Frequently Asked Questions

Apparently, I have to write a research proposal.  What do I need to do?


The main purpose of a research proposal is to show that the problem you propose to investigate is significant enough to warrant the investigation, the method you plan to use is suitable and feasible, and the results are likely to prove fruitful and will make an original contribution. In short, what you are answering is 'will it work?'

The level of sophistication or amount of detail included in your proposal will depend on the stage you are at with your PhD and the requirements of your department and University.

  • In initial stages, the document you need to write will probably be three to five pages long. It will give a general idea of what you are proposing to do but it isn't a binding contract. Often it serves as a starting point for discussions with your supervisor to firm up the topic, methodology and mechanics of your research.

  • Some of you will be required to write a proposal at the time of confirming your candidature (usually at the end of the first year). In some instances, this is a document of four to five pages and may be viewed as a mere formality. In other cases a much more substantial document of 30 - 40 pages is expected. Therefore it is essential for you to check the requirements with your department.
Regardless of the above distinctions you should never see writing a proposal as a worthless chore. Indeed, if it isn't formally required, it is a very good idea to write one anyway. You can use it to your advantage. It always forces you to think about your topic, to see the scope of your research, and to review the suitability of your methodology. Having something in writing also gives an opportunity to your supervisor to judge the feasibility of the project (whether it is possible to finish in time, costs, the equipment needed and other practicalities, time needed for supervision), to assess its likelihood of success, and its ability to meet the academic standard required of a PhD thesis.

While there are no hard and fast rules governing the structure of a proposal, a typical one would include: aims and objectives, significance, review of previous research in the area showing the need for conducting the proposed research, proposed methods, expected outcomes and their importance. In experimentally based research it often includes detailed requirements for equipment, materials, field trips, technical assistance and an estimation of the costs. It could also include an approximate time by which each stage is to be completed.

* Finding, formulating and exploring your topic.
* Designing and planning your research.
* Writing a proposal.
* Some writing tips.


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