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Before starting a dissertation, it is common practice to have to write a research proposal. Not only does a research proposal help make sense of the student’s own project and what it will look like, it also allows he or she to connect research idea to a wider audience so that other people can give advice about whether, and how, it makes ‘research sense’. Often submitted alongside an ethics application, the research proposal is sometimes a requirement of the dissertation process, needing ‘approval’ before undertaking the research project. This chapter details what research proposals look like and why they are important, before outlining the requirements of a typical research proposal.

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After going through the process of planning, designing, and carrying out research, the student needs to write up the project. Writing is an extremely important part of the research process as a poorly written dissertation will constrain the student’s ability to communicate findings and limit the final mark he or she can achieve. This chapter discusses the basic elements of writing a dissertation and introduces the structures, forms, and styles that are commonly used to create one. Emphasizing the importance of developing an argument to connect the pieces of the dissertation together, it takes each element of the dissertation in turn and demonstrates how it is ‘built’.

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Jean-Frédéric Morin, Christian Olsson, and Ece Özlem Atikcan

This chapter illustrates source criticism, which is a technical and intellectual method used to track down the itinerary of a source of information. It aims to identify the producer, determine its initial meaning, and establish its conformity as an authentic unaltered source that yields truthful information. The general aims of source criticism are now widely shared by all social science disciplines. Though interdisciplinary in nature, its treatment and implementation vary according to the fields and sources concerned. The use and application of criticism can differ considerably depending on whether a study relies directly on people, documents, or other potential evidence. Ultimately, source criticism provides scientific legitimacy and rigour in the social science disciplines, where the nature and diversity of levels of intermediation and interpretation in the observational and empirical process can often prove misleading.

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This chapter examines the political dynamics of legislative scrutiny, with an emphasis on how parliamentary policy influence works. A central function of legislatures is legislating. In the case of the UK Parliament, the treatment of legislation is one of the most time-consuming activities, with both Houses spending the great majority of that time scrutinizing government bills. The chapter first introduces the reader to common assumptions, including the idea that government dominates the process, with Parliament acting as little more than a ‘rubber stamp’, before questioning these various assumptions. It shows that non-government amendments may ‘fail’ but can nonetheless be influential, that government amendments do not necessarily imply government dominance, that the two Chambers often operate in cooperation rather than competition, and that parliamentary influence occurs throughout the policy process. Furthermore, the chapter suggests that the legislative process is less separate from other processes than it might appear.

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Ethics play a vital part of the research process. They provide a set of value-based principles that enable research to be conducted in an appropriate manner. Research ethics help ensure that the relationships built during the process of conducting social research are respectful and constructive, and that the student’s project does not endanger either the student or those he or she comes into contact with. This chapter provides an introduction to the practice of ethics in social research. It provides an outline of basic ethical practice, before discussing the nature and purpose of ethical review boards. It demonstrates how ethical rules of thumb are often more complicated when encountering them ‘in the field’. Finally, it explores how ethics also informs the process of writing up research.

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This chapter explores how political systems across Europe actually make policy and also how they change policy. It examines in detail how coalitions are formed and looks at how coalitions function. The chapter uses the theoretical lens of the Veto Players theory to consider how the nature of governments, and parties within governments, affect the type of policies that become law. It also looks at the ease with which governments can change existing policy. The chapter moves on to address the role of informal actors such as interest groups. Processes differ across different countries and at the European Union (EU) level and that is examined in this chapter as well.

Chapter

Irene Wieczorek and Piergiuseppe Parisi

This chapter looks at research questions, which identify what the researcher wants to find out or understand. They are a crucial component of any study and are connected to all parts of the research. Depending on the type of study, the research question may either serve as the starting point of the entire research or change in response to the research design. A research question should naturally be formulated in an interrogative manner and should be a query to which the answer is not known at the outset of the research process. Research questions have a twofold purpose: they define the boundaries of a research project, thus guiding the investigation, and they are meant to spark the reader’s interest.

