Guide to writing a research proposal

A PhD is expected to make a significant and original contribution to knowledge. Therefore you need to explain how your research is likely to be original and how it will contribute to your field of study.  Your proposal must be convincing and be able to exist as a stand alone document.

A research proposal would normally be around 3,000 words and should be fully referenced throughout using Harvard Referencing Style. It should be clear and concise regarding the core focus and contribution of your research. Your proposal should include:

Working title

Research context and importance of the proposed research

This section should provide the background which outlines what your proposed research is about and what it is you are seeking to discover/achieve. It should be a brief introduction outlining the general area of study and identifying the subject area within which your study falls. You should also refer to the current state of knowledge (i.e. what research has been done to date) and any recent debates on the subject. This section should:

  • Demonstrate how your research ‘fills a gap’ in existing research (ie. show that it hasn’t been done before). 
  • Explain why your research is important – it is not enough to say that this has not been studied previously, you need to explain why it should be studied ie. why it is interesting/important. 

Research aims

Against the background provided above you need to set out the contribution that your research will make in the form of specific aims, research questions or hypotheses.

Research methodology

Explain how you will obtain the information necessary to write your thesis.


You should provide a very approximate timetable for the research.