Research Design in the Social Sciences

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Sara Hobolt (Convener)

Dr Daniel Berliner, Prof Torun Dewan, Prof Leigh Jenco and Dr Omar McDoom


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. 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, peer review and academic careers. Students will have opportunities to present their own research designs and get feedback from peers and teachers.


This course is delivered through seminars (20 hours in Michaelmas and 20 hours in Lent Terms). This course includes reading weeks in Week 6 of MT and LT. This year, some or all of this teaching may be delivered through a combination of online and on-campus seminars.

Formative coursework

This is a PhD level Research Design course. Students submit two summative pieces of work: a referee report as well as their research design. They will also 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 (25%, 2500 words) in the MT.
Research project (75%) in the ST.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2020/21: 8

Average class size 2020/21: 8

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication