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  • How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates

How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates

Published on October 12, 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George. Revised on November 21, 2023.

Structure of a research proposal

A research proposal describes what you will investigate, why it’s important, and how you will conduct your research.

The format of a research proposal varies between fields, but most proposals will contain at least these elements:


Literature review.

  • Research design

Reference list

While the sections may vary, the overall objective is always the same. A research proposal serves as a blueprint and guide for your research plan, helping you get organized and feel confident in the path forward you choose to take.

Table of contents

Research proposal purpose, research proposal examples, research design and methods, contribution to knowledge, research schedule, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about research proposals.

Academics often have to write research proposals to get funding for their projects. As a student, you might have to write a research proposal as part of a grad school application , or prior to starting your thesis or dissertation .

In addition to helping you figure out what your research can look like, a proposal can also serve to demonstrate why your project is worth pursuing to a funder, educational institution, or supervisor.

Research proposal length

The length of a research proposal can vary quite a bit. A bachelor’s or master’s thesis proposal can be just a few pages, while proposals for PhD dissertations or research funding are usually much longer and more detailed. Your supervisor can help you determine the best length for your work.

One trick to get started is to think of your proposal’s structure as a shorter version of your thesis or dissertation , only without the results , conclusion and discussion sections.

Download our research proposal template

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Writing a research proposal can be quite challenging, but a good starting point could be to look at some examples. We’ve included a few for you below.

  • Example research proposal #1: “A Conceptual Framework for Scheduling Constraint Management”
  • Example research proposal #2: “Medical Students as Mediators of Change in Tobacco Use”

Like your dissertation or thesis, the proposal will usually have a title page that includes:

  • The proposed title of your project
  • Your supervisor’s name
  • Your institution and department

The first part of your proposal is the initial pitch for your project. Make sure it succinctly explains what you want to do and why.

Your introduction should:

  • Introduce your topic
  • Give necessary background and context
  • Outline your  problem statement  and research questions

To guide your introduction , include information about:

  • Who could have an interest in the topic (e.g., scientists, policymakers)
  • How much is already known about the topic
  • What is missing from this current knowledge
  • What new insights your research will contribute
  • Why you believe this research is worth doing

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See an example

phd research proposal in english literature

As you get started, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re familiar with the most important research on your topic. A strong literature review  shows your reader that your project has a solid foundation in existing knowledge or theory. It also shows that you’re not simply repeating what other people have already done or said, but rather using existing research as a jumping-off point for your own.

In this section, share exactly how your project will contribute to ongoing conversations in the field by:

  • Comparing and contrasting the main theories, methods, and debates
  • Examining the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches
  • Explaining how will you build on, challenge, or synthesize prior scholarship

Following the literature review, restate your main  objectives . This brings the focus back to your own project. Next, your research design or methodology section will describe your overall approach, and the practical steps you will take to answer your research questions.

To finish your proposal on a strong note, explore the potential implications of your research for your field. Emphasize again what you aim to contribute and why it matters.

For example, your results might have implications for:

  • Improving best practices
  • Informing policymaking decisions
  • Strengthening a theory or model
  • Challenging popular or scientific beliefs
  • Creating a basis for future research

Last but not least, your research proposal must include correct citations for every source you have used, compiled in a reference list . To create citations quickly and easily, you can use our free APA citation generator .

Some institutions or funders require a detailed timeline of the project, asking you to forecast what you will do at each stage and how long it may take. While not always required, be sure to check the requirements of your project.

Here’s an example schedule to help you get started. You can also download a template at the button below.

Download our research schedule template

If you are applying for research funding, chances are you will have to include a detailed budget. This shows your estimates of how much each part of your project will cost.

Make sure to check what type of costs the funding body will agree to cover. For each item, include:

  • Cost : exactly how much money do you need?
  • Justification : why is this cost necessary to complete the research?
  • Source : how did you calculate the amount?

To determine your budget, think about:

  • Travel costs : do you need to go somewhere to collect your data? How will you get there, and how much time will you need? What will you do there (e.g., interviews, archival research)?
  • Materials : do you need access to any tools or technologies?
  • Help : do you need to hire any research assistants for the project? What will they do, and how much will you pay them?

If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.


  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility


  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

Once you’ve decided on your research objectives , you need to explain them in your paper, at the end of your problem statement .

Keep your research objectives clear and concise, and use appropriate verbs to accurately convey the work that you will carry out for each one.

I will compare …

A research aim is a broad statement indicating the general purpose of your research project. It should appear in your introduction at the end of your problem statement , before your research objectives.

Research objectives are more specific than your research aim. They indicate the specific ways you’ll address the overarching aim.

A PhD, which is short for philosophiae doctor (doctor of philosophy in Latin), is the highest university degree that can be obtained. In a PhD, students spend 3–5 years writing a dissertation , which aims to make a significant, original contribution to current knowledge.

A PhD is intended to prepare students for a career as a researcher, whether that be in academia, the public sector, or the private sector.

A master’s is a 1- or 2-year graduate degree that can prepare you for a variety of careers.

All master’s involve graduate-level coursework. Some are research-intensive and intend to prepare students for further study in a PhD; these usually require their students to write a master’s thesis . Others focus on professional training for a specific career.

Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.

Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.

The best way to remember the difference between a research plan and a research proposal is that they have fundamentally different audiences. A research plan helps you, the researcher, organize your thoughts. On the other hand, a dissertation proposal or research proposal aims to convince others (e.g., a supervisor, a funding body, or a dissertation committee) that your research topic is relevant and worthy of being conducted.

