How to write a research proposal

For many subjects, writing a research proposal is a key part of your postgraduate research degree application. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and how you want to contribute to the subject. 

We use the proposal to match your interest with an appropriate supervisor to make sure you have the best support during your degree. We are looking for originality and relevance when assessing the overall quality of your application, including your suitability for this level of study.  

We highly recommend that you explore which academic researchers are working in your subject area and contact them first with any questions, this is a good opportunity to firm up your ideas, further explore the topic and talk with others in your field.  

What is a research proposal? 

A research proposal is a concise and coherent document, usually between 1500 – 2000 words, maximum 4 x A4 pages. You should outline your proposed research project, why it is of relevance (rationale), what research questions are you going to ask, what you hope to achieve (aims and objectives) and how you plan to carry out your research (methodology).  


This page is your comprehensive guide to writing a research proposal and will cover seven key elements of a proposal: 

Working title

You should include a title for your thesis in the proposal.

Your title may change as you further your research, but at this stage it's important to state succinctly what your research will cover.


Briefly identify your idea, what is your ‘research question’?

It could be the theory you want to test, or a more open question. It would be useful to give examples, 3-5 research questions from recently completed PhDs in a relevant field. You should discuss the context around your research topic, such as current debates and issues. The important thing here is that you introduce your research project with clarity and in a way that stimulates your reader’s interest.


Demonstrate the significance of your research project.

To do this, explain why your research is important, what makes it original and how it will contribute to existing knowledge within its field.

Aims and objectives

What are you hoping to achieve with your research?

Try and produce four or five bullet points of objectives for each aim, which demonstrate your understanding of how to meet your research aims. You can use the SMART acronym to support you in creating objectives, which involves making your objectives: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time specific.

Literature Review

Demonstrate your knowledge and awareness of relevant literature

A literature review is a discussion and evaluation of academic literature or a relevant body of knowledge (for practice-based research). You should use this section of your proposal to show that you are familiar with work in your chosen topic area and that your research will contribute something new and/or meaningful to it.


Explain how you plan to carry out your research

The methodology section of your research proposal is where you explain how you plan to carry out your research. This should include the research techniques and methods you will use, why these are most appropriate and how you will implement them. You should also include a discussion of the research strategy (general approach) you will adopt, with appropriate justification, including the analytical approach. The section should also contain the range of research findings that will be gathered from the research and how you will analyse or evaluate this. For practice based research, include how will your portfolio of artefacts, code, software, compositions, computer games etc. articulate the originality of your research?


Reference all the materials you used in the preparation your proposal

You may also list references that you didn't directly draw upon, to demonstrate awareness of literature relating to your proposed material.

Support from academic staff in drafting your research proposal

Your research proposal will be read by academics with an interest in your field of research. You are therefore encouraged to contact members of academic staff informally prior to submitting your application to discuss to your research proposal. This can often speed up the applications process, as you can identify the member(s) of staff you have spoken to on your research degree application form.

Use the Huddersfield Research Portal to browse academic staff profiles and search using key words to find staff members who share your research interests.


Changing aspects of your research proposal after gaining a place as a research student

Your research proposal is your starting point, and we understand that as your idea develops, your proposed research is likely to change. As such, you will not be obliged to adhere to the specifics of your proposal if you are offered a place as a research degree candidate at Huddersfield. However, as the proposal is the foundation of your working relationship with your supervisor(s), you will need to discuss any changes with them first. 


Useful tips for writing a research proposal

  • Maintain a focus in your proposal: Your research proposal should be clear and concise, outlining your research idea and its benefits to your chosen field of study, in a way that the reader can clearly understand. Remember, your proposal is just the starting point and an outline and does not need to be overly complicated.
  • Share your proposal: Ask someone you trust (a friend, family member, tutor) to read your proposal and provide some feedback. Do they understand what your research is about? Do they think your aims and objectives are achievable? Does your research engage them?
  • Align your proposal topic with University research themes: Whilst it is important to choose a research topic that you are passionate about, your proposal will be assessed (in part) on its fit with our University research themes. You therefore need to choose a topic which aligns with topics of interest to the University or academic school you hoping to work within and make it clear how your project matches up with them.
  • Be realistic in your proposal: Your proposal is assessed not only on its quality, originality and fit with our research themes but also the likelihood of completion, so make sure that the scope of your research project is reasonable and realistic.
  • Take your time when writing your proposal: There are a lot of elements to a high-quality research proposal, so take the time to ensure that you meet them all. At the University of Huddersfield, there are three opportunities for enrolling onto a research degree programme during the academic year (October, January, and April), meaning less time pressure when working on your proposal and application.


Once you have written your proposal, what next?

Once you have written your research proposal you will need to complete an application form. Look at our how to apply webpage for more information.


How to apply for a research degree

Our step-by-step guide will help you to make the most out of your application for a research degree


Scholarships and funding

Explore our funding options, including scholarships and Doctoral Loans.