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EIS PhD Research Proposal Guidelines


The research proposal is the most important part of your PhD application. We do not expect the proposal to be perfect at this stage, nor do we expect you to stick to it rigidly, as your ideas will almost certainly change once you start to study. However, we do expect it to show convincing evidence of your ability to plan and organise independent research. Please read and follow the guidelines carefully. 


Your proposal should be 2,000-3,000 words long, plus bibliography, using the following sections: 

  • Title – The best titles are simple and descriptive, identifying the topic and approach that will be taken.
  • Central research question and objectives – The question your research seeks to answer should be stated simply, then fleshed out to show to show why it is timely and important – both intellectually and politically – for you to be writing a PhD on this topic. After that, you should state, in straightforward terms, how the PhD will answer the research question.
  • Literature review – Here you must show how your central research question relates to existing academic studies in your field. This requires a short literature review which will situate your proposed research within the framework of the dominant perspectives on similar issues in the existing literature. Ideally, you should be able to demonstrate how your proposed research fills a gap in the literature and therefore adds substantively and can make a lasting contribution to academic debates. One key criterion for writing a successful PhD is that it is original work, so you must try to avoid setting up your analysis in a way which simply replicates work which can already be found within the literature.
  • Theoretical framework– Here, you should detail what theoretical framework(s) will underpin the analysis in your PhD, why that framework has been chosen, and what advantages it gives you for addressing your central research question.
  • Case studies and methodology – Here, you should discuss the type of empirical research (statistical work, interviews, surveys etc.) that you will be doing and the case study/case studies that you have chosen. This is essential in all cases except for abstract political theory PhDs. You should show how your theoretical framework informs the methodology that you will use and why that methodology is particularly advantageous for answering the research question.
  • Problems – Here, you should reflect on any problems you think you may encounter whilst undertaking your research and indicate how they might be overcome or mitigated. These might include, for example, access to data.
  • Bibliography – You should include a complete bibliography for the proposal.


The above draws on the advice issued by the Political and International Studies department at Warwick University.