Research proposal FAQs


Do I have to submit a research proposal with my application?

Yes. We cannot process an application without a proposal, since this is the tool we use to match up your application with a member of faculty to supervise your studies.

What advice can you give me on preparing a research proposal?

A research proposal is a project outline of around 3,000 words which you write as part of the application process. We use it to assess the quality and originality of your ideas, whether you are able to think critically and whether you have a grasp of the relevant literature. It also gives us important information about the perspectives you intend to take on your research area, and how you fit into the School's research profile overall. This is helpful when assigning a supervisor. We encourage you to discuss your proposal informally with a potential supervisor BEFORE making a formal application to ensure it is of mutual interest. Please note, however, that we cannot guarantee that we will be able to allocate you to the supervisor you initially contact and may allocate you to another expert in the area. You will not be forced to follow the proposal exactly once you have started to study. It is normal for students to refine their original proposal, in light of detailed literature review, further consideration of research approaches and comments received from the supervisors (and other academic staff).

What are the main pitfalls in writing research proposals?

We often have to reject students who meet the academic qualifications required but have not produced a satisfactory research proposal. Our advice is:

  • Make sure that your research idea, question or problem is very clearly stated and well grounded in academic research
  • Make sure that your proposal is well focused and conforms exactly to the submission requirements described here. Poorly specified or rambling proposals will not convince us that you have a clear idea of what you want to do.

What books might help in preparing my research proposal?

The following books are widely available from bookshops and libraries and may help in preparing your research proposal (as well as in doing your research degree):

  • Bell, J. (1999): Doing Your Research Project: A Guide for First-time Researchers in Education & Social Science, (Oxford University Press, Oxford).
  • Baxter, L, Hughes, C. and Tight, M. (2001): How to Research, (Open University Press, Milton Keynes).
  • Cryer, P. (2000): The Research Student's Guide to Success, (Open University, Milton Keynes).
  • Delamont, S., Atkinson, P. and Parry, O. (1997): Supervising the PhD, (Open University Press, Milton Keynes).
  • Philips, E. and Pugh, D. (2005): How to get a PhD: A Handbook for Students and their Supervisors, (Open University Press, Milton Keynes).