Writing your research proposal

Trying to write your research proposal is easily one of the most stressful aspects of a graduate application. It’s the kind of thing that you only know how to do if you’ve done it once already — which isn’t great for first time applications!

Once you know what’s expected, however, it’s really not too tricky. Here are some tips and tricks on how to get your proposal written with as little stress as possible!

  1. Before you even start thinking about writing your proposal, get in touch with your potential supervisor, introduce yourself and your proposed research topic and get as much feedback as you can! This is useful for a couple of reasons — firstly, it’s much easier to make your proposal attractive to a potential supervisor if you know where their interests lie and if they’ve given you some useful pointers. 
    Secondly, getting in touch with a member of the department will give you a much clearer idea of how supportive/unsupportive this particular university is going to be — if you immediately realise that your potential supervisor is disinterested and unhelpful, you can save yourself the cost of applying! On the other hand, if you feel like this department/supervisor is a perfect fit for you, then when they receive your application, they will have a clearer idea of who you are and your research interests, which can only increase your chances of receiving an offer!
  2. Once you’ve been in touch with the department and a have a clear idea of your research topic, it’s time to start writing. A research proposal is NOT a personal statement. Graduate supervisors do not care about your extra-curricular activities, or the jobs you’ve done. What they care about is the viability of your research. You need to show that you have a clear understand of the context around your proposed research and how your research will fit into your wider subject area. 
    DON’T worry if your research isn’t crazily original — a lot of the time your Masters is about providing the bedrock for further research, not necessarily making massive new discoveries in your field! 
    DON’T worry if your research topic isn’t 100% concrete — you will have time to firm up your ideas before you start, and to have more in depth discussions with your supervisor about potential directions to go in. 
    DO make sure you know the context around your topic — nothing looks worse on an application than a very confident statement that is completely wrong or untrue!
  3. Your basic research proposal structure is pretty simple. a. Introduce your thesis/dissertation question/topic and indicate your clear understanding of the context of this topic 
    b. Explain why your research is interesting/valid/original. If it is relevant, explain how this research will fit into your later career plans — is this the foundation for other, more long term research? 
    c. Explain why this is the only possible department you could ever want to do your Masters at — because of the facilities/the faculty members/the particular attitude they have towards your area of interest. 
    DO YOUR RESEARCH ON THE DEPARTMENT — do they have special collections that are of interest to you? Is there a specialist in your subject in the department?
  4. REMEMBER — this isn’t a personal statement. Many applications will ask for a CV, which is where you can detail your work experience/the awards or scholarships you’ve received. This is all about the research, and you have relatively little space to make your case — so don’t waste it on information you’re going to give elsewhere!
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