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The research proposal

When you make your application, you will need to submit a detailed research proposal in support of your application. This needs to be a convincing proposal which is sufficiently rigorous, and of sufficient quality to demonstrate that you are ready to begin independent research at PhD level. Typical proposals are 2,000 to 3,000 words long; however, this is only a guideline. The emphasis will be on the quality of the proposal and whether or not it fits with a particular supervisor’s research interests.

We understand that this is a provisional statement of your research. We expect that your research will develop as you carry it out and as you read further into your area of study. It is likely that your supervisor will suggest changes or developments to your research during the course of your study, but you should treat the proposal as an opportunity to show that you have begun to explore an important area of study and that you have a question, or questions, that challenge and develop that area. It is also necessary to demonstrate that you can express your ideas in clear and precise English.

The points you must address in your proposal are:

Central research question

This should be simply stated in the first instance and then suitably fleshed out to show why it is timely and important for you to be writing a PhD on this topic. The central research question is your first chance to make the case for being accepted onto our programme, by capturing the attention of potential supervisors. You need to set out your research questions as clearly as possible, explain problems that you want to explore and say why it is important to do so.


You must show how your central research question relates to existing academic studies in your field. Think about how to situate your project in the context of your discipline. Refer explicitly to work that is similar to that which you are planning or which is influential to your ideas. What are the key texts and approaches in the field, and how does your proposal differ from existing lines of argument? What distinctive contribution will your research make? How will it extend our understanding of particular questions or topics? Ideally, you should be able to demonstrate how your proposed research fills a gap in the literature, and therefore adds substantively and can make a lasting contribution to academic debates. One key criterion for writing a successful PhD is that it is original work, so you must try to avoid setting out a proposal in a way that simply replicates work which can already be found within the literature.

Research methods

This should set out the methods you will use to conduct your research. This will obviously depend very much on your research topic. What sources will you use? E.g. does your project involve archival sources, or specialist libraries? Is your study interdisciplinary? What theoretical resources do you intend to use and why? How will you set about answering your research questions?


You should reflect on the types of problems you are likely to encounter whilst undertaking your research and how these might be overcome. This will demonstrate that you are forward-thinking in your approach to doctoral studies.


Include a bibliography listing the books and articles to which you refer in the proposal.

Examples of current PhD project titles include:
  • Death after Metaphysics?: An Untimely Meditation with Heidegger
  • Intersubjectivity in Human-Robot Interaction
  • The Ethics of Gift, Reciprocity and Cooperation in Economics
  • A New Epistemological Approach to the Delusions in Psychiatry
  • The Nature of Knowing How
  • Hegel and Spinoza on Thought and Nature