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Graduate School for Social Research

2020-2021

Empirical Research in the Social Sciences (ERSS): Design, Implementation and Write-up

This course focuses on the logic of theory-driven and empirically-based social science research and the process underlying scientific production. We emphasize the practical steps that enable scholars to design their research project, formulate testable hypotheses, and select the data and analysis techniques most suitable for answering the project’s research question(s). Equally important, the course teaches you how to read published academic studies to critically assess their merits and limitations, and how to write up research projects to meet the requirements and expectations of major English-language social science publication outlets, especially those of peer-reviewed journals like the American Sociological Review, American Political Science Review, American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, and the European Sociological Review.

To this end, the course comprises two independent, albeit complimentary, components, which follow one another during the 2020-2021 academic year. Part I of the course, to take place in Autumn 2020, teaches students the practicalities of moving from research design to research implementation. Part II, to be held in Spring 2021, focuses on reading and writing social science publications.

Part I. Research Design and Implementation in Social Sciences

Download the ERSS Part I Syllabus 2020 2021

Part I of the course Empirical Research in the Social Sciences deals with the multiple, often simultaneous and reiterative, steps of developing and carrying out theory-informed, empirical projects. Good research requires a well-formulated and testable problem, alternative explanations, and data that explicitly link concepts and hypotheses. Through a combination of lecture and in-class discussion, we cover the role of theory for developing research questions and hypotheses, and for interpreting results; we discuss how to pose research questions that pass the “So what?” test, and how research questions and theory inform the formulation of research hypotheses; we assess different types of data (e.g. primary and secondary data, qualitative and quantitative) and research methods in terms of their usefulness for answering given research question(s) and addressing specified hypotheses. Part I also provides an overview of the main methodological problems that different types of data and analyses carry.

The aim is to provide students the key skills for developing both academic and non-academic research products that are empirically grounded and meaningful for the scientific community and/or for society in general (e.g. policy relevant). Understanding how to critically assess published empirical studies with respect to the clarity and consistency of their research design, measurement adequacy, soundness of causal statements, and the degree of correspondence between research problem – hypothesis – data – methods – conclusions, are important aspects of these skills.