How to prepare a research proposal

A crucial part of a research application is the research proposal. This page provides some guidance on writing a research proposal and includes some suggestions on what to include and what to avoid.

Normally a proposal should be between 1,500 and 2,000 words and will include the following:

  • A working title of the topic area: This should do more than convey the key words associated with the proposed research, it should describe the content and direction of your project.
  • General overview of area: This should provide a brief overview of the wider background of the proposed research and identify the discipline(s) within which it falls. You might also refer to the way in which your own background gives you competences in your chosen area.
  • Identification of the relevant literature: In this section you should develop your proposal to demonstrate that you are aware of the debates and issues raised in relevant bodies of literature, and provide evidence for why you believe your research is needed, using an analysis of published work. References to key articles and texts should be made to show that you appreciate their relevance to your research area. You should demonstrate that your proposed area has not been studied before, so you need to identify your niche which will lead on to the thesis preparation.
  • Key research questions: Since you need to demonstrate that the topic can be completed within the normal time period allowed, you need to show that it is manageable, and so focus on key questions within your niche area.
  • Aims and objectives: State specific aims and objectives of the research to be undertaken, in a logical sequence.
  • Methodology: You need to show how you anticipate achieving your aims, and demonstrate an awareness of the methodological tools available to you and show some understanding of which would be suitable for your research. It may be that a qualitative method, including the analysis of interviews, is appropriate. Alternatively your approach may involve forecasting or statistical, financial or econometric modelling. In other cases you may be combining methodologies. You need to specify the approach you feel will be most appropriate.
  • Timescale/research planning: You need to demonstrate an awareness of the need for planning and the timescale of the research. Your timescale should be realistic, taking into account the requirement for upgrade monitoring (PhD applicants) and timely thesis submission. The timeline should show which aspects of the project you will be completing in each year of registration and the anticipated time required for each, and time for writing up the thesis (by the end of month 36 for full-time or month 72 for part-time) should be included. Please note: use month 1, 2, 3 etc in the timeplan/Gantt chart, not calendar months.
  • The timeline for PhD should include the following indicative milestones:
    • Monitoring Milestones
      • Upgrade Monitoring Report (9-10M FT, 20-22 M PT)
      • 2nd year Annual Monitoring Report (21-22M FT, 42-44M PT)
      • 3rd year Annual Monitoring Report (33-34M FT, 66-68M PT)
      • PhD Thesis Submission or Application for Writing Up Extension (36M FT, 72M PT)
    • Proposed Research Milestones
      • Apply for Research Ethics Approval (1-6M FT, 1-12M PT)
      • Discipline-specific Training (1-9M FT, 1-18M PT)
      • Complete Draft Literature Review (6-15M FT, 12-30M PT)
      • Data Collection/field work (3-18M FT, 6-36M PT)
      • Data Analysis / Experiments / Methodology (ongoing 6-36M FT, 12-72M PT)
    • Dissemination Milestones
      • 1st year Internal (seminar/conference) presentation: (6-12M FT, 12-24M PT)
      • 2nd year Internal/external (seminar/conference) presentation: (12-24M FT, 24-48M PT)
      • 3rd year Internal (seminar/conference) presentation: (24-36M FT, 48-72M PT)
  • Bibliography: You should include a short list of references to key articles and texts included in the application.
  • Avoid:
    • Broad topic areas which would be unmanageable as research topics
    • Vague descriptions of research areas
    • Subject areas where your chosen school has no expertise.
    • Plagiarism (for more information, please see Policies and regulations)