Research Design SPS5034

  • Academic Session: 2023-24
  • School: School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 5 (SCQF level 11)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 1
  • Available to Visiting 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.


Two hour lecture and one hour tutorial per week.

Lectures are delivered online Mondays 12-2pm weeks 6-16

The tutorials are delivered online starting in week 7, until week 16.


*In line with current government guidance and ability to accommodate necessary space-, tutor-, and safety-requirements.[Temporary 2021/22]

Requirements of Entry


Excluded Courses





The summative assessments reflect the intended learning outcomes:


1. Online exam to assess knowledge of research designs: 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.

2. Research proposal to assess ability to critically assess research design choices and the application to students' own research: After the last block, students deliver a research proposal (3000 words, including bibliography) based on a set of scenarios. This assignment is supported by two formative assessments, as research question and a group presentation of the research design in a published paper. 

The two exams will contribute 20% each to the final grade and the research proposal will contribute 60% to the final grade.

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 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.

The above can be summarized as:

knowledge of research design, philosophy of social sciences, and criteria to assess research.

ability to use the knowledge to critically assess existing research and research designs for planned research.

application of the knowledge and critical awareness in planning (students' own) research.

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.