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Research Design


Admission requirements

Students must be enrolled for the master program Public Administration


The aim of this course is to provide students with an understanding of the basic principles of research design in the social sciences, and public administration in particular. Students will get the fundamental skills needed to critically evaluate existing research. They will also learn how to discover interesting and doable research questions, sharpen the theories they use, and develop sound designs for empirical research.

The course will provide an overview of experimental, comparative, large-N, and various case study designs. Case-selection strategies and common threats to internal and external validity of different research approaches will also be covered. Students will have ample opportunities to discuss and critique the research design of state-of-the-art academic articles in public administration and related fields, and to develop their own research proposal.

The course will review different research methodologies and discuss their strengths and weaknesses but this is not a course in any specific method. The end product of the course is an individual research proposal that can serve as a basis for writing the master thesis.

Learning objectives

The main goals of the course are:
• to learn how to write a proposal for an empirical research project / master thesis
• to learn to critically assess empirical public administration research
• to understand the advantages and disadvantages of different designs for empirical research in public administration
• to understand the most common problems associated with observational studies



Methods of instruction

The course is based on a combination of lectures, class discussions and some practical exercises. Each session, the lecture will be followed by a class discussion. The discussions will be based on a general issue, some of the assigned literature or on your assignments.

Study load

  • total study load 140 hrs – contact hours: 21 – self-study hours: 119

Method of assessment

Each week students will have to work on small assignments. The assignments include answering a short question or commenting on a statement, and developing step-by-step a research proposal. Some of the assignments will not be graded, but submitting all assignments on time is a necessary condition for passing the course.

Your final grade will be determined on the basis of four graded assignments:
• Research Question and Literature review (10%)
• First draft of the individual research proposal (20%)
• Reviewing another student’s individual research proposal (10%)
• Final version of the individual research proposal (60%)


Instructors use Blackboard. Blackboard is indispensable for this course. All assignments will be made available and need to be handed in via Blackboard. This page is available approximately two weeks before the course starts.

Other course materials/literature

  • Punch, K.F. (2006). Developing effective research proposals. London: Sage. 2nd edition.
    • Several articles assigned for each session


Registration for every course and exam in USIS is mandatory. For courses, registration is possible from four weeks up to three days before the start of the course.
For exams, registration is possible from four weeks up to ten days before the date of the examination.


Sarah Giest:
Ruth Prins: