Research Methods: An Introduction
After taking this course, students will:
This course serves as a broad and hands-on introduction to research methods in the social sciences. It enables students to understand research findings from a broad variety of studies, and furthermore covers the entire process of conducting systematic, empirical research, all the way from defining a research puzzle to presenting results. While we will extensively discuss various methods, techniques, and data presentation tools, from the conventional to the more exotic, the focus throughout the course is on developing a research proposal that is based on either in-depth interviews and/or (basic) statistical procedures, and on actually executing that project towards the end of the course. Along the way, students will learn the ‘language’ that is used to design and evaluate a diverse range of research strategies, and will acquire the necessary skillset to understand and evaluate methodological aspects of research presented in academic publications.
The aim of this course is to offer a methodologically ‘pluralist’ perspective, departing from the idea that all methodological choices in a research project should be made on the basis of which approach fits the chosen puzzles and questions best, but also with regard for epistemological issues underlying such choices. In some cases, this will result in a statistical analysis of large datasets, while in other cases the best approach will turn out to have long, in-depth interviews with smaller groups of people. For some questions, a framing analysis of media articles is required to find a satisfactory answer to the research puzzle, while for other questions a researcher might want to employ a social network analysis or perhaps process-tracing. In this course, we will dissect why a researcher would choose a particular strategy to answer her/his research puzzle, and go into which further repercussions such choices have for the outcome of a research project. We will also pay specific attention to the possibilities, advantages and pitfalls of combining several of such approaches within one research design.
The course spans a total of 17 sessions, which includes 3 lectures, 1 computer lab session, and 13 seminars (with an emphasis on the latter). The lectures cover core concepts in research methods (validity, reliability, generalization, causality, etc.) and introduce students to a selection of the most important research approaches that are being employed in present-day social science. The seminars and computer lab session build on these lectures by guiding students through assignments in which they design their own research proposals step by step. By the 5th session, students will have written a draft research proposal, which we will improve on during the rest of the course. Through the discussions of those draft research proposals during seminars, and the problems and questions we encounter there, we will address key issues to take into account when devising an empirical research strategy. Regardless of students’ specific individual research proposals, however, all students will learn how to interpret and use at least two core research approaches (namely in-depth interviewing and basic statistics; see ‘objectives’ above) during the seminars and computer lab session. The seminars further serve to give students an introductory hands-on training in practical research skills such as in-depth interviewing, transcribing, taking notes, formulating hypotheses and survey questions, producing descriptive and (basic) inferential statistics, and (visually) presenting results.
Towards the end of the course, students will execute (a portion of) their research proposals, either individually or in small groups, depending on the research design requirements. Students have three weeks to gather data, perform the analysis, and produce a research report. During these weeks, tutors are available for individual guidance during extended office hours. The research report itself can take the more conventional form of an article-length text, but may also consist of a (photographic) exhibition, short documentary film, or other type of presentation. In the last two seminar sessions of the course, the research results will be presented to their peers.
A selection of suggested literature for this course (further specific chapters and articles are assigned throughout the sessions):
Seminar group meetings of max. 25 students and lectures.
Written individual assignments during the course and a research report at the end. Class participation also counts towards the final grade. In more detail, the final grade is composed of the following weighted elements:
Note: all of the above materials are required for any final grade.