This chapter deals with the first step of the research process: the formulation of a well-crafted research question. It explains why political research should begin with a research question and how a research question structures the research process. It discusses the difference between a topic or general question, on the one hand, and a focused research question, on the other. It also considers the question of where to find and how to formulate research questions, the various types of questions scholars ask, and the role of the ‘literature review’ as a source and rationale for research questions. Finally, it describes a tool called the ‘research vase’ that provides a visualization of the research process, along with different types of questions: descriptive, explanatory, predictive, prescriptive, and normative.
4. Asking Questions: How to Find and Formulate Research Questions
9. Comparative Research
This chapter explores the principles of comparative research design as well as the issues and problems associated with different aspects of the approach. In particular, it considers the issue of case selection, the common sources of error that are associated with comparative research, and what can be done to try and avoid or minimize them. The comparative method is one of the most commonly used methods in political research and is often employed to investigate various political phenomena, including democratization, civil war, and public policy. The chapter discusses the three main forms of comparison, namely case study, small-N comparison, and large-N comparison. It also describes two main approaches used to select cases for small-N studies: Most Similar Systems Design and Most Different Systems Design. It also evaluates qualitative comparative analysis and concludes with an analysis of issues arising from case selection and data collection in large-N comparative research.
13. Ethnography and Participant Observation
This chapter discusses the principles of ethnography and participant observation: what they are, how (if) they became standardized as a research method, what form of evidence they constitute, and what place they occupy in the study of Politics. Participant observation has emerged as a popular research tool across the social sciences. In particular, political ethnographies are now widely carried out in a broad variety of contexts, from the study of political institutions and organizations to the investigation of social movements and informal networks, such as terrorist groups and drugs cartels. Political ethnography is also becoming a research method of choice in the field of International Relations. The chapter examines the strengths of ethnographic fieldwork, focusing on issues relating to sampling, access, key informants, and collecting observational data. It also addresses the weaknesses of ethnography, especially issues of subjectivity, reliability, and generalizability.
8. Experimental Research
This chapter explores the principles of experimental research design as well as the issues and problems associated with different aspects of the approach. In particular, it considers the issue of internal and external validity, the common obstacles associated with experimental research, and what can be done to try and avoid or minimize them. The chapter first describes the five steps involved in the classic version of the experimental design before discussing three types of experimental design: laboratory experiments, field experiments, and natural experiments. It also examines the ethical issues that arise from experimental research and concludes by highlighting some of the advantages of experimental research.
5. Finding Answers: Theories and How to Apply Them
This chapter shows how to develop an answer to a particular research question. It first considers the requirements and components of an answer to a research question before discussing the role of ‘theory’ in social science research, what a ‘theoretical framework’ is, and what a hypothesis is. It then explores the three components of a hypothesis: an independent variable, a dependent variable, and a proposition (a statement about the relationship between the variables). It also looks at the different types of hypotheses and how they guide various kinds of research. It also explains why conceptual and operational definitions of key terms are important and how they are formulated. Finally, it offers suggestions on how to answer normative questions.
2. Forms of Knowledge: Laws, Explanation, and Interpretation in the Study of the Social World
This chapter focuses on fundamental assumptions that researchers make about how we can know and develop knowledge about the social world, such as assumptions about the nature of human behaviour and the methods appropriate to studying and explaining that behaviour. The main objective is how to carry out a systematic and rigorous investigation of social phenomena. The chapter considers three different answers to the question of how to approach the study of social phenomena: those offered by positivism, scientific realism, and interpretivism. It also explores the differences among these answers and their implications for conducting political research. Finally, it discusses the use of a positivist (rational choice) and interpretivist (constructivist) approach to the analysis of ethnic conflicts in Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
17. A Guide to Multivariate Analysis
This chapter extends the principles of bivariate analysis to multivariate analysis, which takes into account more than one independent variable and the dependent variable. With multivariate analysis, it is possible to investigate the impact of multiple factors on a dependent variable of interest, and to compare the explanatory power of rival hypotheses. Multivariate analysis can also be used to develop and test multi-causal explanations of political phenomena. After providing an overview of the principles of multivariate analysis, and the different types of analytical question to which they can be applied, the chapter shows how multivariate analysis is carried out for statistical control purposes. More specifically, it explains the use of ordinary least squares (OLS) regression and logistic regression, the latter of which builds on cross-tabulation, to carry out multivariate analysis. It also discusses the use of multivariate analysis to debunk spurious relationships and to illustrate indirect causality.
10. Historical Research
This chapter focuses on the distinctions between historical research and social scientific research, and how these are being challenged by scholars in pursuit of a genuinely ‘historical social science’. It begins with a discussion of historical approaches in Politics and International Relations, including historical events research, historical process research, and cross-sectional comparative research. It then examines three approaches for addressing temporality as the sequential active unfolding of social action and events: historical institutionalism, process tracing, and event structure analysis. It also explains how to locate essential historical information and evaluate various types of sources, and what special considerations need to be made in using documents, archival sources, and historical writing as data in historical research.
12. Interviewing and Focus Groups
This chapter considers different types and forms of interviewing, including focus groups, and how they should be conducted. Interviews are a popular method of data collection in political research. They share similarities with surveys, but these similarities relate mostly to structured interviews. The chapter focuses on semi-structured interviews, including focus groups, the emphasis of which is to get the interviewee to open up and discuss something of relevance to the research question. After describing the different types and forms of interview, the chapter explains how interview data can be used to confirm or disconfirm a hypothesis or argument. It also shows how to plan and carry out an interview and how the type and wording of questions, as well as the order in which they are asked, affect the responses you get. Finally, it examines the interviewing skills that will ensure a more successful outcome to an interview.
