How to write a research proposal

Not sure if you’re on the right track? Our DPhil (PhD) students and admissions staff have some advice.

Researching in the Weston Library | Photograph by Elizabeth Nyikos (DPhil Music)

First off: do you even need one?

I need one! Where do I start?

“There are many ways to start, I’ve heard stories about people approaching it totally differently.”

Start small, think big

Layal (DPhil in Infection, Immunology and Translational Medicine)

“I looked at what I’d done so far and projected from that: what’s missing, what are the gaps in the literature, and what I’m interested in.”

“They don’t expect you to be the expert, you just have to have good ideas. Be willing to challenge things and do something new.”

But why Oxford?

“Really, this is all dependent on a department. Look at the department in depth, and look at what they offer — how is it in line with your interests?”

Should I email a potential supervisor?

Sarah (Admissions Officer at Nuffield College)

“Not everybody realises that you can do that. You’re allowed to reach out to academics that you might be interested in supervising you. They can tell you if your research is something that we can support here, and how, and give you ideas.”

On the right track

Nyree (DPhil in Archaeological Science)

“My supervisors helped me with my research proposal, which is great. You don’t expect that, but they were really helpful prior to my application.”

“I said, ‘Would you give it a read and see if I’m on the right track or on a completely different planet?’ Having people who can help you out is really important.”

Graihagh (DPhil in Music)
Our DPhil (PhD) students talk research proposals, supervisors and their Oxford experiences in our video on applying for DPhil

More help with your application



Advice and guidance from staff and students on applying to the University of Oxford.

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Graduate Study at Oxford

A perspective on masters’, DPhil (PhD) and other graduate courses from Graduate Admissions at the University of Oxford