Fall 2019 - POL 800 G100

Research Design in Political Science (5)

Class Number: 7868

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Fr 1:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    HCC 1415, Vancouver



This course provides an introduction to designing research in political science. It aims to provide graduate students with the basic knowledge of how to set up their own research project, with an overview of the different ways in which they might do so and with the tools to critically assess existing research.


This course is designed to train students to understand, criticize and construct research designs. Research designs are at the basis of research.  It is what distinguishes academic productions from other types of productions. Mastering it is the first thing graduate students need to learn.

Knowing how to design research is especially important to conduct research projects and publish scholarly works. Depending on their theoretical, epistemological and methodological preferences and choices, the ways scholars contribute to knowledge development in different communities change. Understanding research design also means learning the language of different academic communities to speak in/to them.

Choosing an approach to research is never neutral activities. Firstly, it implies specific conceptions about the world, what and who matter in it and how we need to look at them. This comes with ignorance of other actors, factors, challenges and problems that are considered less important or secondary. Secondly, it is implicitly or explicitly associated with policy prescriptions that serve certain interests from specific groups over other. How we look at a problem is thus as much important as the problem itself. Practically speaking, problems do not exist in and by themselves. Norton outlines this when she explains: “Mad cow disease is a problem. Is meat-eating a problem? The oil cartel is a problem. Are SUVs a problem?” (Norton, 2004: 73).

This course starts with a pluralist idea about political science. It does not favour one approach in particular. The objective is to learn to the main approaches to how research has been conducted in the discipline and its different subfields. Students will thus be asked to read and discuss a wide range of approaches. They will learn to recognize and criticize positivist as well as post- and non-positivist research designs; mainstream as well as critical ones. They might disagree with some of them and their epistemological and normative foundations, but they are asked to go over this disagreement, at least initially.

The first section of the course (weeks 1 to 4) offers an overview of research design and knowledge production in political science. The second section (weeks 5 to 10) reviews three main approaches currently used to conduct research in political science: positivist, non-positivist, and critical. The third section (weeks 11 to 13) is dedicated to students’ presentations.


In this course, students will: 1. Develop their knowledge of research design in political science across the epistemological spectrum; 2. Learn to ask good research questions and develop skills in social science research methods; 3. Learn to criticize research design, which is also a way to learn how to construct strong ones; 4. Develop analytical skills to reflexively and critically look at their own research design.

Weekly 4-hr class. The bulk of the course will be a seminar, with professor guiding discussion and providing background information as needed. For each class, all students must have carefully read the required readings. All required readings will be available through library subscriptions or on reserve. Each seminar will start with 20 minutes of discussion about the content of the previous week.


  • In-class quizzes on readings (10) 10%
  • Active participation and discussion 10%
  • Three 6-page papers (15% each) 45%
  • Final Paper 25%
  • Synthesis of one seminar 5%
  • Presentation 5%

Graduate Studies Notes:

Important dates and deadlines for graduate students are found here: http://www.sfu.ca/dean-gradstudies/current/important_dates/guidelines.html. The deadline to drop a course with a 100% refund is the end of week 2. The deadline to drop with no notation on your transcript is the end of week 3.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html