Research Design in Political Science

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Florian Foos


This course is available on the BSc in Government, BSc in Government and Economics, BSc in Government and History, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics, BSc in Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics and History, BSc in Politics and International Relations and BSc in Politics and Philosophy. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

The course will introduce students to the design, conduct and analysis of research in empirical political science spanning different subfields (Political Behaviour, Political Economy, Comparative Politics, Conflict Research, Public Policy). The first term covers topics such as different types of data, the distinction between description and causal inference, the formulation of research questions, the development of theory and empirically testable hypotheses, as well as basic quantitative and qualitative data collection strategies. Moreover, we will discuss some of the major methodological challenges that we face as a discipline including p-hacking and “the garden of forking paths”, the file-drawer problem, issues of statistical power, and research ethics, as well as potential solutions such as pre-registration and results-blind review. The second term introduces students to specific methods, such as experimental and quasi-experimental designs (RCT, RDD, DiD), large and small-n comparative studies, and ethnographic research.


15 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 15 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour and 30 minutes of lectures in the ST.

There will be a Week 6 reading week in the MT and in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students will complete four formative problem sets throughout the course, two in MT and two in LT, that allow them to apply material from the course to concrete political science examples (e.g., identifying design elements of a published research paper; proposing strategies for answering a given research question, etc.).

Indicative reading


Bueno de Mesquita, E. & Fowler, A. 2019. Thinking Clearly in a Data-Driven Age.

Blair, G., Cooper, J., Coppock, A. and Humphreys, M., forthcoming. Declaring and Diagnosing Research Designs. American Political Science Review.

Gerber, A. S., and D. P. Green. 2008. Field experiments and natural experiments. The Oxford Handbook of Political Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Geddes, B. 2003. Paradigms and Sand Castles: Theory building and research design in comparative politics. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press.

Goertz, G. and J. Mahoney. 2012. A tale of two cultures: Qualitative and quantitative research in the social sciences. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Healy, K. 2017. Fuck nuance, Sociological Theory 35(2): 118–127.

King, G.; Keohane, R. O. & Verba, S. 1994. Designing Social Inquiry. Princeton University Press.

Khan, S. R. 2010. Privilege: The making of an adolescent elite at St. Paul's School. Princeton University Press, 2010.

Mill, J.S. 1882. A System of Logic, Chapter VIII. On the four methods of experimental inquiry. 8th edition. Harper and Brothers.

Wedeen, L. 2010. Reflections on ethnographic work in political science. Annual Review of Political Science 13: 255-272.


Exam (40%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.
Coursework (30%, 2000 words) in the LT Week 1.
Coursework (30%, 2000 words) in the ST Week 1.

The coursework in the Michaelmas Term will consist of a Problem Set, and the coursework in the Lent Term will consist of a Research Design Proposal.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2018/19: 78

Average class size 2018/19: 20

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

Student performance results

(2016/17 - 2018/19 combined)

Classification % of students
First 35.8
2:1 55.5
2:2 5.8
Third 1.5
Fail 1.5