How to Write a Ph.D. Research Proposal

A research proposal is a document written to seek approval for intended research for your academic work. The proposal serves as the skeleton of your work. It suggests the intended topic, outlines the research questions, objectives, and why you believe it is relevant to your field of study. The proposal also states the methodology to be used for the main research, expected findings, and duration for the work.

Importance of a research proposal?

The Ph.D. research proposal serves different purposes including

  • Testing the student/researcher’s knowledge on the chosen topic and whether he/she can explore it.
  • Enables the supervisor to determine whether the research is in line with the university’s guidance or has the capacity to support you.
  • If you would need funding or grants for your work, the proposal enables donors to determine the viability of the research.

What’s the of a Ph.D. research proposal

The length or word count of your Ph.D. research proposal may depend on the requirements of your university or department. Most universities give a specific number of words your proposal should fall within. Some range from 2000 to 3500 or by pages with specific fonts. If you are in doubt, seek clarification from your supervisor.

Steps to writing your Ph.D. Research Proposal

  1. Title

The title is one of the most important parts of your proposal. It should be clear and not ambiguous. It should also give a clue to your research question. 

  1. Abstract

The abstract summarises what your proposal entails. It should state the relevance of your work, your research question, and the procedure you would use to attain your findings.

  1. Literature review

The literature review of your proposal summarises previous works or existing knowledge on your field of research. It comprises the existing theories, models of work, gaps in them, and identify potential areas needing further research. The literature review must prove the relevance of your research to your field of study. In case you are seeking funding, it must convince your potential donors about the viability of the research.

  1. Research Aims & Objectives

Before embarking on every research, you should have an aim and objectives you seek to achieve. The aim stipulates the problems you intend to solve, while the objectives are the steps to be taken to achieve those aims. When stating your aims and objectives, you can also outline the relevance of the research.

  1. Research design and methodology

As you go about your research design, you can follow this structure:

  • Sample/Population 
    How broad is your research sample or target audience you seek to use? This should be discussed in the proposal.
  • Method
    Which research method are you using to achieve your intended findings? It is workable and have you access its potentials.
  • Data collection
    What type of data are you using and how will you collect and validate them. What limitations are you expecting to encounter?
  • Data Analysis
    After collecting your data, how are you going to process them to fit into your research?
  • Ethical Considerations 
    Does your research has any ethical issue considering the approach you would use in collecting and processing the data? If yes, how are you going to address its implications?
  1. Time table

This can be done chapter by chapter or for the entire project. If you are considering chapter by chapter, try to project the time frame for the completion of each section. In deciding the time, please consider all the various stages you will go through to complete the chapter.

  1. Bibliography

Refereeing is critical when it comes to academic work. A proper referencing save the author from being accused of plagiarism. As such, you need to cite every work you used in your research proposal. That said, every university has an adopted referencing style so make sure you go by the guidelines of the institution.


Your research proposal must outline why you seek to explore the chosen topic and procedures to be used. It takes the format of the main Ph.D. dissertation but with limited information. A good proposal makes your main research work easier as it serves as a prelude. You can later build on it by adding more information.

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