Methods and Research Design

Course Description: 

Mandatory course for ALL tracks

This course is designed for students who are beginning their dissertation projects.  The aim of the course is to give students the tools to conceptualize their theses in terms of research questions and design, methodology, data collection and empirical analysis. In doing so, this course focuses more narrowly on the issues, problems, and strategies related to theory development, conceptualizing analytical frameworks, surveying different strategies of “small-N” qualitative and “large-N” quantitative or statistical analysis. Many of these techniques can and should be further developed in subsequent courses in your PhD training, depending on the features of your specific project.  In class, students will read and discuss examples of both positivist and non-positivist research. Across both approaches, we unpack how to engage in theory formation and hypothesis testing; concept measurement; descriptive and causal inference; longitudinal, comparative and case study research; field data collection; working with texts and analyzing qualitative data; and, finally, the dissertation write-up.  Throughout the course, we do not avoid issues of epistemology—how we know what we know and how to adjudicate competing “truth” claims.  In doing so, however, the course aims to serve as a practicum or “how to” seminar aimed at seeing how research is actually conducted across varying sub-fields of the discipline. For the most part, we set aside or bracket epistemological and ontological debates in order to learn techniques for researching and analyzing social phenomena on a practical level.  This course is divided into four main parts focusing on the following topics: (1) the goals of social science and elements of research design; (2) selection and application of different methodologies for conducting research; (3) collection of primary and secondary data on the field; and (4) analysis and synthesis of qualitative data in the dissertation-writing process.  

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of this course, students will be able to: 

- Identify their central research question/s (CRQ)

- Situate their CRQ in the relevant literature(s)

- Formulate a theoretically-interesting argument

- Select an appropriate method or methods best suited for addressing the CRQ

- Apply the method(s) to the students’ research project

- Identify the relevant “universe” of cases and units of analysis (UA)

- Assess the empirical support for the students’ argument

- Prepare an executable research plan


Three Assignments 30%.  Three times during the semester, students will be given a short assignment that will be due at 10 a.m. the day of the following seminar.  Assignments will pertain to the readings for that week and, as a general rule, will ask students to provide illustrations of how they might apply the principles of research design and various methods discussed that week to their own research project.  Students will be expected to work either individually or in a group and should come to class prepared to discuss and critique the assignments/readings for that seminar.

Research Paper 45%.  This is the main requirement for the course.  The paper will serve as an important exercise in how to design a social science research proposal and will hopefully serve as the basis of the dissertation prospectus that will be submitted in June.  For those who plan to conduct empirical research in their dissertations, the paper should contain (1) the central research question(s), (2) the literature and/or debate it seeks to address, (3) the argument or theory/hypotheses, (4) the methodology to be used in the project, (5) case selection criteria, and (6) a plan for data collection and analysis that will serve to answer the research question(s).  For those who are conducting political theory projects, the paper should contain (1) the central question, (2) an explanation for why this question is interesting and important, (3) a description of the question is—empirical, normative, conceptual, interpretive, or some mixture of these, (4) an explanation of how the question will be answered—including a literature review, a discussion of the method(s) to be used, and why this method is appropriate, and (5) an account of how the project will be broken down into manageable units.  Students should consult with me about their paper at least once during the semester.

Class Participation 25% (15% attendance and class participation; 10% presentation).  Students will be expected to attend all the seminars and contribute to class discussions.  Students will also be expected to give a five minute presentation of their work during one of the seminars (the presentation makes up half of the participation grade).   Since I will be keeping speakers to strict time limits, it pays to time the presentation in advance.