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School of Social Sciences

How to write a research proposal

A research proposal is an important part of your research degree application.

Your proposal should outline your project and be around 1,500 words (including references and bibliography). Follow this outline to make sure that your research proposal is sufficiently detailed and follows the right structure.

Title

Your research proposal should include a working title for your project.

Overview of the research

In this section you should provide a short overview of your research. You should also state how your research fits into the research priorities of your particular subject area.

Here you can refer to the research areas and priorities of a particular research grouping or supervisor. You must also state precisely why you have chosen to apply to the Discipline Area and how your research links into our overall profile.

Positioning of the research

This should reference the most important texts related to the research, demonstrate your understanding of the research issues, and identify existing gaps (both theoretical and practical) that the research is intended to address.

Research design and methodology

This section should identify the information that is necessary to carry out the analysis and the possible research techniques that could deliver the information.

References

Your research proposal will be used to assess the quality and originality of your ideas, whether you are able to think critically and whether you have a grasp of the relevant literature. It also gives us important information about the perspectives you intend to take on your research area, and how you fit into the department's research profile overall. This is helpful when assigning a supervisor.

If you are applying to study an Economics postgraduate research programme, our advice and requirements are slightly different:

Supervisors

We encourage you to discuss your proposal informally with a potential supervisor before making a formal application to ensure it is of mutual interest.

Please note that we cannot guarantee that we will be able to allocate you to the supervisor you initially contact and that we may allocate you to another expert in the area.

Flexibility

You will not be forced to follow the proposal exactly once you have started to study. It is normal for students to refine their original proposal, in light of detailed literature review, further consideration of research approaches and comments received from the supervisors (and other academic staff).

Pitfalls to avoid

We often have to reject students who meet the academic requirements but who have not produced a satisfactory research proposal.

  • Make sure that your research idea, question or problem is very clearly stated and well-grounded in academic research.
  • Make sure that your proposal is well focused and conforms exactly to the submission requirements described here.
  • Poorly specified, jargon-filled or rambling proposals will not convince us that you have a clear idea of what you want to do.

Example proposals

Further help

The following books may help you to prepare your research proposal (as well as in doing your research degree).

  • Bell, J. (1999): Doing Your Research Project: A Guide for First-time Researchers in Education & Social Science, (Oxford University Press, Oxford).
  • Baxter, L, Hughes, C. and Tight, M. (2001): How to Research, (Open University Press, Milton Keynes).
  • Cryer, P. (2000): The Research Student's Guide to Success, (Open University, Milton Keynes).
  • Delamont, S., Atkinson, P. and Parry, O. (1997): Supervising the PhD, (Open University Press, Milton Keynes).
  • Philips, E. and Pugh, D. (2005): How to get a PhD: A Handbook for Students and their Supervisors, (Open University Press, Milton Keynes).