PhD research degree proposal guidelines

When you apply for a place on our PhD programme you must submit your research proposal to

This document explains the nature and purpose of this proposal and provides guidance on how to write it. We appreciate, especially within the built environment field, that many candidates have little previous experience of research. We do not expect you to know a huge amount at this stage but we expect you to follow the guidance given here and to address any comments made by potential supervisors.

Purpose of the PhD proposal

  • To determine if the field you are interested in is one we have the expertise to supervise within the School. Details on research groups in the School and their areas of interest can be found on the research degrees page.
  • To check that there is potential for a PhD in what you a proposing.
  • To provide the opportunity for relevant supervisors to give feedback and advise on its development.

Requirements of PhD research

To write a good proposal, you need to have a clear understanding of the requirements of PhD level research. Think in terms of what you will seek to find out that we didn't know before, and what its significance will be. These are the key requirements of the research you propose:

  • It should represent an original contribution to knowledge (rather than a contribution to policy or practice).
  • The knowledge you create should have relevance beyond a single case and contribute to a wider discourse, theory or debate.
  • This knowledge must be generated through rigorous scientific methods.

Format of the PhD proposal

The proposal should be about four pages of A4 and should include the following:

  • A title summarising the proposed research.
  • Your name and qualifications.
  • A background section identifying the gap in knowledge that you want to fill. You should be able to characterise what research has already been done in this area, explaining how and in what respects the research project you propose would contribute to it and why it would be interesting and/or important to do. Your aim in this section should be to make a convincing case as to why your research would create valuable and useful knowledge. It is essential that you include references to key texts in the field.
  • Aims and objectives of the research: these are clear, precise and concise descriptions of what it is that you want to find out in your research. You should break them down into a primary aim and several subsidiary objectives. If you wish they may be formulated in the form of questions or hypotheses. In either case they should be sufficiently well-defined/focussed for you to do the research implied within the three year time frame of the programme.
  • Methodology: This section should consist of a detailed description of how you will go about the research. Try to identify what information you will be collecting, what the sources of that information are, and which methods you will use to obtain it. In addition to your data collection methods, make sure that you state clearly how you will analyse your data. Explain what data analysis skills you will need and whether you have them or how you will acquire them. For both your data collection and data analysis methods you should indicate why you think they are the most appropriate for your research? We appreciate that this is a section that is likely to need further development once you have enrolled on the programme.
  • Contribution to knowledge: provide a brief explanation of the nature of the findings and conclusions you will generate. What sort of knowledge will the research community have that it didn't have before? Are you developing a model for use in research and practice? How will the findings contribute to wider debates and understanding in your field?
  • Bibliography: You should include a list of references to the books, articles and other sources that you used in writing the proposal.

Text throughout the proposal should be clear, precise and free from jargon. You should use a consistent referencing style in your research proposal. Your proposal must be written in your own words, clearly citing and crediting any sources used in your discussion. A research proposal which consists of plagiarised material will automatically disqualify the applicant from consideration for a place. This is not negotiable.

If you are offered a place on the programme, you will spend the first 6 months after enrolment receiving research training and refining your proposal. It will be possible to change your research to a certain degree at this stage.