Generally, a good research proposal needs to include the following elements:
An initial title
It’s a good idea to provide a proposed title for your research project, as this provides a very short summation of your intended research. This first title is not set in stone; the focus of your project may shift as your research progresses and it may be necessary to amend your title accordingly.
A general overview of your area of study
You should begin your proposal by briefly identifying and summarising the subject you intend to research. It may be useful to refer briefly to the ways in which your academic background will enhance your ability to undertake a project in this area.
Put it into context
Put your research into context- how does it fit into existing theories and what literature currently exists around your subject area? Demonstrate an understanding of:
- The major arguments that have been developed in your area
- The key findings of researchers working on your topic
This will demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of your intended research topic.
An introduction of your key research questions
Specify what your proposal will address in particular and what your aims and objectives are. It may be useful to outline one or two core questions that you intend to answer.
Your intended research methods
You should outline the methodology you intend to use. For example, are you going to consult a particular collection in the archives, or will you be conducting group interviews? If you plan to collect data, what method will you use to obtain it?
In this section, it may be useful to:
- Briefly highlight existing facilities available to you at the University and how you intend to use them
- Outline potential problems and how you might overcome them
A prediction of the expected outcomes of your research
You should conclude your proposal by addressing your predicted outcomes. What are you hoping to prove/disprove? Indicate how you envisage your research will contribute to debates and discussions in your particular subject area:
- How will your research make an original contribution to knowledge?
- How might it fill gaps in existing work?
- How might it extend understanding of particular topics?
It’s important to remember that your PhD proposal is not the finished article and you are not bound to your initial research idea. As your PhD progresses, you may find that the focus of your research shifts, in part or entirely.
We’d recommend including a bibliography listing the books, articles and web pages you consulted to write your proposal. Make sure this is presented in a standard and consistent format, such as Harvard.