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School of Law

Developing a research project

During your PhD studies, you will research and write a thesis of around 100,000 words. Your thesis will be examined by way of a viva voce (oral) examination, during which you will defend your research before two established academics in your field of study. In order to pass, your thesis must make ‘an original contribution to knowledge’. There must be (a) something new in either the subject-matter of your research or in the intellectual approach or insights you develop; and (b) your research must be in dialogue with the relevant scholarship and academic debates.

A solid research proposal is the first step on the road to completing your thesis. It is very important to spend time thinking about and writing your research proposal, because it is the main basis on which your application will be assessed. The admissions team will consider whether it has the potential to develop into a thesis that makes an original contribution to knowledge. The proposal will also indicate whether Queen Mary is a good fit for your project; other equally prestigious institutions may be better equipped to support you.

Writing a good research proposal is hard. Since you have not yet begun the project, you do not yet know what your research will show or how your analysis will develop. Your thesis will – and ought to - develop in nuance, complexity and detail as your research progresses. All this makes research proposals tricky to write. Bear in mind, however, that the project you outline in your proposal may not be the thesis you end up writing. Think of the proposal as a starting point rather than a summary of the end point. 

Research proposals must conform to the structure set out in our guide to writing research proposals [PDF 164KB]:

  • Section 1: Summary
  • Section 2: Context and significance of your research
  • Section 3: Research design and approach

Please be aware that a proposal is a requirement for every application. It is your responsibility as an applicant to develop your own research proposal. 

We strongly recommend that you read the guidance document carefully, as it contains useful advice about how to approach each section.

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