Research proposal application personal statement

Research proposal application personal statement

Your first challenge on the PhD journey is to prepare a successful application and research proposal. Assuming you have already decided the field of study and what research question you want to try to answer/ explore in the coming years then the next step is to identify which institutions to apply to.

There are three key things to consider – location, programme provision and supervision. Is the university located somewhere you can access? Do they run a research programme for your chosen field of study? And, Is there a potential supervisor with experience and knowledge in your field?

Next you need to narrow down your field of study to a title and a provisional research question. It would also be useful to have a 300-word summary at this stage because you may need to email it to a potential supervisor before you make a formal proposal and application.

When you have done this it will be time to prepare your research proposal and personal statement.

I can help you through this process:

  • Help identifying the right research programme
  • Assistance in formulating your title and research questions
  • Designing your proposed methodology
  • Writing/ editing your research proposal
  • Help with your personal statement

How to prepare a PhD research proposal

A research proposal is a project outline of around 3,000 words that is written as part of the process of applying to study for a PhD research degree. It will be used 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 tells the institution about the perspectives you intend to take on your research area, and helps them assess whether they can offer a suitable supervisor for your project.

The first thing to say on research proposals is that each institution has its own set of guidelines for the preparation of the proposal so you will need to study these closely. The tips that follow are general ones for a typical proposal.

Here are the elements (sections) that are found in nearly all of the proposal instructions I have seen.

  • Title: Make this clear and descriptive , you can amend it later
  • Abstract: An abstract should usually be no longer than a page, and provide a brief summary of what you are going to cover in your research proposal.
  • Context/ Background and Rationale:
  • Research Questions or Aims
  • Preliminary literature review – the current state of knowledge
  • Theoretical and methodological approach
  • Research Timetable
  • Preliminary Bibliography

The most typical length for a research proposal  in the UK is 3000 words but check your institution as I have also seen shorter ones (1500) as well as longer ones (5000)

Some universities prefer applicants to make contact with potential supervisors – perhaps sending them a short summary of your proposed research – before formally submitting the full proposal and other parts of the application.


Top tip: Before selecting the institution to send your proposal to, make sure there is a potential supervisor there. A little investigating online will reveal whether there is.

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