How to write a research proposal

If you decide to apply for a research project, you will need to write a research proposal, which will form part of your MPhil/PhD application. Before creating your research proposal, we suggest that you read about the application process for MPhils/PhDs at Derby.

Planning your research proposal

Before applying to study an MPhil/PhD, you should review the critical literature in your subject area and specifically in your topic of interest. You should have a clear understanding of the current questions within your chosen topic; from this, you can identify the research question you want to investigate.

Speak to a supervisor

We recommend that you speak to a potential supervisor before creating your research proposal. The supervisor will be able to provide initial feedback on whether your research interests align with research at our University. Also, they can tell you if there are additional requirements, specific to their College, that need to be added into the research proposal template we’ve outlined below.

To search for a supervisor, take a look at our list of researchers, Colleges or our Research Centres and Groups.

To check if there are college-specific requirements for your research proposal, you can contact the Chair of the relevant College Research Committee:

Creating your research proposal

When you have identified a potential research question, you need to prepare an outline research proposal, which should be a maximum of 1,000 words. This should consist of:

  • Title: recognising that this may change should the research project progress
  • Context: a brief overview of the general area of study within which your proposed research falls, summarising the current state of knowledge and recent debates on the topic
  • Initial research questions: the central aim and questions that will guide your research
  • Research methods: outline of how you are going to conduct your research, for example, by visiting libraries or archives, by conducting field work or interviews etc
  • Research significance: demonstrate the originality of your intended research
  • A bibliography (maximum of six references)

The proposal is not fixed and may change after discussion with your potential supervisory team and as your research develops.

You should also prepare a personal statement (maximum 500 words) indicating:

  • Why you are interested in undertaking a research degree
  • Why you are passionate about the subject area of the proposed research project
  • Why you want to undertake your studies at the University of Derby