Guide to writing a research proposal
A crucial part of the MPhil/PhD application is presenting a clear and concise research proposal that should be between 500 and 1000 words (some schools require longer proposals).
Why is it important?
- It shows you have a good knowledge of the existing work and existing debates and have formulated specific questions which you wish to explore. It shows that you have a research idea which will lead to the creation of new knowledge and understanding.
- It helps us to see if we have an academic who can offer you supervision.
How to write a research proposal
Your research proposal should consist of the following elements.
- Be concise; key words are essential.
b. Background and rationale
- This section need to explain the background and issues of your proposed research – identify the discipline, summarise what you know of the existing literature and demonstrate how your background gives you competence to work on this subject.
c. Research question(s)
- Here you need to formulate your research question(s) clearly. Explain what problems or issues you wish to explore and why you wish to explore them.
d. Research methodology
- You should clarify the theoretical resources you will be drawing on and why.
- You should demonstrate your knowledge of the research problems and issues related to your research questions and their relevance and usefulness to your particular project.
- Explain the contribution made by existing scholars who have laid the groundwork for your research and explain what further issues are left to be developed by your research.
e. Methodology, or data and data collection
- This section is very important because it informs the research admissions committee how you plan to tackle your research problem. It is your work plan: how you intend to go about your research. It demonstrates that you have an awareness of the methodological tools available in your subject and that you have some understanding of which would be suitable for your research.
- You need to specify the approach you feel will be most appropriate:
- You could demonstrate knowledge of alternative research methods and make a case for which method you would like to use.
- You could discuss the collection of data: how you would collect it and how you would analyse it.
- You could use empirical surveys, interdisciplinary work, comparative analysis, etc.
- You could discuss practical issues: do you intend to undertake fieldwork, where and for how long.
- You should discuss how you would need access to organisations, documents, libraries, archives, labs.
- Do you need to consider ethical issues?
- You need to demonstrate an awareness of the need for planning and have a realistic idea of the proposed timescale.
- You should include a short list of references to key articles and texts within your statement.
What to avoid
- Broad topic areas that would be unmanageable as PhD topics.
- Vague descriptions of research area.
- Stating that 'no work has been done on a particular subject'.
- Subject areas where Birkbeck academics have no expertise.