Writing your research proposal

Your proposal is your chance to tell us why you want to study your PhD at Sussex. Follow our guide to making your research proposal as strong as possible.


Learn how to:


Your research proposal

If you are proposing your own area of research, you need to decide on a research topic and write a research proposal as part of your application.

If you are applying for a place on a funded project at Sussex you must write a specific statement as to why you are the right person for the project.

If you are proposing your own area of research, see our guidance for writing a research proposal below:


Writing your research proposal

You must contact the relevant academic department before applying to Sussex and check if there are any additional requirements for your research proposal. 

It is also a good idea to plan your research proposal in advance.

You should:

  • set out some questions that you want your proposal to answer
  • break down your research proposal into sections, so the content is easier to manage 
  • make detailed notes to help you when you come to writing the real thing.

What makes a strong research proposal? 

A strong research proposal:

  • formulates a precise, interesting research question
  • establishes the relevance and value of the proposed research question in the context of current academic thinking
  • describes and evaluates the data or source material your research requires
  • outlines a clear and practical methodology, which enables you to answer the research question
  • states clearly what you hope to discover at the end of your research and what new areas it might open up.


So that you are fully prepared, we have provided advice to help guide you through the writing process. To see the advice, find the subject area relevant to your research proposal below:

    • Business, Management and Economics

      Length: approximately 8-10 pages, plus title pages and bibliography

      Your research proposal should include the following sections:

      Introduction

      You should:

      • include a short summary of the central question behind your research
      • explain the background of your proposed project 
      • describe the expected outcome of your project.

      Thesis statement

      Write a summary of your overarching research question and include: 

      • why your research area is of academic and practical interest
      • how your research builds on existing work
      • what has inspired you to pursue your area of research
      • your knowledge of the research area.


      Literature review

      You must show you have the ability to review current research (literature and papers) within your field of study. Your literature review should demonstrate that your research question is relevant, you are aware of the work of others in your field, and how your research will contribute new findings to the subject area.

      Theoretical Framework

      The theoretical framework provides the rationale behind your research proposal. You must provide a critical review of existing theories, which are closely related to your research topic. Show how these theories frame your research questions and the overall structure of your research proposal.

      Methodology

      You must show how you will carry out the research and analyse your findings. Include potential sources, how data will be collected, and any difficulties there may be in conducting your research.

      Ethical considerations

      Outline any ethical concerns which arise from your research topic or your proposed methods. Read the existing codes of conduct in the social sciences before writing this part of your research proposal. 

      Bibliography

      List the sources you have used in your literature review and any potential sources you may use for your research. 

      For more information visit the School of Business, Management and Economics.

    • Education and Social Work

      Your research proposal should describe what you want to research, why it is important to the field, and how you plan to conduct your study.

      Title

      You must provide a working title for your research, this is likely to change over time, but provides a good starting point for your proposal.

      Introduction

      Write a summary of the overarching research question and include: 

      • why the subject is important to you 
      • how it is an important area of research for the field
      • how your research will contribute to our knowledge and understanding.


      Background

      Describe the purpose of your study and your goals for your research. Explain how your proposed research relates to existing work in the field, and how it will contribute new findings to research.

      Methodology

      Show how you plan to carry out your research. 

      Include: 

      • participant observation
      • analysis
      • interviews
      • questionnaires.


      Timetable

      Provide a timeline, including the time it takes to analyse your data and write your final thesis.

      Bibliography

      Include citations for texts you have used to support your arguments and provide a bibliography at the end of your research proposal. 

      For more information visit the School of Education and Social Work.

    • Engineering and Informatics

      Length: 2,000 words 

      You should identify which research group you want to work with and check that we can support your area of research before writing your research proposal. 

      Your research proposal should include: 

      • your interest in the particular research area and the topic you want to study
      • the specific research questions you want to investigate
      • your knowledge of the subject and relevant research literature you have read 
      • the methods and techniques you will use for your research
      • explain your motivation for applying for a PhD degree and outline your career aspirations.  


      For more information visit the School of Engineering and Informatics.

    • English

      Your research proposal should include the following sections:

      Title

      You must provide a working title for your research, this is likely to change over time, but provides a good starting point for your proposal.

