PhD Research Proposal Template With Examples

A comprehensive research proposal is one of the most important parts of your PhD application, as it explains what you plan to research, what your aims and objectives are, and how you plan to meet those objectives.

Below you will find a research proposal template you can use to write your own PhD proposal, along with examples of specific sections. Note that your own research proposal should be specific and carefully tailored to your own project and no two proposals look the same. Use the template and examples below with that in mind.

If you’re looking for more detailed information on how to write a PhD research proposal, read our full guide via the button below.

How to write a PhD research proposal

Research Proposal Template

The template below is one way you could consider structuring your research proposal to ensure that you include all of the relevant information about your project. However, each university publishes its own guidance on what to include in a proposal, so always make sure you are meeting their specific criteria.

Your proposal should typically be written in size 12 font and limited to around 15 pages in length.

Title of Your Research Project (or proposed title)
Your name
Supervisor’s name (if known)


Introduction… Page 3
Research aims… Page 4
Literature review… Page 5
Research methods/methodology… Page 7
Outcomes and impact… Page 8
Budget… Page 9
Schedule… Page 9
References/Bibliography… Page 10

Introduce your research proposal with a brief overview of your intended research. Include the context and background of the research topic, as well as the rationale for undertaking the research. You should also reference key literature and include any relevant previous research you have done personally.

Research aims
The aims of your research relate to the purpose of conducting the research and what you specifically want to achieve. Your research questions should be formulated to show how you will achieve those aims and what you want to find out through your research.
“The objectives of this research project are to…..”
“The following tasks will be undertaken as a part of the proposed research:
Task 1
Task 2
Task 3, etc.”

Literature review
Identify and expand on the key literature relating to your research topic. You will need to not only provide individual studies and theories, but also critically analyse and evaluate this literature.

Research methods/methodology
Explain how you plan to conduct your research and the practical and/or theoretical approaches you will take. Describe and justify a sample/participants you plan to use, research methods and models you plan on implementing, and plans for data collection and data analysis. Also, consider any hurdles you may encounter or ethical considerations you need to make.

Outcomes and impact
You don’t need to identify every specific/possible outcome from your research project but you should think about what some potential outcomes might be. Think back to any gaps you identified in the research field and summarise what impact your work will have on filling them. Make sure your assessors know why your research is important and ultimately worth investing time, money and resources into.

Answer the following questions:

  • What is the total budget for your project?
  • Has funding already been acquired?
  • If not, where is the money coming from and when do you plan to secure it?

You should outline the following 3 years and include achievable ‘deadlines’ throughout that period. Using your research aims as a starting point, itemise a list of deliverables with specific dates attached. You may choose to use a Gantt chart here.

List all the references you used throughout your proposal and/or texts that will be relevant to your proposal here.

Example Research Proposal

To: Professor P. Brown
From: Alissa Student
Date: 30th April 2021
Proposed Research Topic: An investigation into the use of Multicultural London English by adolescents in South London

Change in present-day spoken British English is reportedly characterised by dialect levelling – the reduction of regional differences between dialects and accents. The details, however, are complex, with homogenisation across a region (Torgersen/Kerswill 2004) alongside geographical diffusion from a metropolis (Kerswill 2003). Yet there is also local differentiation and innovation (Britain 2005, Watson 2006). The role of London has been held to be central, with its influence claimed for the diffusion of a range of linguistic features, including T-glottalling (Sivertsen 1960) and TH-fronting (Kerswill 2003).
In more recent years, there have been multiple large-scale sociolinguistic studies into the use of English by adolescents in London and the emergence of Multicultural London English (MLE) in particular. However, these studies (such as Kerswill et al. 2004-2007 and Kerswill et al. 2007-2010) focused on analysing language use in Hackney, a traditionally white working-class area with high immigration numbers in the twentieth century, located in East London.
There have been fewer studies into the use of English and specifically the emergence of MLE among adolescents in South London. Areas of South London, such as Brixton, have high numbers of adolescents and, like Hackney, have been influenced by immigration movements throughout the twentieth century.

Research aims
Through this research, I hope to investigate the language use of adolescents in the community of Brixton, enhancing our understanding of MLE in South London. My research questions are as follows:

  • What are the linguistic features of the English spoken by adolescents in Brixton?
  • What are the linguistic features of the English spoken by elderly residents in Brixton?
  • Analyse the language of male participants versus female participants.
  • Analyse the presence of linguistic features originally identified as characteristics of MLE in participants.

