Please note: This course will be taught in hybrid mode. Hybrid delivery of courses will include synchronous live sessions during which on campus and online students will be taught simultaneously.

Allyson Benton is a Reader in the Department of Government at the University of Essex. Allyson’s research lies within the field of political economy and has been published in a variety of academic journals. She is currently examining the impact of politics (most recently, politicians’ career ambition) on subnational fiscal policy as well as the impact of politics (most recently, political speech) on financial markets. Her previous research also included the origins and operation of subnational authoritarian regimes in Latin America. Allyson’s research has been enriched by her long time working as a Latin American political risk analyst in the private sector, as well as researching, living, and working in that region. 

Course Content: 

This course introduces participants to basic principles in the design of social science research projects. The course is divided into two parts. During the first week, it covers the design of the theoretical framework for a project, including identifying the research question, relevant literature, argument, and testable hypotheses. During the second week, it covers the design of the empirical strategy for the project, including the selection of cases, empirical data/information, and method of analysis, with a focus on how to justify these choices. At each stage, practical guidance is given for organizing and drafting these discussions. The course finishes with professional issues, like preparing replication materials, responding to feedback, and preparing manuscripts for submission. 

 Course Objectives: 

The main objectives of this course are twofold. The first is to help participants design research projects (such as PhD dissertation essays or academic journal article manuscripts) that can be completed in a realistic amount of time. The second goal is to help participants understand best social scientific practices, and how to show that they have adhered to them, in order to facilitate the publication of their research in venues.  

 Course Prerequisites: 

This is an INTRODUCTORY course aimed at prospective PhD students drafting their research proposals, early PhD students finalizing their research proposals, current PhD students without access to research design courses, and recent PhDs seeking to transform their doctoral research into publishable manuscripts. As such, there are no prerequisites. However, participants should have a research project in mind, with knowledge of prior research, arguments, and empirical analysis in it. Participants may plan to use qualitative and/or quantitative methods in their research.  

 Representative Background Reading: 

 This is an INTRODUCTORY course and participants are not required to have extensive knowledge about research design. However, those wishing to prepare for the course may benefit from: 

 Gerring, John, and Dino Christenson. Applied Social Science Methodology: An Introductory Guide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. doi:10.1017/9781107775558. 

 Kellstedt, Paul M., and Guy D. Whitten. The Fundamentals of Political Science Research. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. doi:10.1017/9781108131704. (Chapters 1-5). 

 Readings from these texts (and others) will be assigned during the course. 



Day 1: Framing Your Research Question 

Topic: How to translate a research topic into a feasible research question. 

Topic: How to frame a research question in the relevant literature. 

Practical: How to organize your manuscript’s introduction and literature review. 

Day 2: Making Your Argument 

Topic: How to identify and define your main outcome (dependent) and explanatory (independent) variables of interest. 

Topic: How to identify and explain the causal mechanism linking them. 

Practical: How to organize and draft the argument of your manuscript. 

Day 3: Identifying Testable Hypotheses 

Topic: How to identify testable hypotheses of the argument.  

Topic: How to select among them. 

Practical: How to organize your testable hypotheses and where to put them. 

Day 4: Discussing Alternative Arguments 

Topic: When and how to identify alternative explanations. 

Topic: When and how to identify contradictory arguments. 

Topic: When to identify and discuss the Null (H0) Hypothesis. 

Practical: Where to place these discussions in your manuscript. 

Day 5: Defining Concepts and Measures 

Topic: How to define concepts and choose measures. 

Practical: When to engage in these discussions and where to put them.  

Day 6: Determining Your Empirical Strategy (Case Selection Strategy) 

Topic: How to define the empirical strategy. 

Topic: How to choose cases for testing arguments. 

Topic: The benefits/ limits of small and large numbers of cases. 

Practical: How to create a template for your empirical strategy. 

Day 7: Determining Your Empirical Strategy (Empirical Data/Information) 

 Topic: Different types observational and experimental “data”. 

Practical: How to choose between them, and where and how to justify this choice. 

Day 8: Determining Your Empirical Strategy (Method of Analysis) 

Topic: The variety of qualitative and quantitative methods for testing arguments, including their benefits and limitations. 

Practical: How to choose between them, and where and how to justify this choice. 

Day 9: Presenting Your Empirical Analysis and Discussing Your Results 

Topic: How to present your empirical results, including visualizations, substantive examples, illustrative cases, placebo tests, and robustness checks. 

Topic: How to conclude your manuscript. 

Practical: How to organize these discussions. 

Day 10: Considering Research Ethics, Replicability, Misconduct; Presenting and Submitting Your Research 

Practical: Research involving human participants and research ethics processes. 

Practical: Ensuring replicability. 

Practical: Responding to feedback and preparing your manuscript for submission. 

Practical: Presenting at a conference or delivering an academic job talk. 

Practical: Delivering comments/reviews of other’s work.