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Research in Public Administration



What makes research academic? What is the role of theory development in the social sciences? How does one translate abstract concepts into observable indicators? This course offers an introduction to the fundamentals of social science research, with a particular focus on the field of public administration. Using examples from research in public administration, we explore the differences and similarities between qualitative and quantitative approaches to the social sciences. We will discuss the role of theory, ideas about causality, and issues of measurement. We will also discuss a range of research techniques employed in the social sciences. Finally, we will consider the importance of research design, including the formulation of a strong research question, the development of a theoretical framework, and the selection of an appropriate methodology to carry out the project. This course will not only help students develop the skills to critically assess the methodological underpinnings of research presented in academic books and articles, but also introduces them to the methodological skills required for future research projects.

Course objectives

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Identify the basic principles of academic research;

  • situate a research project within quantitative and qualitative traditions of social research;

  • broadly explain the advantages and disadvantages of various research techniques;

  • identify different types of theory development and how they relate to specific methodologies;

  • critically assess the methodological underpinnings of a social scientific research project;

  • apply basis research methodologies.


To be announced by OSC staff.

Mode of instruction

The course is structured as a Small Private Online Course (SPOC). It consists of a series of online learning modules covering different aspects of social research (research questions and theory, research design, quantitative data collection, quantitative data analysis, qualitative data collection, qualitative data analysis) combined with three face-to-face seminars where these topics are discussed. The SPOC allows students to (1) self-assess their (prior) knowledge and progress through multiple choice quizzes, (2) revisit the short video lectures, (3) and learn from each other through peer-reviews of assignments and papers.

Course Load

The total course load is 140 hours:
Seminars: 12 hours
Miscellaneous: 2 hours
Self-study: 126 hours

Assessment method

Assessment for this course consists of a smaller assignment (30%) and a larger assignment (70% in weight). The total grade is the weighted average of the final grades for the two components. Students need to earn a grade of 5,5 or higher for each of the assignments. It is not possible to compensate for partial grades within the course. Students need to earn a grade between 3 and 5,5 for their assignments to qualify for a retake. Details for submitting papers (deadlines) are posted on the online platform.


The course uses the Learning Management System (LMS) (NEO LMS) instead of Blackboard. All online activities of the course will take place NEO LMS. The platform is available approximately two weeks before the course starts. Upon registration, students will receive an e-mail allowing them participate in the online learning environment on the platform NEO LMS.

Reading list

Neuman, L. W. (2014). Social Research Methods: Pearson New International Edition (7th Edition). Pearson Education Limited, ISBN10: 1292020237; ISBN13: 9781292020235


To be announced by OSC staff.


M.J.A. van der Heijden (Machiel)
Telephone: +31 70 800 9543