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.
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
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
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 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
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,
- 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
Our main areas of research supervision
- Descriptive linguistics
- English language teaching
- First and second language acquisition
- Language disorders
- 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.
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.
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.
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.