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
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.
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.
- 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.
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.