SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

Guidelines for Writing a Research Proposal

See also the Admissions Section

‘The research proposal is a vital part of the application and will be studied in detail by the academic selectors. The proposal should be around 1,000-2,000 words and include an outline of your proposed research topic, the research method, and the source materials you intend to use. It is beneficial if you have made contact with an academic at SOAS who shares your research interests prior to the submission of your application. Departmental staff can be found and contacted through their departments.’


The title should give a clear idea of what your project is about. This is not a title for a book meant to catch the attention of potential readers, but just a concise and accurate description of your research project.

Research Project

The following points should be developed in the proposal:

  1. Your main thesis or research question: explain in one paragraph what you will be exploring and what you will try to establish.
  2. How original is your project and how significant: give your assessment of the existing literature on your topic and explain in what ways your own research will enrich the topic’s scholarly knowledge. If that applies, explain what contribution to the general theoretical field you intend to bring through your specific research.
  3. What theoretical view will inform your research: explain how you locate yourself in the theoretical field – both the field of social theory in general and the specific field to which your topic pertains – and what set of conceptual tools and investigation methodologies will inform your research.
  4. How you will develop your thesis: explain how you will apply your theoretical and methodological approach to the development of your main thesis (summarized in point 1), i.e. the main sections of the thesis that you envisage to write and the stages of your investigation:
    1. the theoretical investigation (what literature you plan to survey and discuss)
    2. the fieldwork: where, and how, i.e. what research methodology you intend to use, and how you will use it concretely (depending on your kind of research: archival and data resources, interviews, polls, etc.)
  5. Your work schedule: explain how you intend to research and write your thesis within the three-year period allocated for a full-time PhD research (six years part-time), knowing that:
    • the first year (MPhil) is a preparatory year during which you will take part in seminars, and focus on the literature review and the planning of the next two years. These will make the core of your upgrade (to PhD) paper.
    • the second year is the one during which you will conduct your field research.
    • the third year is devoted to writing your thesis.
  6. You must explain how you will be able to achieve your plan within three years (or six years for part-time students). The two questions you’ll need to answer here are:
    • How feasible is your project in the assigned duration?
    • What makes you believe you can achieve it during this duration?


Explain how you intend to fund your PhD years, whether private funding or scholarship. If the latter, clarify whether you have one already, or have applied to one or a few (which one/s?), or intend to apply (to which one/s?).


Attach a one-page preliminary bibliography focused on what is most relevant to your specific research topic and your theoretical and methodological approach.