How do I prepare a strong proposal?

Why do I need to do a research proposal?

The first step on a doctoral journey is to develop an initial idea for your research project. On most of our pathways, if you are applying directly to doctoral study, you will need to write an initial research proposal. Pathways vary. In some cases this can just be an outline plan, but it may need to be up to 2,500 words in length. Your ideas are likely to change over time and this will be an initial draft.

Don't be daunted by this task. It is your chance to show that you have a clear area or topic of research that fascinates you, that you are broadly familiar with the relevant literature and scholarly debates, and that you have a specific focus, issue or set of questions you wish to explore. You can also use this to demonstrate how your own personal experience or professional background provides you with an expertise you wish to develop in this area.

What should it include?

Your proposal should include a title and a short introduction/synopsis, a discussion of the relevant scholarly debates and literature, and a research question or hypothesis. This issue or question should emerge from your review of the literature. It should also include a rationale for the importance of this research topic - why does this area matter?

Your proposal should also indicate your proposed methodological approach. This will depend on the kind of research you envisage. If empirical research is planned, then please discuss the likely ‘data’ you wish to collect.

Remember that at this early stage these ideas are exploratory, and likely to develop and change once you are accepted. You may be invited to interview, and that will give you a chance to discuss your proposal further.

What does a good proposal look like?

Examples of strong research proposals are available here from Open University, along with broader information here about the doctoral student experience at Open, whilst Brunel also offers advice about writing strong proposals. Oxford also offers advice on research proposals under the ‘How to Apply’ sections of individual DPhil programme admissions pages, links to which can be found here. As requirements may vary between programmes, it is also recommended that you check individual departmental pages, as these may also offer advice on preparing research proposals. An example DPhil research proposal can be found here.

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