Prior to writing a PhD research proposal, it is crucial to develop a solid understanding of the question or issue at hand by reviewing all relevant academic literature including existing dissertations. The PhD research proposal should consist of a linear, clear and refined argument that shows the reader that the dissertation’s approach will be unique and that the project will contribute new ideas to the relevant academic area. Doctoral candidates also generally define academic terms, establish a conceptual framework and describe the project’s methodology in a successful proposal.
A PhD research proposal typically summarizes all existing work on an academic topic before drawing attention to a novel approach and demonstrating how that will contribute to the relevant field. The introduction is generally a concise and direct summary of existing academic literature followed by a presentation of the principal research question or problem statement. The presentation of the project’s principal question aims to illustrate the need for additional research and the novelty of the researcher’s approach.
Once the main problem statement of the PhD research proposal has been presented and contextualized, the project’s theoretical framework can be established. The researcher may have to define any relevant academic terms and key constructs that he or she will use. In addition, this section of the proposal can include a model or illustrative example of the problem and how the researcher’s theoretical framework will be applied.
The description and definition of the theoretical or conceptual framework may then be linked to a presentation of the researcher’s methodology. This section should illustrate what the researcher plans to do and why the chosen method will be effective. This can include a description of how each dissertation chapter will contribute to the project’s overall conclusion.
The majority of proposals include a working bibliography that will grow and change throughout the research process as new information is added. If a work is cited in a project’s bibliography, the members of the dissertation committee can expect the researcher to be familiar with its contents. In addition to a bibliography in progress, PhD research proposals may also include any relevant appendices, pilot data or a project timeline with provisional submission date.
Unless a length is specified in department or university policy, there is no minimum or maximum length of a PhD research proposal although many average approximately 20 pages. Numerous drafts over several months will likely be required before the proposal is accepted. In some cases, the PhD research proposal can later be expanded into the introductory chapter of the dissertation itself.