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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.

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