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Cover Political Research

4. Asking Questions: How to Find and Formulate Research Questions  

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.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Research Question  

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.

Chapter

Cover Political 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.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Literature Review  

Mathieu Ouimet and Pierre-Olivier Bédard

This chapter highlights literature review. Reviewing the published literature is one of the key activities of social science research, as a way to position one’s academic contribution, but also to get a bird’s eye view of what the relevant literature says on a given topic or research question. Many guides have been created to assist academic researchers and students in conducting a literature review, but there is no consensus on the most appropriate method to do so. One of the reasons for this lack of consensus is the plurality of epistemological attitudes that coexist in the social sciences. Before initiating a literature review, the researcher should start by clarifying the need for and the purpose of the review. Once this has been clarified, the actual review protocol, tools, and databases to be used will need to be determined to strike a balance between the scope of the study and the depth of the review.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

C. Case Selection  

Laura Gelhaus and Dirk Leuffen

This chapter describes case selection, which is a crucial component of designing social research. Its importance can hardly be overstated because the cases you choose affect the answers you get. However, how should researchers select their cases? A careful inspection of the research question, the study’s objective, should be the starting point. The research question typically anchors the study in a research area, specifies the universe of cases, and guides its engagement with theory. Ideally, case selection is solely driven by methodology; however, practicality and feasibility considerations frequently make adjustments to the design necessary. Such considerations concern, for instance, the costs of data collection. The chapter introduces a few commonly used case selection strategies as well as two hotly debated topics in the literature on case selection: selecting on the dependent variable and random case selection.

Chapter

Cover Political Research

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.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Case Study  

Jessica Luciano Gomes and Miriam Gomes Saraiva

This chapter explores the case study, which is a very common research method in the field of social sciences. Case studies are important because they provide the examination of samples of a larger atmosphere, therefore enabling researchers with a variety of possibilities: to deepen the analysis of a particular occurrence in the world, to contribute to an existing theoretical framework, and to serve as an instrument of comparative analysis. Although it might sound simplistic, the research framework for case studies usually has to satisfy a few key points. Case studies can be divided into separate categories: exploratory, descriptive, and explanatory. They are also directly related to the type of research question being posed from the traditional five types of survey questions: ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘how’, and ‘why’. One can often find case studies among both qualitative and quantitative approaches, focusing on a case study per se or on cross-case method.

Chapter

Cover Political 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.

Chapter

Cover Political Research

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.