Writing a Research Thesis Proposal
What is the point of a PhD proposal?
The basic objectives of a proposal are to demonstrate that the research you want to do is:
- worth doing – i.e. there is a solid academic rationale for the project;
- feasible – i.e. you are capable of doing it with the resources and skills you currently have or can reasonably expect to acquire;
- properly designed. – i.e. the project has a suitable methodology and analytical/theoretical framework.
Research proposals must be concise and precise. They must show the reader what you want to do, why and how. A good research proposal will save you time and effort later in the research process. It will help you have a clear focus. It will also help you plan your work properly and locate source material in plenty of time.
Why do I have to write a research proposal as part of my application?
In the United Kingdom, PhD degrees are awarded purely on the basis of a thesis, written by the student under the tutelage of a supervisor or supervisors. There is no taught element of the PhD degree in the UK, unlike in some countries where taught elements of the programme are included in the assessment regime. When you apply to do a it is thus crucial for us to establish whether your proposal is likely to set out a research project that is capable of PhD standards.
Reading a proposal gives us a much better idea of what exactly a potential student wants to do, and whether and how we can help with their research project – particularly, whether we have members of staff with suitable expertise to supervise you. Writing such a proposal also obliges applicants to think seriously about their research project, and test whether their initial ideas are actually sustainable over a three or four year registration period.
What is expected in the research thesis proposal?
Your proposal must explicitly contain the following information:
- Title: A concise title is necessary at the end of the project
- Research rationale: What is the puzzle you want to explore? Why is it worth exploring? What value will it add to existing knowledge and scholarship?
- Aims: What exactly do you want to achieve? Why?
- Hypothesis: A testable claim or tentative solution to the research puzzle.
- Objectives of the study: lay out how you plan to accomplish your aims
- Research questions: questions whose answers will help you prove or falsify your hypothesis. These are the key issues you would investigate during your PhD.
- Theoretical framework: A statement and justification of the conceptual tool that you will use to analyse your evidence.
- Literature review
- Sources/Resources required: What evidence or data do you need to find?
- Methods: How will you get your evidence/data? How will you analyse it? Why is this the most appropriate way of gathering the evidence for your thesis?
- Ethics: Are there ethical problems with your proposed research strategy (e.g. acquisition and use of data issues; confidentiality; cultural issues; accountability)? How will you address them?
- Strategies for overcoming possible problems: Can you be sure you can get access to sufficient source material? If there are financial costs for your data collection, how will they be met? Do you need to travel outside university? How will you fund this? Do you need to access material in languages other than English? Is your project dependent on access to primary sources or particular material unavailable at university? If so, how will you get this information?
- Intended Structure of Dissertation: How do you intend to organise the dissertation? How many sections will it have? Why?
- Work schedule: A timeline of tasks that structures your work between completing the proposal and the date of submission.
- Brief outline of how the research adds to current knowledge
- Bibliography and references