A research proposal is the most important document that you will write to get accepted for the research degree in a university. These 1500-2000 words establish your interest and convince the research advisor that you are dedicated and competent to carry out the research.

You should effectively be able to ascertain that not only is the research worth doing but also establish the fact that it is RESEARCHABLE. Most universities weigh the options that they come across according to the resources available and the result that would come out of the research and whether or not the resources spent is directly proportionate to the interest the result would generate.

To do so the student will have to outline the topic effectively and also clearly so that the research advisor can see your point of view and get the required information to get interested. Your proposal will be seen by several prospective supervisors who have expertise in the chosen field and you will need to convince them that your proposal offers exciting research possibilities and that you have the ability to research it.

The university will look for the following answers in your research proposal:

  • The research that is identified, can it be completed in the time frame and the resources allotted?
  • Does the student show enough interest and dedication to undertake the research and show the ability to develop and complete the research?
  • How will the research answer the questions that the student is seeking and also whether the result gauges the interest of others?
  • Is it a topic that has been addressed earlier?
  • Is the topic being looked in a different way and handled in an alternative way that differentiates it from others?
  • Is there staff in the university who is qualified as well as interested enough to supervise your research?

Remember that the university is looking for these answers and you are NOT present there to answer the queries so ensure that the proposal answers all the questions convincingly. It does not mean that a research proposal is written in a question- Answer form, it means that while writing a proposal ensure that you have thought it through and think of all the questions that may arise and try and address those clearly.

Structure The Proposal

The proposal should be structured well and give complete information. Before beginning take some time to structure the proposal. It should contain the following:

  • Overview of the research – defining the KEY research area and your current perspective of the aims and objectives of your proposed PhD project. Identify the research questions; describe the purpose and the significance of the research that you want to undertake.
  • Positioning of the research – demonstrating your current understanding of the research issues being addressed and why they are important. It is unlikely that you can review all the relevant literature at this stage, but you should be able to reflect some major debates and issues and to show your familiarity with some of the main works addressing the research issue that you are proposing. Identify existing gaps (both theoretical and practical) that your research is intended to address.
  • Research design & methodology – identifying the background information that is necessary to carry out the project and the research techniques that you believe could be adopted. While it cannot be detailed yet indicate the idea whether the research is qualitative/quantitative and also whether primary or secondary data is collected. It should give an insight on how you perceive the challenges that will arise and how you will tackle them.
  • Conclusion – conclude your proposal by predicting what you think would be the benefit of the same and how you see that your research will be able to answer the questions that your research posed. Does it effectively fill the gap that you spotted?
  • References/Bibliography – the background that you considered. Books or online libraries or any other research that you used as a guideline.


  • Academic and professional background that will proves that you are capable of conducting the research
  • The explanatory note as to what may have led you to the topic. It could be a personal experience or professional, whichever way that confirms your interest and motivation for the PHD.
  • The geographical location where you propose to collect data and conduct the research and emphasize on what is the advantage of the same.
  • The data collection technique and the feasibility of collecting the required data in the given time and with the given resources.
  • Your own achievement or interest that reflects on your ability and dedication towards your work.


The keys to writing a strong research proposal are to:

  • Clearly state and explain your research idea.
  • Establish the relevance and value of the proposed research question in the context of current academic thinking.
  • Describe and evaluate the data or source material you need for your research.
  • Outline a methodology which enables you to address your research.
  • Mention the impact your research might have, and what new areas your work might open up.
  • Indentify the timeline and when your estimate the research should get completed by.
  • Be concise.

Do Not:

  • Give more than one idea in one proposal. It will confuse the research advisor and also it also communicates that the student is confused about their own interest and topic.
  • Address a topic that has been researched earlier unless you have a different angle or prospective to it and want to handle it in a way that has not been done earlier or can prove that something lacked previously.
  • Make grammatical or spelling mistakes. It does not reflect well on your conviction. It makes you out to be careless; it is not a quality the research supervisor is looking for.
  • Submit a handwritten document. Type the proposal.

The following books are widely available from bookshops and libraries and may help in preparing your research proposal (as well as in doing your research degree:

  • Bell, J. (1999): Doing Your Research Project: A Guide for First-time Researchers in Education & Social Science, (Oxford University Press, Oxford).
  • Baxter, L, Hughes, C. and Tight, M. (2001): How to Research, (Open University Press, Milton Keynes).
  • Cryer, P. (2000): The Research Student’s Guide to Success, (Open University, Milton Keynes).
  • Delamont, S., Atkinson, P. and Parry, O. (1997): Supervising the PhD, (Open University Press, Milton Keynes).
  • Philips, E. and Pugh, D. (2005): How to get a PhD: A Handbook for Students and their Supervisors, (Open University Press, Milton Keynes).
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