Writing a Research Proposal for the School of English

The School of English requires potential PhD applicants to provide a research proposal of circa 3,000 words, excluding bibliography. You should view this proposal as a vital part of the application process, as the School will use it to gauge the potential of your proposed plan of research. The writing of a research proposal involves significant research, reflection, and revision, and you should allow yourself sufficient time to write and refine it. When working on your proposal, you should remember that your readers will be expecting to see clear evidence of your ability to begin to generate original ideas, and that you have refined these by engaging with some of the key scholarship that is relevant to your proposed area of research. Your proposal should also demonstrate that you have reflected upon the potential impact of your research, and indicate how it will advance the existing scholarship. In broad terms, your proposal should make clear:

  • What the proposed research topic is
  • Why the proposed topic needs to be researched
  • The methodology that will be used to facilitate the research

When working on your research proposal, remember that research by its very nature evolves, and your project is bound to change over the time that you work on it. This means that you should view the research proposal that you eventually submit to the School as a draft, and not feel that you are committing yourself to work on exactly the project that it describes (in the event that you are accepted).

Please note that the School expects that potential doctoral applicants will be able to use and cite primary and secondary material correctly, and research proposals with evidence of plagiarism will not be considered by the School.

Please also note that the School accepts a limited number of potential PhD candidates in any given year, and well-structured and worthwhile proposals are sometimes not successful for reasons that have nothing to do with the intrinsic merits of the proposal. Due to the large volume of research proposals that it receives, the School is not in a position to provide detailed feedback to all potential applicants.

There is no one way of structuring a research proposal, but we expect to find all of the following in a research proposal that is submitted to the School for consideration:



Your title is the first thing that your reader will read, and it should clearly indicate what the focus of the proposed research will be. Remember that very long titles can be confusing and, often, insufficiently focused. A short but clearly focused title is usually best.


Introduction (300-500 words)

This section should offer readers a clear introduction to your central research idea. You may find that it is easier to write your introduction after you have written the rest of the proposal. If not, you should be alert to the fact that you will probably need to revise this section after the rest of the proposal has taken shape. Your introduction should introduce the primary texts that you intend to examine. These may be by one author or several, depending on the nature of your project. In any event, you should use this section to explain why you intend to focus on these particular texts to help you make your argument. You might also like to explain here why you feel the School or a particular Faculty member in the School is best suited to supervise your work.


Preliminary Literature Review (500-800 words)

This section should clearly identify the existing field or fields of literary criticism or scholarship that are relevant to your research topic, and demonstrate an awareness of how these will inform your analysis. It should include work in existing literary criticism, and will usually include criticism or scholarship on the works or author(s) that are the focus of your research project. If there is little or no existing critical work in relation to your chosen works or author(s), this section should include literary criticism on works or authors in the same period, mode, or genre, or other relevant criticism that will help you to engage with your chosen texts, author(s), or topic. Depending on your research focus, you may need also to include work from other disciplines (such as History, for example, or Philosophy). The School will consider the possible relevance of any other body of knowledge to literary criticism, if it is likely to facilitate your research and if the School is confident you are or could become sufficiently familiar with it during the course of your degree.


Your Research Questions and Methodology (1,000-1,500 words)

This section should identify both the research questions that you intend to consider, and the methodology that you will use when doing so. Your research questions might revolve around gaps in the existing scholarship, for example, or a prevailing approach to a particular author or texts that you intend to interrogate or correct. Whatever your question or questions, you should demonstrate that the  approach you intend to take will be original, and not simply summarise or repeat existing arguments or scholarship. This section should also explain the methodology or theoretical approach that you will adopt in your research.


Provisional Chapter Outline and Timetable of Research (300-500 words)

Your proposal should include a provisional outline of your chapter content, but you should remember that this will no doubt change during the course of your research. You should also include a provisional timetable, outlining  how you intend to manage the different stages of your research and writing over the four years of your degree. You should remember to include information about any research trips that you plan to make during the course of your studies, and identify any collections, for example, that will be necessary for or vital to your research. In this section, you should also demonstrate your awareness of the importance of developing your profile as a scholar, and indicate how you intend to begin to disseminate your research at a suitable point or points in your studies. Remember to be realistic when drawing up your provisional timetable, and take account of the fact that you will need to produce around 20,000 words in each of the four years of your degree.



Your bibliography should be reflective of all of the research that has informed your ideas thus far, as well as providing bibliographical information for any primary or secondary texts that you have referenced within your proposal. Again, you should take care to cite all sources correctly, including any online sources (if you have used them). The bibliography is not included in the 3,000 word count, but you should view it as an important part of your application.


Useful resources:

DCU FHSS Doctoral Studies Hub:


DCU Graduate Studies Office: http://dcu.ie/graduatestudies/index.shtml

DCU English-language-requirements for non-native speakers:  


PhD by Artefact: