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Course 3. Research Design



Catherine Moury

MA and PhD in Comparative and European Politics, Assistant professor at NOVA FCSH.

Research interests: Institutional change in the European Union and on coalition governments.



Enrico Borghetto

PhD in Political Studies, FCT investigator at the NOVA FCSH.

Research interests: Legislative and executive studies, policy agendas and agenda-setting, populism, European politics



This class is aimed at students willing to develop a basic understanding of how to conduct and evaluate social science research. By the end of the course, students should be able to critically review the state of the scholarly literature; to frame interesting and relevant research questions; to compare the strengths and weaknesses of different research methods; to formulate feasible designs for empirical research.


Useful applications

This course provides a general toolkit (plus some useful tips) to design a successful and feasible research project. It will cover a variety of research approaches, giving examples of both quantitative and qualitative research strategies, but it will not delve into the technicalities of any of these methods. The ultimate goal is to get a basic understanding of how to turn interesting and worthwhile research questions into systematic research projects.


Specific requirements to attend the course

English proficiency. Students are expected to submit a document before the start of the course.

They can choose between one of the two options:

1) presenting their own research project proposal (it can be provisional);

2) choose one influential book related to their research field and present the research design of the author.

Their proposal/book presentation shall include the following components: an illustration of the research problem, identification of the research questions and/or hypotheses and a thorough description of the method. It should be between 1000 and 2000 words (excluding bibliography). A template may be provided to guide the student. The assignment should be sent to the instructor at least one week before the start of the course.


Syllabus and day-to-day schedule

Each class will begin with a lecture delivered by the instructor. The lecture does not replace the compulsory readings but supplement them. Students are required to come to class with questions about subjects in the readings that were not clear. In the second section, a group of students will be asked to give a short presentation on their research design paper/proposal, which will be followed by a class discussion. The purpose of these presentations is to receive feedback and to learn from each other. In order for this to work out as intended, all participants should read the research proposals to be presented on the day before the class and come up with constructive questions/observations.

The first session sets the scene by introducing what it means to do research in the social sciences and by giving an overview over the topics that will be dealt with in the course. Students will learn how to find a topic, sharpen the relevant research question and how to set it within the extant literature. In the second session, students will learn about what makes a good theory and how to move from theoretical ideas to empirical observations.  In the third session, students will learn about the challenges of measurement and will be introduced to what it means to carry out descriptive and explanatory research. The fourth session will provide students with an overview of the most used research designs in the social sciences: experimental, large-N, comparative, single-case study and mixed designs.


Day 1. Research topics, research questions and literature review

2019/02/04, 10am-1pm, Room: Multiusos 1 | ground floor | ID Building

Readings: Schmitter (2016).


Day 2. From theories to concepts

2019/02/05, 10am-1pm, Room: Multiusos 1 | ground floor | ID Building

Readings: Sartori (1970).


Day 3. From description to explanation

2019/02/06, 10am-1pm, Room: Multiusos 1 | ground floor | ID Building

Readings: Brady (2011).


Day 4. An overview over research designs

2019/02/07, 10am-1pm, Room: Multiusos 1 | ground floor | ID Building

Readings: Fearon and Laitin (2011).



At the end of the last class, students will be evaluated on the material given in class and on the mandatory readings through a written multiple choice test.



2 ECTS, for students having successfully made the assessment.

N.B. - In order to have a presence certificate, an attendance >50%  is required.



Compulsory readings – All available via at the NOVA FCSH:

BRADY, Henry E. 2011. “Causation and Explanation in Social Science”. In The Oxford Handbook of Political Science, ed. Robert E. Goodin. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 1055-1107

FEARON, James D., and David D. Laitin. 2011. “Integrating Qualitative and Quantitative Methods”. In The Oxford Handbook of Political Science, ed. Robert E. Goodin. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1166–86.

SARTORI, Giovanni 1970. “Concept Misinformation in Comparative Politics.” American Political Science Review. 64, 4:1033-1053.

SHMITTER, Philippe C. 2016. “The Design of Social and Political Research.” Chinese Political Science Review 1, 4: 577–609.


Other recommended readings:

GERRING, John Social Science Methodology: 2012. A Unified Framework. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2nd ed.

KING, Gary, Robert O. Keohane, and Sidney Verba. 1994. Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research. Princeton University Press

TOSHKOV, Dimiter 2016. Research Design in Political Science. London, New York: Palgrave.

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