POLS 301

The Research Design Assignent


The Political Science Department requires a capstone project.  The research component of the project needs to meet disciplinary standards.

Your research design will cover all steps in your capstone project up to the actual collection and analysis of data.  It will be detailed enough that another person could use your design as their own guide, and then write a paper that is very much like the one you plan. Most research articles in the discipline will have specific sections that present the design, and they usually start on page one and end at a section entitled something like “findings.” You will read many examples in the class. 

Remember that there is no methodological core to the discipline—we borrow heavily from history, economics, the other social sciences, the humanities, and more.  Moreover, there are endless possibilities for your capstone topic.  One criterion for your choice of topic might be a search for understanding of or policy intervention for some feature of human affairs.  Another criterion might be a desire to learn more about your future vocation.  Whatever your topic, you will be expected to apply methodological standards appropriate to the discipline. 

First, your topic should be sufficiently ambitious.  A description of the content of several US Supreme Court cases, for example, is insufficiently ambitious.  You might be interested in how evolving surveillance technologies present challenges to our Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment practices.  Your description of relevant cases could show where the current lines are drawn, and your analysis could show why courts or Congress could take us in particular directions.  You will find a way to go beyond what has already been done. 

To take another example, you may wish to find a way to gauge the influence of lobbyists in a particular industry.  A description of everything you found in mainstream journalism and a few peer-reviewed articles is insufficiently ambitious.  You may be interested in the influence of major corporations in the health insurance industry, and gather original or reanalyze existing data that can be configured to show something about influence.  The data might be about campaign contributions, about visits to the White House, about ideological positions of legislators, and so on. Again, you will find a way to go beyond what has already been done. 

Second, you will carefully present a critical perspective.  Find a topic that is worth investigating, and develop a conscious approach to saying what is interesting about it.  Critical perspectives are applications of theories and models, and in your project you will be clear about yours. 

Third, there are disciplinary standards about presenting your work.  When working with cases from the US Supreme Court, how do your favorite authors introduce a new source?  How explicitly do your favorite authors describe their procedures for data collection and analysis?  Your attention to the details of presenting your work need to build on what you have learned about writing and effective speaking—how to introduce topics, how to build an argument, how to focus a paragraph on an element of your argument, how to choose an appropriate subject for a sentence, how to choose the right word in a sentence, and so on.  Your audience will interpret ineffective communication as ineffective application of disciplinary standards.