need to notify us of virements of funds between headings and no supplementation will be allowed.
Last updated: 17 August 2021
This is the integrated website of the 7 research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments .
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How to Write a PhD Research Proposal
Understand and harness the key elements of a succinct research plan while preparing your PhD proposal.
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Learn how to develop a successful PhD proposal
Successful PhD research requires preparation, planning, critical thinking, and dedication. On this course, you will explore the key elements in a research proposal and solve common planning and writing challenges.
You will learn how to structure, define, and present your research idea in writing. You will develop your own research objectives and sub-questions and outline the context of the study. You will also learn how to manage a project. This course focuses on health sciences, but the content of the PhD proposal and the planning process of a research study is relevant to other disciplines.
0:01 Skip to 0 minutes and 1 second Do you want to take a major and the final educational step? Do you want to explore things that are unknown to you and others? Do you want to become a researcher? I feel as if the PhD is very important in my career so that in the PhD I can learn a lot of things which I can use in my future life. During this course, we will guide you through the initial steps of becoming a researcher. You will learn about the key elements needed to describe a research plan. Together, we will work hard to write, plan, and prepare the first draft of your proposal.
0:43 Skip to 0 minutes and 43 seconds Join us because we know, from many years of experience, what it takes to develop a successful research plan. We know how you can become a postgraduate student. I remember the first day I started to write my PhD proposal. And even if I do have an idea, I didn’t know where to start and what to write, and I was lost.
1:13 Skip to 1 minute and 13 seconds We will show you how to present and argue for your innovative idea, how to outline your ideas as a realistic research plan. During the next four weeks, you will learn how to develop your research statement, formulate a clear research objective, and write relevant subquestions.
1:36 Skip to 1 minute and 36 seconds We want research to be beneficial for society. So what are you bringing with your research?
1:46 Skip to 1 minute and 46 seconds You will collaborate with peers and discuss how to choose the most useful research design and method, how to answer your subquestions analytically, and how to plan the data collection for your future PhD study. We want to work with you. Together with you and your peers, other aspiring researchers worldwide, we can help you create your PhD proposal. Why not take the first step towards becoming a researcher? Welcome to this mooc on how to write the PhD proposal developed by us at University of Oslo in Norway, together with our partner, Jimma University in Ethiopia.
What topics will you cover?
- Defining the research idea and writing a research statement with objectives and sub-questions
- Identifying and writing a literature summary and review
- Empirical, conceptual, or theoretical foundations of a research study
- Research ethics, fraud, and plagiarism in research
- Research design and methodological approaches
- Data collection strategies, sampling, instruments, and biases
- Fieldwork and contingency planning
- How to organize your PhD project
Learning on this course
On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.
What will you achieve?
By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...
- Develop your research statement with objectives and sub-questions
- Discuss sample data collection strategies and analysis of the empirical material that you will collect
- Assess ways to ensure that the proposed PhD-study will follow conventions that help ensure reliability, validity, and ethical conduct
- Evaluate and use what you have learned by submitting and receiving feedback on your proposal draft each week
- Evaluate and reflect on your work with help from your peers, course educators, and mentors
- Collaborate with your peers and find ways to solve possible challenges during your PhD studies
- Explain how you will organize and structure your PhD
- Identify previous relevant research to discover gaps and why your research matters
Who is the course for?
The course will give future PhD students insight into developing a PhD proposal and improving their skills in research proposal writing and junior researchers working on harnessing their small research grant application skills.
Who will you learn with?
Associate Professor, lead educator in "How to write your PhD proposal".
Who developed the course?
University of oslo.
Founded in 1811, the University of Oslo (UiO) is the highest ranked institution of education and research in Norway.
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How to make research proposal for phd interview
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SAMPLE OF A RESEARCH PROPOSAL FOR PhD Advisory
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How to write a successful research proposal
Undertake a situational analysis of the field notes and interview notes, guided by. Alvesson's theory. 5. Write a research report that combines my understanding
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Writing a PhD research proposal: A 6‐step general guide for prospective PhD researchers Introduction This short guide is aimed at helping you to write a good research proposal. It is intended to help you to think about your proposed PhD research in a clear, structured and meaningful way. ...
How to Write a Great PhD Research Proposal Written by Mark Bennett Applications Advice You'll need to write a research proposal if you're submitting your own project plan as part of a PhD application. A good PhD proposal outlines the scope and significance of your topic and explains how you plan to research it.
