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Posted: January 10th, 2024



Level: MA Credit Value: 15
Module Leader: Luis De la Calle Email:
Semester Taught: Two Office hours: Thursdays, Fridays, 1-2pm

This module is designed to prepare the student for writing their dissertation. The module serves to introduce the student to the nature of the research process and encourage the student to focus on developing their research question and methodology and advance their research retrieval and analysis skills. The module concludes with a brief discussion on Dissertation Write-up, Structure of the Dissertation and the nature of the supervision process. In the course of the module, the student will undertake a literature search and devise a research proposal, strategy and timetable to underpin their full dissertation.

The module aims to provide an advanced level of skills, knowledge and understanding with reference to the preparation of a dissertation. The specific aims of the module are:
• To equip students with the skills, knowledge and understanding to carry out an extended piece of independent research.
• To equip students to develop a research proposal, strategy and timetable.
• To enable students to complete a dissertation under the guidance of an academic supervisor

By the end of the unit, a student will be able to:
1. Design an individual research programme incorporating an awareness of social science methodology.
2. Demonstrate an understanding of the nature of the research process.
3. Demonstrate an ability to search for, retrieve and analyse relevant information from a variety of sources.
4. Collate and analyse subject-specific information from a range of appropriate sources.
5. Prepare a research proposal, strategy and timetable that will guide and underpin the full dissertation.
6. Understand the nature of the supervision process.

This module requires students to take a high degree of responsibility for the learning process and will require them to manage their own learning, reflect on it critically, and seek and use constructive feedback.

One-hour lecture on Monday 09:00-10:00 in The Students Union. Lectures start in the week commencing (w/c) 6th February 2023.
Seminars: One-hour seminars which start in the same week i.e., (w/c) 6th February 2023 (please check your timetables for your session and seminar leader details).

• Attendance in all seminars;
• Completion of weekly reading assignments;
• Participation in all seminar discussions and activities – defined as responding to and asking questions, interacting with teaching staff but especially your peers; independent study of approximately 12 hours per week;
• Research topic submission: Students must submit a brief outline of their research topic/ research question using the Google Form (link to be provided) by 3 March 2023

There is only one assessment for this module (100% weightage).
• Submission of Dissertation Proposal (no longer than 2000 words in length) by 12 noon on Monday 27th March 2023.
If you don’t provide information on the Google Form, we will effectively have to make the allocation blind and allocate you to a supervisor without any information. A number of different considerations have to be balanced in making the supervisor allocation, and after the allocation has taken place, it is largely impossible to make changes.

Module Schedule:
Week Lecture and Seminar topic
WEEK 23 w/c 6 Feb 2023 Topic 1: Introduction, Importance of research design and how to formulate a research question
WEEK 24 w/c 13 Feb 2023 Topic 2: Critical Literature Review and Argument Development
WEEK 25 w/c 20 Feb 2023 Topic 3: Data collection and analysis: Qualitative projects
WEEK 26 w/c 27 Feb 2023 Topic 4: Data collection and analysis: Quantitative projects AND Ethical Issues
3 March 2023 – Research topic submission Google Form details to be sent closer to the date. Detailing your research topic, keywords, preliminary research question.
WEEK 27 w/c 6 March 2023 Topic 5: Supervision Process, Dissertation Write-up, Structure of the Dissertation
27 March 2023, 12 noon – Submission of Research Proposal (2000 words) Detailed instructions below

You will be expected to participate fully. The reading list includes key items but is not comprehensive. You are encouraged to explore the literature and current events further.

Assignment Guidelines – PLEASE READ CAREFULLY
All written work must be fully your own and references to other people’s work must be properly cited. Plagiarism will be penalised accordingly.
The assignment should be written in a standard 12-point font, double-spaced, and include your actual word count on the first page and standard margins. Assignments that exceed the word count will be penalised.

The assignment will include three components, research proposal, strategy and timeline.

I. Research Proposal (approximately 1,000 words)
The research proposal should include:
1. Advancement of a research question and/or puzzle of your dissertation
You should ask a question about an important relationship, event or outcome in the social world or a theoretical body of knowledge. You can also pose a puzzle on the variation or inconsistency in a relationship that appears in theory or practice. The main question and/or puzzle underlying your dissertation should not be longer than a single sentence but should be developed further as a set of more nuanced questions related to the overarching topic and case(s) of the dissertation.
Questions/puzzles can be posed in general or in relation to the specific case(s) selected for the dissertation.
2. Discussion of why seeking knowledge on your question and/or puzzle is important
You should explain why the topic of your dissertation is significant and should be studied. What areas of social life and/or theoretical development does your dissertation help advance?
Related, your question and/or puzzle can address a single event or set of research materials, but should seek knowledge beyond it. What can we learn from studying the question and/or puzzle of your dissertation? How will your research help understand more general processes operating in a set of regions, countries, groups or time periods or even more universally?

