Tips to write a good PhD / postdoctoral project proposal

PhD and postdoc applications typically include a project proposal (see the current opportunities we offer). Before writing a project, make sure you know what funding scheme you are writing it for. While details vary, these are general tips to write a strong research project:


  • Funding source. Before contacting a potential supervisor, make sure that you check your eligibility for the target funding scheme and that you know the important deadlines. An idea could be more or less suitable for a specific call, and you should tailor everything you write to the remit, language, and “spirit” of a call (e.g., is it applied or basic research? Is it in the social sciences or the humanities?)
  • Core problem. What is the problem that you want to solve? What new methods/knowledge/data will you produce? Where is the “knowledge gap” that you want to fill? Introduce the problem in a non-specialist way, so that any educated reader can understand it.
  • Data and methods. Where will you find the necessary data? What methods do you plan to use? Is it realistic to access the data that you need in the given time frame? If the data is not publicly available, how will you get access to it?
  • Intended audience. Who cares about this project? What impact will it have on the real world? Be explicit about who will benefit from this research in academia and beyond.
  • Why with us? Explain why you think that it makes sense to do it with a given supervisor in a given department/university (not just because it is in the UK or in London). For example, say that Prof X is a leading expert in Y and the university has facility Z that is critical to the success of the project.
  • Related work. Include relevant and current references (core books and scientific articles), showing that you have read the current research that you have identified a gap in the literature. 5-10 well-chosen references are usually sufficient. Cite your supervisor(s) to show the relevance of their expertise in an obvious way. Do not include too many references, because it may give the impression that you cannot focus.
  • Timeline. A PhD should be completed in 3 (or 4) years, so you must provide a realistic timeline for the project phases (research design, data collection, experiments, data analysis, write-up).