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Writing a research proposal

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The research proposal is the main way in which we evaluate the quality of your research plans. You should aim to make your proposal about 1500-2000 words long.

Your proposal should include the following:

The title

The title indicates the overall question or topic of the PhD. It should include any key concepts, empirical focus, or lines of inquiry that you aim to pursue, and it should be concise and descriptive.

You can normally discuss changes in the title with your supervisor(s) should you be successful but it is important to try to choose a clear and engaging title.

Research questions

What are the questions or problems for politics or international relations that you are trying to understand and solve? In explaining these, it will be helpful to spell out what else we need to know in order to understand why you are framing the problem this way.

Research aims

In answering these questions, what will your research project do? What will it shed light on or help us to understand that we don’t really understand better?


Why this project? Explain why your project is interesting, what its broader implications are, and – if you think this is relevant – why you are particularly well placed to tackle it. It is also valuable to reflect on who has worked on the topic before and to provide a brief literature review. Are there any good approaches to the topic, or particular articles or books, that you are drawing on or bad ones you want to push back against?


What are the sources you plan to use to answer your research questions? These will vary according to the nature of your research but may include study of particular texts, interviews, published or unpublished data, archival or policy documents, or field site visits, among others. Try to be as specific as you can and assess the possibility of access to relevant sources.


This includes thinking about the research methods you will use to analyse empirical sources (e.g., sampling, survey or interview design, data collection, discourse analysis) but may also include setting out the kind of theoretical framework you will employ or your approach to history or political ideas. What prior knowledge and skills do you bring to the project? What extra training may you need?

Structure and timetable

Include a provisional chapter structure and timetable to completion, covering the three years of the full-time programme or six years of the part-time programme, as appropriate.

To help you with your application here are some examples of PhD proposals which were successful in obtaining funding: 

Apply for a PhD now