Advice on writing a research study proposal

Advice on writing a research study proposal

Image courtesy of University of Screen Archive South EastImage: detail from film still, ‘St Bartholomew’s Hospital’ (1930) courtesy of Screen Archive South East

Writing a proposal

Some typical weaknesses

Pitfalls for practice-led applicants


Writing a research proposal

A research proposal provides a basis for decision-making, and helps to make sure that you get the most appropriate supervisor for your research. It is natural for ideas to evolve and change, so you will not be obliged to adhere to the specifics of your proposal if you are offered a place at the University of Brighton. However, following a successful application, the proposal will help to focus your early research and discussions between you and your supervisor.

Within your application you must present an 800-1000 word written statement that details your research proposal, with images if appropriate, and that outlines your proposed research questions, aims and objectives, and research methodologies. Because applicants vary in the types of research projects they wish to undertake we do not insist on any rigid format. We do however encourage students to keep the following in mind:

Overview of the project

The proposal should begin by stating the core research question that underpins the proposed project. An effective research proposal should begin with a question rather than being purely exploratory in nature.

Having established the question, the proposal should then demonstrate where that question is to be located, and provide an indication of the key theoretical, practical or empirical debates it plans to address. It should include an explanation of why the topic is of interest to you, and an outline of the reasons why the topic should be of interest to the wider research community.

The research area

The proposal should include a brief up-to-date review of literature in your area. You need to demonstrate a familiarity with the relevant academic literature and theories relating to your research proposal and an awareness of the major lines of argument that have been developed in your chosen research field. You should aim to present an indicative statement of the state of current scholarship, showing the gaps in knowledge that you will address. Appropriate breadth and depth should be clear, as well as the inclusion of up-to-date references and a sense of critical engagement. This statement should be presented in support of the research question and not as a generic discussion of a field. You need to demonstrate the ways in which your primary research question and subsidiary lines of investigation have emerged: for example from gaps in the existing literature; from the application of a particular theory in a specific context; or from a synthesis of a number of bodies of literature.


There are many research methods, so you should seek to identify those that are most suited to your area of research. Many students apply for research through artistic practice. Other projects may involve case-study analysis, the analysis of historical records or design archives, interviews, critical involvement in curatorship, or the analysis of textual sources.

The application should state clearly whether you will need on-line access to databases or access to relevant archives. Importantly, you need to explain the manner in which the data you collect will enable you to address your research question.


If your research is anchored in artistic practice you should include suitable samples of your work. Typically these are photographic evidence along with clear statements of how the artistic production will lead the research, including the process of making, testing, and reflecting upon practice.

BibliographyYou should include a list of indicative sources,following in a uniform format.  This can be additional to the 800-1000 word count.


Although no indication of the research findings can be presented, it is often beneficial to conclude the research proposal by indicating the contribution you envisage that your research will make to the literature in your particular subject area, or by indicating the potential practical or policy implications of your research. This means providing an indication of the extent to which you feel your research will make an original contribution, suggesting how it may fill gaps in existing research, and showing how it may extend understanding of particular topics.


Evidence should be provided of how the project will be completed within the allotted time: benchmarks (literature review; writing the draft; final submission) should be indicated in a projected timetable of study and development.

Personal Statement

In the personal statement you should show how your own background gives you scholarly competences in your chosen area. Some explanation of what led you to the topic, especially if this is after the development of a former qualification or vocational practice, would be appropriate.


While your research proposal is judged mainly on content, it must also look professional. It should be typed and written in good English. Particular attention will be paid to clarity of expression and also the structure, coherence and flow of argument.

Typical Weaknesses

Applications are often delayed or rejected because of the following problems: 

The project cannot be supervised at Brighton

Make sure that the specialist area you wish to study is covered by a member(s) of staff. You can do this by checking individual Faculty of Arts staff profiles on the website. You might also try contacting academic staff directly.

The project is not focused

You research proposal should be as specific and as focused as possible. Although your project may alter significantly as you progress, we cannot accept students who have only a vague idea of a research field.

A passion to explore is not sufficient in itself. The onus is on you to state the question(s)which underpin your proposed research. Your ability to frame your research in this way demonstrates your potential to think like a researcher.
The project is unlikely to be completed

PhDs are typically 3 – 4 years full time and around 6 years full-time. Projects cannot be accepted which are unlikely to be completed on this timescale, whether because of student competence, resource issues or the extent of the topic.

The practice is not research

Your project should clearly be an MPhil/ PhD. Artwork, however original it may be, does not qualify as research in itself. Artistic practice through which research is to be undertaken must be justified.


About Andreia Sofia Paixao

I’m an architect but at the moment I’m doing a PhD in the “Architecture of Contemporary Metropolitan Territories” at the University Institute of Lisbon (ISCTE-IUL). I have worked teaching children in a primary school, in performance studies and as a production assistant in dance and events on ecological themes. PhD Researcher _ Architecture / Contemporary Dance / Permaculture My research is situated at the intersection of architecture, landscape architecture, public art and urban development.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: