How to Write a Winning PhD Research Proposal

Writing a PhD research proposal could be a challenge for many PhD applicants. With fierce competition for PhD places, your research proposal could be all that you need to stand out. This is why you should learn how to write a PhD research proposal all by yourself.

So, if you have been asking “How do I write a research proposal for PhD? we’ll show you the complete guide to writing a winning PhD research proposal. However, before you we delve into how to write a PhD proposal, it’s important to understand the following.


What is a PhD Research Proposal?

A research proposal is a document of around 3000-4000 words which clearly defines the research that you are going to undertake. It clearly explains how your research will add to, develop or challenge existing literature in your field of study.

Majority of the universities require PhD applicants to submit a research proposal when applying for a PhD position. In fact, research proposals are used to persuade potential supervisor and/or funders of the importance of the work, and why you are the right candidate to undertake it.

Why Do You Need A Research Proposal?

Apart from being an essential requirement for admission, a research proposal helps your potential supervisors to better understand your ideas, your skills in critical thinking and the feasibility of the research project. In addition to this, a research proposal is also an effective tool that can help you to structure your thinking and outline the path you would like to follow during your PhD studies.

Before writing, think carefully about the scope of your research and be prepared to explain how you will complete it within the specified timeframe. Remember, PhD programmes are designed to be completed in three years (full time) or six years (part-time).

Structure of a Research Proposal

Before you start writing your proposal, check the website of the university that you are applying for. Many universities provide a specific template and guidelines on writing research proposals. This will help you to structure your proposal and meet the requirements of a specific university.

What Should I Include In A Research Proposal?

Regardless of university-specific requirements, most of the research proposals usually include:

Title and Abstract

There some cases where the title is provided by the university. However, applicants are expected to provide a preliminary title which will be further elaborated in the process of thesis writing. Your title should also give a clear indication of your proposed research approach or key question.

You should also provide an abstract that is not longer than a page. Also, provide a brief summary of what you are going to cover in your research proposal.

Aims and Objectives

This is a short summary of what you stand to achieve at the end of your research. Your aim should be two or three broad statements that emphasise what you ultimately want to achieve.

Literature Review

The literature review section discusses the most important theories, models and texts that surround and influence your research questions, conveying your understanding and awareness of the key issues and debates.

Your literature should focus on the theoretical and practical knowledge gaps that your work aims to address as this ultimately justifies and provides the motivation for your project.


In this section, you’ll need to outline how you’ll answer each of your research questions. The research methodology identifies the data collection and analytical techniques available to you. You’ll also need to define the population that you intend to examine.

You should also show that you’re aware of the limitations of your research, qualifying the parameters that you plan to introduce. Remember, it’s more impressive to do a fantastic job of exploring a narrower topic than a decent job of exploring a wider one.

Plan of Work and Time Schedule

Following on from your methodology, your time schedule should include an outline of the various stages and corresponding timelines for developing and implementing the research, including writing up your thesis.

This helps the reader to evaluate the feasibility of your project and shows that you’ve considered how you’ll go about putting the PhD proposal into practice.


Finally, at the end of your proposal, provide a list of references to key articles and texts discussed within your research proposal. It’s important to select those sources appropriate to the research proposal.

Proofread Before Submitting

Before submitting your proposal along with your PhD application, ensure to proofread and adhere to the research proposal format.

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