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Research Proposals

  • the research topic briefly outline the area and topic of your research.
  • the research context relate your proposed research to other work in its field or related fields, and indicate in what ways your research will differ; you might mention monographs on the subject, as well as important theoretical models or methodological exemplars. This is a chance to show your understanding of the background against which your research will be defined.
  • the contribution you will make this is your chance to show how you have arrived at your position and recognised the need for your research, and what it is that makes it both new and important; you should indicate what areas and debates it will have an impact on, what methodological example it sets (if appropriate) – in short how it contributes to knowledge and to the practice of our subject. Give examples of the sort of evidence you might consider, and of the questions it might help you to raise. Show that you are already thinking about the area in detail and not only in outline.
  • your methods in some cases there will be little to say here, but if there is something striking about your methodology, you should explain it.
  • the sources and resources you will use you should delimit your field of enquiry, showing where the project begins and ends; in certain cases, Cambridge will have unique collections and resources of central relevance to your project, and you should mention these.
  • how the project will develop you might indicate some of the possible ways in which the project could develop, perhaps by giving a broader or narrower version depending on what materials and issues you uncover

You should ask yourself how your work might change the present state of scholarship in your field, and whether the topic is well suited to the resources provided at Cambridge. Even for MPhil courses we generally aim to admit not just those who propose a sensible topic, but those who have the potential to modify the present paradigms of research in their field. Most students, though, refine their research topics after they arrive in the light of what they discover or of advice from their supervisor, so you need not feel that you are inscribing your future in tablets of stone as you compose your proposal.

You may find it helpful to look at the following examples of successful research proposals.

It is vital that you show that your research is necessary. It is not enough that it happens to interest you. You should make clear that it will be of use and interest to others working in your field, or on a particular author, or indeed in neighbouring fields. You should show how your work will make a contribution to knowledge and to the practice of our subject.

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Department of English

College of arts and sciences, ph.d. dissertation proposal guidelines.

The following has been adapted for the English Department from the Graduate  School’s “Statement on Thesis/Dissertation Proposals.” Guidelines adapted for the Creative Dissertation Proposal Guidelines can be found here .

I. Introduction

A thesis proposal states a problem to be investigated and describes how the research will be performed and reported. Approval signifies that it meets the standards of the University of Rhode Island for the degree desired. Therefore, the preparation and writing of the thesis proposal are of utmost importance. Although the student is expected to seek guidance in the choice of topic and the method of solving the problem involved, responsibility for the proposal lies with the student who will, as far as possible, work independently and demonstrate the ability to plan and outline an acceptable research project. Adherence to the guidelines given below should assure the student that all information necessary for the satisfactory evaluation of the plans for master’s or doctoral research will be included in the proposal.

The thesis proposal should present the required information as concisely and clearly as possible. The ability to describe concisely a research problem and methodology is one of the skills that the proposal process is designed to develop. Therefore, all thesis/dissertation proposals are limited in length to the signature cover-sheet plus 15 or fewer double-spaced, numbered pages in a font size no smaller than 12 point . Proposals longer than this will not be accepted, however, appendices and references are not included in the 15-page limit . Proposals will also be returned for revision if they do not contain the appropriate sections described in the Contents section of this Statement on Thesis/Dissertation Proposals. Sufficient copies of the proposal must be provided to permit distribution to the Graduate School, Institutional Review Board or Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee if required (see Sec. III), department, major professor, thesis or doctoral committee, and the student.

III.  Submission

Thesis proposals should be submitted before substantial research has been completed. Typically, it should be submitted before or during the first semester in which the student registers for research credits. In all cases, however, the proposal must be submitted at least one semester before the semester in which the thesis/dissertation itself is to be submitted and defended.

In the English Department, the Dissertation Proposal is submitted for review by the student’s entire dissertation committee once the written and oral comprehensive exams are completed. The student meets with the committee for the purpose of discussing the proposal and the first stages of the dissertation. Then , all copies of the thesis proposal must be signed by the members of the student’s doctoral committee, who thereby approve the proposal for forwarding by the student’s major professor via the Director of Graduate Studies to the Vice Provost for Graduate Studies, Research, and Outreach. The Vice Provost is charged with responsibility for review and approval or rejection of all proposals. Proposals that do not meet the standard of the Graduate School will be returned to the student for revision and resubmission. Approved proposals are returned to the department for distribution, with one copy retained in the student’s file at the Graduate School.

(Sections on “Research Involving Human Subjects” and “Research involving Vertebrate Animals” excluded here, but you may read them by going to the Grad School Webpage and consulting their Statement on the Ph.D. proposal.)

IV.  Contents

Thesis Proposals shall contain the following sections, presented in the order shown:

A. Title of the Study 

This is the title as the student conceives it at the time the proposal is submitted. It should be no more than 100 characters in length. As the research develops, various rephrasings of the title may prove better suited to the work. In such cases, the most satisfactory one will be used for the dissertation, the final formal report of the investigation.  Please note that at that time a title abstract of 40 characters or less must be submitted.

B. Statement of the Problem

This section should be relatively short and sweet — a succinct introduction to your topic, thesis, and the questions that drive your project.

Limit the statement, if possible, to two or three sentences, and note in precise language exactly what is to be investigated. Here is where you introduce your object(s) of study and the principal question or questions you are bringing to it or them. To amplify the Statement of the Problem, it is usually desirable to list:

  • The scope or limitations of the problem: e.g., what material will it include and why? Give some thought to the criteria by which you will limit the project, for instance, to a specific time period, geographical locale, genre of literature or film, a particular author or group of authors, a social group, or movement, or school of thought, etc.
  • Either one or more hypotheses the research seeks to test or the objectives you expect to attain as a result of the study.
  • The major assumptions that underlie both the study as a whole and the methodology you will be following. Note: you will be expanding on this in section D; just give a succinct introduction of the methodology here.

