Advice on writing a research proposal

The University of Manchester PhD application procedure allows you to submit both a ‘research proposal’ and a ‘personal statement’ (‘statement of purpose’) with your application. These documents will be taken into account when considering your application for a place and for funding. They may be submitted with your online application, or at a later date when you have made contact with a potential supervisor.

The research proposal may present an original idea that you would like to work on as a PhD student. Alternatively, it may present your own perspective of a PhD project that you have selected from our list. In either case, the research proposal should give your initial impression of the proposed PhD project, a methodology that you believe could be adopted and a brief explanation of why you consider the topic to be important and worth studying.

The personal statement should include any other information you consider relevant, including your reasons and motivation for applying. We would be very interested to know about any publications you have produced or are in the process of producing.
You may discuss your research proposal informally with a potential supervisor to ensure that it is of mutual interest. We use the proposal to assess the quality and originality of your ideas and whether you have a grasp of the relevant background that is sufficient to allow you to undertake the work. It also gives us important information about the perspectives you have on your proposed research area, and how you fit into the School’s research profile overall.
We do not specify a maximum or minimum length for the research proposal, but we would prefer it not to be in excess of 1500 words.

In writing a research proposal, you will not be committing yourself to its precise program or methodology. Once you have started to study, you will be able to refine the original proposal in the light of detailed literature review, further consideration of research approaches and comments received from the supervisors (and other academic staff).

To write a good research proposal, make sure that your ideas are clearly stated and well focused. Poorly specified or ‘rambling’ proposals will not convince us that you have a clear idea of what you want to do.
We suggest that your research proposal be structured as follows:

  • Title
  • Overview of the research - defining the research area and your current perspective of the aims and objectives of your proposed PhD project.
  • Positioning of the research - demonstrating your current understanding of the research issues being addressed and why they are important.
  • Research design & methodology - identifying the background information that is necessary to carry out the project and the research techniques that you believe could be adopted.
  • References
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