Typically, your research proposal should include the following information:
This should be a clear working title for your intended research, made up of key words that are relevant to your project. It should give an indication of the intent of your project, directing attention explicitly to the central issue that you will address. You will be able to revise your title during the course of your research if you are accepted for admission.
2. Research overview
You should provide a short overview of your research: the key issue(s) that you wish to investigate, and why these are important. You should state why you have chosen to apply to the department. If you wish, you can refer to the research areas and priorities of a particular research grouping or supervisor.
3. Research context
A well-written introduction is an efficient way of getting your reader’s attention early on. This is your opportunity to ask yourself: why is your research important? How does it fit into the existing strengths of the department? How will it add something new to the existing body of literature?
It is unlikely that you can review all relevant literature at this stage, so you should explain the broad contextual background against which you will conduct your research. You should include 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. This will allow you to demonstrate a familiarity with key texts in the relevant field as well as the ability to communicate clearly and concisely.
4. Research questions
The proposal should set out the central aims and questions that will guide your research. Before writing your proposal, you should take time to reflect on the key questions that you are seeking to answer. Many research proposals are too broad, so reflecting on your key research questions is a good way to make sure that your project is sufficiently narrow and feasible (i.e. one that is likely to be completed within the normal period for a PhD degree).
You might find it helpful to prioritise one or two main questions, from which you can then derive a number of secondary research questions. The proposal should also explain your intended approach to answering the questions: will your approach be empirical, doctrinal or theoretical, etc.?
5. Research methods
How will you achieve your research objectives? The proposal should present your research methodology, using specific examples to explain how you are going to conduct your research (e.g. techniques, sample size, target populations, equipment, data analysis, etc.).
Your methods may include visiting particular libraries or archives, field work or interviews. If your proposed research is library-based, you should explain where your key resources are located. If you plan to conduct field work or collect empirical data, you should provide details about this (e.g. if you plan interviews, who will you interview? How many interviews will you conduct? Will there be problems of access?). This section should also explain how you are going to analyse your research findings.
A discussion of the timescale for completing your research would also beneficial. You should provide a realistic time plan for completing your research degree study, showing a realistic appreciation of the need to plan your research and how long it is likely to take. It is important that you are not over-optimistic with time frames.
6. Significance of research
The proposal should demonstrate the originality of your intended research. You should therefore explain why your research is important (for example, by explaining how your research builds on and adds to the current state of knowledge in the field or by setting out reasons why it is timely to research your proposed topic) and providing details of any immediate applications, including further research that might be done to build on your findings.
The proposal should include a list of references to key articles and texts discussed within your research proposal, as well as a selection of sources that may be relevant to your project.