I will base my methodology on that used by Kerswill et al. (2004-2007, 2007-2010), analysing the natural language of adolescents in Brixton as well as a sample of elderly residents from the same region. The sample studied will include a mixture of male and female participants as well as participants from the three largest ethnicity demographics in Lambeth (according to the Lambeth council census, 2015), including White, Black, and Asian residents.
My methodology consists of the following:

  • Observe the language of adolescents in relaxed conversation-like interviews with friends and individually. I will attempt to conduct these interviews in an informal way and ask open-ended questions that encourage participants to converse in more detail and more naturally.
  • Record these conversations and transcribe these conversations from these recordings. Transcriptions will be made using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to allow phonetic features to be identified and analysed.
  • Using methods established in corpus linguistics, I will quantify the data and identify the rate of notable linguistic features in the group of participants, looking for any linguistic patterns relating to gender, ethnicity and age.

Outcomes and impact
I expect this research to contribute to our understanding of Multicultural London English (MLE) in South London, an area of London not previously studied in great detail and one with different demographics to previously studied areas such as East London (Hackney).
In the course of this research, which looks at the language of participants from a broad range of ethnic backgrounds and ages, it is possible that further variations and/or innovations in MLE will also be identified.

The first year of the project (30th September 2020-30th June 2021) will be spent conducting the necessary research with participants from Brixton and surrounding areas of South London. The first six months of the second year of the project (30th September 2021 – 31st March 2022) will be spent transcribing and collating the linguistic data. By the end of the second year of the project, the data will be analysed and I will begin writing up my findings, ready to be submitted in January 2023.

Baker, Paul. 2006. Using corpora in discourse analysis. London: Continuum.
BBC Voices Project
Cheshire, Jenny, Susan Fox, Paul Kerswill and Eivind Torgersen. 2008. Linguistic
innovators: the English of adolescents in London. Final report presented to the Economic and Social Research Council.
Cheshire, Jenny and Susan Fox. 2009. Was/were variation: A perspective from London.
Language Variation and Change 21: 1–38.
Cheshire, Jenny, Kerswill, Paul, Fox, Susan & Torgersen, Eivind. 2011. Contact, the feature
pool and the speech community: The emergence of Multicultural London English. Journal of
Sociolinguistics 15/2: 151–196.
Clark, Lynn & Trousdale, Graeme. 2009 The role of frequency in phonological change:
evidence from TH-fronting in east-central Scotland. English Language and Linguistics 13(1):
Gabrielatos, Costas, Eivind Torgersen, Sebastian Hoffmann and Susan Fox. 2010. A corpus–based sociolinguistic study of indefinite article forms in London English. Journal of English Linguistics 38: 297-334.
Lambeth Council. 2015. Lambeth Demography 2015.
Johnston, Barbara. 2010. Locating language in identity. In Carmen Watt and Dominic Watt
(eds.) Language and identities. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 29–36.
Kerswill, Paul & Williams, Ann. 2002. ‘salience’ as an explanatory factor in language
change: evidence from dialect levelling in urban England. In M. C. Jones & E. Esch (eds.)
Language change. The interplay of internal, external and extra-linguistic factors. Berlin:
Mouton de Gruyter. 81–110.
Kerswill, Paul, Torgersen, Eivind & Fox, Susan. 2008. Reversing “drift”: Innovation and
diffusion in the London diphthong system. Language Variation and Change 20: 451–491.
Kerswill, Paul, Cheshire, Jenny, Fox, Susan and Torgersen, Eivind. fc 2012. English as a
contact language: the role of children and adolescents. In Hundt, Marianne & Schreier,
Daniel (eds.) English as a contact language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Labov, William. 2007. Transmission and diffusion. Language 83: 344–387.
Llamas, Carmen. 2007. Field methods. In Carmen Llamas, Louise Mullany and Peter
Stockwell (eds.). The Routledge companion to sociolinguistics. London: Routledge, pp. 12–
Pichler, Heike and Torgersen, Eivind. It’s (not) diffusing, innit?: The origins of innit in
British English. Paper presented at NWAV 38, University of Ottawa, October 2009.
Rampton, Ben. 2010. Crossing into class: language, ethnicities and class sensibility in
England. In Carmen Llamas and Dominic Watt (eds.) Language and identities. Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press. 134–143.
Sebba, Mark. 1993. London Jamaican. London: Longman.
Spence, Lorna. 2008. A profile of Londoners by country of birth: Estimates from the 2006
Annual Population Survey. London: Greater London Authority.
Torgersen, Eivind & Kerswill, Paul 2004. Internal and external motivation in phonetic
change: dialect levelling outcomes for an English vowel shift. Journal of Sociolinguistics 8:
Torgersen, Eivind, Gabrielatos, Costas, Hoffmann, Sebastian and Fox, Sue. (2011) A corpus-based study of pragmatic markers in London English. Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic
Theory 7: 93–118.
Wells, John C. 1982. Accents of English, Vols. I–III. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Wiese, Heike. 2009. Grammatical innovation in multiethnic urban Europe: New linguistic
practices among adolescents. Lingua 119: 782–806.
Winford, Donald. 2003. An Introduction to Contact Linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell.

