School of English

Guidelines for applicants writing a research proposal

Your research proposal needs to clearly indicate the areas and scope of your proposed research project. You should tell us why you wish to explore this area and indicate some of the critical issues you’ve identified.


While applications can be considered at any time of the year, applicants who are seeking financial support from UK Research Councils, or other funding institutions should ideally begin the application process in the preceding autumn.

The school places considerable store on ensuring that proper supervision is available, and this can frequentlty involve discussion with applicants around the nature of their project.  Potential candidates may wish to contact the Director of Graduate Studies, Dr Pam Thurschwell ( about their topic before completing a formal application.

Guidelines for writing a proposal for your intended doctoral research project

Applicants for research degrees are asked to submit a thesis proposal.   The research proposal should include: 

1. Title 

Be as concise and explicit as you can. (And we know this is provisional!) 

2. Introduction 

Use this section to introduce the questions and issues central to your research. Identify the field of study in broad terms and indicate how you expect your research to intervene in the field. 

3. Research background and questions 

Use this section to expand your Introduction. What are the key texts and approaches in the field, and how does your proposal differ from existing lines of argument? What does your project contribute to existing work in the field? How does it extend our understanding of particular questions or topics? You need to set out your research questions as clearly as possible, explain problems that you want to explore and say why it is important to do so.

4. Proposed reearch methods and contexts

This section should set out how you intend to engage with your reearch topic:

  • Does your project involve archival sources, particular databases or specialist libraries?
  • Is your study interdisciplinary? 
  • What theoretical resources do you intend to use and why?
  • Is your research based on the work of a single author or a group of writers or texts? 
  • What forms of textual, historical or visual analysis are relevant to your topic/field? 

5. Schedule of work

Use this section to show that you have a realistic plan for completion of the study within three years of full-time study.

6. Bibliography  

Include an indicative bibliography, in a standard format such as Harvard, listing the books and articles to which you refer in the proposal.          

Some of these sections will be easier to write than others at this preliminary stage. The selectors who read your proposal know that it is a provisional statement and that your ideas, questions and approaches will change during the course of your research.

You should treat the proposal as an opportunity to show that you have begun to explore an important area of study and that you have a question, or questions, that challenge and develop that area. It is also necessary to demonstrate that you can express your ideas in clear and precise English, accessible to a non-specialist.