Research Design in the Social Sciences

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Steffen Hertog (Convener)

Dr Daniel Berliner, Prof Torun Dewan, and Prof Kai Spiekermann


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.

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.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2021/22: 10

Average class size 2021/22: 9

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication