Preparing your research proposal

When you apply for a place you’ll need to submit a research proposal. Your proposal will be judged on two principal criteria:

  • Whether we can offer supervision in the area you wish to study
  • Evidence that your research is likely to be original (essential for PhD applications) and feasible to undertake.

Comprehensive help can be found in our Research Proposal Guidance Brochure .

Writing your proposal

There is no set formula for your research proposal in terms of length or what you include in it. However we prefer proposals of 2,000-2,500 words and it is quality not quantity that counts to demonstrate that you have a clear and concise way of thinking. Your proposal should explain your project, establish its importance, and set out how you are going to complete it in the time allowed. The strongest proposals are likely to contain the following:

  • Background – You should establish the context to, and rationale for, your research based on a reading of the relevant academic and/or practitioner literature. Where possible, cite relevant authors and studies, and explain how this research builds on your previous academic work or professional experience. You should discuss the intellectual importance of your work, its contribution to your subject area, and its originality, which, in time, form three of the four main criteria for assessing your PhD.
  • Aims and objectives – Set out your terms of reference clearly and precisely. These may cover what you intend to achieve by the research in general and, more specifically, how the research fits the background and the outcomes from the project.
  • Methods and techniques – Explain how your approach to collecting and analysing information will help you satisfy your aims and objectives. Potential data collection methods and possible analytical techniques give a sense of the direction of the research. Explain the choices behind case study organisations or locations, as well as sampling strategies or particular computer-based techniques.
  • Project management – You don’t need to produce a detailed time plan because research projects evolve. However, it is extremely useful to explain in general terms what you are proposing to do, and when, in order to get a sense of the scale of the task. This is especially important if you are proposing to undertake case study work or fieldwork.
  • Ethics – Almost inevitably your research will raise some ethical issues and you should aspire to conduct your research with the highest ethical standards.
  • Health and safety – All types of research have implications for health and safety, albeit some types of work are more risky than others. Where appropriate your proposal should seek to identify any issues and explain how you may address them.
  • References – Please enter a reference list using Harvard Notation. It is useful for potential supervisors to better understand the breadth and depth of your reading to date.
  • Appendices – These are a useful way of including additional supporting material while keeping the main body of the proposal succinct.

Contact us

Contact us to discuss matching you with a potential supervisor: UEMS-graduateresearch@exeter.ac.uk