Section examples

Example Introduction

In this example, the candidate is applying for an Executive PhD programme that requires them to have both work experience and academic experience. The candidate focuses their introduction on the background of the research area they are proposing and relates this to their own experiences and deep understanding of the topic.

Recent developments in the global economy have exposed weaknesses and vulnerabilities in commodity-dependent emerging economies. The country of Azerbaijan has been affected significantly by a radical fall in oil prices; this has revealed an inability, and to a certain extent the incapacity, of the economy to respond to this new reality. As a result, the local currency has depreciated to more than half its value in a two-year period and the country’s balance of payments gap has reached five billion US dollars within the last year. While Azerbaijan is a small country in the global economy, many of these same problems are occurring in other emerging economy countries with primary commodity dependency, and have occurred in cycles in the past. The context of this crisis might be different, but the same themes reoccur throughout history. Today the price of oil, tomorrow the collapse of the Euro currency or a dramatic increase in the price of food. Any scenario emphasises the need to build comprehensive institutions which encourage economic growth alongside a viable macro-risk management system to ensure stability all the while balancing government with the needs of businesses.
During my MBA, I was introduced to the theories underpinning modern finance. I was given a toolset with which I would answer many of the queries I have about international finance. In applying for the Executive PhD programme, I want to pursue my interest in ensuring economic growth, prudent banking regulation and the building of a macro-risk management system for developing countries. Over the last couple of years, I have been involved in anti-crisis efforts and the large-scale reorganisation of the Azeri financial system. At present, the Azerbaijani economy is suffering from a “Dutch disease” problem where the previous economic development of the oil and natural resources sector has caused a decline and lack of development in all other sectors (including manufacturing and agriculture). Other countries with similar problems include Gulf States, Nigeria, Venezuela, Ecuador and Russia. GDP is estimated to have contracted by 3% in 2016 and the budget deficit has reached 4.6%. The role of the state sector has increased significantly and the state now has an 8% of GDP deficit. Previous models have always assumed a recovery in oil prices, but this has not materialised and forecasts are increasingly vague. In a world of persistently low oil prices and declining Azerbaijani output, the country has to make progress on a sizable structural reform agenda.
My research project would comparatively study the three principal areas of macroeconomic weakness in the Azerbaijani economy where reforms are slated to take place over the coming years, comparing them with other commodity-dependent economies; these areas would be: the challenging business environment (including strategic trade, labour market rigidity and transport problems), problems in macroeconomic policy coordination, and banking sector weakness. The key outcome of this policy research would be maintaining a policy of economic growth, poverty reduction and avoiding the middle-income trap in Azerbaijan. Conducting further research into these issues would allow me to further my macroeconomic knowledge and I believe would allow me to ultimately be promoted to a more senior financial position within the Azerbaijani civil service.

Example Research Questions

In this example, the candidate is proposing research that involves working with children in order to study the effects of creative writing on children’s development. The overall objective is to explore the impact upon the young child’s creative writing/storytelling behaviours of the views and beliefs of significant others across home, pre-school and school settings.

What is the adult’s role when supporting young children with creative writing?
What forms of child/ adult interaction support rather than constrain young children’s episodes of creative writing?
How does the adult ‘tune in’ to young children’s needs in relation to storytelling?
How does the adult recognise when it is appropriate to intervene?
Does the form of interaction appear to change with the age or perceived storytelling ability of the child?
Is the form of interaction between child and adult influenced by gendered behaviours?
How does the environment best support child/ adult interaction? (Time, space, organisation of materials.)
Does adult support for young children’s creative writing differ from support given in relation to other activities?
How important is the adult’s awareness/ knowledge of the child’s holistic needs when supporting young children’s storytelling behaviours?
How important is the adult’s awareness/ knowledge of the child’s particular patterns of meaning making when supporting young children’s creative writing behaviours?
What is the impact upon young children’s creative writing of an adult’s own experience/ knowledge and understanding of storytelling behaviour?

