What I hardly ever get, however, is a proper draft proposal.
For me, having at least a rough draft of your proposal before you contact potential supervisors is good practice, for a number of reasons: (1) it shows you have given the matter some thought; (2) it identifies you as someone who is able to work independently; and (3) it allows you to take ownership of your work from the start (and some supervisors WILL take over if you let them).
Studies would probably be both empirical and more conceptual in focus.
Don’t just write a list in this section – introduce different bodies of literature, summarise key themes and points, identify gaps, and make explicit how all this frames your particular project.
Nevertheless, your proposal should contain some indication of the theories and concepts you find relevant to your research questions, and (most importantly) some thoughts about how you might operationalise these. Are you situated within a specific epistemological framework, and why?
It should also include any specific methodological techniques or elements of research design – for instance, if you are trying to explore the interactions between phenomena, how will you measure and establish these? in a qualitative study exploring how breastfeeding impacts on mothers’ experiences of bonding with their babies, you would need to consider how you would tease out the role of breastfeeding from other factors).
You need to have an idea of how all this relates together and whether there are any useful connections or knotty contradictions at work. This should include your your broad methodological approach – is it quantitative or qualitative?
Your theoretical framework will and should change as you develop your Ph D project, coming to fruition when you have finished your data analysis and are (hopefully) ready to say something new. In fact, if I see a Ph D proposal which has an elaborate theoretical framework already, it often raises questions about whether the student is setting out to confirm things they feel they already know. Are you using a particular research design, for instance ethnography or case study?
The best research in my field tends to be both policy/society-relevant gaps in the relevant literature. If you’re applying for research funding, your project rationale should also link to the strategic priorities of the funding body. They must be ones which have not been asked before in the particular way you will ask them.
They should usually be open but narrow, focusing on aspects of issues or relationships between phenomena (e.g.