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Writing a research proposal

If there's a specific area you would like to research, you can submit your own research proposal.

Important points before you begin:

  • Not all applications for research degrees require you to submit a proposal (you should check Faculty application requirements beforehand).
  • You can also browse all existing research degree opportunities at Bradford on
  • Following the guidance on this page does not guarantee entry to a doctoral programme. Our academics will evaluate your submission as part of the broader application and review it against eligibility requirements.
  • If you already have a working relationship with a potential supervisor, you should follow their subject-specialist advice before any generalist guidance given here.

Preparing the proposal material

Creating a great research degree proposal requires you to do four key things:

  • Establish the need and importance of carrying out your proposed project to a potential supervisory team.
  • Link this importance to originality – your proposed research must contribute something new to current understanding within your field.
  • Demonstrate your critical skills and existing subject knowledge. This will show our senior researchers that you possess the necessary competence to engage in a programme of research training, whilst designing and implementing a project.
  • Show that your project is feasible – that it is achievable within the standard time allocated to doctoral study and with appropriate resources.

 Proposals should be approximately 1500-2000 words of original text.

What to include in your proposal

  1. A clear working title
  2. Introduction and background
  3. Intended research design
  4. Conclusions
  5. References

1. A clear working title

You need to come up with a clear and succinct title.

Your title should signify the area in which your research will be focused. 

2. Introduction and background

You need to present how your research will fit within the research themes of the Faculty.

To do this, provide a brief, selective and critical review of current literature and key research findings to date:

  • Demonstrate you understand the main debates and issues in this area.
  • Do some initial reading in order to develop your literature review. A good text to start with is The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students by Diana Ridley. 

Identify the research problem you want to address and why are you interested in this:

  • What are the broader aims of carrying out the research?

State your research questions or hypotheses and how these will address any ‘gaps’ in the literature that you have identified:

  • These should be sufficiently narrow and specific so as to be achievable within the time frame of a doctoral programme.

Explain why your proposed research is novel and what the ‘added value’ will be to your subject.


You may wish to cover the above in one section or you may prefer to have a separate introduction, contextualising literature review, leading onto your aims/questions/hypotheses.

3. Intended research design

How will the project be designed to achieve the best findings?

  • Who or what are the sample/target group or organisation? What is your sampling strategy?  
  • What data is needed to adequately meet the aims of the research?
  • How will data be collected or generated?
  • How do you intend to analyse the data? How will this approach help you to address your research aims and questions?

What is your methodology?

  • Is there a broad approach, such as qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods that informs the way the research is to be designed?  
  • Are there other discipline-related approaches to designing and implementing your intended project?  
  • How will you use existing theories/approaches to inform your methodology?   
  • This can include philosophical influences that underpin your methods.   
  • Why is this design appropriate for addressing your research questions/ hypotheses?

You should also consider ethical issues and problems you might encounter through the course of your research, what the main stages of your project will be and how they will relate to each year of your doctorate.

4. Conclusions

  • Make the connection to potential broader implications of your research.
  • Explain the potential benefits of your research in terms of changes to understanding/practice/services/policy/society?
  • State early ideas for the dissemination of your findings, once complete.

5. References

You will need to compile a list of key references using Harvard referencing style (or a style specific to your discipline, if this is preferred).

Making your application

Once you’re ready to apply, complete our application form. You’ll need to include your proposal, along with a CV/résumé, and your degree certificates and transcripts.

What happens next:

Once we receive your application it will be reviewed by the Director of Postgraduate Research and potential supervisors. At this stage, we may contact you to arrange an interview.

Application tips

  • Present a narrative: something that tells the story of what we know, what we don’t, why it’s important to address using research, what your project aims to do about this, and how.
  • Link with University (and Faculty) research themes: your proposal will be assessed on its quality but also its fit with our research themes, so ensure that you make this clear.
  • Scope out research-active staff within the area you wish to study: what is their expertise? Where are there overlaps or complementary areas of interest? Would your project be interdisciplinary, bringing together staff from different research specialisms?
  • Keep your ideas focused: they ideas may not yet be expertly detailed – you haven’t carried out the research yet – but they do need to be interesting, realistic, and novel.
  • Pay close attention to detail: you need to present the information in a way that makes a powerful first impression and showcases your potential as a researcher. Use short sentences and clear paragraphs, and pay close attention to spelling and grammar.
  • Avoid jargon: use accessible language that is understandable to nonexperts. Where scientific terminology is needed, make sure its meaning is clear.
  • Show it to a peer: ask a peer to critically comment and proofread your work and provide feedback on their understanding. What is the research about? Why do you want to do it? Why do you believe you will be able to do it? Why is it significant? What do you aim to achieve by completing it?
  • Avoid plagiarism: at this level, this is about research integrity - you are showing your potential for a research degree that is assessed by producing an original contribution to knowledge. Your proposal needs to reflect this by ensuring it is your original writing.


We may arrange an interview with you before making our decision to offer you a place. The academic staff who are interested in supervising you will contact you to arrange this.

If you live in the UK we may invite you to an interview in person - otherwise we’ll arrange to talk to you via Skype or telephone.


If all goes well, we’ll send you an offer letter confirming your project title, start date and fees. We have PhD cohorts in October and February, but we’ll endeavour to accommodate requests to start at other times of the year when required.

You’ll be able to view the progress of your application on our Applicant Portal, and, if we make you an offer, you’ll be able to use the portal to decide whether to accept your offer.

If you’re an international student, some PhD programmes will require you to apply for ATAS Clearance – we’ll let you know if this is the case in your offer letter.

Want to find out more?

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