3. Description of how you selected your case(s) and/or textual/empirical material and discussion of how your material will help shed light on the proposed question and/or puzzle of your dissertation;
You should discuss how the textual/empirical materials that you will collect and analyse will help address the question and/or puzzle of your dissertation.

4. Critical review of the relevant literature
You should identify a body of literature (e.g. academic articles, books, etc.) that addresses your dissertation topic and assess how your topic has been addressed. Has your question/puzzle been posed? What approaches to the phenomenon underlying your dissertation have been offered in the selected literature? Are the answers given in the literature sufficient for our understanding of your topic? What does the literature help us understand and what is excluded or insufficiently explained in the literature?
You should draw on specific texts and provide a critical review of these texts separately (e.g. single article, book, etc.) and/or collectively (e.g. a set of articles, books, etc.). A critical reading of a text or a set of texts includes but is not limited to:
a. Short summary, where you should identify key concepts and arguments that relate to the topic of your dissertation, discuss the logic of the argument and how successful it is when applied to the textual/empirical materials used to support it;
b. Assessment, including the discussion of assumptions and problems you identified in the concepts, arguments and logic of the text(s) as they relate to your dissertation topic.

5. Advancement of your argument
As you identify the gaps, assumptions and further areas of theoretical/conceptual advancement in our understanding of the phenomenon underlying your dissertation, you should propose an alternative argument to the existing literature. What is the possible answer to your research question that is not present in the literature and/or requires combining a number of different approaches or an altogether novel approach?
The proposed answer to your question/puzzle, or argument, should take the form of a statement of one or two sentences. This statement should then be developed further as it relates to the relevant literature and textual/empirical materials that you will draw on in the dissertation. How is your argument different from those advanced in the existing literature? Do textual/empirical materials that you have collected to date support your argument?
You should also discuss the logic of your argument. What are the steps that you take to relate the phenomenon to your argument? If a visual representation helps in the development of your argument, you can include an arrow diagram that outlines the steps in your logic to then discuss these steps.

II. Research Strategy (approximately 800 words)
The research strategy and timeline should include:

1. Explanation of the proposed methodology for your dissertation research;
You should justify the choice of your methodological approach as it relates to your question and the existing literature. What are the main characteristics of the method that you selected for your study? Why is the method relevant to your dissertation question/puzzle? What methodological approaches have been used in the existing literature? How will your methodological choice help you advance a more coherent argument about the phenomenon underlying your dissertation research?
You should ask yourself how your conclusions might change if you choose a different method. What are the trade-offs of the method selected for this research as opposed to other alternatives? How will you use the benefits of the selected method and acknowledge and/or overcome its limitations?

2. Description of the materials collected to date and those still to be compiled in fulfilment of the dissertation and discussion of the limits of the materials available, potential bias in the materials and how you will acknowledge and/or correct for these shortcomings in the process of research;
You should discuss the nature of the textual and/or empirical materials that you will draw upon in your research. Given your methodological approach, what types of materials do you need in order to answer the question or puzzle of your dissertation? How will you access these materials? Do you anticipate challenges in access? What alternative strategy will you pursue if you cannot access the required materials?
You should discuss the shortcomings in the materials that you anticipate. What kinds of biases should you look out for in your materials? How has the process of data generation impacted the materials in your research? How will you address these potential shortcomings? How will you use different types of sources to triangulate the materials?
You should refer to the materials that you have collected to date in order to demonstrate the points you make on the questions above.

3. Discussion of how the collected materials will be analysed;
You should discuss how the different types of materials will help advance your argument using the method that you selected. Do you anticipate challenges of and ambiguities in the interpretation?

III. Timeline of your proposed dissertation research (approximately 200 words)
You should outline here the series of discrete steps, phases or stages by which you will plan, research, write up, redraft and submit your dissertation. You are encouraged to set indicative deadlines for when you aim to produce draft chapters and hold the three supervision meetings. The timeline can be structured as a table, chart or bullet point list specifying when you plan to accomplish each step by.
The assignment will be graded based on:
• Understanding of the nature of the research process;
• Understanding of the multiple dimensions of devising a proposal and strategy for independent research;
• Understanding of the methodology selected for the independent research;
• Demonstration of the skills and knowledge necessary to
o ask and justify the significance of questions/puzzles,
o select cases and/or textual/empirical material relevant to the dissertation topic,
o critically assess the state of existing literature and propose alternative arguments,
o justify the selected methods,
o access the materials required to answer the dissertation question or puzzle given the methodology, and
o analyse the materials in a timely fashion;
• Logic, relevance and feasibility of the research proposal, strategy and timetable;
• Quality and clarity of writing and command of module materials.

