Research proposal preparation

The research proposal is an important document that you submit as part of the application process, so it is essential that you put sufficient time and energy into preparing, as well as drafting, it.

You should always remember the six 'P's of research proposal preparation:

  • Project - Why is your project worth investing in?
  • Person - Why are you the best person to deliver the project?
  • Preparation - How have you prepared for the project? What other training will you undertake in order to deliver the project?
  • Place - Why is the University of Birmingham the best place to undertake your research?
  • Passion - Does your passion for your subject and for conducting original research come through in the application?
  • Precision - You want the reader to get a very clear idea of what you are planning to do, why it is worthwhile, and how you plan to achieve your goals. 3 years and 50,000-80,000 words for a full-time PhD can get used up alarmingly quickly: your project must be achievable

Your research proposal should also demonstrate the following elements:

  • Originality - What is the 'gap' in knowledge that you wish to fill?
  • Feasibility - Show that the scope, timescale and resources are realistic. Reflect on the key questions that you are seeking to answer to ensure that your project is not too broad to be achievable 
  • Context - Situate your own research within a body of existing work
  • Critical thinking - Identify issues and problems within the status quo
  • Suitable supervision - Research the department you are applying to and show that your project fits with the research interests of a supervisor, and preferably also the wider department and University
  • Ownership - Demonstrate your ability to take ownership of an independent research project and make a positive first impression of yourself as a potential research leader
  • Impact - The benefits to wider society
  • Why you? - Why are you the right person to undertake this research? How has your background you prepared for it?
  • Training needs - What further training will you need? How will you undertake this?
  • Interest - Demonstrate an interest in and passion for your research area, through specific examples

We recognise that you are likely to be developing your research topic and we therefore recommend that you first contact a member of our staff with appropriate expertise to discuss your proposed research. If there is a good fit between your proposed research and our research strengths, we will be able to give you advice on a draft of your research proposal before you make a formal application. For details of our staff and their areas of expertise, please visit our staff pages.