K M Enayet Hossain
31 October, 2020

5 min read


PhD application and research proposal requirements

Find out the application requirements and how to write a research proposal for PhD course application in the UK.

PhD application and research proposal requirements

PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy (sometimes called DPhil) and is the most common type of doctoral study, although there are others.

A PhD is the highest academic degree you can earn within a field of study while it is the first key stage if you are intending to pursue an academic research career. It is also a qualification valued in its own right in many professional areas.

The duration of PhD is usually a minimum of 3 years full time study. However, many Universities now require students to complete it within 4 years, including the writing up process.

Lot of universities in the UK offer Skills Training through a central research office to equip students with range of research, transferrable and career oriented skills in addition to the academically rigorous experience.


PhD application requirements

A PhD requires students to complete a thesis on a substantial piece of supervised research that is judged by the examiners to make an original contribution to existing research and knowledge in the subject. In the UK most PhDs are normally examined by thesis and a viva voce.

Your application for PhD must be supported by a written proposal. In the proposal, you should give clear, academically sound, description of the area that you intend to work in and the type of research that you are looking to undertake. This will help universities to understand your interests, assess your ability to successfully complete a PhD and find an appropriate supervisor for you.

As a general guideline, a research proposal should be around 2,000 to 3,000 words that you write to outline the project you want to undertake – it is a concise and coherent summary of your proposed research. It sets out the central issues or questions that you intend to address. It outlines the general area of study within which your research falls, referring to the current state of knowledge and any recent debates on the topic. It also demonstrates the originality of your proposed research.

Before drafting a research proposal it is a good idea to consult with any academic contacts you already have. Once you have thought about the idea in a bit more detail it may also be helpful to get in contact with any likely prospective supervisors to obtain some feedback. Universities need it to assess the quality and originality of your ideas, whether you are able to think critically and whether you have a grasp of the relevant literature.

There is no formal structure for proposal; as a general guideline you may follow the following structure and suggestions that get positive outcomes –

A working title

Your title should give a clear indication meaningful message that summarise the intent of your project, directing attention explicitly to the central issue that you will address.


Research question(s)

Identify the main research question(s) that you will be asking. These should be succinct, researchable and significant. Bullet points are usually best. Outline the key issue(s) that you wish to investigate, and why these are important. You should state why you have chosen to apply to the particular university.



PhD is an original piece of research, so you should demonstrate and prove that your proposed topic was not done before, or if it was done by somebody earlier, you are taking a new perspective on an issue that was not settled or conclusive.

You should explain how your questions are different from those asked by others, reflecting on a brief review of the relevant research literature. You should demonstrate that you are familiar with the main literature in the field you are interested in.


Research design & methods

You should describe the research design that you will follow, including who, what, where and why of your research plan. Briefly describe the method(s) that you will use to answer your research questions i.e. visiting particular libraries or archives, field work or interviews and how you are going to access the material and the possible research methods or techniques that you will use. If your proposed research is library-based, you should explain where your key resources e.g. law reports, journal articles are located. If you plan to conduct field work or collect empirical data, you should provide details about this e.g. if you plan interviews, who will you interview? How many interviews will you conduct? Will there be problems of access?


Significance of the research

You should demonstrate why your research is important and the contribution that you think this research will make. Explain how your research work will add extra or newer domain of knowledge in the field and why it is high time you did that. You should establish how significantly your research work would benefit people, society or the world with distinction.



Provide a realistic time plan that shows you are going to manage the research design within a 3/4 year time period. It is better to include a step by step timetable.



Give a list of the main published literature that you have planned to use to conduct your research and any available sources of data you have thought to use.


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