PhD Research Proposal Guideline - Student Aid Community
PhD Research Proposal Guideline - Student Aid Community (credit:

Are you a PhD student or thinking of becoming a PhD student?

A crucial part of the PhD application is the research proposal. It is one of the key criteria that University (school) uses to differentiate between applicants and make decisions on whether to make offers of acceptance onto the doctoral programme. This article provides guidance on how to write a research proposal, with a few suggestions on what to include and what to avoid. Anyone wishing to apply for an MPhil should follow the process outlined below, albeit this is a 1 year project (with a second year for writing up if necessary).

To begin with, in drawing up a research proposal, you need to make sure that the specialist area you wish to study is covered by a member(s) of academic staff within university you choose to study for PhD. You can do this by checking individual staff profiles through university website

What is a PhD Proposal?

A PhD proposal is an outline of your proposed research that is designed to:

  • Formulate and define a clear, interesting research question; this may take the form of a hypothesis to be tested, or a open-ended enquiry.


  • Establish the relevance and value of the proposed research question in the context of current academic thinking, highlighting its originality and significance.


  • Outline a clear and practical methodology which enables you to answer the research question, and to describe and evaluate any data or source material you will draw upon.


  • Suggest what you hope to discover at the end of your research and what new areas it might open up.


  • Provide a provisional timeline of your research.


Most of the University prefer a PhD research proposal of between 2,000 and 2,000 words in length (not counting abstract and references). Before making your final application is likely that you will need to revise your proposal several times, to ensure that it is clearly written, well structured, presents a good review of existing literature, outlines the methodology to be used, and explains the significance of your proposed research.

What is the PhD Research Proposal For?

Institution (university) and potential supervisors use research proposals to assess the quality and originality of your ideas, your skills in critical thinking and the feasibility of the research project. Research proposals are also used to assess your expertise in the area in which you want to conduct research, your knowledge of the existing literature and how your proposed project will enhance it. Moreover, they are used to assess and assign appropriate supervision teams.

It is important to remember that a PhD is a 3 year project (plus 1 additional year for writing up if necessary) or in some cases (if accepted on a part-time basis) a 5 year project (plus 2 additional years for writing up if necessary).


Structuring a PhD Research Proposal

A generic PhD proposal structure could include:

  • Title Page – a working title of your proposed research; this may not be the finalized title of your research project, but must show that you have thought through what you are hoping to achieve


  • Abstract – a brief overview of the general area of study (approximately 300 words) summarizing what? why and how? you are proposing to undertake within the research
  • Literature Review – you should develop your proposal to demonstrate that you are aware of the important issues, themes and debates in the relevant literature, identifying existing gaps (both theoretical and practical). You must refer to key articles and texts and briefly show that you understand how they are relevant to your research area. A PhD is an original piece of work and so you should demonstrate that your proposed area has not been studied before.


  • Key Research Questions – in this section you need to outline the aims and objectives of the research. What are the key questions you’re research will be focusing on and seeking to answer? If you have a hypothesis, what is it?


  • Methodology – you need to explain what methods of investigation you are planning to utilise within the research (whether quantitative or qualitative or both), providing some justification for why they are most appropriate, and the limits and potential you envisage


  • Timeline/Research Planning – an outline of the timescale of the research, indicating how long different tasks are envisaged to take, and the sequence of the project in the time available


  • References – you need to include a list of references to key articles and texts that are both cited within the research proposal and provided as a bibliography at the end of the proposal. Within the proposal you should utilize the Harvard referencing standard, with the author’s last name followed by the year of publication in brackets, for example (Darlington, 2013); the bibliography should include the full reference stating the author, title, journal/book details, publisher, year and page numbers where relevant.

READ ALSO: Effective Habits for Effective Study

Laymen approach to form a Good PhD Research Topic

I have heard students asking around that, “Do you have a Research Topic?” He does not really now the best research topic for himself to the extend he ask Google and choose topic that is not interested him , My advice to you as you are planning to become a PhD student, before dedicate all your energy to research proposal, try and answer the following questions. It might give you the ability to come up with a good research topic.

  1. What problem am I willing to solve?
  2. Who is going to benefit?
  3. Do I have what it take to solve this problem?
  4. How would I solve it?

Upon answering the above questions, you have a topic and research proposal has been structured in layman language, the next changing it to the language that university and your propose supervisor will understanding.

When answering the above questions be conscious of the following;

  1. Don’t choose something too broad: your research must be achievable. Your project might feel like it’s going to last a long time, but be aware of how long different aspects of your research might take. You won’t be able to answer every question about the topic, or look into every single aspect of a subject.
  2. Don’t choose something vague: your proposal needs to be as defined as possible, as a proposal which is too vague will look like you haven’t thought it through.
  • Is there enough University expertise? Make sure there’s somebody available to supervise your research. Don’t propose to study a topic if there isn’t a suitable supervisor within the School/University!
  1. Make sure you find it interesting: be sure to choose something you are truly interested in and passionate about. You’ll spend an awful lot of time studying it, so you must be committed to the topic.

In conclusion, whenever you want to quite during research proposal preparation or PhD programme, go back and look at your answer to the questions above. Believe me, it give you inner strength to carry on when discouragement roll over. As you are willing to become a PhD student, I wish you all the best but remember is not about the certificate or title (Dr.) it should be about impacting live. Give it all your energy and make a world a better place.



Thank you

Student Aid Community

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