C.  The justification for and Significance of the Study

Now you start to get into the substance of your proposal. You may run to a few pages in this section, and amplify on what you introduced in Section B.

This section of the proposal includes:

  • A brief statement of the reasons for the selection of the problem: Is there, for instance, a gap in the existing scholarship on this problem? Alternatively, even if this is a topic that has been much discussed, will you be shedding new light on it by examining it in a new context, or bringing to bear a different theoretical framework, or juxtaposing it with other objects with which it has never been considered?
  • The relation of the principal literature to the proposal: In the English Department, by “principal literature” we mean both the primary texts or object you plan to treat, as well as the secondary texts that have come to inform your approach to those primary texts. Why these texts? Why now? What is at stake? And what have you got to contribute to our understanding of them?
  • An explanation of the study’s importance to the advancement of knowledge and its significance to the student: To show the importance of your study to the advancement of knowledge, you will need to show where that knowledge is now, and how you plan to extend, question, complement, challenge, or revolutionize it (etc).
  • The problem selected should be substantial enough to constitute a good example of a report of a scholarly investigation. Completion of a project or several unrelated projects does not satisfy this requirement. At the Ph.D. level, the work should constitute a significant increase in the pool of knowledge.

D. Methodology or Procedures

Again–this is a substantive section of the Proposal. Another few pages.

This section describes the activities necessary to achieve the objectives. Methods should flow naturally from the problems and objectives.

The Graduate School defines methodology in terms of the study population; sampling design and procedures; tools, instruments, and timetables for data collection and testing; definition of terms and concepts. In the English Department, too, you will be expected to present a methodological plan for how your investigation will be carried out, which will necessarily involve a concise statement of the theoretical or critical frameworks most important to your project. Rather than a list of theorists’ or critics’ names, provide specific concepts or well-defined terms from these theorists, and explain how they inform the way you are approaching your problem. Even better, explain how you are intervening in the status quo already established by these existing critics or theorists. You should also give a sense of the kinds of critical activity you plan to carry out: will you do close readings of primary texts? If so, what kind? Will one or more chapters be devoted to a survey of existing scholarship? Will you be conducting archival research, and if so, where, and for what purpose? Does one section of your dissertation rely on your having completed another section first? Is there an interdisciplinary aspect to your project that requires a special methodological approach all its own? A brief, provisional chapter outline is appropriate in this section since it indicates the logic behind how you envision the organization of your material.

E. Resources Required

The last part of the thesis proposal is a statement of the resources needed for the successful completion of the study and an indication of their accessibility to the student proposing to use them. This may be a very brief section, where you summarize the primary and secondary texts necessary to your investigation, with the understanding that the full bibliography will be saved for an appendix. This is also the place to mention travel to archives or to visit any individuals who may be key to your project.

F. Literature Cited in the Proposal

Take note of the following concern of the Graduate School, a concern shared by the  English Department:

The most persistent difficulty with thesis proposals is lack of evidence that a search of the literature took place in framing the problem to be studied. The absence of evidence that the scholarly literature in the field has been consulted might be due to one or more of the following reasons:

  • That it was omitted because the student was not aware that it was required.
  • That the student was unfamiliar with the library as a resource in developing the research proposal.
  • That, having searched the literature of the field, the student found that the problem was unique, and therefore, could not be documented. If so, it is important to note where the literature stops and the proposed research starts, itself an intriguing scholarly problem.
  • That the thesis problem has been provided “ready-made” as a spin-off from a larger study so that no literature search appeared to be needed. One might question the wisdom of thus isolating the student from the scholarly literature, however valid and important the research topic. (This seems to be directed more at faculty than at students.)
  • Since you are limited to only 15 pages for the dissertation proposal, we recommend that you write “See Appendix A” for this section of the proposal, and place your Works Cited in that Appendix. That way you leave more room for the substance of the Proposal. In your “Works Cited,” we recommend that you make sub-divisions where appropriate. For instance, you may want to have a “primary” and a “secondary” list; or a list of “literature,” “film,” and the criticism pertaining to each; or if more than one historical period is covered, you may want to divide your bibliography by period, etc. Make your Works Cited as reflective of the logic of your project as possible.

G. Revised Proposals (not a section of your proposal)

If, as the research proceeds, a significant change in subject or methodology becomes necessary, a revised proposal should be submitted. Sometimes an abbreviated format can be used for such changes. The student or major professor should contact the Graduate School for assistance in such cases.

Writing your research proposal

phd research proposal in english literature

The purpose of the research proposal is to demonstrate that the research you wish to undertake is significant, necessary and feasible, that you will be able to make an original contribution to the field, and that the project can be completed within the normal time period. Some general guidelines and advice on structuring your proposal are provided below. Research proposals should be between 1,000 and 3,000 words depending on the programme (excluding the reference list/bibliography).

Title sheet

Topic statement, research aims, review of the literature, study design / theoretical orientation, research methods, tentative chapter outline, references/bibliography.

phd research proposal in english literature

Applying for a research degree

phd research proposal in english literature

phd research proposal in english literature

How to Write a PhD Research Proposal

  • Applying to a PhD
  • A research proposal summarises your intended research.
  • Your research proposal is used to confirm you understand the topic, and that the university has the expertise to support your study.
  • The length of a research proposal varies. It is usually specified by either the programme requirements or the supervisor upon request. 1500 to 3500 words is common.
  • The typical research proposal structure consists of: Title, Abstract, Background and Rationale, Research Aims and Objectives, Research Design and Methodology, Timetable, and a Bibliography.

