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Criteria for PhD Research Proposal

written by: Faith Oh•edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch•updated: 6/24/2011

Are you planning on applying to graduate school and thinking of PhD programs? This article focuses on that part of the application that will make or break your changes of admission: the PhD research proposal criteria.

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    Know Your Stuff

    It is expected that before you embark on applying to PhD programs you have a pretty good idea of what your research interests are and are able to articulate them when asked. Whether you want to study the relationship between apoptosis and transplant rejection, specific plant species native to the Galapagos Islands, or Turkey-Europe relations, you must be able to explain this in one sentence, one paragraph or even a two- to three-page research proposal.

    All PhD programs will require that you highlight what you intend to study in the course of pursuing your degree as part of the application process. Some will outrightly ask you for a research proposal (most graduate programs in the UK do this) or will expect that you make this part of your personal statement. However the question is asked, make sure you are able to state as specifically as possible what it is you want to study and how your research will advance knowledge in your chosen discipline.

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    PhD Research Proposal Criteria

    What is included in PhD research proposal criteria you might ask? Dr. Richard. W. Serjeantson, a history fellow at University of Cambridge's Trinity College, highlights what you should include in your research proposal and points out that writing a research proposal is paradoxical. You need to do a fair amount of research in order to write a credible research proposal as well as demonstrate your preparation to do quality work. Here are some of the things your research proposal should include:

    1. Title: Your research proposal should contain a title that describes your research question. If your admission application is one of those that expect you to include your proposal as part of your personal statement, then your title should be a one-sentence description of your area and specific research topic. For example: "My research interests lie at the intersection of Turkey-EU relations and international security and I intend to study ... " or "I am interested in how the protein Bcl-2 affects liver transplant rejection."
    2. Relevance: You should be able to state why your proposed research is important and its big picture relevance in your field. What question will it answer? How will it add to or improve current knowledge? What is its potential for effecting change in your field or in broader society?
    3. Literature Review: It is important that you include a summary of existing scholarship around your research topic in your proposal. This helps situate your proposed research in the midst of what has already been done.
    4. Methodology: Your proposal should also include a discussion of the approach you will take in carrying out your research. Would you be collecting raw data and analyzing it, and if so, how? If you are a political scientist, would you focus on qualitative or quantitative methods or both?
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    Presentation is Key

    In a final analysis, your presentation is very important in giving the impression that you are ready for advanced-level study and research, and in ultimately getting you admitted. If your research proposal is included in a personal statement, make sure it flows seamlessly with portions about your educational and professional background. Also be sure to include bibliographic references and use a consistent citation style.