3. Objectivity and Values
This chapter focuses on a key debate in the philosophy of social science: whether it is possible to separate facts and values in social science research. It first considers normative and empirical theory in political research before discussing the ways in which the values of the researcher influence the research process. It then examines Thomas Kuhn’s arguments concerning paradigms and how they change through scientific ‘revolutions’, along with their implications for the possibility of value-free social inquiry. It looks at an example of how the notion of ‘paradigm’ has been applied to a specific area of inquiry within politics: the study of development. It also compares Kuhn’s paradigms with Imre Lakatos’ concept of ‘scientific research programmes’.
16. Patterns of Association: Bivariate Analysis
This chapter discusses the principles of bivariate analysis as a tool for helping researchers get to know their data and identify patterns of association between two variables. Bivariate analysis offers a way of establishing whether or not there is a relationship between two variables, a dependent variable and an independent variable. With bivariate analysis, theoretical expectations can be compared against evidence from the real world to see if the theory is supported by what is observed. The chapter examines the pattern of association between dependent and independent variables, with particular emphasis on hypothesis testing and significance tests. It discusses ordinary least squares (OLS) regression and cross-tabulation, two of the most widely used statistical analysis techniques in political research. Finally, it explains how to state the null hypothesis, calculate the chi square, and establishing the correlation between the dependent and independent variables.
Sandra Halperin and Oliver Heath
Political Research: Methods and Practical Skills provides a practical and relevant guide to the research process for students. It equips readers with the knowledge and skills needed to evaluate research findings and successfully carry out independent study and research. Taking a helpful step-by-step approach, the chapters guide the reader through the process of asking and answering research questions and the different methods used in political research, providing practical advice on how to be critical and rigorous in both evaluating and conducting research. Topics include research design, surveys, interviewing and focus groups, ethnography and participant observation, textual analysis, quantitative analysis, bivariate analysis, and multivariate analysis. With an emphasis throughout on how research can impact important political questions and policy issues, the book equips readers with the skills to formulate significant questions and develop meaningful and persuasive answers.
1. Political Research
This text provides readers with the analytic skills and resources they need to evaluate research findings in political research, as well as the practical skills for conducting their own independent inquiry. It shows that empirical research and normative research are not independent of each other and explains the distinction between positivism and interpretivism, and between quantitative and qualitative research. Part 1 of this edition discusses key issues in the philosophy of social science, while Part 2 presents a ‘nuts and bolts’ or ‘how to’ guide to research design, such as how to find and formulate a research question. Part 3 evaluates different methods of data collection and analysis that can be used to answer research questions, along with the variety of considerations and decisions that researchers must confront when using different methods.
15. Quantitative Analysis: Description and Inference
This chapter deals with quantitative analysis, and especially description and inference. It introduces the reader to the principles of quantitative research and offers a step-by-step guide on how to use and interpret a range of commonly used techniques. The first part of the chapter considers the building blocks of quantitative analysis, with particular emphasis on different ways of summarizing data, both graphically and with tables, and ways of describing the distribution of one variable using univariate statistics. Two important measures are discussed: the mean and the standard deviation. After elaborating on descriptive statistics, the chapter explores inferential statistics and explains how to make generalizations. It also presents the concept of confidence intervals, more commonly known as the margin of error, and measures of central tendency.
6. Research Design
This chapter focuses on the basic principles of research design. It first considers different types of research design, including experimental designs, cross-sectional and longitudinal designs, comparative designs, and historical research designs. It also discusses two types of research validity: internal validity and external validity. The chapter proceeds by describing various methods of data collection and the sort of data or evidence each provides, including questionnaires and surveys, interviewing and focus groups, ethnographic research, and discourse/content analysis. Finally, it examines six issues that must be taken into account to ensure ethical research: voluntary participation, informed consent, privacy, harm, exploitation, and consequences for future research.
This chapter discusses the principles of survey research as well as the issues and problems associated with different stages of the research design process. In particular, it examines questionnaire design, sample design, and interviewing techniques, along with the common sources of error that affect survey research and what can be done to try and avoid or minimize them. Although surveys have several weaknesses, they are widely used in political research to investigate a wide range of political phenomena. They combine two things: obtaining information from people by asking questions and random sampling. When done well, surveys provide an accurate and reliable insight into what ordinary people think about politics and how they participate in politics. The chapter considers the elements of a survey that need to be addressed, namely: questionnaire design, measurement error, sampling design, sampling error, and interview mode.
14. Textual Analysis*
This chapter discusses the principles of textual analysis as a means of gathering information and evidence in political research. Textual analysis has generated strong interest as a research method not only in Politics and International Relations, but also throughout the social sciences. In political research, two forms of textual analysis have become particularly prominent: discourse analysis and content analysis. The chapter examines discourse analysis and content analysis and explains the use of documents, archival sources, and historical writing as data. It considers the distinction between discourse analysis and content analysis, as well as the differences between qualitative and quantitative content analysis. It also describes the procedures that are involved in both quantitative and qualitative content analysis.
7. What is Data?
This chapter considers the main types of data used in Politics and International Relations, as well as the main criteria by which to judge whether the data collected is good or not. It first describes the steps involved in the process of thinking about what data or evidence is relevant to answering a research question before discussing the importance of addressing issues of validity and reliability in research. Some of these issues are illustrated by referring to recent attempts to measure corruption, a major topic of interest in Politics and International Relations. The chapter also examines the issue of case selection as well as the collection of qualitative and quantitative data using methods such as interviewing and observation. Finally, it analyses the so-called ‘big data’ revolution in data collection and analysis, and provides a data quality checklist.