What is a Research Proposal?

A research proposal is a supporting document that may be required when applying to a research degree. It summarises your intended research by outlining what your research questions are, why they’re important to your field and what knowledge gaps surround your topic. It also outlines your research in terms of your aims, methods and proposed timetable .

What Is It Used for and Why Is It Important?

A research proposal will be used to:

  • Confirm whether you understand the topic and can communicate complex ideas.
  • Confirm whether the university has adequate expertise to support you in your research topic.
  • Apply for funding or research grants to external bodies.

How Long Should a PhD Research Proposal Be?

Some universities will specify a word count all students will need to adhere to. You will typically find these in the description of the PhD listing. If they haven’t stated a word count limit, you should contact the potential supervisor to clarify whether there are any requirements. If not, aim for 1500 to 3500 words (3 to 7 pages).

Your title should indicate clearly what your research question is. It needs to be simple and to the point; if the reader needs to read further into your proposal to understand your question, your working title isn’t clear enough.

Directly below your title, state the topic your research question relates to. Whether you include this information at the top of your proposal or insert a dedicated title page is your choice and will come down to personal preference.

2. Abstract

If your research proposal is over 2000 words, consider providing an abstract. Your abstract should summarise your question, why it’s important to your field and how you intend to answer it; in other words, explain your research context.

Only include crucial information in this section – 250 words should be sufficient to get across your main points.

3. Background & Rationale

First, specify which subject area your research problem falls in. This will help set the context of your study and will help the reader anticipate the direction of your proposed research.

Following this, include a literature review . A literature review summarises the existing knowledge which surrounds your research topic. This should include a discussion of the theories, models and bodies of text which directly relate to your research problem. As well as discussing the information available, discuss those which aren’t. In other words, identify what the current gaps in knowledge are and discuss how this will influence your research. Your aim here is to convince the potential supervisor and funding providers of why your intended research is worth investing time and money into.

Last, discuss the key debates and developments currently at the centre of your research area.

4. Research Aims & Objectives

Identify the aims and objectives of your research. The aims are the problems your project intends to solve; the objectives are the measurable steps and outcomes required to achieve the aim.

In outlining your aims and objectives, you will need to explain why your proposed research is worth exploring. Consider these aspects:

  • Will your research solve a problem?
  • Will your research address a current gap in knowledge?
  • Will your research have any social or practical benefits?

If you fail to address the above questions, it’s unlikely they will accept your proposal – all PhD research projects must show originality and value to be considered.

5. Research Design and Methodology

The following structure is recommended when discussing your research design:

  • Sample/Population – Discuss your sample size, target populations, specimen types etc.
  • Methods – What research methods have you considered, how did you evaluate them and how did you decide on your chosen one?
  • Data Collection – How are you going to collect and validate your data? Are there any limitations?
  • Data Analysis – How are you going to interpret your results and obtain a meaningful conclusion from them?
  • Ethical Considerations – Are there any potential implications associated with your research approach? This could either be to research participants or to your field as a whole on the outcome of your findings (i.e. if you’re researching a particularly controversial area). How are you going to monitor for these implications and what types of preventive steps will you need to put into place?

6. Timetable

PhD Project Plan - PhD research proposal

We’ve outlined the various stages of a PhD and the approximate duration of a PhD programme which you can refer to when designing your own research study.

7. Bibliography

Plagiarism is taken seriously across all academic levels, but even more so for doctorates. Therefore, ensure you reference the existing literature you have used in writing your PhD proposal. Besides this, try to adopt the same referencing style as the University you’re applying to uses. You can easily find this information in the PhD Thesis formatting guidelines published on the University’s website.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

Questions & Answers

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we’re asked about the Research Proposal:

Can You Change a Research Proposal?

Yes, your PhD research proposal outlines the start of your project only. It’s well accepted that the direction of your research will develop with time, therefore, you can revise it at later dates.

Can the Potential Supervisor Review My Draft Proposal?

Whether the potential supervisor will review your draft will depend on the individual. However, it is highly advisable that you at least attempt to discuss your draft with them. Even if they can’t review it, they may provide you with useful information regarding their department’s expertise which could help shape your PhD proposal. For example, you may amend your methodology should you come to learn that their laboratory is better equipped for an alternative method.

How Should I Structure and Format My Proposal?

Ensure you follow the same order as the headings given above. This is the most logical structure and will be the order your proposed supervisor will expect.

Most universities don’t provide formatting requirements for research proposals on the basis that they are a supporting document only, however, we recommend that you follow the same format they require for their PhD thesis submissions. This will give your reader familiarity and their guidelines should be readily available on their website.

Last, try to have someone within the same academic field or discipline area to review your proposal. The key is to confirm that they understand the importance of your work and how you intend to execute it. If they don’t, it’s likely a sign you need to rewrite some of your sections to be more coherent.

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Doctorate-level study is an opportunity to expand upon your interests and expertise in a community that really values research; and to make an original, positive contribution to learning in literature and related fields.

As the oldest department of English Literature in the UK, based in one of the largest and most diverse Schools in the University of Edinburgh, we are the ideal place for PhD study.

Our interdisciplinary environment brings together specialists in all periods and genres of literature and literary analysis.

Research excellence

Based on our performance in the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF), over 90 per cent of our research and impact is classed as world-leading and internationally excellent by Research Professional. 69 per cent is graded at the world-leading level – the highest of REF’s four categories.