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This chapter discusses the analysis of qualitative material. There are many types of qualitative analysis. Some approaches are related to specific forms of data, whereas others are more generic in nature. There can also be considerable differences between some forms of qualitative analysis to the extent that they have very little in common with one another. Given this diversity, it is not possible adequately to address every type of analysis, or provide highly detailed instructions for the more common techniques. Hence, the chapter introduces the iterative processes of coding and categorization as well as some of the major types of qualitative analysis. It shows how to identify key concepts in data, and how those concepts can be connected to theory.

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This chapter outlines some of the basic features of social research. It introduces students to the notion that social research is a process, helps to clarify the reasons for reearch, and explores the relationship between theory and research. Using the analogy of a voyage, it demonstrates that specific tasks associated with for carrying out social research tend to be ordered, but not always orderly. There are dynamic points of issue that need to be negotiated to move a dissertation project toward completion, or otherwise there is a risk of being blown off course. By understanding what is meant by the research process, and how theory can be used in social research, readers can begin to explore, describe, and explain the human world with greater confidence.

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Process Tracing  

Tracing the Causal Pathways between Independent and Dependent Variables

Jochem Rietveld and Seda Gürkan

This chapter illustrates process-tracing (PT), which is a qualitative within-case data analysis technique used to identify causal relations. Although there are several distinct definitions of the PT method, scholars largely agree that the process-tracing method attempts to identify the intervening causal process (or the causal chain or causal mechanism) between an independent variable and the dependent variable. The PT method can be used for theory testing and theory-building. When it is applied to theory testing, a hypothetical causal mechanism is tested against empirical evidence. The research goal is to test whether a theorized mechanism is present in a given case, or whether the mechanism functions as expected in the selected case. When tracing is applied to theory-building, the goal is to identify causal processes for which there is no available prior theoretical hypothesis in the literature. Here, the aim of the research is to develop theory.

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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.

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The literature review is a key component of a dissertation. It serves to contextualize the aims and objectives of the project, and in terms of the research process it helps to sensitize issues of interest that the student might want to direct their attention towards when they begin collecting and analysing data. This chapter provides an introduction to the literature review and examines its purpose in relation to the research process. Beginning with a short exploration of the nature of a literature review and its relationship with theory, the chapter goes on to examine the different types of review before detailing the key content. By the end of the chapter, students should have a good understanding of the role of the literature review in research and how it informs every aspect of the research process.

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This chapter discusses the basics of collecting quantitative material. It outlines the nature of quantitative data in the context of the research process, before exploring the differences between primary and secondary data. In doing so, it highlights some of the benefits of using secondary data sets for the purposes of dissertation-based research. The chapter then examines the relationship between research questions, concepts, and variables, before exploring how quantitative data can be measured at different levels. Finally, it offers some useful tips and advice concerning one technique that is particularly common in student projects — the questionnaire — and demonstrates the different ways in which questionnaires can be developed and administered.

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Operationalization  

From the Concepts to the Data

Anne-Laure Mahé and Theodore McLauchlin

This chapter describes operationalization, which refers to the intellectual operations the researcher undertakes to decide how to observe a concept in reality. This is a crucial step of the research process, as many concepts in the social sciences are too abstract to be immediately observed. The most important criteria of a successful operationalization are consequently the consistency between each step of the research design, from theory formation to data collection, and the degree to which the indicators effectively allow the researcher to gather observations that work well in the context under study. One way to synthesize these points is that operationalization should enable the researcher to respect the principle of double adequacy. First, the researcher’s conceptual argument and the operationalized data should correspond. Second, there is a need for adequacy between those data and the ‘reference reality’.

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Johann Wolfschwenger and Kevin L. Young

This chapter evaluates multicausality and equifinality, which refer to a research situation whereby an outcome is explained by more than one causal factor. The term ‘equifinality’ stems from systems analysis, and refers to a situation in which ‘the same final state may be reached from different initial conditions and in different ways’. ‘Equifinality’ also appears in related disciplines such as psychology, archaeology, or environmental studies, while ‘multicausality’ is often used in literature on social science methodology. Ultimately, multicausality and equifinality are important reasons why social phenomena are particularly challenging to study. Multicausality and equifinality are often explored by research traditions and methods of social inquiry that approach causal processes through a ‘causes-of-effects’ approach, rather than an ‘effect-of-causes’ approach.

