Research Proposal

Ph.D Research Proposal Format, Outline, and Sample

Writing a Good PhD Research Proposal

This article is for the people who need assistance in writing a research proposal for a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) applications.

What is a Research Proposal?

A research proposal is a coherent and concise summary of your proposed project and is designed in order to:

    • Explain a question, and suggest a possible solution.
    • Put an emphasis on its ingenuity, or importance.
    • Describe how it expands, builds on, or challenges the already existing literature.
    • Coax potential superintendents or financial lenders of the significance of the research, and why you’re the best individual to tackle it.

The length of a research proposal may vary, thereupon it’s beneficial to go through the procedure or application guidelines of the department(s) to which you’re applying. However, as a general rule, the length of a research proposal should be approximately 3,000 words.

What is the Research Proposal used for?

A research proposal is utilized by potential superintendents, administrative tutors, or financial lenders in order to evaluate the originality and standard of your work, ideas, skills, or abilities in critical thinking or reasoning, and to determine the feasibility of your research project.

It’s important to note that the approximate length of a Ph.D. program in the U.K. is three years (if you’re a full-time student) or six years (if you’re a part-time student), henceforth, think critically about the scope of your research project and be prepared to describe how you’ll be able to complete your research in the given time frame.

Additionally, research proposals are utilized to analyze your competence in the specified area you’re conducting your research in, your knowledge of the already existent literature in the field, and how your research work is going to improve it.

Furthermore, a research proposal is utilized to assign an appropriate supervision team. In case, you’re impressed or motivated by the work of a specific supervisor, and in case, you’ve already discussed your proposed work with this particular supervisor – don’t forget to state that in your research proposal.

We recommend you identify a potential supervisor, get in touch with him or her, discuss your work, and then write a formal application. In this way, you ensure that your proposed work is of mutual interest and that you’ve gained enough insight regarding the scope, design, and feasibility of your work.

However, keep in mind that it’s possible that you may not be assigned your desired supervisor or academic tutor, and that’s perfectly okay.

If you think about it in critical terms, then it’s an ideal opportunity for you to convey your passion in the field, and to state a persuasive claim regarding what your work can accomplish.

Although a research proposal follows a specific outline, it should be approached as a persuasive dissertation – that serves as an opportunity in order to gain the attention of your potential readers and to persuade them of the importance of your research.

How long should a Research Proposal be?

Fundamentally, the average time you must allocate to write your research proposal depends upon your experience or your command over the subject. However, the approximate time limit can be anywhere from a day (in case you’ve recently finished your MSc and you’re planning to convert your thesis into a Ph.D.) to a month (in case you’ve discovered a new field of interest and you’re willing to take a new career direction).

For instance, in case you’ve recently finished your MSc in a particular field, and you’re willing to develop your previous work, then your Ph.D. research proposal can serve as a natural progression of your MSc thesis – so, all you have to do now is to begin writing a conclusions section, a section where you’re required to state the findings of your study and recognize any new areas of research.

On the other hand, you have developed a completely different concept, and you may want to test it in a different setting, such as a different organization, or a different country, or with a different set of data. Hence, set some realistic goals.

Research Proposal Format

Before finalizing your research proposal, you must consider the following factors – as a guide but not a general rule:

    • Word count: 1500 – 2000 (excluding the Abstract, References and Bibliography section).
    • Number of references: 10 – 20 (recent journal papers or publications).
    • Read the relevant work of your desired supervisor, and include your thoughts on their work.

Research Proposal Outline & Sample

We suggest that you must check and confirm with your relevant department whether the following guidelines or the template works out for you. However, generally, a research proposal consists up of the following parts:

  • Title

The title may vary, however, ensure that you’ve used relevant, critical “keywords” in order to relate your research to potential supervisors, tutors, or financial lenders etcetera.  The title of your research proposal must give a clear indication of your approach towards the subject, and your key questions.

  • Overview of the research

Provide a brief overview of your research work, and where your work fits within the already existing literature or journals in the field. Be specific.

Additionally, critically link your research work to the department or the specific field in which you’re applying. Visit relevant websites. Read articles and journals. Find out about the current research trends in your department and identify how your work complements this.

In case you’re applying to multiple departments, or fields, ensure that your proposal is tailored according to the requirements of that particular department.

Develop a solid framework for your work, including:

      1. Research questions (generally, 1-3) and why exactly are you asking them.
      2. The approach you’re utilizing (theoretical, conceptual, normative or empirical) and your rationale.
      3. Importance of your research (academic, or may relate to other fields).
  • The positioning of the research (approx. 900 words)

Here, describe the texts significant to your work, showcase your comprehension of the issue, and recognize theoretical or practical gaps that you intend to deal with.

This section is developed in order to “sign-post” or investigate your research questions and is not intended to provide a detailed evaluation of already existing data.

  • Research design & methodology (approx. 900 words)

Clearly, describe the way in which you’re going to structure your research. Also, describe the methods you’ll utilize. A general research design includes:

      1. Parameters of your research (or define your subject matter).
      2. Discuss your overall approach (theoretical, empirical, conceptual etcetera)
      3. Describe your rationale in regards to your selected approach.
      4. Objectives or goals of your research.
      5. State the timeline of your research work.

A well-planned, well-organized methodology section serves as an important part of your research, specifically in case you’re conducting empirical research. Also, include particular techniques you’ve utilized. This includes:

      1. Types of resources.
      2. Methods of data collection.
      3. Methods of data evaluation.
      4. Specific techniques such as semi-structured interviewing, statistical analysis or observation.
  • References

Utilize your references section to showcase your grasp or understanding of the subject matter, and specifically to demonstrate how you’ll be able to contribute to the betterment of your field.

Keep in mind that it’s not just a mere bibliography, where you can add “anything” written on the subject. Instead, critically link your research to the utilized reference

you can also read about research proposal example for Chemical engineering and chemistry 

Possible Pitfalls in Writing your first Research Proposal

A lot of students fail to be recognized as a potential Ph.D. candidate, just because they’re identified as being weak in the subject matter. In order to avoid this, consider the following advice:

    • Ensure that your idea, research questions, or your issue is properly and concisely state, and that it’s persuasive, and that it addresses a gap in the already existent literature. Take your time.
    • Ensure that the department you’re applying to has a staff that’s actually interested in your work, and is able to supervise you accordingly. It’s better to contact a potential supervisor beforehand and have him read a well-structured copy of your research proposal.
    • Ensure that your research proposal is well-written, well-structured, and well-organized. Poorly written or organized structure indicate that the actual research may go poorly, or eventually fail.
    • Ensure that you’ll be able to complete your research work in the given timeframe since departments tend to note this beforehand.
    • Ensure that your passion for the particular area of the study shows in your proposal. It’s completely up to you to make it look and appear as acceptable as possible.


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