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Foundations of Research Design


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

  • Statistics and Mathematical Modelling/Mathematical Reasoning, or (an) equivalent course(s);

  • Academic Writing or an equivalent course.

Recommended course(s):

  • Introduction to Comparative Politics or an equivalent social science course (from sociology, economics, etc.) that shows you have basic familiarity with different approaches in social sciences.


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, 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 2021-2022 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The course consists of two seminars per week, which combine interactive discussions about the process and decisions that we make when designing research and group work where participants practice designing research with a diverse range of approaches. The sessions assume that students come well-prepared to class and ready to apply new knowledge and skills.

Assessment Method

Participation and engagement in class – 10%, Weeks 1-7 (Learning outcomes 1,2,4,5)
Research log – 25%, Weekly entries in weeks 2-7 (Learning outcomes 1-5)
Annotated bibliography – 5%, Week 3 (Learning outcomes 3, 5)
Group referee presentation and forum discussion – 10%, Week 5 (Learning outcome 5)
Peer feedback and reflection on research proposal outline – 10%, Week 6 (Learning outcomes 3, 5)
Final research proposal – 40%, Week 8 (Learning outcomes 4, 6)

Reading list

David E. Gray, Doing Research in the Real World, 4 edition (Los Angeles: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2018).

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,



Preparation before the first class:

  • Please read the chapter 1 of textbook and the syllabus.

  • Come with a topic in mind that you want to explore throughout this class.