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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 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 empirical 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, but also to theory and testing. Frequently this orientation leads to a reconsiderion of the a-priori ideas you had on what exactly entails empirical 'evidence'.

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, precisely 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 in R, which is an open source software package downloadable for free from the Internet from the Cran website.

You will be working on all these principles in your homework assignments which are subsequently (hopefully) discussed in class (hopefully not online). One of the last meetings you will be doing a short (hopefully not on-line) presentation of a design.

Mode of instruction

Assignments, exercises and discussions

We use R (4.0.3 (or later)), which is available for free (i.e. public domain software) at www.r-project.org. Please make sure you have R installed on your computer before the course starts and bring your computer to class.


See Brightspace

Assessment method

Six homework assignments that will be graded, and participation at the meetings. Your final grade will be the average of the six assignments.


See 'MyTimetable' for actual schedule and locations.


See 'Practical Information'

Registration Exchange and Study Abroad students

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