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Writing a research proposal

Guidance on writing a great research proposal to support your application to research programmes.

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.

What is a research proposal?

A research proposal is a concise and ‭coherent summary of your proposed research. ‭It is a key part of your application, on which ‭potential supervisors will decide if your ‭research is something they can support.

A research proposal generally consists of an outline of your proposed research project, including your main research questions and the methods you intend to use. You should also comment on the potential impact and importance of your intended research and on how your work would interact with current trends in your academic field.

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How is it structured?

1. Research topic

General subject area/explain domain on which you will focus.

2. Review of the literature

Demonstrate familiarity with relevant literature, show awareness of previous research and explain how your research aims to make an original contribution to knowledge.

3. Research objectives

Explain what you are intending to achieve. You might use:

  • Hypotheses: an assumed relationship between two or more variables
  • Propositions: statements that explain likely phenomena
  • Objectives or a set of research questions
  • Problems: identify existing unsatisfactory conditions and propose a solution

4. Research strategy

Explain your research strategy/method; consider strategic options/outline how you plan to collect your data (if any).

5. Anticipated results

Consider the type of expected results, data analysis method and identify potential data collection problems.

6. Schedule and budget

Plan resource requirements; detail stages of the research and timescale (as applicable).

7. References and bibliography

In order to make a compelling case you should aim to:

  • Demonstrate your strategic fit: how does your research and/or previous experience fit in with the research strengths, agendas and priorities of the University?
  • Make a positive and powerful first impression about your potential as a researcher
  • The proposal and supporting statement are for you to show that you have the ability to take ownership over your project and demonstrate research leadership
  • State and justify your objectives clearly (“because it is interesting” is not enough!) – make sure that you address a clear gap in existing work
  • Persuade potential supervisors and/or funders of the importance of the research, and why you are the right person to undertake it

Hints and Tips

Your proposal is unique to you, however there are some expected concepts and themes which we would expect to see included within your writing. Below you will find guidance on the essentials of a research proposal.


Tip 1: Demonstrate Originality

There are many ways in which you can demonstrate originality:

  • Identify problems, such as inconsistencies or gaps, in existing analysis
  • A fresh, critical discussion of texts, works and/or ideas that have been neglected by scholarship
  • Bring together disciplines and areas of work that have not been brought together before
  • Compare a topic in one country/language/business model/legal system, etc. with the same topic in another (a ‘comparative study’)
  • Analyse an issue from a new perspective, or apply work from another discipline to your own, in order to create new knowledge, learning or practice (e.g.by bringing a theoretical approach to a problem which has not been applied before, at length)
  • A study of the impact of a particular set of conditions, piece of legislation, series of events, government, etc.

Tip 2: Research Impact

Wherever possible, the beneficiaries of ‘impact’ should consist of a wider group than that of the immediate professional circle who carry out similar research. 'Impact' should show quality and help to enhance the reputation of the University and the UK's attractivenes for research and innovation investment.

Specific beneficiaries might be: researchers in other disciplines; academic organisations; companies, public sector bodies and others who may use the results to their advantage; or policy makers.


  • Who might benefit from this research?
  • How might they benefit from this research?
  • What will be done to ensure that potential beneficiaries have the opportunity to engage with this research?