How to write a research proposal

The research proposal is an outline of your research project that you will carry out during your PhD. Remember that the research proposal is the key element of your application by which you present your innovative research project and it is important to provide a high quality project proposal. The following guideline shall support you in writing a sound research proposal.

Please choose one of the available Research Focuses and develop your research project in relation to the main topics specified there.

The programme-specific Proposal Template has to be used for the application.


Think of an informative but catchy title for your research project. A conclusive title not only arouses the reader's interest but should also indicate the direction of the following research idea.


An abstract is an independent, short and meaningful description of the longer, subsequent project description. It should include the objective, thematic scope, methods and conclusions. An abstract is not an evaluation, but a description that should enable the reader to quickly grasp the content of the project and assess its relevance. In addition, up to five keywords can be mentioned here.

State of the Art

The thorough literature research and its discussion is the first step in the preparation of the proposal. The point of a research proposal is not to present the history of the field, but to briefly and precisely present the current status and show where further research is needed. If you know the literature, you can easily describe the research subject concisely. This means stating the research idea and developing the research question from it.

At least the potential supervisor is very knowledgeable in the subject area you are planning to do your PhD. It will be noticed if you omit important publications or if your research question is not flawlessly elaborated. In addition, the project should be formulated in a clear and understandable way.

Hypotheses and Research Objectives

The next step in writing a meaningful proposal is to develop the research question. The answer to this research question must be derived from literature and your own findings.

The objectives should result directly from the state of the art and your own preliminary work. If it is suitable, a hypothesis is formulated, which you then accept or reject based on your results. In addition, it is helpful to define intermediate goals that contribute to answering the actual research question. For example, if a new method needs to be developed, then the development and evaluation of this method can be a valid intermediate goal. The objectives can serve as a structure in the work plan.

Methodological Approach

The methodological approach is the most important part of the research proposal. It describes how the research question is to be answered, which methods will be used and why exactly these and no other methods will be used. Last but not least, it must be estimated here in which period of time which interim result can be achieved. It must be clear that the planned procedure is well considered and that the planned procedures are feasible.

Expected Outcomes

In summary, the expected results of the project are to be described in more detail and how they contribute to the knowledge in the respective research area. It should be outlined, how the novel outcomes can increase the impact of the project in a broader scientific, social, economic or technological way.

Experiences and Skills in Relation to the Research Topic

Please outline methods you have already used, mention programming and data analysis skills and, if applicable, lab, field or management experiences. Only methods should be listed that you already used in research, not exam knowledge from former study courses.


Please add a list of the literature you have cited in your proposal. This list should be complete and consistently formatted.

Work Plan

As an additional file, a work plan as a Gantt chart must be attached. This includes the listing of the individual work packages in the context of the PhD programme and the estimated amount of time to complete the work packages.

In addition to the intermediate goals to be achieved (including periods for research, analysis and writing), the compulsory curriculum or research stays abroad should be taken into account.