School of Health Sciences

Guidance on Writing an Outline Research Proposal

In order to assess your application, it is helpful to see an outline of the research area in which you would like to do your doctoral study. This information helps your application in two ways: 

  • It helps us to see if we have research supervisors who are experts in your area and who can support your project. 
  • It gives us an idea of how well you are able to conceptualise and articulate your ideas. 

We do not expect a fully comprehensive and detailed research proposal at this stage. The main information that we are looking for is the:

  • research topic (ie. the subject area)
  • rationale for this topic (ie. why is it important?)
  • methodological approach that you think you might take (eg. qualitative or quantitative?)

Research proposal considerations

The most suitable format for your outline will depend partly on the area of the study, but the following considerations are likely to apply to most topics.

Project title

At this stage, you need only give some thought to a brief title that communicates an overview of the project you have in mind.

Brief description of the project

What is the project about? The problem should be focused enough that it is able to be researched in a single PhD study. It should not be over-ambitious. Remember that you will be working largely on your own with limited financial resources. Where will it be located? Who or what will you be investigating? Where possible, try and identify one or two research questions. In addition, try and define the major concepts embodied in your project.

Background and rationale for the project

Why do you think this issue needs to be investigated? What will we learn? What will we gain? Why is it important? What are the implications? It would be helpful if this section can mention previous research and other academic literature related to the topic area.

The suggested methodological background

Describe how you think you could investigate your topic. How can you answer the research question? In this section you should pay particular attention to formulating a plan of action that you can pursue, bearing in mind the time available and costs involved. You may also need to consider whether your plan is feasible. The content of this section will range widely. For example, it might include the following:

  • Large survey
  • Intervention study 
  • Evaluation 
  • Small exploratory study 

Think about how you will collect data to answer your research question? Will your approach be qualitative, quantitative or mixed? What kind of sample would you need? You are not expected to be too prescriptive here as you would receive guidance from a supervisor once you embarked on the study. At this stage you should be able to identify a relevant sample and to appreciate any problems of sample size or accessibility your research might generate. Where possible, think about the ways in which you would analyse the data that you produce. 


We would expect you to have done some initial reading around your topic area. Here you should list those sources to which you have referred and that have informed your thinking. In addition, list sources that you feel would be key texts in embarking on the study. 


The above notes are only intended to assist planning of a research proposal. However, you will find that thought given to these points at the beginning of the research can save a considerable amount of confusion and wasted effort later.


Points to think about when writing a research outline:

  • What is your research question? 
  • Why does it matter? 
  • How will you address this question? (ie. what will be your methodology?) 
  • How important is this activity to nursing, midwifery or physiotherapy or to your health service or to service users? 
  • How many subjects do you need? How will you choose them? (ie. discuss issues of access and sampling) 
  • How will you analyse your data? 



School of Health Sciences

B236, Medical School
Queen's Medical Centre
Nottingham, NG7 2HA

telephone: +44 (0)115 95 15559