Preparing a research proposal

The research proposal

Before you apply for a research degree you are required to develop a research proposal. The proposal should establish that the proposed research is addressing a problem that is significant enough to warrant an investigation and will make an original contribution to knowledge.

A good proposal will demonstrate that you have a clear vision of what you want to investigate, why this is an interesting topic, how you will approach the research question and what the expected outcomes will be.

The research proposal is an important document and if well designed can be valuable in forming an outline of your thesis. It serves as a starting point for your proposed research and can be useful in giving you focus and defining your research plans. These plans however are not binding and it is common for them to change as your research progresses.

In preparing the proposal you should seek the advice and assistance of the academic with whom you have discussed your proposed topic.

Structure and content of the research proposal

It is important to write a detailed description of your proposed research so the University can assess your proposed field of study and identify an appropriate supervision team.

Your research proposal will form part of your application for candidature. Research proposal lengths vary depending on which area you propose to study. Please note specific word length requirements below:

Faculty/Institute/Centre Word limit guide
Faculty of Arts and Education 750 - 1000
Faculty of Business and Law 750 - 1000
Faculty of Health *(except School of Nursing and Midwifery) 750 - 1000
School of Nursing and Midwifery 1500 - 2000
Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment 300 - 500
Institute for Frontier Materials 300 - 500
Centre for Intelligent Systems Research 300 - 500

Your proposal may cover most of the following areas. Your supervisor will be able to provide advice on what should be included and is relevant for your topic.

  • What are the aims and objectives? You need to state clearly the key research questions and purpose of the study.

  • What is the focus of your research, the fundamental question? Be sure that your title reflects this.

  • Why is it important? You need to define the context of the research, its background and significance.

  • What are the relevant gaps in existing knowledge? Demonstrate your understanding of this by referring to the literature or statements by experts. This should be a brief but critical assessment.

  • How will your research potentially fill these gaps in knowledge? What is novel or unique about your proposal? Does it follow on from research that you have already been involved in?

  • What is your research plan? This section should clearly state the aims of the project, the design or methodology that you will use and may occupy a significant proportion of the proposal.

  • What is the scope of your project? That is, is it narrowly focused on a particular issue or will it seek to answer broad questions? This is where you define the breadth of the project and speak to any limitations or potential obstacles. Remember that the research must be completed within the specified amount of time allowed for your research degree.

  • What outcomes do you expect from the project? That is, what changes to our understanding might come out of it, and/or who will benefit?

Ensure you write the proposal in clear, simple terminology and be aware that this is an opportunity to inspire interest in your reader.


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