Postgraduate research courses

Our Department has a large and thriving graduate research community. We provide an active and stimulating environment to carry out your doctoral research and offer five routes to a research degree.

The Master of Linguistic Research (MRes) is a one-year full-time or two-year part-time course, ideal for you if you're looking for tailored researcher-in-training support before embarking on doctoral research. You develop subject-specific knowledge and researcher skills.

You choose six taught modules, one research support module and attend various skills workshops. In the summer term (of a one-year course), you undertake a project and write a 30,000 word dissertation.

  • MRes Linguistics

    You choose from modules across any area of linguistics, meaning you can focus on the subjects that interest you the most.

  • MRes Experimental Linguistics

    You choose from a range of modules across all of our core areas of linguistics, psycholinguistics and language acquisition. You focus on experimental design and quantitative research methods.

  • MRes Analysing Language Use

    You gain familiarity with contemporary work in sociolinguistics and related fields such as conversation analysis, and acquire the theoretical and practical skills to pursue original research.

If you'd like to pursue a research degree with no taught element, the MPhil by supervised research is for you. You write a 50,000 word dissertation in six terms (full-time) or twelve terms (part-time).

The PhD by supervised research (PhDSR) is for you if you want to pursue a research degree with no taught element. You're initially registered as an MPhil, with confirmation of PhD status in your second year. You write an 80,000 word thesis in six terms (full-time) or eighteen terms (part-time).

Our new route integrated PhD (PhDNR) is a four-year course that combines taught training throughout your course. Your first year is the same as that for an MRes. You also conduct supervised research during all four years which leads to a PhD thesis. You write a 22,000 word dissertation in your first year and an expanded 80,000 word thesis by the end of your fourth year.

If you live outside the UK, and hold a good and relevant Masters degree from a UK university (or equivalent), then you may apply to undertake a PhD by supervised research (Distance PhD) for a minimum of three years, on a full-time basis or six years on a part-time basis, while continuing to live abroad.

Our postgraduate research finder lists all of the PhDs that we offer. If you have any questions about undertaking postgraduate research in our Department, please email us.

Your research topic and proposal

  • Choosing a research topic

    MRes, MPhil and PhD level research must show not only research expertise in the relevant field but originality.

    One way to do this is by undertaking a piece of work which applies existing ideas to a new domain. Another way, is by carrying out research which proposes a new and interesting account (maybe a new theory) of existing data. Clearly, the highest attainable level of originality would be to propose a unique theoretical account of novel data (a goal all academics strive for but few attain).

    Your chosen topic should excite and stimulate your intellectual curiosity, and should keep your interest throughout the period you work on it.

    It may also be that your research field has some direct relevance to your future career aspirations, or special importance in the context where you normally work (especially if you are a teacher).

    You should feel confident that you can master the subject you choose within the time available for your research. For this reason, it is important not to be too wide-ranging in your choice of topic. On the contrary, there are a number of reasons for focusing your research as narrowly as possible, on a topic which is highly circumscribed and specific.

    One factor is that the existing research literature is growing at such a rapid pace that it's no longer possible to keep up with it all in a broad field. Narrowing down your research topic makes your background reading more manageable. Secondly, the broader the topic you choose, the more open-ended your research becomes - and the less likely it is that you will complete it on time (so putting yourself under unnecessary financial, emotional and intellectual pressure). From this point of view, 'Language Acquisition by Bilinguals' is too broad to be a practical research topic. By contrast 'A case study of the development of personal pronouns in the grammar of a two-year old bilingual child' is a much more restricted, and hence more manageable, research topic.

  • Writing a research proposal

    Choosing a subject is one thing, but writing a research proposal is another. A good research proposal will generally:

    • focus clearly on some specific question(s) that the research will answer, or on hypotheses to be tested
    • demonstrate some familiarity with key current work in the relevant area by citing recent literature
    • show awareness of descriptive frameworks or theories in the relevant area, and also of research methods that have been used there
    • describe clearly the methodology to be used for your research e.g. what data you might gather, from whom, where and how or what linguistic, statistical or computational techniques might be involved
    • where relevant, indicate clearly the possible implications for real-world practical activities (e.g. for language teaching, business, speech therapy etc)
    • be written using a professional layout and conventions, eg subheadings, references properly made in the text and listed at the end etc
    • be clearly aimed at the interests of some member(s) of staff that we have here.

    A good proposal will not:

    • provide an overview of an area (e.g. English for specific purposes, corpus linguistics, optimality theory or language teaching methods) without showing precisely what your study will be focused on
    • mention only very old sources, and/or propose to research something that was popular 20 years ago, from which researchers have now moved forward
    • propose to research questions that are too broad and un-researchable
    • propose an unimaginative duplication of research already done many times
    • fail to give proper details of the proposed method of answering the research questions (e.g. exactly how and where the data would be gathered, and why)
    • be too short (less than a page)
    • be too long (e.g. ten pages) - aim for 750 words
    • be incoherent
    • relate to an area in which we have no members of staff working/supervising

  • Our main areas of research supervision

    • Descriptive linguistics
    • English language teaching
    • First and second language acquisition
    • Language disorders
    • Psycholinguistics
    • Sociolinguistics
    • Theoretical linguistics

    This is not an exhaustive list so if you're looking to carry out research in a different field, email us to discuss this further.

  • Choosing a supervisor

    Our list of staff research interests will tell you the areas that people specialise in. Feel free to contact members of staff to talk through your research interests and proposal. We can help you to finalise your proposal to a high standard so that you get the best out of your research. Once you have identified a potential supervisor please put their name on your application form, but don't worry if you don't have someone in mind - we will select the most appropriate person based on your research proposal.

Research centre


Internationally renowned researchers in our Centre for Research in Language Development throughout the Lifespan (LaDeLi) merge theories and methodologies from psychology, cognitive science, sociolinguistics and education.

Master interpreting

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Our new interpreting training lab gives you the tools to become an expert in conference interpreting. We also have a lab to interpret lectures of up to 350 people. These are the only labs of their kind in East Anglia.

Doctoral training


Proficio is our innovative doctoral training scheme. Our University gives you funding to spend on a variety of courses, from research skills to personal development and career management.

Learn languages

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All our students can learn languages in a number of ways, including as part of your degree, in evening classes or online at no extra cost, or via Essex Modern Language Certificates.