The Research Toolkit for Politics and International Relations

Module titleThe Research Toolkit for Politics and International Relations
Module codePOC2083
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Lamprini Rori (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The first part of the module will introduce you to the fundamentals of research design in political science. It will cover a range of topics, starting from the formulation of research topics and research questions, the development of theory and empirically testable hypotheses, and basic qualitative and quantitative data analysis techniques. The module will address a variety of approaches to empirical political science research including ethnography, interviews and focus groups, experimental and quasi-experimental designs, large-n survey research, and mixed-methods approaches. As a result, topics covered in the course will be varied and span all areas of political science including political behavior, international relations institutions, comparative politics, political theory, and public administration. You will be taught collectively by seven members of the department, each addressing both the logic of one or two methods on which they specialize, as well as practical insights drawn from their own research. Through the module you will be taught how to generate your own research questions, design and plan an independent research project, and conduct a literature review.

The second part of the module will train you to design, justify, and plan independent research in International Relations/politics. Conducting research in the field of International Relations poses unique challenges: how do we understand and access ‘the international’? What counts as data? What kind of causal claims can be made? What are the philosophical assumptions that underpin particular research processes, and how do they shape the questions that can be asked and answered? So building on the methods-focussed first term, you will deepen your critical awareness of research practice. The module will begin by introducing the historical context in which methodological and research processes have been debated in International Relations scholarship. You will be introduced to the so-called ‘great debates’ of International Relations, key principles of the philosophy of social science, and the possibilities for pluralist understandings of causality. After this, several staff – experts in their fields – will provide an introduction to their research approach/methods and the philosophical assumptions contained therein. Each staff member will also guide you through an in-depth application of their approach/method in the context of their cutting-edge research.

Through the whole module you will be taught both practical and critical analysis skills in research. You will cover foundational issues in research framings and theories, a range of research tools and methods, generating your own research questions, designing, and planning an independent research project, and conducting a literature review.

While no prior knowledge skills or experience are required to take this module and it is suitable for specialist and non-specialist students.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module will provide an introduction to research design, research execution, research methods both in theory and in practice. You will learn how to execute a literature review and scope out a research project. In addition to standard lectures, you will work in small groups in seminars to design research instruments, collect and analyse data. This module will also introduce you to traditional and critical methodologies for the study of International Relations, encourage you to develop, apply, reflect upon the use of these methods and train you in the skills to design, justify and conduct independent research in International Relations.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Identify, describe, contrast and analyse competing theoretical and methodological approaches in Political science and IR research
  • 2. Develop and provide a rationale for a given research question, based on a critical review of scholarship.
  • 3. Apply different methods and methodological approaches to the analysis of empirical and normative issues in politics and international relations, and display a competent awareness of the underlying philosophical assumptions, the limitations, and the implications of each approach.
  • 4. Analyse data to measure concepts, make comparisons, draw inferences
  • 5. Use evidence to explain and defend the adoption of a particular methodological approach to the analysis of given research question.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Communicate political science concepts, theories, methods in writing.
  • 7. Use analytical skills in both written and oral work.
  • 8. Deploy a range of research tools, assessing their applicability to addressing particular research questions.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Work with peers, interact effectively within a team/learning group, share information and ideas.
  • 10. Manage relevant learning resources, information, learning strategies and to develop own arguments and opinions with some guidance.
  • 11. Communicate effectively in your written and oral work

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

(Part 1)

Methods in context: concepts and indicators

How to write a research proposal: research questions, literature review, theory development and hypothesis generation, data collection, analysis

Conducting ethnographic research (participant observation)

Using qualitative methods (interviews and focus groups)

Pragmatism in research practice (grounded theory)

Methods for political theory

Discourse analysis

Questionnaire design

Inputting data into SPSS, descriptive statistics into SPSS

The logic of political surveys: sampling, causality, hypothesis testing

Experimental design and search for quasi-experiments

Mixed methods

(Part 2)

The ‘Great Debates’ of International Relations

Philosophy of Social Science: Ontologies, Epistemologies and Methodologies

Pluralist causality in International Relations research

Feminist Methods in war and militarisation

Archival Research, Genealogy and Problematisation in security policy

Narrative representation in conflict areas

Materialism in diplomacy

Critical game theory and quantitative methods in foreign policy

Student research conference

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activities2222 x 1 hour lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activity2020 x 1 hour seminars
Guided Independent Study76Reading assignments and preparing responses for seminar questions
Guided Independent Study76Research and preparation of data analysis
Guided Independent Study20Research and composition of Research Proposal Plan
Guided Independent Study80Research and composition of essay
Guided Independent Study6Composition of peer reviews


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Presentation of Research Proposal10 minutes1-10Oral feedback from convener and student peers
Data Analysis2 x 500 words1-10Oral feedback from convener and student peers

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Exam401 hour1-10Written
Literature Review352,500 words1-10Written
Research Proposal 251,500 words1-7, 9,10Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExamExam (1 hour)1-10August/September re-assessment period
Literature ReviewLiterature Review (2500 words)1-10August/September re-assessment period
Research ProposalResearch Proposal (1500 words)1-7,9,10August/September re-assessment period


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Indicative Basic reading:

Donatella della Porta, Keating Michael, Approaches and Methodologies in Political Science, CUP, 2008.

Halperin Sandra, Heath Oliver, Political Research: Methods and Practical Skills, OUP, 2016.

Kellstedt Paul, The Fundamentals of Political Science Research, CUP, 2013.

King Gary, Keohane Robert, Verba Sidney, Designing Social Inquiry, PUP, 1994.

Toshkov Dimiter, Research Design in Political Science, Palgrave, 2016.

Ackerly, Brooke A., Maria Stern, and Jacqui True, eds. Feminist methodologies for international relations. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Aradau, Claudia, et al. Critical security methods: New frameworks for analysis. Routledge, 2014.

Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus. The conduct of inquiry in international relations: philosophy of science and its implications for the study of world politics. Routledge, 2010.

Klotz, Audie, and Deepa Prakash, eds. Qualitative methods in international relations. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Kurki, Milja. Causation in international relations: reclaiming causal analysis. Vol. 108. Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Lamont, Christopher. Research methods in international relations. Sage, 2015.

Lebow, Richard Ned. Constructing Cause in International Relations. Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Rech, Matthew F., et al. "An Introduction to Military Research Methods." The Routledge Companion to Military Research Methods (2016)

Salter, Mark and Can Mutlu (eds). Research Methods in Critical Security Studies. Routledge, 2012.

Shepherd, Laura J. (ed) Critical Approaches to Security, Routledge, 2012.

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Research, Methodology, Causality, Philosophy of Social Sciences 

Credit value30
Module ECTS


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