Research Design in the Social Sciences

This information is for the 2018/19 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Laura Valentini, Dr Steffen Hertog and Dr Daniel Berliner


This course is compulsory on the MRes/PhD in Political Science. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

The aim of this course is to help PhD students develop a research design. Students will learn how to find their research questions, choose a feasible data collection or modelling strategy, and match data collection and analytic methods to the aims of the PhD project. We also consider the relation of political theory and political science and explore research methodologies in normative theory. This course is therefore designed to be a primer in asking the right questions, exploring the options available to us and understanding the consequences of the design decisions that we make. Accordingly, this course is ultimately about turning good research questions into systematic projects that deliver interesting and worthwhile results. We also debate issues in research ethics and provide advice on publication strategies


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT. 7 hours of workshops in the ST.

This course has a reading week in Week 6 of both MT and LT.

Formative coursework

This is a PhD level Research Design course – we do not intend to have additional essays. Students will give presentations and receive extensive feedback on their work in progress. These are part of formative rather than summative assessment and are an important part of professional development. The main learning outcomes are to help the PhD students develop professional research designs.

Indicative reading

King, G., R. Keohane & S. Verba (1994) Designing Social Inquiry. Princeton UP.

Box-Steffensmeier, J., H. Brady & D. Collier (eds) (2008) The Oxford Handbook of Political Methodology. OUP.

Dunning, T. (2012) Natural Experiments in the Social Sciences: A Design-Based Approach. CUP.

Dryzek, J.,  B. Honig & A. Phillips (eds.) (2008) The Oxford Handbook of Political Theory. OUP.


Essay (20%, 2500 words) in the MT.
Essay (20%, 2500 words) in the LT.
Research project (60%) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2017/18: 12

Average class size 2017/18: 12

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication

Course survey results

(2014/15 - 2016/17 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 100%



Reading list (Q2.1)


Materials (Q2.3)


Course satisfied (Q2.4)


Integration (Q2.6)


Contact (Q2.7)


Feedback (Q2.8)


Recommend (Q2.9)