What we look for in a research proposal

A good research proposal is 5-8 pages double spaced.  It briefly tells us about the experiences that have prepared you for doctoral study and why you are interested in this program, but the main focus of the document is on your proposed research. The proposal should introduce your thesis topic and clearly outline your main research question. What query do you have for which there is no clear answer at present?  What gap in knowledge do you plan to fill?

A well-considered research question will be informed by other people’s work within the area. Your proposal should demonstrate how that existing work is vital to shaping your question, making references to existing recent literature. A subject never exists as mere information; it is made and interpreted by those who hold a view about it, and converse with one another. Your proposal is an opportunity to begin imagining how you will participate in that conversation.

A good research proposal also tells us how you anticipate working and demonstrates that the project is achievable. How will you delimit your topic, and what body of artworks, archival materials, and/or texts will inform your study?  What conceptual frameworks do you consider most likely to produce answers to your question? How will you set about your research and why is that the best way of approaching the project? Can you already see how your research question might be broken up into subsidiary questions?

Most importantly, a good research proposal explains to its readers why the project matters. What is valuable about the research you are proposing? Looking ahead what contribution to learning do you hope to make? 

(Adapted with permission from the Cardiff School of Art & Design)