In Times Higher Education's REF analysis, English at Edinburgh is ranked fifth in the UK (out of more than 90 institutions) for:

  • the overall quality of our publications and other outputs
  • the impact of our research on people’s lives
  • our supportive research environment

Given the breadth and depth of our expertise, we are able to support students wishing to develop research projects in any field of Anglophone literary studies. These include American studies, literary and critical theory, the history of the book, gender and sexuality studies, and global Anglophone literatures - where our specialisms include Pacific, African, South Asian, and African-American writing.

We have particular strengths in each of the main periods of English and Scottish Literature:

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  • Enlightenment
  • 21st century
  • Contemporary

Emergent research themes in the department include the digital humanities, the economic humanities, the environmental humanities and literature and medicine.

  • Explore our range of research centres, networks and projects in English and Scottish Literature

Working with colleagues elsewhere in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, and across the wider University, we are able to support PhD theses crossing boundaries between disciplines and/or languages.

  • Be inspired by the range of PhD research in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures

Over the course of your PhD, you’ll be expected to complete an original body of work under the expert guidance of your supervisors leading to a dissertation of usually between 80,000 and 100,000 words.

You will be awarded your doctorate if your thesis is judged to be of an appropriate standard, and your research makes a definite contribution to knowledge.

  • Read our pre-application guidance on writing a PhD research proposal

Go beyond the books

Beyond the Books is a podcast from the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) that gives you a behind-the-scenes look at research and the people who make it happen.

Listen to a mix of PhD, early career and established researchers talk about their journey to and through academia and about their current and recent research.

  • Browse Beyond the Books episodes and hear our research community talk about their work

Training and support

Between the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC), the Careers Service, and the Institute for Academic Development (IAD), you’ll find a range of programmes and resources to help you develop your postgraduate skills.

You will also have access to the University’s fantastic libraries, collections and worldwide strategic partnerships.

Part of a community

As part of our research community, you will be immersed in a world of knowledge exchange, with lots of opportunities to share ideas, learning and creative work.

Activities range from talks by visiting speakers and work-in-progress seminars, to reading groups, conferences, workshops, performances, online journals and forums, many of which are led by PhD candidates.

Highlights include student reading for the James Tait Black Prizes, Britain's oldest literary awards which typically involve reading submissions across fiction and biography and advising the judges on the shortlists.

  • Read an interview with 2022 James Tait Black reader, Céleste Callen

Our graduates tell us that they value the friendliness of the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC), the connections they make here and the in-depth guidance they receive from our staff, who are published experts in their field.

A UNESCO World City of Literature, Edinburgh is a remarkable place to study, write, publish, discuss and perform prose, poetry and drama.

Take a PhD with us and you will be based in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) in the historic centre of this world-leading festival city.

You will have access to the University’s many literary treasures. These include the libraries of:

  • William Drummond
  • Lewis Grassic Gibbon
  • Hugh MacDiarmid
  • Norman MacCaig

The Centre for Research Collections holds the W.H. Auden collection; the Corson Collection of works by and about Sir Walter Scott; and the Ramage collection of poetry pamphlets.

It also holds a truly exceptional collection of early Shakespeare quartos and other early modern printed plays put together by the 19th century Shakespearean James Halliwell-Phillipps, the correspondence of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle (the focus of one of the major editorial projects in Victorian studies of the last half-century), and the extensive Laing collection of medieval and early modern manuscripts, as well as letters and papers by - and relating to - authors including:

  • Christopher Isherwood
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • John Middleton Murry
  • Walter de la Mare
  • George Mackay Brown
  • Compton Mackenzie

Many of the University's Special Collections are digitised and available online from our excellent Resource Centre, Computing Labs, and dedicated PhD study space in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC).

Look inside the PhD study space in LLC

In the city

Our buildings are close to the National Library of Scotland (where collections include the Bute Collection of early modern English drama and the John Murray Archive), Edinburgh Central Library, Scottish Poetry Library, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Writers’ Museum and a fantastic range of publishing houses, bookshops, and theatres.

We have strong links with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which annually welcomes around 1,000 authors to our literary city.

Entry requirements

These entry requirements are for the 2024/25 academic year and requirements for future academic years may differ. Entry requirements for the 2025/26 academic year will be published on 1 Oct 2024.

A UK masters, or its international equivalent, with a mark of at least 65% in your English literature dissertation of at least 10,000 words.

If your masters programme did not include a dissertation or included a dissertation that was unmarked or less than 10,000 words, you will be expected to produce an exceptional research proposal and personal statement to show your ability to undertake research at the level required by this programme.

International qualifications

Check whether your international qualifications meet our general entry requirements:

  • Entry requirements by country
  • English language requirements

Regardless of your nationality or country of residence, you must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies.

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic: total 7.0 with at least 6.5 in each component.
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Home Edition): total 100 with at least 23 in each component. We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • C1 Advanced ( CAE ) / C2 Proficiency ( CPE ): total 185 with at least 176 in each component.
  • Trinity ISE : ISE III with passes in all four components.
  • PTE Academic: total 70 with at least 62 in each component.

Your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the programme you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS , TOEFL, Trinity ISE or PTE , in which case it must be no more than two years old.

Degrees taught and assessed in English

We also accept an undergraduate or postgraduate degree that has been taught and assessed in English in a majority English speaking country, as defined by UK Visas and Immigration:

  • UKVI list of majority English speaking countries

We also accept a degree that has been taught and assessed in English from a university on our list of approved universities in non-majority English speaking countries (non-MESC).

  • Approved universities in non-MESC

If you are not a national of a majority English speaking country, then your degree must be no more than three and a half years old at the beginning of your programme of study.

