Guidelines for the Ph.D. Research Proposal

Guidelines for the Ph.D. Research Proposal

The Purpose of a Research Proposal

The Ph.D. in Biblical and Theological Studies is awarded mainly as the result of the student making a significant contribution to either biblical or theological inquiry. For your application, you will write a research proposal that summarizes your research idea, justifies the need for such a project, and explains how you intend to complete your research within the time frame of the program.

Along with the rest of the application, your research proposal will be used to determine the following: whether you are a suitable candidate for Ph.D. studies, whether your research interest matches the needs and interests of the Program, whether the Program has suitably qualified supervisors, and whether you possess the requisite ability to complete a project of this nature.

Overall, then, the primary objective of your research proposal is to communicate that you are proposing a project that adds to the existing body of knowledge, that you have the necessary academic skills to accomplish the project, and that the project can be achieved in the requisite timeframe. The research proposal should describe the problem/question you plan to address, state why it is important, and outline the method/approach you intend to use.

The Content of a Research Proposal

Although there are many ways to construct an adequate research proposal, every proposal should address the following:

  • The overall focus of your research and why it interests you.
  • The specific thesis you will address and/or research question you plan to answer.
  • Why this research is worth pursuing.
  • A brief review of the relevant literature to demonstrate your understanding of the main debates in your area and how your research will advance these discussions.
  • How your proposal fits within the established research areas of the Program and the specific faculty member(s) that you are interested in working with.

The Format of the Proposal

While content is far more important than the format of your proposal, you should keep in mind the following formatting guidelines:

  • Aim to write around 1,000-1,500 words, but no more than 2,000.
  • Unless otherwise stated use 1.5 spacing, font size 12 and standard margins.
  • Use headings for the major sections and sub-sections.
  • Avoid overly technical jargon by using use clear English that will be understood by non-experts on the admissions committee.
  • Use correct grammar and spelling.
  • Attach a bibliography for key books and papers you have read. 

Assessing Your Research Proposal

After you have written a complete draft of your research proposal, use the following questions to determine whether you have included all of the necessary information.

  • Do I have a clear thesis statement? Have I indicated what my research is about and/or have I identified my primary research question?
  • Did I say why this research is important? Have I stated what I think this research will accomplish and how it will add to the existing body of knowledge?
  • Have I demonstrated my knowledge of the field? Did I engage with at least a few of the more important thinkers/sources to show that I have done at least some preliminary research and know the major figures involved?
  • Do I say how I will approach the project? Did I provide at least a cursory explanation of the method I will use for completing this research?
  • Have I formatted the proposal properly? Did I read carefully the requirements and make sure that I followed the necessary instructions?
  • Did I have someone proofread the proposal for me? Have I made sure the proposal is well written and all obvious typographical errors have been addressed?

Additional information about the Ph.D. application process is available here