Guidelines for writing an MAR proposal

Notebook in the hands of a student.

When applying to study for an MA by Research (MAR) at the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, you'll need to write a research proposal. The MAR is a research degree completed within 12 months of study and requires you to design and complete your own research project which you write up in a thesis of 30,000 words – about a third of the length of a PhD thesis and developing many of the same skills.

For your proposal, aim to produce two sides of A4 as a starting point, including some bibliographical references.

Here are the main questions you should consider and address in your proposal.

What is your area of research or topic? Be as specific as you can.

  • What is the context for your research?
  • What research questions are relevant for your area of research/topic?
  • Why do you consider your area of research/topic important?
  • What work has already been done in your area of research (this should include indicative references)?
  • How will you go about answering the research questions in your thesis?
  • What research expertise have you identified at the University of Leeds which makes it a good place for you to conduct your research? Have you identified a potential supervisor?
  • What experience/training do you have that will support your research?

Proposal structure

Your research proposal should normally include the following information:


A working title of your research; this will change over the course of your research as your project develops but it is good to have a starting point.

Context and literature

Outline the background to your research clearly. Show that you understand the research area and have started to develop an understanding of your research topic. Review current literature related to your intended project to demonstrate your understanding of the subject.

Make sure that you:

  • show awareness of current knowledge and debates
  • make reference to key articles and texts
  • demonstrate your own expertise gained from previous study or employment.

 If you have identified academics in the School involved in your research area you should contact them to discuss your project. This would be a good opportunity to get further advice about your proposal and to potentially start building a supervisor relationship.

It is your chance to explain where there is a gap in current understanding while leading on to show how your proposed research can fill that gap and make a contribution to the debate.

Aims of your research

Your research aims show the overall purpose of your study and need to be carefully considered. Keep your research proposal concise, focus on one or two key research aims and then plan how research questions can achieve the aims. This will help you, and potential supervisors, to determine if they are achievable during your research degree.


Consider how you intend to carry out your research, and address this in your proposal.

  • What type of data do you require, for example qualitative, quantitative or a combination of both?
  • How are you going collect and then analyse the data?
  • How will these methods address your research aims, relating to current literature?

If you are applying for practice-led research you should explain why you decided to do so and provide evidence of your previous experience, or how you can develop your skills in this area.

Plan your timescale

Plan a realistic timescale for your project to show your potential supervisors that you can complete the project within 12 months full time or 24 months part time study. This will also demonstrate that you have thought out an achievable research project. You should consider:

  • possible challenges you could encounter and how you aim to overcome them
  • what you believe will be the milestones of your research
  • what you wish to achieve at key points of your research project – for example, you could divide the year into quarters and state where you hope to be at each stage

Expected outcomes

Explaining potential outcomes shows you have thought through your research and why it should be undertaken. This may include how your research builds on current knowledge and what new understanding you will bring to your field. This is speculative at this stage, as you have not yet done the research, but you should be able to suggest some possible findings.


Focus your reading so that your references are relevant and up-to-date and make sure your referencing style is consistent and appropriate for your discipline.

Proofreading your proposal

Your proposal is your chance to show how accurately, coherently and concisely you can present information, so make sure it is well written and well presented. It is a good idea to ask someone to proofread it and check it for clarity.

When reading through your proposal before submission, ask yourself:

  • Is your proposal clear and easily understood? 
  • Have you written in a focused and concise way?
  • Does your proposal follow a logical progression that tells the reader a short story about your research intentions, your justification for them, your methods, and what you hope to find out?

Basically: what do you intend to do, how do you intend to do it, and why is it important or interesting?