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Some Schools and Departments may require you to write an outline research proposal and submit this with your application to study for a PhD or MPhil. The content and structure of the proposal will inevitably vary depending on the discipline area and the nature of the project you wish to pursue. In some cases you may be provided with some guidance in terms of what information should be included in the proposal and, if this is the case, you should read this carefully and follow it. However, where this is not the case, the general guidance, and suggested headings, provided here should help you to structure and present your ideas clearly in your proposal.
Your overall aim is to produce a research proposal that is clear and coherent in every respect. You should therefore avoid the use of overly long sentences and of technical jargon. It is important that the proposed research is realistic and feasible so that the outcomes can be achieved within the scale of a typical research degree programme, which is typically three years full-time for a PhD (or two years for an MPhil). Although you should write the proposal yourself, it is best if you discuss its contents with your proposed supervisor before you submit it.
Your research question
For most projects there is usually one main question that you would like to address, which can sometimes be broken down into several sub-questions. You will need to state your main research question(s), explain its significance, and locate it within the relevant literature (remembering to refer only to research that is directly relevant to your proposal). You will probably need to address questions such as;
• What is the general area in which you will be working and the specific aspect(s) of that area that will be your focus on inquiry?
• What is the problem, shortcoming, or gap in this area that you would like to address?
• What is the main research question or aim that you want to address?
You will need to explain how you will go about answering your question (or achieving your aim), and why you will use your intended approach to address the question / aim. Questions you might need to cover include:
• What steps will you take and what methods will you use to address your question?
• How will your proposed method provide a reliable answer to your question?
• What sources / data will you use?
• If your project involves an experimental approach, what specific hypothesis or hypotheses will you address?
• What specific techniques will you use to test the hypothesis, such as laboratory procedures, interviews, questionnaires, modelling, simulation, text analysis, use of secondary data sources, etc.
• What practical considerations are there; for example, what equipment, facilities, and other resources will be required?
• What relevant skills / experience do you have with the proposed methods?
• Will you need to collaborate with other researchers / organisations?
• Are there particular ethical issues that will need to be considered (for example, all projects using human participants require ethical approval)?
• Are there any potential problems / difficulties that you foresee (for example, delays in gaining access to special populations or materials) that might affect your rate of progress?