Research proposals

Your research proposal is a key part of your postgraduate application. It's your opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of your subject and how you intend to influence your desired research area.

We match your research proposal with the appropriate supervisors to make sure you have the best support during your research degree.

Before you apply, find out which researchers are working in your subject area and contact them with any questions. Or contact the relevant graduate school to find out more about available supervisors. Don't worry if your research idea isn't fully formed when you get in touch. It's quite usual to firm up your ideas as you further explore the topic and talk with others in your field.  

Do you need to write a proposal?

You may not need to if you are applying for a funded project. Before you apply you should contact your academic department to check:

  • Do you need a proposal?
  • How long does the proposal need to be?
  • Do you need any additional evidence? 

Proposal structure

Your research proposal should normally include the following information, but this may vary according to which school you are applying to: 


A working title of your research; this will change over the course of your research as your project develops but it is good to have a starting point.    

Context and literature

Set the scene of your research clearly. Show that you understand the research area and have started to develop an understanding of your research topic.  

Make sure that you:

  • Show awareness of current knowledge and debates 

  • Review current literature related to your intended project and make reference to key articles and texts to demonstrate understanding of the subject

  • Demonstrate your own expertise gained from previous study or employment 

  • Explain where there is a gap in current understanding and how your original research can push knowledge forward. 

If you have identified academics involved in your research area you should contact them to discuss their work. This would be a good opportunity to get further advice about your proposal and to potentially start building a supervisor relationship. 

Aims of your research

Your research aims show the overall purpose of your study and you should consider them carefully. Keep your research proposal concise, focus on one or two key research aims and how research questions can achieve the aims. This will help you, and potential supervisors, to decide if they are achievable.


Consider how you will carry out your research, and address this in your proposal.

  • What type of data do you require, for example qualitative, quantitative or a combination?

  • How are you going collect and analyse the data?

  • How will these methods address your research aims, relating to current literature?

Plan your timescale

Plan a realistic timescale for your project so that your potential supervisors can make sure they are available to support you. This will also demonstrate that your research project is achievable. You should consider:  

  • Possible challenges and how you aim to overcome them

  • What will be the milestones of your research 

  • What you wish to achieve each year of your research project.

Expected outcomes

You should explain your potential outcomes to show you have thought through your research and why it is important. You may include how your research builds on current knowledge and what new understanding you will bring to your field. 


Focus your reading so that your references are relevant and up-to-date. Use Harvard referencing style

Proofreading your proposal

Your research proposal is your chance to show you can present information accurately, coherently and concisely.

When proofreading, ask yourself:

  • Is your proposal clear and easy to understand?
  • Have you written in a focused and concise way? 
  • Does your proposal follow a logical progression that tells the reader a short story about your research aims, why they are important, your methods, and what you hope to find out?

After submission

The research proposal you submit is the start of the research process. Once you are accepted onto a PhD programme, you will refine and develop your original proposal as your knowledge grows and regular discussions begin with your supervisory team.