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Your research proposal

The research proposal forms the core of the application to undertake an MPhil or PhD, as it is the main way in which we can assess you and your research ideas.

A typical proposal should include the following sections and the questions you should consider, in the order indicated.

The proposal should be no longer than 1500 words (not including references).


This section is a broad setting of the scene for your research and can therefore be relatively short:

  • What, in general, is the research about?
  • Why, in general terms, is it academically important or interesting?
  • What are the broad research questions your research is setting out to answer?

Literature review

This should be a substantial part of the proposal as it locates your proposed research in its theoretical and empirical context:

  • What other research has been conducted which has directly or indirectly attempted to address your research questions?
  • What is the theoretical basis of this research? How sound is this theoretical basis?
  • How has theory developed in this field? Where is it heading?
  • What methods have been used? What are the limitations of these methods?
  • What are the unanswered questions in the field? How can your work make a contribution to the field? What is original about what you want to do?

Clear statement of research questions

  • What are the questions you wish to address?
  • Why are they important and interesting?
  • How do they relate to the published literature discussed above?
  • Are your questions answerable?


  • What, in broad terms, are the data collection methods which are likely to be used?
  • What types of data should be collected?
  • How will this be done?
  • What are the problems of collecting these types of data?
  • How will access be gained to participants and organizations?
  • What kind of design will be use?
  • How many studies will be conducted, and why?
  • In what ways do the methods and design answer your research questions?


  • What, in general terms, will be done with the data you collect?
  • What kinds of analytical techniques is it likely you will use?
  • What are their limitations?
  • How will these analyses address and answer the research questions?


While it is difficult to specify with certainty the course of the research it is helpful to indicate how you see your work developing and the timescales involved.

For full-time PhD students, the maximum period for completion under normal circumstances is four years. It is seven years for part-time students.

Please note: It is possible to undertake an entirely theoretical PhD. In this case the structure of the proposal is likely to be different and should be discussed with the PhD Programme Director.

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