How To Write Your Ph.D Research Proposal Guidelines

A research proposal is the first step towards getting a shot at your Ph.D. It demonstrates your first-hand understanding of the subject, clarity of thought, and knowledge of the existing scholarship in the field of study. A proposal istypically reviewed by a thesis committee who, based on the merit of the problem identified, takes a call on whether or not you should be allowed to enroll in the doctoral program.

Components of a good research proposal

A good research proposal should demonstrate why the chosen topic is worth researching, the gaps in the existing literature, and how the candidate is going to address those gaps in a specific time frame. The size of the proposal varies from one institution to another, so it is best to check the university guidelines before your start writing the proposal. Typically, it can come anywhere between 1500 to 3000 words, excluding the abstract and references. The main components of a Ph.D. research proposal are listed below:

Title page

This page should contain a working title of your research along with your personal information. The title should closely relate to your proposed research and topic, even though it may not be the finalized title.


The abstract is an overview of your proposed research. It serves as a comprehensive synopsis and should convey the what, why and how of your research. You can devote approximately 300 words, give or take a few, for this section.


As the name suggests, this section introduces your research area and questions your readers. A finely written introduction contains:

  • Your research questions
  • Their significance to the field of study
  • Your hypothesis
  • The methods you will implement

Literature Review

This section should contain a review of selected secondary sources relevant to your field of study. In addition to convincing the committee that you have done your homework, the review helps you identify the gaps in the existing scholarship. It should highlight the most important works of your predecessors and compare their arguments and methodologies with your framework. The review should portray how your proposed findings would contribute to the overall literature.


Writing this part could be a little tricky since you haven't started the project yet. Most candidates commit the mistake of listing down the methods of conducting their research. The research committee, however, does not expect a candidate to write a detailed commentary on the research procedures, tools, or techniques. On the contrary, this section should serveas a justification for your approach and overall research design. It should be very particular in answering how the methodology adopted could help you address the research problem.

A timeline

The duration for completing a Ph.D. varies in different countries; likewise, the duration for a full-time Ph.D. is different from that of a part-time Ph.D. Before preparing the timeline, you should check the guidelines prescribed by the university. In this section, you are expected to specify the time frame of your project and present a rough estimate of the time required. It should mention a tentative timeline for each phase of the project and the sequence in which you envisage the tasks to take place. Don't give an extremely tight or unrealistic timeline. The key here is to be realistic and take any delays into consideration.


A conclusion should effectively summarize the significance of your research project. It should encapsulate all the sections highlighted in the proposal in a concise manner. Emphasis should be on the uniqueness of the research proposal. Make sure this section is written in two paragraphs at best.

Reference List

At the end of the proposal, you should list out all relevant books, reading materials and other sources you are planning to use to build and support your hypothesis. The challenge here is to narrow down a wide range of sources in line with your research topic and questions. An intelligent pick of reading materials increases the credibility of the candidate in front of the research committee.

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