Find out more about our language requirements:

Fees and costs

Scholarships and funding, featured funding.

There are a number of scholarship schemes available to eligible candidates on this PhD programme, including awards from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Please be advised that many scholarships have more than one application stage, and early deadlines.

  • Find out more about scholarships in literatures, languages and cultures

Other funding opportunities

Search for scholarships and funding opportunities:

  • Search for funding

Further information

  • Phone: +44 (0)131 650 4086
  • Contact: [email protected]
  • School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures
  • 50 George Square
  • Central Campus
  • Programme: English Literature
  • School: Literatures, Languages & Cultures
  • College: Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Select your programme and preferred start date to begin your application.

PhD English Literature - 3 Years (Full-time)

Phd english literature - 6 years (part-time), application deadlines.

Due to high demand, the school operates a number of selection deadlines. We will make a small number of offers to the most outstanding candidates on an ongoing basis, but hold the majority of applications until the next published selection deadline when we will offer a proportion of the places available to applicants selected through a competitive process.

Deadlines for applicants applying to study in 2024/25:

  • How to apply

You must submit two references with your application.

The online application process involves the completion of a web form and the submission of supporting documents.

For a PhD programme, you should include:

  • a sample of written work of about 3,000 words (this can be a previous piece of work from an undergraduate or masters degree)
  • a research proposal - a detailed description of what you hope to achieve and how
  • Pre-application guidance

Before you formally apply for this PhD, you should look at the pre-application information and guidance on the programme website.

This will help you decide if this programme is right for you, and help us gain a clearer picture of what you hope to achieve.

The guidance will also give you practical advice for writing your research proposal – one of the most important parts of your application.

Find out more about the general application process for postgraduate programmes:

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phd research proposal in english literature

English Literature PhD

Key information, full-time - 4 years, part-time - 8 years.

Research brochure

Register for updates

Webinars and events

Why choose this programme

We perform innovative and world-leading research across literature, writing and linguistics.

We’re part of the interdisciplinary School of Literature and Languages, which has research-active staff who are at the forefront of knowledge in English literature, creative writing, film studies, translation studies, theoretical and applied linguistics, and literary and cultural studies.

Our research concentrates on a range of periods, themes and subjects, including:

  •  Medieval literature
  •  Shakespeare and the Renaissance
  •  Romanticism
  •  Victorian and 19th-century literature
  •  Modern and contemporary literature
  •  Creative writing
  •  Film studies.

Our diverse mix of subject specialities mean that we are a vibrant and imaginative community with lots of opportunity for intellectual exchange.

We’re part of  TECHNE , an  Arts and Humanities Research Council  (AHRC)-funded doctoral training partnership, which provides access to comprehensive academic and professional training programmes, as well as the possibility of funding for your studies.

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 ranked the School of Literature and Languages 10th for research impact in the UK, with 75% of our case studies rated as having outstanding impacts, in terms of reach and significance (4*). Our submission to REF included contributions from the Guildford School of Acting (GSA).

Postgraduate Research at Surrey

Frequently asked questions about doing a PhD

What you will study

Our English Literature PhD will train you in critical and analytical skills, research methods, and knowledge that will equip you for your professional or academic career. It normally takes around three or four years to complete our full-time PhD.

You’ll be assigned a primary and secondary supervisor, who will meet with you regularly to read and discuss your work and progress. For us, writing is essential for understanding and developing new perspectives, so you’ll be submitting written work right from the start of your course.

In the first year of your PhD, you’ll refine your research proposal and plan the structure of your work with the guidance and support of your supervisors. As you go into your second and third year, you’ll gradually learn to work more independently, and your supervisors will guide you on how to present at conferences and get your work published.

After 12-15 months, you’ll submit a substantial piece of work for a confirmation examination. The confirmation examination will be conducted by two internal members of staff not on your supervisory team and will give you the opportunity to gain additional guidance on your research-to-date. The final two years of your PhD will be devoted to expanding and refining your work ready for submission of the final thesis.

As a doctoral student in the School of Literature and Languages, you’ll receive a structured training programme covering the practical aspects of being a researcher, including grant-writing, publishing in journals, and applying for academic jobs.

Your final assessment will be based on the presentation of your research in a written thesis, which will be discussed in a viva examination with at least two examiners. You have the option of preparing your thesis as a monograph (one large volume in chapter form) or in publication format (including chapters written for publication), subject to the approval of your supervisors.

Research support

The professional development of postgraduate researchers is supported by the Doctoral College , which provides training in essential skills through its Researcher Development Programme of workshops, mentoring and coaching. A dedicated postgraduate careers and employability team will help you prepare for a successful career after the completion of your PhD.

phd research proposal in english literature

Research themes

  • Women's writing (especially medieval women's writing, early modern women's drama and Victorian women writers)
  • Medieval romance
  • Romanticism
  • Victorian studies
  • Modernism and modernity
  • Travel and mobility
  • Western and global esotericisms
  • Sexuality and queer theory
  • Postmodern and post-postmodern writing
  • Contemporary fiction
  • Transnational literature.

Our academic staff

See a full list of all our  academic staff  within the School of Literature and Languages.

Research areas

Research facilities.

You’ll be allocated shared office space within the School of Literature and Languages and have full access to our library and online resources. Our close proximity to London also means that the British Library and many other important archives are within easy reach.

In addition to a number of excellent training opportunities offered by the University, our PhD students can take additional subject-specific training and take part in the School’s research seminars and events. These provide a valuable opportunity to meet visiting scholars whose work connects with our own research strengths across literature, theory, and creative writing.