Students will also find this resource useful –

Study Hours
For 15-credit modules, 60 hours of independent study is expected in total. For guidance on study techniques, see the handbook, the 301: Student Skills and Development Centre and/or speak to your Personal Tutor.

General Regulation
You should refer to the Handbook for guidance on assignment writing and other academic skills, for details of marking criteria, and for rules governing submission of assessed work and attendance. Please note that you are required to perform satisfactorily in all components of assessment before credits can be awarded for a module.
Please recall your responsibilities under “The Commitment” partnership document struck between teachers and students as members of the University: As such treat your peers, teaching and support staff with respect and courtesy, whether in the classroom, meeting one on one or when communicating by email.


Core textbooks are:
• Alan Bryman (2016) Social Research Methods: 5th Edition (Oxford: OUP)
• Wayne C. Booth et al (2016), The Craft of Research: Fourth Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press)

For each topic, Required Readings are listed. Every student is expected to have read these texts before attending the seminar. Students with aspirations for high grades should read beyond Required Readings and investigate the literature for themselves according to the particular topic.

Useful sources include:
• Oxford, Cambridge and Routledge Handbooks of Politics Research Methods and Methodology
< > < > < >
• PS: Political Science & Politics
< >
• Political Analysis < >
• Perspectives on Politics –
• Qualitative Sociology < >
• Newsletter of the American Political Science Association’s Organized Section on Qualitative and Multi-Method Research < >
• Newsletter for the Comparative Politics Section of the American Political Science Association
< >

Topic 1: Introduction, Importance of research design and how to formulate a research question

How to ask interesting political questions? What constitutes a puzzle in the study of politics? How to select topics and cases for research or draw on empirical material to focus your dissertation on important theoretical, conceptual and substantive issues? The lecture engages with the early stages of the dissertation research, which identifies questions and focus areas and frames the following stages of doing the research.

Required Readings
• Alan Bryman (2016) Social Research Methods: 5th Edition (Oxford: OUP) Chapter 4 – Planning a Research Project and Formulating Research Questions and Chapter 3 – Research Designs
• Wayne C. Booth et al (2016), The Craft of Research: Fourth Edition (Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press), Read Chapters 3 and 4

Recommended Readings
• Hay, Colin. 2002. Political Analysis: A Critical Introduction. New York: Palgrave, Chapter 2, pp. 59-88.
• Fairclough, Norman. 2003. Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research. London: Routledge, Introduction, pp. 1-18.

On asking questions:
• Schaeffer, Nora Cate, and Stanley Presser. 2003. “The Science of Asking Questions.” Annual Review of Sociology 29, 65‐88.
On case selection:
• Geddes, Barbara. 1990. “How the Cases You Choose Affect the Answers You Get: Selection Bias in Comparative Politics.” Political Analysis 2:131-150.

Topic 2: Critical Literature Review and Argument Development

In this topic we will look at how to identify a body of literature relevant to your dissertation topic; how to critically engage with this literature and identify significant gaps in our understanding of the phenomenon underlying your research; and how to propose theoretically and conceptually viable alternatives to those arguments that exist in the literature. The focus is on the second stage of independent research, namely, critical literature review and argument development.

Required Readings
• Alan Bryman (2016) Social Research Methods: 5th Edition (Oxford: OUP) Chapter 5 – Getting started: Reviewing the Literature
• Wayne C. Booth et al (2016), The Craft of Research: Fourth Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press) Chapter 7 – Making a Good Argument and Chapter 5 – From Problems to Sources

Also see this useful resource –

Recommended Readings

On case studies and theoretical development:
• George, Alexander L., and Andrew Bennett. 2005. Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences. Cambridge: MIT Press, Chapter 1, pp. 3-36.

On conceptual development:
• Goertz, Gary. 2008. “A Checklist for Constructing, Evaluating, and Using Concepts or Quantitative Measures.” In Box‐Steffensmeir, J., Brady, H., and Collier, D. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Political Methodology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 97-118.

On assumptions in the discipline:
• Hay, Colin. 2002. Political Analysis: A Critical Introduction. New York: Palgrave, Chapter 1, pp. 1-58.

On visual, literary and performative research:
• Wedeen, Lisa. 1999. Ambiguities of Domination, Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Chapter 1, pp. 1-31.

