How To Write A PhD Proposal With 11 Steps (With Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 18 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many programmes require a PhD candidate to submit a research proposal as a part of their application process. A research proposal helps show your abilities to commit to the research work and excel at it. If you are applying for a PhD program, learning how to write a PhD proposal can help you get admission to a desirable research program. In this article, we discuss what a PhD proposal is, learn the steps to write one, know the benefits of writing a proposal and provide tips to help you craft your proposal.

What Is A PhD Proposal?

A PhD proposal is a brief document outlining the research you undertake after gaining admission to the PhD program. It defines your research idea and helps you understand the questions you are likely to answer in your research project. Typically, a research proposal ranges from 1,000 to 4,000 words and describes your projected timeline, your approach to the research and the value you bring to the institution. Your research proposal answers the following questions such as:

  • What makes your proposal or project significant to your field?

  • How does your proposal challenges and improve your existing literature?

  • Why is your research important?

  • How can the institute help you with your research work?

  • Why are you an ideal candidate for this PhD programme?

Your PhD proposal is often a deciding factor in your acceptance at a university because it convinces the university administration that you are suitable for both project and the PhD programme. It helps you differentiate yourself from other candidates. Using your proposal, the university might assess your skills and the uniqueness of your idea.

Related: Online PhD Programmes And Specialisations (With Benefits)

How To Write A PhD Proposal

To understand how to write a PhD proposal, use these steps:

1. Plan your proposal

Before writing your proposal, review the university's requirements and format for submitting a research proposal. Regardless of the formatting you choose, ensure your proposal answers a few essential questions, such as:

  • How would your research contribute to the field you plan to pursue?

  • How are you going to research these ideas?

  • How long do you require completing the project?

  • What resources and assistance do you need to complete my research?

To make your proposal authentic and ensure it earns admission to a desirable college, contact current university staff members for advice about the content and its structure. These professionals might provide you with relevant tips for formatting and tell you about the best writing techniques. You can even request sample proposals from them to ensure your proposal captures their attention.

Related: How To Become A Scientist In 4 Step

2. Create a separate title

The title of your proposal is important because it helps convey your idea and the field in which you want to work. Try to keep your title short and make it engaging and informative. You can even include relevant keywords that relate to your proposal. Some universities and colleges require a separate title page with your proposal's title, name and contact details.

3. Write a brief abstract

The next page of your proposal comprises an abstract summarising your proposal. Typically, try to limit this section to half a page because anything longer than that might not interest the reader. Focus on providing a brief overview of the information and convey how your information aligns with the discipline. Use your abstract as an opportunity to:

  • Provide new information and show your knowledge in your field

  • Connect with the values and goals of the university

  • Give details about your research might affect areas like politics, society and culture

4. Include the body of your proposal

Start writing the body of your research proposal and provide a context for the project. Focus on including only relevant information that might influence your research and show why you are suitable for conducting the research. Usually, this section helps in identifying knowledge gaps in the discipline you want to work in and how you can add value to the field. Use the body of your section to list the following details:

  • How does your work relate to other scholars' work?

  • How does your research relate to the experience and skills of the teachers?

  • How does your research contribute to the work of others?

Use the last portion of the body of your proposal to write your thesis. Writing the thesis section is essential because it helps understand your research's main point or argument. Your thesis section elaborates on what you intend to research and achieve from your PhD.

5. Mention your mode of research

Next, describe your mode of research that might relate to the discipline you are trying to pursue. Use this section to describe the format of your research, such as field research, composition, data social performance, mixed media and written work. Your research supervisor can easily guide you on discipline-specific requirements. This section is essential because different disciplines, sciences and problems require different types of research. Choosing a method that closely links to your field can help you make a positive impression.

Related: Essential Research Skills (With Benefits And How To Improve)

6. Highlight your aims and objectives

Use this section to share what you plan to accomplish and the project's overall structure. When highlighting your aims and objectives, ensure it references the reason for your application. Other content of this section might include your ability to conduct your research, the perspective you choose and how that approach might yield the best results. Explain the aim and objective of your research and give details about how you plan to approach it. When describing your aims and objectives, use action verbs, such as:

  • Address the gap in studies

  • Provide or disapprove of a concept

  • Test or study a theory

You can even include objectives which are statements that explain the likely outcome of your research. Explain the steps for securing the desired outcome and achieving your objectives.

7. Explain your research synopsis

A synopsis is a summary of your research proposal that explains what the PhD project includes and the research you might conduct or use. In your research synopsis, mention details about your project goals and objectives. Your synopsis highlights the main ideas of your project or research. Your proposal's synopsis briefly covers the research's what, why and how.

Related: What Is A Research Associate? (And How To Become One)

8. Give details about the background

Use this section of your resume to explain why you are conducting the research. Use this section to explain the happening in your field and the current research conducted on the topic. Provide context and value using a literature review and convey to readers you are well-versed with the problem in your field. Your background helps build a base for your research proposal and captures the readers' interest.

9. Share your work plan

Next, share your work plan, which is a timeline for the project and give details about how you plan to achieve it. Having a realistic timeline can illustrate your time management skills and show that you want to accomplish your project. In your work plan, include only relevant and achievable deadlines and segregate your research into monthly, quarterly and yearly goals.

Related: How To Answer 'What Is Your Work Style?' (With Examples)

10. List your bibliography

After sharing your work plan, focus on listing your bibliography that gives details of all the resources you used to create the document. Include a link to the resources and follow the bibliography writing guidelines provided by the institution or university. Check the university's requirements to determine the style and format of writing the bibliography.

11. Proofread your work

Before submitting your proposal, reread it to verify it meets the formatting, spelling and grammar requirements. Showing error-free and polished work showcases your professionalism and conveys to readers that you are serious about the opportunity. Also, proposals with errors might mislead the reader. When proofreading your proposal, check the number of pages, table of content, headings and cited sources. Have a professional proofread your work to ensure complete editing. You can even run the proposal through online grammar-checking software.

Related: Proofreader Skills: Definition, Example And How To Improve

Tips For Writing A PhD Proposal

Use these tips to write a PhD proposal:

  • Be concise. When writing your proposal, write short and clear sentences to improve readability. It helps in highlighting relevant information about your project.

  • Review the proposal requirement. Check the proposal requirement to ensure you follow all the required guidelines and format the paper per the university's requirements.

  • Customise your proposal to each department. If applying to various departments, customise your PhD proposal to every department. You can include it to mention certain keywords that relate to a specific department.


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