Edwin Gilson profile image

Edwin Gilson

A real highlight for me was having an article published in a well-known journal in my field. This came out of a chapter I wasn’t expecting to write at the start of the thesis, on a novel I read during the PhD.

phd research proposal in english literature

Entry requirements

Applicants are expected to hold a good first-class UK degree (a minimum 2:1 or equivalent) and an MA in a relevant topic.

International entry requirements by country

English language requirements.

IELTS Academic:  7.0 or above with a minimum of 6.5 in each component (or equivalent).

Application requirements

Applicants are advised to contact potential supervisors before they submit an application via the website. Please refer to section two of our  application guidance .

After registration

Students are initially registered for a PhD with probationary status and, subject to satisfactory progress, subsequently confirmed as having PhD status.

Selection process

Selection is based on applicants:

  • Meeting the expected entry requirements
  • Being shortlisted through the application screening process
  • Completing a successful interview
  • Providing suitable references.

Student life

At Surrey we offer the best of both worlds – a friendly campus university, set in beautiful countryside with the convenience and social life of Guildford on your doorstep.

Start date: April 2024

Start date: July 2024

Start date: October 2024

Start date: January 2025

For fees payable in 2023/24, these will increase by 4 per cent, rounded up to the nearest £100 for subsequent years of study. Any start date other than September will attract a pro-rata fee for that year of entry (75 per cent for January, 50 per cent for April and 25 per cent for July).

Overseas students applying for 2023 entry should note that annual fees will rise by 4 per cent rounded up to the nearest £100.

View a complete list of all fees for our research programmes .

Additional costs

There are additional costs that you can expect to incur when studying at Surrey.

A Postgraduate Doctoral Loan can help with course fees and living costs while you study a postgraduate doctoral course.

Apply online

If you are applying for a studentship to work on a particular project, you should enter the details of the specific project that you wish to apply for rather than your own research proposal.

Read our application guidance for further information on the application process.

To apply online first select the course you'd like to apply for then log in.

1. Select your course

Select the course you wish to apply for.

To apply online sign in or create an account.

Code of practice for research degrees

Surrey’s postgraduate research code of practice sets out the University's policy and procedural framework relating to research degrees. The code defines a set of standard procedures and specific responsibilities covering the academic supervision, administration and assessment of research degrees for all faculties within the University.

Download the code of practice for research degrees (PDF) .

Terms and conditions

When you accept an offer of a place at the University of Surrey, you are agreeing to comply with our policies and procedures , and our terms and conditions. These terms and conditions are provided in two stages: first when we make an offer and second when students who have accepted their offers register to study at the University. View our offer terms and conditions and our registration terms and conditions (PDF) for the 2023/24 academic year, as a guide as to what to expect.   Please note: our offer terms and conditions will be available in the September of the calendar year prior to the year in which you begin your studies. Our registration terms and conditions will vary to take into account specifics of your course.

This online prospectus has been prepared and published in advance of the academic year to which it applies. The University of Surrey has used its reasonable efforts to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publishing, but changes (for example to course content or additional costs) may occur given the interval between publishing and commencement of the course. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply for a course with us. Read our full disclaimer .

Course location and contact details

Campus location

Stag Hill is the University's main campus and where the majority of our courses are taught. 

University of Surrey Admissions

University of Surrey Guildford Surrey GU2 7XH

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Research degrees

  • Examples of Research proposals
  • Apply for 2024
  • Find a course
  • Accessibility

Examples of research proposals

How to write your research proposal, with examples of good proposals.

Research proposals

Your research proposal is a key part of your application. It tells us about the question you want to answer through your research. It is a chance for you to show your knowledge of the subject area and tell us about the methods you want to use.

We use your research proposal to match you with a supervisor or team of supervisors.

In your proposal, please tell us if you have an interest in the work of a specific academic at York St John. You can get in touch with this academic to discuss your proposal. You can also speak to one of our Research Leads. There is a list of our Research Leads on the Apply page.

When you write your proposal you need to:

  • Highlight how it is original or significant
  • Explain how it will develop or challenge current knowledge of your subject
  • Identify the importance of your research
  • Show why you are the right person to do this research
  • Research Proposal Example 1 (DOC, 49kB)
  • Research Proposal Example 2 (DOC, 0.9MB)
  • Research Proposal Example 3 (DOC, 55.5kB)
  • Research Proposal Example 4 (DOC, 49.5kB)

Subject specific guidance

  • Writing a Humanities PhD Proposal (PDF, 0.1MB)
  • Writing a Creative Writing PhD Proposal (PDF, 0.1MB)
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phd research proposal in english literature

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Research Topics For PHD in English Literature

Research Topics For Ph.D. in English Literature - Are you looking to do a Ph.D. in English? Have you decided on your thesis topic yet? If no then you are in the right place. I have listed some of the best topics for you. You can choose one of the topics or you can replicate one of them.

Choosing a Ph.D . thesis is tough unless you have a good guide and passion for a particular area. If you are interested in one particular area like British poetry or Tribal literature. Before choosing the Ph.D. thesis topic you must have a conversation with your guide or mentor.