Topic 3: Data collection and analysis: Comparative projects

This topic focuses on the major aspect of the independent research process, collection and analysis of data and empirical materials. Understanding what sorts of data and materials, and which kinds of methodological approach are appropriate for different kinds of research questions is of critical importance in producing a successful dissertation.

This week we will focus our attention on methods that rely on a small number of observations. We will learn about how to make the most of comparing two or three units of analysis (such as countries or political leaders), and have a look at innovative methods such as natural experiments and dif-in-dif designs.

Students should already be familiar with using the university library website and the web to collect different types of materials (e.g. academic articles, book chapters, op-eds, reports, news entries, archival documents, photographs, etc).

Please note that we will not dedicate time to oversee qualitative methods (such as interviews and focus groups), because they are rarely used for Masters Dissertations. If you would be interested, be aware that your research proposal would need to go through and clear the Ethics review process, which usually takes time and a positive evaluation is not guaranteed. If you are doing research that requires it, you should very early on discuss this with your Dissertation supervisor, as Ethics application submission and Panel Review is a complex process.
Please read about our University’s Ethics process –
Please also watch a video on the blackboard page of this course (under “Ethics Approval”).

Required Readings
Gerring, John. 2009. “Case Selection for Case‐Study Analysis: Qualitative and Quantitative Techniques.” In Janet Box-Steffensmeier et al. (eds) Oxford Handbook of Political Methodology.

Dunning, Thad. 2012. Natural Experiments in the Social Sciences. CHAPTERS 1 & 2

Recommended Readings
On data generation process:
• Herrera, Yoshiko, and Devesh Kapur. 2007. “Improving Data Quality: Actors, Incentives and Capabilities.” Political Analysis 15:4, 365-86.

On qualitative, quantitative and mixed-method alternatives:
• Mahoney, James. 2010. “After KKV: The New Methodology of Qualitative Research.” World Politics 62:1, 120‐47.

On archival research:
• Trachtenberg, Marc. 2006. “Working with Primary Documents,” Appendix II of The Craft of International History. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
• Johnson, Victoria et al. 2008. “From the Archives: Innovative Use of Data in Comparative Historical Research,” Trajectories: Newsletter of the Comparative Historical Section of the ASA 19:2.

Topic 4: Data collection and analysis: Quantitative projects
We continue our discussion on collection and analysis of data and empirical materials. We will look at key sources of quantitative empirical evidence. This session will be a crash course on how to run simple statistical models with SPSS to bring your hypotheses to the empirical test.

If you plan to use a quantitative approach, be aware you have access to the SPSS software.
Follow instructions for download here:

Required Readings

Field, Andy P., (2009) “The SPSS environment.” In Andy Field, Discovering statistics using SPSS. pp.61-86, London, SAGE Publications.
Bryman (2016) Social Research Methods: 5th Edition (Oxford: OUP) Chapter 1 – read sections on data collection, analysis; Chapter 15 – Quantitative data analysis.

Recommended Readings
On survey research:
• Brady, Henry E. 2000. “Contributions of Survey Research to Political Science.” PS: Political Science and Politics 33:1, 47‐57.

On quantitative research:
• Pennings, Paul, Hans Keman and Jan Kleinnijenhuis. 2006. Doing Research in Political Science. (London: Sage)
• Pennings, Paul. 2016. Chapter 19: Quantitative data analysis in political science. In Keman, H and Woldendorp, J. J. (eds) Handbook of Research Methods and Applications in Political Science. (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing)

Topic 5: Supervision Process, Dissertation Write-up, Structure of the Dissertation
(Brief guidance will be provided on the Assessment – How to Write a Research Proposal – Please see above pages for very detailed instructions)

This final topic of the module will discuss questions surrounding the writing process, the structure of the dissertation and also the supervision process.

In the seminar groups, students get a chance to discuss the core ideas of their future dissertation projects to their groups. Working in small groups, this is an opportunity for students to present their initial ideas, receive and provide peer to peer formative feedback. These discussions will inform your research proposal assignment and the actual dissertation.

Required Readings
• Alan Bryman (2016) Social Research Methods: 5th Edition (Oxford: OUP) Chapter 28 – Writing up Social Research
• Wayne C. Booth et al (2016), The Craft of Research: Fourth Edition (Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press) Part IV – Writing your Argument

Recommended Readings
LaVaque-Manty, Mika, and Danielle LaVaque-Manty. 2016. Writing in Political Science: A Brief Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Chapters 1, 3 and 7.

Some advice on managing the writing process, which is not easy –
Patrick Dunleavy (2003), Authoring a PhD : How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation, Chapter 6 – Developing your text and Managing the Writing Process (a lot of the advice is relevant for the Masters Dissertation).


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