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This chapter reflects on a range of examples of pre-capitalist societies, chosen to illustrate the major arenas of colonial disruption, in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and to show how they worked. The empires which Europe created in Africa, Asia, and Latin America were merely the last (to date) in a long line of imperial ventures. There were few areas in the world which had not previously been subject to overlordship by external forces, sometimes to the suzerainty of successive powers. However, these old empires often functioned quite differently from the newer empires created by Europe. The growth of capitalism in Europe drove a need for closer control over the type and extent of production in areas under imperial domination. Whereas in previous empires merchants had merely served the demands of wealthy minorities for luxury goods (and in the process accumulated hoards of personal wealth), now these stocks of wealth began to go directly into the transformation of productive processes in Europe (the Industrial Revolution) rather than into consumption. Thus the emphasis was increasingly on raw materials or intermediate inputs to European industry.

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Sequence Analysis  

Being Earnest with Time

Thomas Collas and Philippe Blanchard

This chapter explores sequence analysis (SA), which conceives the social world as happening in processes, in series of events experienced by social entities. SA refers to a set of tools used to summarize, represent, and compare sequences — i.e. ordered lists of items. Job careers (succession of job positions) are typical examples of sequences. Various other topics have been studied through SA, such as steps in traditional English dances, country-level adoption of welfare policies over one century, or individual and family time-diaries. Andrew Abbott played a pioneering role in the diffusion of SA. With colleagues, Abbott introduced optimal matching analysis (OMA) in the social sciences, a tool to compare sequences borrowed from computer science and previously adapted to DNA sequences. Abbott’s work on SA was part of a wider methodological thinking on social processes. The chapter then looks at the most common type of sequences in social science: categorical time series — i.e. successions of states with a duration defined on a more or less refined chronological scale.

Chapter

Jean-Frédéric Morin, Christian Olsson, and Ece Özlem Atikcan

This chapter highlights statistical significance. The key question in quantitative analysis is whether a pattern observed in a sample also holds for the population from which the sample was drawn. A positive answer to this question implies that the result is ‘statistically significant’ — i.e. it was not produced by a random variation from sample to sample, but, instead, reflects the pattern that exists in the population. The null hypothesis statistical test (NHST) has been a widely used approach for testing whether inference from a sample to the population is valid. Seeking to test whether valid inferences about the population could be made based on the results from a single sample, a researcher should consider a wide variety of approaches and take into the account not only p-values, but also sampling process, sample size, the quality of measurement, and other factors that may influence the reliability of estimates.

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Louis M. Imbeau, Sule Tomkinson, and Yasmina Malki

This chapter assesses descriptive, explanatory, and interpretive approaches. ‘Description’, ‘explanation’, and ‘interpretation’ are distinct stages of the research process. Description makes the link between what is to be described and a concept and its empirical referent. It defines a way to understand empirical reality, as variations, significations, or processes. Description refers to the ‘what’ question, as the first step towards explanation. When it comes to answering the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions, some social scientists differentiate between explanation and interpretation. For them, the aim of social sciences is to ‘understand’, that is, to uncover the meanings of individuals’ or groups’ actions through the interpretation of their beliefs and discourses, whereas the aim of natural sciences is to ‘explain’, that is, to establish causality and general laws. The chapter presents an approach which offers a broader perspective for the social sciences, advocating an explanatory pluralism that allows for a more ecumenical approach.

Chapter

Louise Thompson and Tony McNulty

This chapter deals with committee scrutiny of legislation, focusing on common perceptions of the committee stage and its role in bringing about changes to government legislation. In the UK Parliament, legislation which follows the normal passage of a bill will at some point have a committee stage, where Members of Parliament (MPs) or peers can review the text of the bill in detail. It is common for bills to receive their committee stage in public bill committees. The chapter first considers how the committee stage is planned before discussing the legislative, procedural, and political contexts in which bill committees work. It then examines traditional assumptions about committee scrutiny of bills, along with contemporary developments in parliamentary scrutiny of legislation. In particular, it looks at the benefits of evidence-taking, ministerial behaviour in committees, the impact of committees in the latter stages of the legislative process, and the wider function of the committee stage.