MA Political Science - Political Theory Pathway (Standard Route) / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Research Design and Skills

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI60312
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


This unit forms an integral part of all MA programmes offered by Politics. It builds on the critical understanding of theories and research methodologies employed in the field of political science and international politics.



The aims of this module are:

  • To develop a critical understanding of the processes involved in designing an advanced level research project in politics
  • To support students in developing, researching and writing up their own original research proposal, with a topic that is viable for a Masters level dissertation
  • To provide opportunities for students to critically apply their knowledge of political science theory and research methodologies in evaluating a range of research  proposals developed by current and past MA students
  • To encourage students to engage, more broadly, in active learning and to reflect on and identify their further intellectual development and training needs

Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit, students will:

  • Have identified a suitable MA dissertation topic and research question and held a preliminary meeting with their dissertation supervisor
  • Have written up a detailed research proposal, formulating a plan for completing their MA dissertation
  • Have further developed, in completing these tasks, a range of practical and transferable skills in bibliographic and information location and retrieval; communication and presentation; time management and planning; and have engaged with ethical considerations in research
  • Have further developed their ability to lead, participate in and sustain collective learning through group discussion

Teaching and learning methods

This course is run over the period of 10 weeks - one lecture, 5 workshops and 4 presentation weeks. There will be one introductory lecture on how to plan, prepare, design and write a successful MA research proposal, followed by four workshops focusing on identifying the main components of a research proposal, preparing a mind-map of literature review, thinking about the most appropriate research question and research design, and a session on methods and methodologies. These workshops will cover weeks 2 - 5. The following four workshops will be devoted to the discussion of student presentations of their own research proposals. They will offer a chance for students to receive feedback on their work from the rest of their seminar group. The final workshop in week ten gives an opportunity for students to further discuss their work-in-progress on their research proposal. Attendance in all sessions for this unit is compulsory and your participation contributes to your final assessment mark for the course. 

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 10%
Written assignment (inc essay) 65%
Oral assessment/presentation 25%

2600-word dissertation proposal (65%); presentation (25%); seminar engagement (10%).

Recommended reading

Preliminary reading

Thomas, Gary. 2017. How to Do your Research Project: A Guide for Students. 3d edition.

Recommended readings

  • ​​​​​​​Ackerly, Brooke A., ed. (2010) Feminist Methodologies for International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Alvesson, M. and Sholdberg, K. (2010) Reflexive Methodology: New Visions for Qualitative Research. Sage: London.
  • Burnham, Peter & K. Gilland, W. Grant, Z. Layton-Henry (2008) Research Methods in Politics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan (2nd edn).
  • Dolowitz, David & S. Buckler, F. Sweeney (2008) Researching Online. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Harrison, Lisa (2001) Political Research: An Introduction London: Routledge
  • Landman, Todd (2000) Issues and Methods in Comparative Politics: An Introduction London: Routledge.
  • Marsh, David & G. Stoker (2010) Theory and Methods in Political Science Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan (3rd edn).
  • Rudestam, Kjell Erik. and Newton, R. (2007), Surviving your Dissertation: a comprehensive guide to content and process, London: Sage.
  • Bailey, Kenneth D. (1994) Methods of Social Research, 4th Edition, NY: Free Press.
  • Becker, Howards S. (1986) Writing for Social Scientists: how to start and finish your thesis, book or article. London: University of Chicago Press.
  • Bernstein, Robert A. & Dyer, J.A. (1992), An Introduction to Political Science Methods, 3rd Edition, Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Hart, Chris (1998), Doing a Literature Review: releasing the social science research imagination, London: Sage.
  • Manheim, Jarol Bruce and Rich, R.C. (1991), Empirical Political Analysis: research methods in political science, London: Longman.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Elena Barabantseva Unit coordinator
Andrew Slack Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Introductory Lectures

Seminar Groups (Week 2-10)

Please note that all students must attend the introductory lecture in the first week of teaching.  From week 2 onwards, students will then be split into  smaller seminar groups depending on your programme, and must attend only one of these seminar groups every week.


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