      Introduction

      You should introduce the questions and issues central to your research and explain how your research will benefit the field.

      Research background

      Expand on the information you have given in your introduction and try to answer the following questions:

      • what are the key texts already existing in your field?
      • how does your proposal differ from existing research?
      • what will your project contribute to existing work in the field? 
      • how does your project expand our understanding and knowledge of the subject?


      You must set out your research questions as clearly as possible and explain the problems you want to explore.

      Research methods

      Show how you plan to carry out your research: 

      • does your project involve archives, databases or specialist libraries? 
      • is your study interdisciplinary? 
      • what are the theoretical resources you intend to use and why? 
      • is your research based on a single author or a group of writers and texts?


      Timetable

      Set out your timescale for completing your study.You need to think about dividing your research into sections and indicate how you plan to write up each section. 

      Bibliography

      Include a bibliography, which lists the books and articles, you have referred to in the proposal. 

      For more information visit the School of English.

    • Global Studies

      Length: 1,000 to 2,000 words 

      Your research proposal should include the following sections:

      Introduction

      Include a short summary of your central question. You should tell us what you are attempting to research and why it is significant.

      Thesis statement and literature review

      Explain the subject matter of your project, and why you think the issues raised are important. You should also show us you are familiar with texts in the field, and can show how your research area is relevant, and in context to current academic thinking.

      You must explain how your proposed project is original and will increase our understanding of the subject matter. 

      You must state clearly what you hope to discover at the end of your research. 

      Theoretical framework

      The theoretical framework provides the rationale behind your research proposal. You must provide a critical review of existing theories, which are closely related to your research topic. Show how these theories frame your research questions and the overall structure of your research proposal.

      Methodology

      Show how you plan to carry out your research and how you will analyse the findings.

      Ethical considerations

      Outline any ethical concerns which arise from either your research topic or your proposed methods of collating data.

      Bibliography

      List the sources you have used in your literature review and point to potential sources for your research. 

      For more information visit the School of Global Studies.

    • History, Art History and Philosophy

      Length: 2,000 words 

      Your research proposal should include the following sections:

      Title 

      You must provide a working title for your research, this is likely to change over time, but provides a good starting point for your proposal.

      Introduction

      You should introduce the questions and issues central to your research and explain how your research will benefit the field.

      Research background

      Expand on the information you have given in your introduction and try to answer the following questions:

      • what are the key texts already existing in your field?
      • how does your proposal differ from existing research?
      • what will your project contribute to existing work in the field? 
      • how does your project expand our understanding and knowledge of the subject?


      You must set out your research questions as clearly as possible and explain the problems you want to explore. 

      Research methods

      Show how you plan to carry out your research: 

      • does your project involve archives, databases or specialist libraries? 
      • is your study interdisciplinary? 
      • what are the theoretical resources you intend to use and why? 
      • is your research based on a single author or a group of writers and texts?


      Timetable

      Set out your timescale for completing your study.You need to think about dividing your research into sections and indicate how you plan to write up each section. 

      Bibliography

      Include a bibliography, which lists the books and articles, you have referred to in the proposal. 

      For more information visit the School of History, Art History and Philosophy.

    • Law, Politics and Sociology

      Length: 3,000 to 4,000 words 

      Your research proposal should include the following sections:

      Introduction 

      You should:

      • include a short summary of the central question behind your research
      • explain the background of your proposed project 
      • describe the expected outcome of your project.

      Thesis statement 

      Write a summary of your overarching research question and include: 

      • why your research area is of academic and practical interest
      • how your research builds on existing work
      • what has inspired you to pursue your area of research
      • your knowledge of the research area.


      Literature review 

      You must show you have the ability to review current research (literature and papers) within your field of study. Your literature review should demonstrate that your research question is relevant, you are aware of the work of others in your field, and how your research will contribute new findings to the subject area.

      Theoretical Framework

      The theoretical framework provides the rationale behind your research proposal. You must provide a critical review of existing theories, which are closely related to your research topic. Show how these theories frame your research questions and the overall structure of your research proposal.

      Methodology

      You must show how you will carry out the research and analyse your findings. Include potential sources, how data will be collected, and any difficulties there may be in conducting your research.

