BSocSc Politics and International Relations

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Making Sense of Politics

Unit code POLI10301
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Politics
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


“Making sense of Politics” introduces students to the idea of using data to resolve central questions in politics research, and to the methods used to gather, analyse and present data. The main goal is to develop the ability to conduct primary research and to develop a critical awareness of the use of data in political and media debate.

The course takes a hands-on and applied approach: students get the opportunity to analyse real data and obtain original research findings around key questions in politics research. POLI10301 will draw very widely from across the discipline, using examples from relevant political topics which should engage student interest. The topics explored are revised every year to ensure the most recent data available is used and to capture relevant events taking place around the time of the course (e.g. an election).

POLI10301 is relevant for students on many different degree programmes and students with diverse academic backgrounds and interests. Previous knowledge of politics is not expected. The course also takes a very different approach to A-level politics, so it will offer a new intellectual challenge for those with previous experience studying politics. For all those looking to understand and use data in the study of politics and society, POLI10301 provides an essential foundation in the basic skills of data collection, evaluation and analysis.


POLI10301 Making Sense of Politics provides a foundation for the use of data to analyse political problems. It introduces students to a series of major problems in empirical political analysis; the forms of data collected to improve our understanding of these problems; and the techniques used to analyse these data and their limitations. POLI10301 takes a hands-on and applied approach: students learn to explore contemporary politics research questions using real data. In POLI10301 students develop the skills to become independent researchers and present the findings of their research in writing and visually in reports. The course also enables students to assess critically data and analyses produced by others and/or presented in media debate. 

Learning outcomes

Students will be able to demonstrate the following skills:

An ability to analyse some of the central questions in politics research empirically;

Knowledge about how politics researchers develop strategies to analyse relevant and contemporary questions;

Knowledge of widely used data analysis techniques and software (SPSS and Excel);

Knowledge of some of the most widely used data resources, such as election studies, comparative surveys or databases of democracy;

A critical awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of different methods of gathering data and applying them to political research questions;

A critical awareness of the use of data in political and media debate;

Knowledge of how data resources can be found and used to inform research on central political and social issues;

An ability to communicate ideas in writing and verbally.


POLI10301 will draw very widely from across the discipline, focusing on fundamental questions which should engage student interest. The goal of the course is to introduce students to the idea of using data to resolve central research questions across the discipline, and to the methods used to gather, analyse and criticise data used in politics research. The topics examined in the course will cover the full range of politics research, including:

Political behaviour: Why do some people vote (and why do others stay home)?  When and why do protest movements emerge? When and why do people support extremist movements and parties?

Comparative politics: When and why do dictatorships rise and fall? When does democracy emerge, and what makes it stable?

International relations: When and why do nations go to war? When and why do civil wars happen?

[note: this is a preliminary list. Final list of topics will be decided based on preferences/knowledge of team teaching the course]

Assessment methods

Report 1 2,000 words 45%

Report 2,500 words 55%


Feedback methods

Politics staff will provide feedback on written work within 15 working days of submission.

Students should be aware that all marks are provisional until confirmed by the external examiner and the final examinations boards in June.

For modules that do not have examination components the marks and feedback for the final assessed component are not subject to the 15 working day rule and will be released with the examination results.

You will receive feedback on assessed essays in a standard format. This will rate your essay in terms of various aspects of the argument that you have presented your use of sources and the quality of the style and presentation of the essay. If you have any queries about the feedback that you have received you should make an appointment to see your tutor.

On assessments submitted through Turnitin you will receive feedback via Blackboard. This will include suggestions about ways in which you could improve your work in future. You will also receive feedback on non-assessed coursework, whether this is individual or group work. This may be of a more informal kind and may include feedback from peers as well as academic staff

Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 0

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Robert Ford Unit coordinator

Return to course details