How to go about doing a research proposal How to go about doing a research proposal

Writing a great postgraduate research proposal can be a daunting proposition, and we are keen to help you succeed within your application process by providing practical tips and support in this section of our website. Starting a research degree, whatever the type (Masters research, PhD, or other postgraduate course) can be a wonderful life experience and fundamental career opportunity, and we want to help you pass the application process with flying colours.

From what to include within a research proposal, through to research led, and applicant led projects, we have it covered:

Types of Research Degree

At UEA, we offer three types of research degree opportunity:

  1. Research-led projects, where a project has been devised by a member of academic staff and you are applying to explain why you would be an excellent candidate to work on the project.

  2. Applicant-led projects, where you are applying with a research proposal that you have devised and written up yourself.

  3. Professional doctorates such as the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology where the programme has a taught element and you would write the research proposal for a thesis or portfolio component during the degree rather than during the application process.

The most important aspect of research degree applications for the first two types is the research proposal. As such, it is worth bearing the advice below in mind whilst completing your online application.

Research-led projects

In an online application for a research-led project, the research proposal will have been written already by a member of academic staff. This is common in our Faculties of Science and of Medicine and Health Sciences.

For this type of application you should upload a research statement which explains: why you are applying for the project; an outline of your relevant current knowledge and skills, indicating how these will help you complete the research; and a summary of your training needs. You may find the personal and professional development pages on this site helpful with the training summary.

This research statement is separate to your personal statement and provides another opportunity to explain why you are the best fit for the project you are applying for. You may find some of the information below helpful.

Applicant-led projects

If there is no research degree project in an area which interests you, please consider applying with a research proposal that you have written yourself. This is the usual route in our Faculties of Arts and Humanities and of Social Sciences.

For this type of application you should read all of the information below and follow the guidance carefully.

Research interest

Before preparing your application, if possible, we recommend that you:

  1. Identify at least one member of staff at UEA who might be your supervisor.

  2. Read academic papers authored by that member of staff that are recent and related to your research interest.

  3. Consider whether your chosen field is relevant to one or more of the papers written by the member of staff. If it is then it may be worth contacting the member of staff to express your interest and to explain briefly your ideas for a proposal.

If you are unable to identify a supervisor, we still welcome your application. Please clearly state your subject area and research topic.

Research proposal

There are different word limits for research proposals depending on the School or Faculty you are applying to. The shortest word limit is 500 words and the longest is 2000 words. Please read the guidance linked to the online application form carefully to ensure that you write a proposal of the correct length.

Research proposals are not expected to be a finished document, and you may wish to refine or change your research focus in negotiation with your supervisor at a later date. However, you should proof-read it carefully and may find it helpful to ask a trusted friend to read it before you submit it. It is important that it is your own work so that if you are asked about it at interview you can explain your arguments clearly.

The main aim of the proposal is to provide the academic selectors and potential supervisors at UEA with an idea of your research interests and intent.

Your proposal should include the following:

  1. Your research topic: identify your subject area and indicate your research question(s).

  2. General review of the literature: in this section you should describe the general discipline or field in which your study will be located with your reasons for choosing this field.

  3. Specific review of the literature: you should provide a review of the literature which demonstrates clearly the key debates or ideas in the literature. You need to give references to key articles and research texts. You need to elaborate on what makes your proposal an original piece of work, as research degrees should contain an original piece of research.

  4. Method: you need to indicate how you will answer your research question(s). You will need to explain which techniques you will use and why these techniques are considered to be acceptable and valid, and reference other studies or papers in related themes of research. In some disciplines (such as pure mathematics) it may be very difficult to predict which techniques would be needed but it is worth showing that you have an understanding of what possible techniques might be.

  5. Timescale: provide a timescale for the conduct of your research. For example a social science proposal would normally include time for a literature review, methodological design, conduct of field study and write up.

  6. References: provide a list of references to the sources which you have mentioned in your application.

And finally…

Be clear, be honest, be precise, and proof-read your proposal!