Scope and Methods: Research Design and Techniques

Academic Year: 
Course Description: 

This course aims to introduce the students to the logic and instruments of empirical social research and help them acquire essential practical research skills. It is structured in three parts: Part I gives an overview of the essential features of social research, such as its grounding in robust, controlled and transparent evidence, the search for patterns and causalities, its concern with generalization, the role and place of "theory", or the importance of a proper operationalization of research questions. Part II provides an introduction to the logic underlying some of the most important methods for data collection and analysis in political science, such as survey research and statistical analysis, qualitative interviewing, experiments, ethnographic methods, archival and secondary data analysis, and qualitative and quantitative textual analysis. On the one hand, this part aims to convey some basic practical skills, such as how to formulate appropriate research questions that can successfully be addressed by a given method, and how to critically read and appraise research findings reported in academic and non-academic outlets (academic journals, mass media, etc.). Furthermore, it also wants to convey a general understanding of the advantages and limitations of particular research tools and how they are embedded in different logics of inquiry. Finally, part III of the course looks at practical issues of research process and design. It discusses the most common research designs in political science (case studies, comparative designs) as well as academic writing from various angles (academic genres and conventions, the writing process). Former students and library professionals will join the course to talk about their actual experience and respectively the many options the library has to offer to students.

Following a first class that will take place during the pre-session, all MA students will be divided into three groups. All first-year students of the two-year MA program will be in one group. Some sessions in the course will feature lectures, accompanied by a series of mandatory readings, whereas others will be more interactive and take various shapes, such as group work, common discussions of selected readings, and presentations of actual research projects followed by Q&A sessions. Feedback on the assignments will be provided via (A) grades; (B) comments posted on the e-learning sites and/or conveyed in class; and (C) individual consultations with the instructor during regular office hours and tutorial meetings.
The course should be seen as a complement to other methods courses offered by the Department (statistics, QCA, qualitative methods, case study research, etc.). It aims to convey a sense of both the variety of political science research and its unity across research traditions and paradigmatic controversies.

The course has an e-learning site at that will be enriched with content throughout the semester. The e-learning site is also the only place where you can submit your assignments.

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of the course, the students should have acquired:
● A clear idea of the nature of scientific inquiry and what differentiates it from other types of knowledge production (journalism, popular science, etc.) and other ways of treating "evidence" (court proceedings, police investigations, common sense, etc).
● An understanding of the main methodological approaches to data collection and analysis in political science, how they link to different understandings of causality and the
prospects for objectivity and generalization
● An improved practical sense for the research process, from the exploratory phase to conceptualization, operationalization, observation, data collection, data analysis and write-up
● Practical research skills (library search skills, literature review, formulation and operationalization of research questions, how to write a data analysis, some degree of methodological "literacy" when reading published research)


Attendance is mandatory. Late assignments submitted after the respective class will not be accepted.
A. Take home assignments (45%)
Take home assignments (including the one assigned during the pre-session) are to be handed in over the semester via the e-learning site of the course.
The questions and deadlines for the assignments will be announced in due course on the e-learning site and also explained as necessary in class. Unless teamwork is explicitly encouraged in the description of the assignment, you must write your assignment entirely on your own: plagiarizing your colleagues’ ideas will be appropriately sanctioned.
B. In class exercises (20%)
Apart from these take-home exercises, active class participation is paramount and some applied in-class tasks and quizzes will also be assigned during the semester. These exercises will be announced in due course on the e-learning site and in class.
C. Final paper (35%)
The requirements regarding the expected structure and content will be provided via the e-learning site. This paper will be an approximately 1,200 words research proposal requiring creative thinking, concise academic writing and an ability to link theories to empirical research while taking stock of what you learnt in the course. Note that your final paper will be graded 'as it is' and I will not try to guess what you may have meant when you wrote something that is not entirely clear or is not in perfectly polished English. Instead, I will grade what comes through clearly and explicitly from your submitted text. Therefore it is essential that you leave at least one week time to consult the Academic Writing instructors regarding the full draft of your paper before you submit it.

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