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How to write a PhD project proposal

In order to apply to this program, submitting a research proposal, also called exposé, linked to the overall research program of EQUALFIN, is required. With this proposal you are expected to summarize your research question, its relevance and localization within the academic debate, and the method(s) you will use for your project. The preparation of a written proposal is supposed to help you to structure your thoughts and to explain it to your supervisors as well as other interested people.

The proposal should not exceed the maximum of 10 pages (DIN A4, Times New Roman 12, 1.5-line spacing; margins: 2 cm on the left and 3 cm on the right, 2 cm at the top and bottom 2 cm at the top and bottom). Longer proposals will not be accepted.

The Hans Böckler Stiftung, in case of a proposal written in English, additionally requires a 1-2 page summary in German language. Please add the German summary before the English-language long version of your proposal and upload both documents as one file under "Description of the doctoral project (exposé)".

A proposal includes the following aspects:

1. Cover page: The cover page (not counted within the 10 pages-proposal) includes your name, the title of your dissertation, the research area you are applying to, and the name of a potential suvervisor.

2. Introduction: This section provides a concise overview of the research topic and a first literature review.

a. Why is your topic important?

  • Historical / economic / political relevance: Explain why someone should be interested in your topic. i.e.: What is the broader research puzzle? What policy implication does your research topic have?
  • Theoretical relevance: Explain how your work might be important to academic/theoretical debate on your topic

b. First literature review:

What literature exists on your topic, and what does it tell us? What is missing in the literature? Is there an open debate? What is the research gap you are addressing?

3. Objectives, research question(s) and hypothesis: Clearly state the objectives of your research and the research question you address. What do you hope to achieve with your research? What are the key hypotheses you will be testing? What theories or concepts will you use? In case you plan a cumulative PhD thesis (usually consisting of three papers), you might outline here the specific aims and research questions for the different papers. In this case, feel free to outline one paper plan in more detail than the others, especially regarding your research design and methods.

5. Research design and methods: This section should outline the method(s)s that you will be using to answer your research question(s). These can be quantitative, qualitative, or a mixed-methods approach. Explain how you are going to connect theory and empirical studies with your chosen method(s).

6. Timeline: This section should outline the timeline for your research. You might include a rough timeline chart.

7. Additional information:

Have you already started working on your PhD project, or do you have preliminary work which helps you to build your PhD thesis within the funding period?

8. Bibliography of sources used in the outline (as part of the max. 10 pages).

 Please also consider the guidelines on how to write a PhD proposal by the Hans Böckler Stiftung