Applying for a PhD

a PORT for Modern Languages tutorial

3. The research topic

3.6 your research strategy

The research process will take you from evidence to topic and back to evidence again many times. It will be about compromise and default as much as design and tactics at times. It must be clear, efficient, do-able.  You will need to think about and develop a research strategy, a plan.

It is important to anticipate difficulties and exploit the positive in order to counteract risks. Are you already aware of any risks? For example, the risk of pursuing a piece of work that is too demanding, and so setting yourself too large a task and risking not finishing. The risk of pursuing a piece of work that is too simplistic and might not meet examination requirements. The risk of duplication and so insufficient originality and quality. Draft a plan and then consult your supervisor(s) for comments.


  • Have you sketched a proposal or an outline detailing your research project and plans?
  • What is your topic of choice?
  • What is your main hypothesis or controlling idea?
  • What are the sub-themes and sub-questions that you intend to explore?
  • What is the context of your thesis? Major authors and pieces of work?
  • What might be the original or worthwhile contribution of your studies to this context? 


  • Have you considered drawing up an outline of how you might go about carrying out your research? The theories, paradigms and evidence you might use? The sources that you might consult? The content and context of your research? The methods you will employ in gathering, analysing or theorizing for your research?
  • Do you have a good idea of the resources open to you?
  • Have you identified the opportunities open to you? Funding, collection of evidence abroad, conferences or courses you can attend to learn and develop? A supervisor (or lecturer) with extensive knowledge and expertise in certain topics?


As you draft your research proposals and plans, it may be sensible to also draw up a time table for your research. This will help you see how realistic your plans for your proposal actually are (see managing your time). You may like to divide your research into a number of phases and assign a time allowance to each. 


Have you included a brief note in your research plan regarding your locations - this could be your location of study, or for gathering evidence or a country abroad where you need to develop your research? Have you considered how this might affect your timescales?