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Tips on Writing a PhD Proposal

1. Reflect first on whether a doctorate is right for you and whether the timing is right:
  • Are you passionate about your topic/field? Have you got a very good idea of what you want to research?
  • Are you able to work independently? Are you self-motivating?
  • What are the advantages of taking a year out vs. an immediate transition from MA into MPhil/PhD study? Or, if you have been away from academic study for a while, what makes you well-equipped to embrace a project over 3 to 4 years of full-time (or 5 to 7 years of part-time) PhD study?


2. Take advice and gather information:
  • Who is best suited to supervise your research project and why?
    • What are you looking for in a supervisor? You can get in touch with a possible supervisor with a polite request, to gauge their interest.

We can only accept PhD proposals in areas for which we can provide appropriate expertise. To find out about expertise in SMLC, go to or (more generally)

If you are still unsure, please consult with the Director of Graduate Studies via -- please clearly indicate that it concerns a Postgraduate or PhD enquiry in the subject line.

  • Single or dual supervision?

Co-supervision is the norm in our School of Modern Languages & Cultures. It can be essential for interdisciplinary projects. Some funding schemes also encourage supervisory teams, even across institutions (e.g. M4C, Monash-Warwick Alliance). Ideally, your supervisors should have a similar outlook and highly compatible or complementary expertise.

Pay attention to the different types of funding available:

  • Internal / external funding; a doctoral loan
  • Subject-specific or open; home vs. international students
  • Full or partial
  • Conditions attached to grants
  • Eligibility criteria and prerequisites
  • Separate vs. integrated application process?

Many institutions require you to submit separate applications for a place of study and for PhD funding. Application platforms may have different formats for the proposal, but you can often reuse material. Make sure your referees know that they may have to submit separate references. References are most effective if they show a good knowledge of the applicant, their project, and their ‘fit’ with Warwick / the funding scheme. 


3. Getting ready to apply for a place of study:

Applications for a place of study go through Warwick's Admissions portal (Universal Admissions). Following the links on the University's Admissions pages.

  • Prepare some detailed notes for your research proposal and/or personal statement:
    • Why this project?
      • What does it entail? What are its aims? Its research questions? Is it do-able in 3 years of full-time study (3.5 years maximum)?
    • What makes you the right person to do it?
      • Academic curriculum to date; training and skills – incl. language skills and other relevant experience (e.g. professional experience): what do you have already and what do you need to learn?
      • Demonstrable ability (grades, prizes, publications, experiences)
    • Why at this university? Have you identified a supervisor?
  • Get the necessary documentation together: transcripts; visa requirements; English language test if needed (must be in date – see )
  • Funding situation – take note of the form's financial declarations; consider any financial commitments
  • Line up appropriate referees: make sure you have correct names and contact details; you need 2 referees for a PG research admission to Warwick. Think of a third person as a reserve.


4. What must go in the research proposal?
  • Formulate a clear project title and/or start with a brief summary of your topic, with a well-defined corpus of material to investigate and a clear geographical and chronological delineation
  • Indicate its intellectual purpose and originality
  • Literature / research context: summarize current literature (criticism) in your proposed area of research to determine the relevance, timeliness and value of your research (niche, gaps to fill)

You can often use an author-date system to refer to publications, especially if space is limited.

  • Key research questions.
  • Aim(s) and objectives: what are you seeking to achieve?
  • Research Methodology: reflect on possible theoretical frameworks and appropriate research methods; will you need to travel to access any resources/undertake fieldwork (including archival research).
  • Any ethical considerations or intellectual property issues to take into account (e.g. when working with living participants; access to illustrations or other material under copyright)
  • Provisional Plan / Timetable (3 years)
  • Length: normally 2 sides of A4. We may ask for more information or further development if needed.


Depending on how your form is organised or whether you’re submitting a separate personal statement, you may also describe:

  • why the University of Warwick and its School of Modern Languages & Cultures is the best place for you to undertake this research
  • what makes you the best person to undertake this project now
  • what skills you hope to/need to develop further


Application platforms can be quirky. Save any entered data regularly, if the system allows. Develop your proposal offline first.

Consider how you would demonstrate your ability if asked for a sample of written work and/or how you would state your case for admission (or funding) if invited to an interview. Make sure that different sections of the application are well-aligned.


5.  Funding applications

Funding applications are very competitive and often work with different stages; there may be a waiting list.

Funders will want to know why they should invest in your research project and how high they should rank it. So think carefully about your presentation of your research plans and your suitability.

  • always read the guidelines and selection criteria
  • check the different sections or 'boxes' of the application form: what information goes where?
  • can you discuss any drafts with a prospective supervisor / supervisory team?
  • highlight any points of academic merit or excellence
  • respect the word limit
  • respect deadlines
  • make sure your referees have all the information they need, including how and by when they need to submit their references
  • proofread before submission

Check if you can upload the same research proposal for different competitions, or, more likely, if you need to adapt it for each scheme. If applying for Warwick-based and/or M4C funding (or similar), we advise you to work on a revised proposal first in dialogue with the SMLC and only submit it after discussion.