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Foundations of Research Design




Admissions requirements

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

  • Academic Writing or an equivalent course.

  • 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 is highly recommended.


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.

What is research design? It can be thought of as a detailed “plan” that “specifies exactly who or what is to be studied when, how, and for what purpose” (Babbie, 2003: 87). 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


Once available, timetables will be published in the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The course consists of two two-hour 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.


Participation and engagement in class – 10%, Weeks 1-7 (Learning outcomes 1,2,4,5)
Research journal – 30%, Weekly entries in weeks 2-7 (Learning outcomes 1-5)
Research proposal outline and annotated bibliography – 15%, Week 3 (Learning outcomes 3, 5)
Group referee presentation and report – 15%, Weeks 6-7 (Learning outcome 5)
Final research proposal – 30%, Week 8 (Learning outcomes 4, 6)

Please note:

  • In accordance with article 4.8 of the Course and Examination Regulations (OER), within 30 days after the publication of grades, the instructor will provide students the opportunity to inspect their exams/coursework.

  • There is a no re-sit policy at Leiden University College.


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

Required book:

Colin Robson and Kieran McCartan, Real World Research, 4 edition (Hoboken: Wiley, 2016).
Earlier editions will not be sufficient.

Read Chapter 1 before the first session


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact



Preparation before the first class:

Please read the Chapter 1 of the Robson/McCartan book as well as the syllabus.

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