FAQs and Answers about the PhD Research Proposal

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At Grand Canyon University, all students earning their PhD through the College of Doctoral Studies must write a research proposal in order to start writing their dissertation. Your PhD research proposal should be a thoughtfully organized and well-written document that outlines the research you would like to complete for your dissertation. At its heart, the proposal should discuss what you plan to study for the next few years and why you plan to study it. You should identify the question that is central to your research, discuss the approach you’ll take to answer it and explain its significance or originality.

How long is a typical research proposal?

Most of them are about 3,000 to 4,000 words; however, you should always check with your department for the guidelines. If there is a word limit, don’t go over it. Make sure your proposal is aligned with the formatting and organizational guidelines too.

What must I include in my research proposal?

Again, check your department guidelines for the specifics. Most research proposals include these components:

  • Your research topic and hypotheses
  • Your central question and sub-questions
  • How the research fits into the current literature
  • The importance of the research
  • Your proposed research methodologies
  • Stages/timeline of your research
  • Intended resources

What if my future research deviates from the proposal?

You’ll spend a few years working toward your doctoral degree, so it’s to be expected that you’ll need to modify and refocus your research along the way. As long as your central idea remains consistent this shouldn’t be a problem.

What exactly will faculty look for in my proposal?

To improve your chances of getting your research proposal accepted, you should demonstrate that you have the ability to clearly communicate your ideas and that you are capable of independent analysis and critical thinking. Of course, your research proposal should be well-organized and well-written as well. A solid research proposal suggests to the reviewers that your dissertation will be equally thorough and well-written.

What if I don’t yet know enough about my topic?

Remember that you’re submitting the research proposal first—not the actual dissertation (yet). You aren’t expected to know every detail of every facet of your topic. Instead, strive to demonstrate that you have a good introductory knowledge of your topic. You should clearly identify how your research will contribute to the field and perhaps even to general public knowledge.

How should I write my work plan?

Your department may require a section on your work plan or time frame. Here, you should be able to demonstrate that you’re capable of getting the research done within your specified period of time. Think about your work plan in terms of milestones. Which major objectives should you have finished at which point in your research? You may wish to give specific details for your first year of research, with broader descriptions for the next few years.

Do I need a bibliography?

Your proposal should include a list of intended resources you’ll use but it should also have a bibliography. Here, you’ll include citations for the references that you’ve used within the proposal itself.

When all is said and done, put significant thought into your research before writing up the proposal and make sure your passion for the topic shows through. If you are working on something you really care about, it will show!

You’ll find a dynamic community of supportive faculty, advisors, and fellow scholar-practitioners at Grand Canyon University. Our College of Doctoral Studies offers a diverse spectrum of doctoral programs to help you advance your career objectives. Look for the Request More Information button to get started.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.