      Ethical considerations

      Outline any ethical concerns which arise from your research topic or your proposed methods. Read the existing codes of conduct in the social sciences before writing this part of your research proposal. 

      Bibliography

      List the sources you have used in your literature review and any potential sources you may use for your research. 

      For more information visit the School of Law, Politics and Sociology.

    • Life Sciences

      Length: 2,000 words.

      You should identify which research group you want to work with and check that we can support your area of research before writing your research proposal. 

      Your research proposal should include: 

      • your interest in the particular research area and the topic you want to study
      • the specific research questions you want to investigate
      • your knowledge of the subject and relevant research literature you have read 
      • the methods and techniques you will use for your research
      • explain your motivation for applying for a PhD degree and outline your career aspirations. 


      For more information visit the School of Life Sciences.

    • Mathematics and Physical Sciences

      Length: 1,500 - 2,000 words 

      You should either: 

      • write a new research proposal 
      • write a general personal statement, which describes a broad topic of interest to you and how your areas of academic strength would benefit the topic
      • write a specific personal statement, which shows us why you are the right person for one of our advertised research projects.


      You should:

      • explain your interest in the research area and your motivation for carrying out the research
      • describe the questions you want to investigate, including references to research literature 
      • show which methods and techniques you will use to achieve your aims. 


      If you are applying for an advertised research project you should tell us:

      • which project or PhD scholarship you want to be considered for in the financial information section 
      • if you have another way of funding your studies if we are unable to offer you a place on a funded project 
      • the name of your sponsor, if you will be funded by a third party.


      For more information visit the School of Mathematics and Physical Sciences.

    • Media, Film and Music

      Length: 1,500 to 2,000 words (not including bibliography)

      Your research proposal should include the following sections: 

      Title 

      You must provide a working title for your research, this is likely to change over time, but provides a good starting point for your proposal.

      Brief abstract

      You must write a 50 to 80 word summary of your research question.

      Background

      Indicate why you think your research will be an original contribution to the knowledge and understanding of the subject area, and why you think your research matters.

      Identify key research questions

      Present three main research questions and describe what the questions are, why they are important, and how you will answer them. 

      Theoretical framework

      The theoretical framework provides the rationale behind your research proposal. You must provide a critical review of existing theories, which are closely related to your research topic. Show how these theories frame your research questions and the overall structure of your research proposal.

      Methodology

      Show us how you intend to achieve your research aims and outcomes and how you will answer your research questions. 

      Bibliography

      List the texts, videos or online resources you have used.

      For more information visit the School of Media, Film and Music.

    • Psychology

      Length: 1,000 to 1,500 words

      Your research proposal should contain the following sections: 

      Introduction

      Tell us:

      • why your research topic interesting and important 
      • what we know already about the research area and how your study will expand our knowledge of it.


      You should assume you are writing your research proposal for someone who has a good understanding of psychology, but not an expert in your area of research.

      Background

      You should identify any gaps in our knowledge of your research area, and your reseach will fill them. At the end of the section outline your aims and hypotheses.

      Methodology

      We are interested in your ability to think critically. You should answer the following questions: 

      • what kind of control conditions are needed for your research?
      • what do you need to measure and how? 
      • do you need to run any pilot studies?
      • what difficulties might you have carrying out your research, and how can these be overcome?


      You are expected to show how your initial idea can be developed and expanded over the duration of your PhD degree.

      Reference list

      You must add in a reference list in American Psychological Association format. 

      For more information visit the School of Psychology.

Contact faculty for advice

If you need further advice, contact our academic staff who are working in your field. You can also ask research students and academic staff at your current university for help. 

You can:

  • talk about your ideas with faculty and research students, and use their suggestions to further your reading and understanding of research directions
  • contact potential supervisors at Sussex and share the first draft of your research proposal. They can give you feedback and help you refine your proposal before you submit your application.

Discover how to find a supervisor. 


Proofread your research proposal

It is essential that you use accurate information and correct punctuation and spelling in your research proposal. Write in clear sentences and ensure that your research proposal is structured in a logical and easy to understand format.

Ask someone else to proofread your research proposal and check it for any errors before submitting it to Sussex.



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