Department of History

Guidelines for writing a PhD research proposal

The research proposal is central to your application to undertake a PhD in the School of History, Art History and Philosophy (HAHP). As a description of your proposed topic, it should enable the selector to evaluate the scope and importance of your project. You should read the following guidelines carefully to ensure that your proposal includes the information we need to assess your application. The proposal should be up to 2,000 words in length, including a short bibliography.

If you are applying for a PhD at Sussex, you may need to write a research proposal. You do not need to write a research proposal if you are applying for a Masters.

If you are applying for a PhD, you should read the University's tips for applying for a PhD, including general guidance on writing a research proposal.

In addition, read the information below, which gives advice on how to write your research proposal specifically if you are applying for a PhD with the School of History, Art History and Philosophy.

Your research proposal for the School of History, Art History and Philosophy

The aim of the research proposal is to demonstrate that you have a project both worth doing and manageable within the timescale of the degree for which you are applying. Your project must make an original contribution to understanding in its field.  To make clear that your project is manageable within the relevant period, you also need to show that you understand the scale of the issues and problems you are addressing.

In order to do these things, your proposal should include:

a) Provisional Title

Be as concise and explicit as you can, including, where appropriate, dates.

b) 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.

c) Research background and questions

This section is for you to situate your project in the context of the existing scholarship on your topic of study. 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. What are the key texts and approaches to the topic? How does your proposal differ from these lines of argument? How does your project extend our understanding of particular questions or topics?

d) Research methods

This section should set out how you will achieve what you set out to do in Research background and questions. This will depend very much on your research topic. What sources will you use? In other words, 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? What forms of textual, historical or visual analysis are relevant to your topic or field? How will you set about answering your research questions?

e) Schedule of work

Use this section to show that you have a realistic plan for completion of the study within three to four years (full time). You need to think here about dividing the proposal into sections (not necessarily chapters at this stage) and giving an indication of how you plan to research and write up each section.

f) Bibliography

Include a 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 will others. 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.