Research proposals guide
We want to help you write the best possible research proposal as part of your
application to undertake postgraduate research at Essex. This will help us
quickly understand the focus of your research so we can then identify the
academic at our School most able to support you in developing your proposal.
Below are some guidelines, but if you need any extra help please
School of Law.
Issues to consider
Length of proposal
Your proposal should be of approximately 2,000 to 4,000 words, this is not an
absolute limit, but rather a guide for you.
The number of words is determined by the contents: the more you explain about
your proposed research, the easier it is for us to assess your proposal.
Experience shows that short proposals (about two to three pages) are often poor
The recommended length does not take into account the bibliography. You
may find it useful to attach a separate document listing the materials you read
or which are relevant to your field of research.
The proposed title
The title should convey the key words associated with your proposed
If your research involves a comparative analysis, your title should reflect
this approach whenever possible.
There should be no discrepancy between your title (and the words used) and
your project of research as explained later on.
Background information which led you to submit your MPhil/PhD application
We need you to identify the factual situation and legal debates leading to
the questions your PhD will try to answer. This may mean you summarise events
which happened, legislation, case law or any legal source directly related to
the problems. Facts as such are important but are not sufficient. A summary of
legal instruments available (international or national) ought be put forward, as
your PhD deals with legal issues, not with journalistic accounts of situations,
however relevant the latter may be.
If you are an international student and want to look at issues involving your
home country, you need to explain why you want to study at Essex. The reputation
of our University, our research ranking, our facilities and the quality of our
staff, are not reasons to be given for the purpose of this section. You need to
explain why the legal approach the UK may have on a particular subject will help
you in your analysis of the issue. A comparative approach must be clearly stated
Proposals which only refer to non-UK, non-international legal instruments,
have to be rewritten if we wish to reconsider your application. This
considerably delays the process of submitting an application and the chances of
you getting a positive response.
Having identified the factual and legal background of your intended research,
you now need to explain what the issues you will have to examine are. This is
sometimes called the problematic of your research.
A PhD is an original piece of research and so you should demonstrate that
your proposed area has not been studied before or not in the way you propose to
You may wish to assess the relevant literature. References to key articles
and texts show that you appreciate their relevance to your research area.
However, this section is not about summarising each article or book on the
subject. There is no need to provide an abstract to documents already published.
The aim of the section is to underline the relevance of your questions by
briefly explaining the relevant current debates.
Methodology and timescale
If your subject involves comparative legal study or studies, you should state
the comparative law method or methods you intend to use and why.
If you are thinking about field research, you need to carefully explain how
you intend to complete this research and what the costs involved are. For
example, interviews may be relevant to your research, but you should try to
identity how you would conduct the interviews, at which stage of your research
and what is the intended outcome of such data gathering. Just saying you want to
undertake interviews and use a questionnaire is likely to be viewed as
Timescales are important to help us assess the feasibility of your project
and the likelihood you will complete your PhD on time, if your application is
You should also need to demonstrate an awareness of the need for planning,
which is so crucial to completing your PhD on time.
Conclusion - significance of your contribution
Finally, you need to describe your motivation for selecting this particular
topic for research and state why you think your research will make a significant
and original contribution to the subject matter.
We hope these guidelines will help you submit a successful proposal and wish
you good luck. We look forward to receiving your application.