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How to Write a Research Proposal for PhD

The PhD research proposal is the first important step of doctoral studies. The aim of the research proposal is to provide information about the intended research project.

A typical research proposal consists of the following parts:

  • A working title of the topic area:
    This must give the essence of the proposed research, not just convey the key words associated with the proposed research.
  • General overview of area: this is an introduction that should be a brief abstract of the general area of study and also signify the discipline(s) within which it falls.
  • Detailed literature review: it is here that you need to develop your proposal to demonstrate that you are aware of the debates and critical issues raised in relevant bodies of literature. You need to show your familiarity with major lines of argument which have been developed in your area. It is important to reference key articles and texts to establish that you appreciate their relevance to your research area. As your PhD is an original piece of research, you should demonstrate that. The area you propose to research has not been studied before. Identify your niche, which will lead on to the thesis preparation.
  • Your key research questions: You need to show that the topic can be completed within the normal time period allowed, so focus on key questions within your niche area. State the key issues that your research intends to address and what empirical phenomena or theoretical debates are driving your research proposal? Try to be specific.
  • Methodology used: You need to demonstrate you have an awareness of the methodological tools available to you what ones will suit your research. You need to specify the approach you feel will be most appropriate. You should therefore indicate where and how you might collect any relevant data. It is also worth saying something about the subjects of the research and give justification. Your proposal may be interesting, relevant, supported by literature, but if it is not practical to carry out because of problems with data gathering, it will not work. Your research question must reflect your data gathering resources.
  • Time planning: You need to demonstrate an awareness of the need for planning and the timescale of the research.
  • Conclusion: Finally, conclude the research proposal by indicating how you envisage the contribution that your research will make to debates and discussions in your particular subject area.
  • Bibliography: You should include a short list of references to key articles and texts included in the application.

The research proposal is not only judged on content, it is also judged on form. It must be formatted, use correct grammar, spelling, syntax and punctuation. It should be between 4,000 – 8,000 words.

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Jul 29, 2013