Fundamentals of Research Design for International Development

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Flora Cornish COL.8.09


This course is compulsory on the MSc in Development Management, MSc in Development Studies, MSc in Health and International Development and MSc in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies. This course is not available as an outside option.

This course is compulsory for all MSc students in International Development.


No prerequisites are required.

Course content

This course introduces MSc students in the Department of International Development to theoretical and practical foundations of social science research design. It is neither qualitative nor quantitative in focus, but rather is concerned with core interdisciplinary principles of research design that span disciplinary and methodological traditions.

Grounded in examples from International Development research, the course is centred on exploring principles of research design for different types of research questions.  The course will provide a platform for students to consider a range of research design options, as well as methodological techniques. It is intended to help students become more informed and critical readers of social scientific, and specifically International Development, research. It is also intended to help students appreciate the various trade-offs entailed in research design choices so that they can make decisions about which to adopt in their own dissertations. By the end of the course, students will be familiar with a variety of research design options and will be better equipped to embark on their own research projects. The course is not designed to provide students with all the skills and techniques they need, i.e., it is not an explicitly “methods” course, but it will familiarize students with the trade-offs involved in adopting particular approaches and incorporating various forms of evidence and information into their dissertations. The course therefore has the dual aim of helping students become both critical “consumers” and “producers” of International Development research. In doing so, it should make positive contributions to students’ learning experience both in their dissertation process, and in other courses they take in ID (and elsewhere at LSE).

The teaching on the course is premised on the idea that how we do research ultimately depends on the nature of the particular research question and the type and kinds of evidence that are available. There are strengths, weaknesses, and trade-offs to most of the decisions we make when planning and doing research, and as the weeks of the course progress, the strengths and weaknesses, and thus the implicit trade-offs, of the research designs we consider will vary.  Our goal is for students to better understand the consequences of these research design decisions, both in the published research that they read, and that they will need to make in their own research.

The topics covered will include discussions of the alignment between research question and research design, questions of inference, issues of measurement, and the relationship between theory and evidence, as well as brief introductions to particular methods, with a focus on when they will be appropriate to particular questions and projects.


15 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the MT.

Lectures for this course will be delivered primarily by staff from the Department of Methodology.

Seminars will be led by LSE Fellows recruited jointly by ID and MY, to assure experience in and familiarity with international development research.

Formative coursework

Annotated bibliography analysing the research design choices of published work, 1500 words, due in MT week 7.

Indicative reading

  • Bennett, Andrew, and Jeffrey T. Checkel, eds. (2014). Process Tracing: From Metaphor to Analytic Tool. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Cerwonka, A. & L. H. Malkki (2007). Improvising theory: process and temporality in ethnographic fieldwork. University of Chicago Press.
  • Desai V. and R.B. Potter (2006). Doing Development Research. London: SAGE
  • Geortz, Gary and Mahoney, James (2012). A Tale of Two Cultures: Qualitative and Quantitative Research in the Social Sciences. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Gerring, John (2012). Social Science Methodology: A Unified Framework. 2nd Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Perecman, E. & S. R. Curran, eds. (2006). A Handbook for Social Science Field Research: Essays & Bibliographic Sources on Research Design and Methods
  • Robson, Colin and McCartan, Kieran (2016). Real World Research. 4th Edition. Chichester: John Wiley.
  • Shaffer, P. (2013). Q-Squared. Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches in Poverty Analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Sumner A. and M. Tribe (2008). International Development Studies: Theories and Methods in Research and Practice. London: Sage


Short research proposal (1000 words) in MT week 11 (33%)

Annotated bibliography (2,500 words) in LT week 7 (66%)

Key facts

Department: Methodology

Total students 2018/19: 268

Average class size 2018/19: 17

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: Non-credit bearing

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills