If you are applying for a research degree, you may need to submit a research proposal with your application. The proposal helps an academic school or department establish whether it has the expertise to support your proposed area of research study. It will also be used in assessing the overall quality of your application.

What is a research proposal?

A research proposal is a concise and coherent summary of your proposed research. It sets out the central issues or questions that you intend to address. It outlines the general area of study within which your research falls, referring to the current state of knowledge and any recent debates on the topic. It also demonstrates the originality of your proposed research.

The proposal is the most important document that you submit as part of the application process. It gives you an opportunity to demonstrate that you have the aptitude for graduate level research, by demonstrating that you have the ability to communicate complex ideas clearly, concisely and critically. The proposal also helps us to match your research interest with an appropriate supervisor.

A postgraduate research proposal should:

  • Clearly define the topic you’re interested in and show you understand your research area.
  • Show you have started to identify and develop an original and interesting research question.
  • Demonstrate you understand how to conduct research.
  • Look professional – it should be typed, in good English, well-structured with suitable headings and clear and legible.
  • Include a bibliography, listing the books, articles and websites you have referred to.

What should you include in the proposal?

A research proposal should be around 1000-2000 words, and can be based around the following sections, although you can alter these to suit your subject where appropriate.

Working title

A concise, accurate title which explains the focus of your proposed research clearly.


The introductory section serves to describe the general area within which the research is to be undertaken, to outline the manner in which the proposal is to be developed and, hopefully, to stimulate the reader’s interest.


  • A review of previous research relevant to this area.
  • Is the proposed research of any conceivable use to mankind, and if so, is it important enough to be worth the time and effort to be committed to it?
  • A statement of the research problem.


  • A simple statement of what the research is seeking to achieve. 
  • The aims should be fairly focused to demonstrate that you have narrowed down the topic to something that is both achievable and manageable.


  • Four or five bullet points of intended objectives to demonstrate an understanding of how the research aims will be met.

Literature review

In order to justify a piece of research you should be able to demonstrate a sufficient familiarity with other work in the subject area to persuade the reader that the proposal:

  • Will not duplicate work already done – unless, of course, the specific objective is to validate earlier research.
  • Is consistent in principle with the existing state of knowledge.
  • Will make a contribution to knowledge.


This section details how you intend to carry out the research.

  • What techniques and measurement procedures are to be used, the reasons for their selection, and the means of their implementation.
  • A discussion of the research strategy (general approach) to be adopted with appropriate justification including the analytical approach
  • The range of data that will be gathered from the research techniques and how this information will be analysed.


This section should cite all the materials used in the preparation of the proposal.

Can I contact a member of academic staff to comment on my draft proposal?

Research proposals are read by academics with an interest in your field of research. It is simple to contact members of academic staff informally in advance of your application in order to discuss the ideas you have for research. This will also often speed up the application process if you do then go on to submit an application for a research degree as there is space on the form to identify the member of academic staff you have already discussed your research with.

The University provides a database of academic staff profiles which you can search using key words to find appropriate staff members. You can then contact staff directly to discuss research opportunities. 

What happens if I am successful in gaining a place as a research degree candidate and the specifics of my proposal change?

You will not be obliged to adhere to the specifics of your proposal if you are offered a place as a research degree candidate, but as the proposal is the foundation of your working relationship with your prospective supervisors it cannot be altered without discussion and consultation with them. 

Please note that if your course requires a research proposal and you do not submit one, we will be unable to consider your application.