Research Topics For PHD in English Literature

Research Topics For Ph.D. in English Literature

  • Sons and Lovers As The Poetry of Love In Fiction: A Study
  • Method of Teaching English Literature
  • Dancing through English Literature
  • Women Writers and the Survey of English Literature: A Proposal and Annotated Bibliography for Teachers
  • Seventeenth-Century English Literature on Painting
  • The Influence of the Bible on English Literature
  • The Influence of the Classics on English Literature
  • The Neoclassical Period in English Literature: A Psychological Definition
  • The Scope of English Literature in Education
  • John Ruskin: Master of English Literature
  • The Influence of Darwin on Literature
  • Medieval English Literature and the Idea of the Anthology
  • Islam in Medieval and Early Modern English Literature: A Select Bibliography
  • Canonizing the Canonized: A Short History of The Norton Anthology of English Literature
  • English Literary Studies, Women’s Studies and Feminism in India
  • The Return to Nature in English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century
  • English Literature Becomes a University Subject: King’s College, London as Pioneer
  • The Development of English Prose from Elizabeth to Victoria
  • Colonialist Nationalism in the Critical Practice of Indian Writing in English: A Critique
  • Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism
  • Dancing through the Minefield: Some Observations on the Theory, Practice and Politics of a Feminist Literary Criticism
  • A Survey of Jungian Literary Criticism in English
  • Some Notes on Defining a “Feminist Literary Criticism”
  • Stylistics and the Theory of Literature
  • Dialogics as an Art of Discourse in Literary Criticism
  • Romantic Criticism and the Meanings of the French Revolution
  • Navigating the Wide Sargasso Sea: Colonial History, English Fiction, and British Empire
  • Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber” and the Decolonization of Feminine Sexuality
  • Unaccommodated Woman and the Poetics of Property in Jane Eyre
  • Medieval Feminism in Middle English Studies: A Retrospective
  • Charlotte Brontë’s Haunted Text
  • Where are the Mothers in Shakespeare? Options for Gender Representation in the English Renaissance
  • “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall”: Readers’ Reflections on Literature through Literary Theories
  • Writing the Discipline: A Generic History of English Studies
  • Constructing an Interdisciplinary Course on Literature and Environmental Feminism
  • What Has Never Been: An Overview of Lesbian Feminist Literary Criticism
  • Expanding the Archives of Global Feminisms: Narratives of Feminism and Activism
  • A Map for Rereading: Or, Gender and the Interpretation of Literary Texts
  • Reading the House: A Literary Perspective
  • Comparatist Trends within Literary Studies (1914–1950)
  • English in North America: Accounting for its Evolution
  • American Indian Literature and a Legacy of Misappropriation
  • Tribal Strengths and American Indian Students
  • Literary Representation: Partition in Indian and Pakistani Novels in English
  • NISSIM EZEKIEL: The Father of Contemporary Indian English Poetry
  • Anglo-Indian English: A Nativized Variety of Indian English
  • The Perversion of Manliness in Macbeth
  • Glimpsing a “Lesbian” Poetics in “Twelfth Night”
  • Women and Migration: The Social Consequences of Gender
  • Unfallen Marriage and the Fallen Imagination in Paradise Lost
  • Recent Studies in the English Renaissance

How to Choose Topics For Ph.D. in English

Choosing a Ph.D. topic is tough, especially when it comes to the English language and literature. It is not easy to select a Ph.D. thesis topic, it needs lots of hard work and mental work to get to a point when you think is ready.

one of the hardest parts is choosing your thesis topics. Some spending months even years this research projects because they did not know; how to choose a great topics? Choosing a great dissertation or thesis topic is a difficult decision to make.

Tips to choose Ph.D. topics

  • Broaden Your Thinking
  • Choose the topic that you are interested
  • Be realistic by choosing topics
  • Pic a topic that is related to your field
  • Select topics that your advisor finds interesting and is knowledgeable about
  • Find a topic that you already have some expertise
  • Select unique topics
  • Choose manageable topics
  • Read everything you can relate to the topics
  • Find documents that support your topics
  • Take advantage available in the locality
  • Consult your mentor
  • Find available data

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Seminar Topics For MA, MPHIL, PHD PDF Download

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  1. Writing a research proposal for the PhD in English Literature

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    A good PhD proposal outlines the scope and significance of your topic and explains how you plan to research it. It's helpful to think about the proposal like this: if the rest of your application explains your ability to do a PhD, the proposal demonstrates the actual PhD you plan to do.

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    Introduction Literature review Research design Reference list While the sections may vary, the overall objective is always the same. A research proposal serves as a blueprint and guide for your research plan, helping you get organized and feel confident in the path forward you choose to take. Table of contents Research proposal purpose

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    Introduction This short guide is aimed at helping you to write a good research proposal. It is intended to help you to think about your proposed PhD research in a clear, structured and meaningful way.

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    Guidance for PhD applicants Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. The 1,500 word research proposal is an important element of your application to doctoral study, whether full-time or part-time. It offers you the opportunity to outline the research you intend to conduct, including how you plan to go about it, and how your research might ...

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    First, specify which subject area your research problem falls in. This will help set the context of your study and will help the reader anticipate the direction of your proposed research. Following this, include a literature review. A literature review summarises the existing knowledge which surrounds your research topic.

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    Show why you are the right person to do this research; Examples of research proposals. Research Proposal Example 1 (DOC, 49kB) Research Proposal Example 2 (DOC, 0.9MB) Research Proposal Example 3 (DOC, 55.5kB) Research Proposal Example 4 (DOC, 49.5kB) Subject specific guidance. Writing a Humanities PhD Proposal (PDF, 0.1MB)

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    Sample Research Proposal. Last semester, I took an English class with Professor Bethany Schneider entitled "American. Girl," where our syllabus included Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and Laura Ingalls Wilder's. Little House on the Prairie. My experience with both books was fascinating because I was reading.

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    Syllabus PGT-TGT English Research Topics For PHD in English Literature Research Topics For Ph.D. in English Literature - Are you looking to do a Ph.D. in English? Have you decided on your thesis topic yet? If no then you are in the right place. I have listed some of the best topics for you.