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Research Design and Measurement in the Social Sciences



Political science is strongly (but not exclusively) empirically oriented. This can be seen in particular from the research activities of many political scientists. This course is therefore meant for those who have had no (or very little) prior experience with such empirical research. After having followed this course you will have more than enough ideas and skills about how to set up and do your own empirical research.

We will start our course with an orientation on knowledge, and how to obtain this type of knowledge from the world around us. We will see that knowledge relates closely to such concepts as measurement, reliability, validity, and modelling (nowadays so evidently considered important), but also to theory, testing and subsequently reconsidering your a-priori ideas you had on some until then considerd empirical 'evidency'.

But talking about investigation how do we set up an empirical research, for instance on how many ‘units’ should we collect information. If you are doing research on ‘world system theory’, then the number of units might seem to be restricted to one, given that there is only one world, but suppose we are doing research on democracy on small islands, such as Wouter Veenendaal (dep. of Political Science, Leiden), then there are many more ‘units’ to consider. Let alone if you analyse ‘speech acts’ on the Internet, uttered for instance on Facebook or Twitter. And what does it mean to generalize your results, where are the limits of your empirical generalizations?!

And even more, how do we analyse data from these units, given this variation on number of units in different studies. In this course we will also go into these methodological issues, theoretically but also very practically by doing exercises with the data analysis program SPSS which is used here in Leiden. However, given that the world is larger than Leiden, we will also do these exercises in R, which is an open source software package downloadable for free from the Internet. You can buy SPSS as a student from and R is a public domain software package downloadble from the Cran website.

You will be working on all these principles in your homework assignments which are subsequently discussed on-line. One of the last meetings you will be doing a short on-line presentation of a design. But the practically working through the illustrating exercises will be done in class in Leiden in 2B04. Summarizing this means that first we start each week with an on-line session, followed by a meeting on Wednesday evening in 2B04. Details will be made available as soon as more information is known on numbers of participants.

Mode of instruction

Online Lectures, Computer room Meetings, Assignments, exercises and online discussions

We use two computer programmes: SPSS (for UL students available at against a small fee) and R (4.0.2), which is available for free (i.e. public domain software) at Please make sure you have the programmes installed on your computer when you enter the Kaltura Live Room via Brightspace.



Assessment method

Six homework assignments that will be graded, and participation during the computer meetings that follow the more theoretical meeting. Your final grade will be the average of the six assignments.


From 2 September - 21 October 2020
One online weekly evening meeting (one/two hours most likely in the evening) on hours t.b.a.
One fysical meeting on wednesday evenings between 18:00-22:00hrs in 2B04 (PC room, PdlC)



Registration Exchange and Study Abroad students

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Exchange students website for information on how to apply.

Please note that there is very limited capacity for this course (24 people)