• University of Leicester

Discovering Your PhD Potential: Writing a Research Proposal

Build the skills, processes, and techniques to research and write a high-quality research proposal for postgraduate applications.

46,516 enrolled on this course

Students studying and planning their PhD proposals

Discovering Your PhD Potential: Writing a Research Proposal

46,516 enrolled on this course

  • 5 weeks

  • 2 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Intermediate level

Find out more about how to join this course

Learn how to construct an excellent research proposal

A carefully prepared and thorough research proposal is crucial for advanced or doctoral applications and can provide the launchpad for the first stages of that postgraduate study.

This five-week course from the University of Leicester will give you the skills and tools to write a well thought-out and achievable research proposal, helping you improve the quality of your applications. It will also give you a taste of the self-study needed in postgraduate doctoral research.

Discover the best approaches for problem definition

As this will be a long-term project, it is critical that you choose a topic that is of personal interest, is feasible to conduct, and can deliver strong outcomes.

You’ll look at how to define the problem area and begin to shape your research question, starting with your own interests relating to your previous academic experiences. You’ll learn the different research approaches you can take and the ways that you can formulate and write research questions.

Explore research design concepts and various research methodologies

On this course, you’ll assess research philosophy, specifically ontology and epistemology, and how it plays into your research proposal.

You’ll then examine quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis to build the framework for your research before exploring the different research methods you can use and which ones are right for your research question.

Pull your skills together to build your PhD proposal

The final week of this course will guide you through how to sell your research topic step-by-step, from choosing the right title to detailing your research question, methods, and provisional timetable.

Once you have completed this course, you’ll be ready to write the first draft of your doctoral research proposal.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds Well, we understand that writing an application for a PhD is quite a hard thing to do, and this course is there to help individuals who would like to apply for a PhD to write their proposal. It will give you an idea of who to approach as well, because what’s really important is to talk to academics in the relevant department, because so frequently we find students will submit proposal, have a rough idea, but not really talk it through. So in the five weeks of this course, you’ll run through all the components that you need to write a PhD proposal. So you’ll start off with establishing a research problem.

Skip to 0 minutes and 42 seconds We’ll talk about how to phrase a good research question that is realistic and doable. We’ll look at how to approach a literature review and where to find literature to undertake that. It’s about methodology. And often, a prospective PhD student will have an end result in terms of submitting a thesis, but this allows you to build up a series of different units, foundation blocks to undertake the PhD research. And in each of those five weeks, there will be little exercises to do so that by the end of the five weeks, you have a draft of a complete research proposal.

Skip to 1 minute and 17 seconds So if you are interested in doing a PhD, then this course will help you prepare for that, both in practical terms– writing the proposal itself– and in developing your ideas for what the research will be about.


  • Week 1

    Introduction to doctoral research

    • Welcome to the course

      A welcome from the course tutor, overview of the course, and guidance to help you manage your studies.

    • What are your expectations of a PhD?

      What doctoral research involves and how to avoid potential problems.

    • Funding

      Guidance on securing funding for your research, where to apply and what to apply for.

    • Review of the week

      A recap of what we've learnt this week.

  • Week 2

    Problem definition and research question

    • Defining the problem

      Considering which problem your research will cover, and how this will be defined.

    • Research approaches

      Approaches to your research problem and the impact your research will have.

    • Research question

      Guidance and exercises to help you to write your research question.

    • Review of the week

      A recap of what we've learnt this week.

  • Week 3

    Literature review

    • Getting started on your literature review

      A well-developed literature review is vital for a good research proposal.

    • Finding the right literature

      Where to find the right literature with or without access to a university.

    • Organising and planning your literature

      How to plan a structured literature review.

    • Review of the week

      A recap of what we've learnt this week.

  • Week 4

    Research Philosophy, Research Design, Research Methodology and Research Ethics

    • Introduction to research design

      Good research design offers a viable route to gather appropriate material.

    • Research philosophy

      An understanding of conceptual issues in how knowledge is produced.

    • Research design

      A framework setting out the terms for data collection and analysis.

    • Research methodology

      Technique and tools for gathering and treating data.

    • Review of the week

      A recap of what we've learnt this week.

  • Week 5

    Bringing the proposal together

    • Introduction

      Additional guidance for how to construct a good research proposal.

    • Building your proposal

      All the elements you need to include in your proposal.

    • What next?

      A checklist of what to include with your proposal and further resources.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Identify why you want to do a PhD and whether your expectations are realistic
  • Explore the main requirements, structures and problems with aiming to undertake a PhD
  • Demonstrate how to set a realistic, manageable and impactful research question
  • Compare deductive and inductive research questions
  • Describe and be able to implement the steps required to writing a literature review, including: doing a literature search, planning, organising and writing the literature review
  • Discuss what kind of theoretical approach would be useful for your research proposal
  • Compare the differences between ontology, epistemology, different research designs and methodology.
  • Summarise what you have learned from this course into a first draft of a research proposal

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for postgraduate research applicants looking to improve their research proposals. It may also be of interest to anyone wanting to learn more about developing well-founded and challenging research bids.

Who will you learn with?

Professor Neil Christie works at the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, and has long been that department’s PGR Tutor, overseeing all the research students there

Who developed the course?

University of Leicester

The University of Leicester is a leading research led university with a strong tradition of excellence in teaching. It is consistently ranked amongst the top 20 universities in the United Kingdom.

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Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Buy this course

$104/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 26 May 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

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