POLSC251: Research Methods in Political Science

Course Syllabus for "POLSC251: Research Methods in Political Science"

Please note: this legacy course does not offer a certificate and may contain broken links and outdated information. Although archived, it is open for learning without registration or enrollment. Please consider contributing updates to this course on GitHub (you can also adopt, adapt, and distribute this course under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license). To find fully-supported, current courses, visit our Learn site.

Research is an important component of political science; it enables us to uncover evidence, develop theories, and better understand how the political world operates. This course will introduce you to some of the basic research tools in the political scientist’s “toolkit,” and discuss why and how certain tools are used to explore certain phenomena. The course will also teach you to develop and evaluate sensible and systematic scientific research designs by addressing the ways in which data and theory intersect and examining how political scientists quantify, measure, and operationalize the concepts and variables that are key to understanding the political world. You will conclude your studies by learning about the practical implementation of research design. By the end of this course, you will better understand the qualitative and quantitative techniques that are used within the field and will be able to explain why political scientists choose to use them. In this regard, you will have the opportunity to use data and statistical analysis to gain an appreciation for the methodological choices that researchers in the field make as they conduct research.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to

  • describe the relationship between the scientific method and political science;
  • formulate research questions, theories, and hypotheses;
  • describe the basics of the standard research approaches in political science;
  • evaluate the soundness of a research design;
  • perform basic statistical analyses; and
  • execute basic research in the political science discipline. 

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must

√    have access to a computer;

√    have continuous broadband Internet access;

√    have the ability/permission to install plug-ins (e.g. Adobe Reader or Flash) and software;

√    have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer;

√    have the ability to open Microsoft Office files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.);

√    have competency in the English language;

√    have basic math skills; and

√    have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

Course Information

Welcome to Research Methods in Political Science. General information about this course and its requirements can be found below.
Primary Resources: This course is composed of a range of different free, online materials. However, the course makes primary use of the following materials:

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials. Units 1 and 2 will lay the foundation for understanding how the scientific method relates to political science. This will be essential to understanding the rest of the course. You will also need to complete the following:

  • Subunit 1.1 Quiz
  • Subunit 4.1.1 Quiz
  • Subunit 4.1.2 Quiz
  • Subunit 4.2 Quiz
  • Subunit 4.2.3 Quiz
  • Subunit 4.5
  • Subunit 5.1
  • Subunit 5.2
  • Subunit 6.2.2 Quiz
  • Subunit 6.2.3
  • Subunit 6.2.4
  • Subunit 6.3
  • Subunit 6.3.2
  • Subunit 6.3.4
  • Subunit 6.4.2
  • Subunit 8.1
  • The Final Exam

Note that you will only receive an official grade on your Final Exam. However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through the quizzes and problem sets listed above.
In order to pass this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam. Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.
Time Commitment: This course should take you a total of 91 hours to complete. Each unit includes a time advisory that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit. These should help you plan your time accordingly. It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then to set goals for yourself. For example, Unit 1 should take you 6.5 hours. Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunit 1.1 (a total of 2.5 hours) on Monday night; Subunits 1.2 and 1.3 (a total of 2.5 hours) on Tuesday night; etc.
Tips/Suggestions: As noted in the Course Requirements, you will need basic math skills to complete this course. While this is not a class in statistics, you will need to understand some basic probability theory and statistical applications. You will not need to calculate statistics by hand. I would suggest thinking about the big picture in the quantitative analysis sections in Units 5 and 6. Do not get bogged down in understanding the details of the calculations. Rather, focus on how these methods can be used to answer political science research questions.
As you read, take careful notes on a separate sheet of paper. The article “Guidelines for Effective Reading and Not Taking” is useful in providing direction in your reading and note taking in this course.
Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.