Here, you just need to briefly describe what's the nature of your proposed project. Step 4. List your aims and objectives Now we're getting into the specifics. In this section of your PhD or thesis proposal, you need to tell the reader exactly what you're looking to achieve with your research.
Here's a list of steps to help you write your own Ph.D. proposal: 1. Plan your proposal. Before you start writing, review the university's proposal requirements to ensure you meet them as you write. This may include both content and formatting requirements.
Like your dissertation or thesis, the proposal will usually have a title page that includes: The proposed title of your project Your name Your supervisor's name Your institution and department Tip If your proposal is very long, you may also want to include an abstract and a table of contents to help your reader navigate your work. Introduction
investigation, the PhD proposal writing process, such as abstract, introduction, problem statement, research ... Good research questions are the spine of your proposal and later, in your thesis. The following few tips may help you to write your research questions: 1. Choose a topic that interests you and your readers.
Your PhD proposal should include your major question, your planned methods, the sources you'll cite, and plenty of other nitty gritty details. But perhaps the most important element of your proposal is its purpose - the reason you want to do this research and why the results will be meaningful.
How to write a PhD research proposal Creating a focused and well-written research proposal - a concise and coherent summary of your proposed research - is an essential part of a successful PhD application.
Abstract A PhD proposal is a focused document that introduces your PhD study idea and seeks to convince the reader that your idea is interesting, original and viable within the allocated...
Choose a Methodology: Choose a methodology that is appropriate for your research question and will enable you to answer it effectively. Provide Evidence of Feasibility: Provide evidence that your research is feasible, including a timeline and resources needed.
Presenting your idea clearly and concisely demonstrates that you can write this way - an attribute of a potential research candidate that is valued by assessors. What should it include? Project title Research supervisor Proposed mode of research Aims and objectives Synopsis Background Expected research contribution Proposed methodology Work plan
How to Write a Successful PhD Motivation Letter Fool Proof Tips for Finding PhD Research Topics Take our test and find out which country fits you best. Take a free country test Win a € 10,000 Scholarship! Apply for the Studyportals Scholarship and win up to € 10,000 to cover your tuition fees.
Introduction. There's an art to writing a good academic introduction. This section of your PhD proposal needs to be absolutely clear. Make it easy for them to see what you are proposing. Share your research questions, explain why your research is significant, and the contribution it will make to existing literature.
Tips for how to write a successful PhD proposal Follow these tips to increase your chances of being accepted for a PhD programme: Communicate clearly Although the subject may be complex, it's important to communicate your ideas in a clear and straightforward way. Write short sentences and try to avoid using over-complicated technical terms.
A research proposal can and should make a positive and persuasive first impression and demonstrate your potential to become a good researcher. In particular, you need to demonstrate that you can think critically and analytically as well as communicate your ideas clearly. Intended methodology.
Your provisional title should be around ten words in length, and clearly and accurately indicate your area of study and/or proposed approach. It should be catchy, informative and interesting. The title page should also include personal information, such as your name, academic title, date of birth, nationality and contact details.
How To Write a PhD Proposal in 8 Practical Steps (Plus Tips) Your research proposal should include: your interest in the particular research area and the topic you want to study the specific research questions you want
There are a number of key elements to a proposal that you will need to put in the final paragraphs. These include: 1. A discussion on the limitations of the study 2. A reiteration of your contribution 3. A proposed chapter structure (this can be an appendix) 4. Proposed month-by-month timetable (this can also be an appendix).
Are you planning to do a PhD in the near future? Wondering how to write a good proposal?In this recorded webinar you will gain good knowledge about:-how to d...
Hey wonderful humans!Today I'm giving you advice and tips on how to write a PhD proposal using examples from my own proposal. I'm currently in my first year ...
📌How to develop good scientific questions & hypotheses, logically organise proposals & papers + write in a style appropriate to scientific communications. A…
How to write a good proposal The content and quality of the proposal you submit to us will determine whether or not you are successful. Therefore it is vital that you have a full understanding of what is required, as well as knowing the various stages of the application process, so that you maximise your chances of gaining a grant.
Successful PhD research requires preparation, planning, critical thinking, and dedication. On this course, you will explore the key elements in a research proposal and solve common planning and writing challenges. You will learn how to structure, define, and present your research idea in writing. You will develop your own research objectives ...
How to write a successful research proposal. Undertake a situational analysis of the field notes and interview notes, guided by. Alvesson's theory. 5. Write a research report that combines my understanding