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Foundations of Research Design


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

  • Academic Writing


This course aims to help those pursuing a research project (whether a course paper or capstone) weave together the philosophy, concepts, theoretical contribution, and methods used in social science research into a coherent whole they need at the outset – a detailed outline referred to as a research design.

Designing a strong research project involves finding an appropriate match between (1) the research question, (2) the project’s position in the academic literature, and (3) the empirical data, and (4) the methods applied to process empirical data. In this course, participants learn the key steps to designing a strong research project and practice matching these elements through in-class exercises and in their own research project as they write up a research proposal.

We explore the diversity of approaches and methods within social science research to understand the range of possibilities available, which is meant to lay the foundation for further study and practice of specific methods (comprehensive training in the methods is outside the scope of the course). By exploring examples from the literature, designing research in groups in class, engaging in workshops, and developing a detailed proposal for their own research projects, participants gain skills, awareness, and confidence to ‘think like a researcher’.

Course Objectives

After successful completion of this course, students are able to:


  • Describe the range of epistemological and methodological approaches in social science research

  • Understand the crucial steps of the research process in social science


  • Formulate research questions that relate to existing literature

  • Effectively select methods that match the research aim of a project

  • Critically evaluate the research design of existing research

  • Write a clear, concise research proposal


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

This course is a highly interactive course. It will be taught through a mix of educational tools: 1. Self-study with video lectures and reading 2. mini-lectures in class and 3. interactive discussions and workshops. You will follow the research process with a project on any topic your choose related to your major, starting in week 1. There will be regular in-class activities that provide space to workshop your project and get feedback from peers and the instructor throughout the course.

Assessment Method

  • Participation and engagement in class – 10%, Weeks 1-7 (Learning outcomes 1,2,4,5)

  • Research log – 15%, Weekly entries in weeks 2-7 (Learning outcomes 1-5)

  • Annotated bibliography and systematic literature review assignment – 10%, Week 3-4 (Learning outcomes 3, 5)

  • Peer feedback on research proposal outline – 5%, Week 6 (Learning outcomes 3, 5)

  • Final research proposal – 60%, Week 8 (Learning outcomes 4, 6)

Reading list

  • Zina O’Leary, The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project, 4th edition (London: SAGE Publications, 2021).

Additional readings and videos will be posted on the Brightspace page


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Kristin Makszin,


Preparation before the first class:

Please read chapter 1 of textbook and the syllabus.
Come with a topic in mind that you want to explore for your research project throughout this class.