Research Proposals

The following remarks are intended to help those applying for a place to study for the Ph.D., as well as those applying for a place on one of the Faculty’s M.Phil. courses. They are also intended to help with subsequent applications to funding bodies. For further details on available funding see ‘Funding for Home and EU Students’ or ‘Funding for Overseas Students’.

The Research Proposal

Your research proposal should be 500 words long. It needs to give those assessing your application an impression of the strength and originality of your proposed research, and its potential to make a contribution to knowledge. It should be written in clear, jargon-free, and unexceptionable prose. Grammatical mistakes and typographical errors give a very bad impression. You should make sure you cover the following areas (without explicitly dividing the proposal into headings):

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

Sample Research Proposal for MPhil 1
Sample Research Proposal for MPhil 2
Sample Research Proposal for MPhil 3
Sample Research Proposal for PhD 1

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.


Please also visit the Student Registry website for more information on what to include in your proposal.

If you have any questions about the application process or funding, please get in touch with us.

Director of Graduate Studies
Faculty of English