Writing an effective research proposal is an academic art that can be learned. The nature and discipline of your research will determine the nature and structure of your research proposal. However, there is a minimum standard that is required for any research proposal.

A research proposal is a descriptive and coherent overview of the work you have proposed It sets out the central issues or questions to be addressed by you. It describes the general study area within which your work falls, referring to the current state of knowledge and any recent discussions on the subject. It also shows the originality of the research you have proposed.

When part of the application process, the proposal is the most important document you send. It gives you the opportunity to demonstrate that you have the ability to conduct research at the graduate level, for example, by demonstrating that you have the ability to clearly, concisely and critically communicate complex ideas.

How long will my research proposal be? It should be 4-7 pages long, 2,000–3,500 lines.

What should be included in my proposal for research?

The following should be in your proposal:


A clear indication of your proposed research approach or key question 2 should be given by your title.


You should include:

• The background and issues of your proposed research• identify your discipline

• A brief review of the literature

• A summary of key discussions and developments in the field


These should be clearly defined, describing what issues and concerns need to be addressed and why they should be studied


The following outline should be provided:

 • The theoretical resources to be drawn on

• The research approach (theoretical framework)

• The research methods suitable for the research proposed •


The proposal should contain a concise statement of not more than 100 words of your intended research. This may be a few sentences outlining the issue you want to examine or the central issue you want to address.

You should explain the broad background to which your research will be conducted. A brief overview of the general area of study within which your proposed work falls should be included, summarizing the current state of knowledge and recent discussions on the subject. This will allow you to demonstrate familiarity with the relevant field and the ability to communicate in a clear and concise manner.

Research Questions

The proposal must set out your research's central goals and questions. You should take time to reflect on the key questions you are trying to answer before you write your proposal. Most research ideas are too wide, so focusing on your main research issues is a good way to ensure that your plan is reasonably narrow and realistic (i.e. one that is likely to be completed for a MJur, MPhil or PhD degree with the normal period).

Prioritizing one or two main questions may be beneficial to you, from which you can then derive a variety of secondary research questions. The proposal should also clarify how you plan to respond to the questions: should your solution be empirical, doctrinal or conceptual, etc.?

Research methods:

The proposal will detail the methods of study, outlining how the work will be performed. Visiting particular libraries or archives field work, or interviews may be your approaches.

Most of the research is based on the library. If your planned work is library-based, the position of your key resources (e.g. law reports, journal articles) should be clarified (in the Law School library, Westlaw etc.). If you are planning field work or collecting empirical data, you should provide details about it (e.g. if you are planning interviews, who are you going to interview? How many interviews are you going to conduct? Are there access issues?). This segment must also describe how the results of the study will be analyzed.

Significance of Research

The proposal should reflect the originality of the work you are preparing. Therefore, you should explain why your research is important (for example, by explaining how your research builds on and adds to the current state of field knowledge or by explaining why researching your proposed topic is timely).


The proposal should also have a short bibliography outlining the works that are most important to your subject.

You should include:

  • a list of references to key articles and texts discussed within your research proposal
  • a selection of sources appropriate to the proposed research

Writing Timeline and Plan of Work:

 A list of the different stages and corresponding timelines for research development and implementation should be included, including the writing of your dissertation.