Example Risk Analysis

In this example, the candidate is proposing research that involves working with children in order to study the effects of creative writing on children’s development. When working with children, it is particularly important to conduct a risk assessment and take care in ensuring all laws and regulations are upheld to ensure all child participants are safeguarded.

Particular attention will be paid to the role of the children within the project. It is expected that the children taking part in the study will be aged between 5 and 7 years. It is expected that involvement in episodes of creative writing activity will be voluntary and that, given that the research is taking place in a familiar school context and that the practitioners are part of that context, the normality of the children’s experience can be maintained.
It is anticipated that each school will have an agreed policy on gaining permission for the taking of video and digital images within the setting which will be adhered to. In many settings, parents sign a consent form when the children begin attending the setting agreeing to their child being videoed. In relation to this research project, following editing of any video material or digital images, it will be necessary to gain additional consent from parents of featured children if the material is to be published. No child will be videotaped or photographed where permission by parents/carers has been refused.
The reason for the use of the video camera/digital camera will be explained simply to the children. They will be told that a particular activity is being videoed so that they can choose not to take part. Time must be found for children to see the data collected if the children request this. The original materials/drawings will remain in the setting but the researcher will make colour photocopies of all drawings.
The original videotapes/digital images, if taken by the adult participants, will remain with the school and the researcher will make a copy. Videotapes/digital images taken by the researcher will remain with the researcher but will be made available to the participants. Following observation of videotapes/digital images by practitioners and researchers it is anticipated that only clips of video and digital images agreed by all parties will eventually be retained. Both the school and the researcher will have copies of the edited material.
All participants will be assured that their names and their settings will not be divulged. In written documentation, the children’s first names will be changed and surnames will not be used. Practitioners will be asked not to use children’s surnames when videoing.

Further resources

There are many resources available if you’re looking for help developing your PhD research proposal. Some universities, such as York St John University and the Open University, provide examples of research proposals that you can use as a basis on which to write your own PhD proposal. Most university departments also publish detailed guidelines on what to include in a research proposal, including which sections to include and what topics they are currently accepting proposals on.

The Profs’ PhD application tutors can also provide relevant example research proposals and support to help you structure your own PhD research proposal in the most effective way. More than 40% of all of our tutors have PhDs themselves, with many having worked as university lecturers, thesis supervisors, and professors at top universities around the world. Thanks to the expertise of our tutors and the consistent support our team provides, 95% of our students get into their first or second choice university. Get in touch with our postgraduate admissions department today to find out how we can help you.


How do I create a PhD timescale/timeline?

Many universities request that PhD applicants submit a timescale/timeline detailing how they plan to spend the 3-4 years on their research. There are many ways you can do this, but one of the most popular methods (and one that is often suggested by university experts) is to use a Gantt chart. A Gantt chart is a useful way of showing tasks displayed against time. On the left of the chart is a list of the activities and along the top is a suitable time scale. Each activity is represented by a bar; the position and length of the bar reflect the proposed start date, duration and end date of the task.

How long does it take to write a research proposal?

The amount of time you need to write a research proposal will depend on many factors, including the word count, when your application deadline is, and how developed your research plan is. On average, it takes applicants about 2-3 months to research, write, rewrite, edit, and submit a strong proposal.

How do I find a research proposal topic?

Choosing a research topic is one of the most important stages of submitting a PhD research proposal. Primarily, you should look to choose a topic that you are interested in/that you care about; you will be researching this topic for 3-4 years at least, so it’s important that you are invested in it. Secondly, your research topic needs to be narrow enough that it is manageable. If your topic is too broad, there will be too much information to consider and you will not be able to draw concise conclusions or focus deeply enough.

In order to find a research proposal topic, first look at the areas that you have previously studied. Reviewing past lecture notes and assignments can be a helpful way of finding inspiration. Background reading can also help you explore topics in more depth and limit the scope of your research question. You can also discuss your ideas/areas of interest with a lecturer or professor, potential dissertation supervisor, or specialist tutor to get an academic perspective.