Please note: there may be some adjustments to the teaching arrangements published in the course catalogue for 2020-21. Given current circumstances related to the Covid-19 pandemic it is anticipated that some usual arrangements for teaching on campus will be modified to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students and staff on campus; further adjustments may also be necessary, or beneficial, during the course of the academic year as national requirements relating to management of the pandemic are revised.

Research Design SPS5034

  • Academic Session: 2020-21
  • School: School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 5 (SCQF level 11)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 1
  • Available to Visiting Students: No
  • Available to Erasmus Students: No

Short Description

The course aims to provide students with a broad overview of different research designs in the social sciences. A research design is a blueprint that connects the different stages of the research process in a logical way such that new knowledge can be generated in an unbiased and robust way.


One and a half hour lecture and one hour tutorial per week. Lectures Mondays 12-2pm for 11 weeks. The tutorials are delivered between 2pm and 8pm on Mondays, starting in week 2, until week 11.

Requirements of Entry


Excluded Courses





Students take two online exams via Moodle, one after the first block and one after the second block of three to four sessions each. The exams combine multiple choice questions (for testing factual knowledge) with decision scenarios, in which the student reads a short paragraph and has to decide on the choice of a measure, method, case selection, or similar. These exams will ensure coverage of all areas of research design, including qualitative and quantitative approaches. After the last block, students deliver a critique of the research design of a published journal article (700-1,000 words excluding bibliography). The two exams and the written critique will each contribute 30% to the final grade, and there is an additional 10% grade for participation in the tutorials to ensure active engagement.

Course Aims

The course aims to provide students with a broad overview of different research designs in the social sciences. A research design is a blueprint that connects the different stages of the research process in a logical way such that new knowledge can be generated in an unbiased and robust way. There is a range of different designs, such as longitudinal and cross-sectional, or experimental and observational research designs. The choice of a research design should suit the research question to be answered. The research design determines which methods can be used to answer the question. Research designs for qualitative and for quantitative research as well as mixed-methods designs exist. The course aims to provide an introductory overview across these types of research and expose students to a range of advanced methods that are most commonly employed across the social sciences. It improves students' skills around developing a strong and robust research design and outlines clear guidelines for distinguishing good research from bad research. In addition to exposure to a variety of designs and corresponding methods as well as the different stages of the research process, students will learn how to combine these different elements in order to increase the quality of their own research. At the end of the course, students should be able to make an informed decision on how to select a good research question, how to select cases, how to measure and collect data, and what methods to choose for the analysis in their own prospective research. Rather than selecting methods by personal taste or abilities, students will be enabled to select appropriate methods in an informed way in order to maximise the validity of the findings they generate.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

After taking this course, students should...

Have an overview of the different stages and interactive nature of the research process, including formulating research questions, operationalising complex theoretical constructs, principles of case selection, measurement, analysis, write-up, and dissemination.

Understand and appreciate the different epistemological paradigms that underlie qualitative and quantitative research and be able to discuss the common ground as well as the key differences between these traditions.

Be able to assess the quality of research using criteria like validity, reliability, parsimony, generality, operationalisability, political and normative desirability, falsifiability, and relevance, and describe types of research, such as inductive and deductive, descriptive and causal, explanatory and predictive, and empirical and theoretical research.

Understand the logic of randomisation, including observational and experimental, cross-sectional and longitudinal, and control-group research designs that involve randomisation, and understand the logic of non-randomised, observational research designs, including comparative and non-comparative research designs and case selection.

Recognise the importance of selecting an adequate research design and methods following from one's theory and/or research question, and be able to transfer and apply research design skills to one's own dissertation topic.

Develop an understanding of the practical aspects of carrying out research, including replication standards, codebooks and documentation, ethics approval, the publication process, and good practices for using and citing literature.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.