How to write a PGR research proposal

You will need to submit a research proposal with your PhD application. This is crucial in the assessment of your application and it warrants plenty of time and energy.

Your research proposal should be no more than 1500 words, Times New Roman, Font 12 (exclusive of references). Please provide a word count with your submission. If over length, the submission will be returned to you.

While there are different ways to structure a research proposal, usually a proposal includes the following:


A clear working title for your research project that expresses its essence well.

Overview of the research

An introduction where you identify the subject of your research in relation to theoretical contributions/hypothesis and relevant empirical applications, explaining why the project is important and highlighting why you wish to pursue this project.

Please also add a short paragraph stating why you want to apply to the School of Education, Environment and Development (SEED) at the University of Manchester, and how your research links to at least one of the four research priority themes:

  • Global inequalities
  • Cities and infrastructure
  • Environmental change and sustainability
  • Digital methods, perspectives, solutions; and/or the work of a specific research group

Positioning of the research

A short review of relevant literature and theories (or hypotheses) relating to your proposed research area, showing that you clearly understand the key arguments that have been developed and the ideas and findings of key researchers working on the topic. This should also demonstrate your familiarity with the subject area, and your ability to communicate ideas clearly and concisely.

Research design and methodology

  • A summary of the central aims and questions that will guide your research.
  • An outline of the research methods you propose to use, explaining how you will conduct your research, and a justification of those. Also consider perceived challenges, and how these may be overcome, plus a short timeline.

Ethical considerations

  • You should identify and address any potential ethical considerations in relation to your proposed research. Please discuss your research with your proposed supervisor to see how best to progress your ideas in line with University of Manchester ethics guidance, and ensure that your proposed supervisor is happy for you to proceed with your application.


  • Include a bibliography highlighting the key references that you have drawn on in the proposal (this does not count towards the 1500 words).


It is strongly advised that you contact your desired PGR supervisor beforehand and discuss your proposed research with them. Please note that contact can only be informal, and no decision can be made on your application until it is submitted and processed through the Humanities Doctoral Academy.

If an academic is interested in supervising your project, make sure to include their name on your application form.


You will not be forced to follow the proposal exactly once you have started to study. It is normal for applicants to refine their original proposal, in light of detailed literature review, further consideration of research approaches and comments received from your supervisors (and other academic staff).

Pitfalls to avoid

We sometimes have to reject applicants who meet the academic requirements but have not produced a satisfactory research proposal, therefore:

  • Make sure that your research idea, question or problem is very clearly stated and well-grounded in academic research.
  • Make sure that your proposal is well focused and conforms exactly to the submission requirements described here.
  • Poorly specified, jargon-filled or rambling proposals will not convince us that you have a clear idea of what you want to do.

The University uses electronic systems to detect plagiarism and other forms of academic malpractice and for assessment. All Humanities PhD programmes require the submission of a research proposal as part of the application process. The Doctoral Academy upholds the principle that where a candidate approaches the University with a project of study, this should be original. While it is understandable that research may arise out of previous studies, it is vital that your research proposal is not the subject of plagiarism.