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COURSE NAME: "Social Science Research Methods"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2019

INSTRUCTOR: Isabella Clough Marinaro
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 1:30-2:45 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: Junior Standing
OFFICE HOURS: 1 hour before each class or by appointment

This course presents an introduction to research methods commonly used by political and other social scientists. The course covers the logic of the scientific method, including literature reviews, research design, surveys and experiments, as well as the use of statistical data. Students will hand in a thesis proposal, an outline of their senior thesis topic, and their choice of first and second readers as an exit requirement.

The course will be a step-by-step approach to research design. Beginning with a general approach to how we know what we know and to the role of paradigms and theories in constructing research questions, the course will then turn to ethical issues involved in human and social research. We will then look in-depth at research design as a holistic approach and to conceptualization and operationalization as indispensable phases of research, allowing us to concretely study virtually any question related to society and to human affairs imaginable, so long as our question and our categories are constructed precisely enough. We will then discuss how to collect data of various types, how to “interrogate” data, choosing the best method for doing so with different kinds of data.

The course will be primarily focused on qualitative approaches, particularly of use to students of Political Science, International Affairs, History, Sociology and related fields, but will also include some introduction to the use of and ability to understand quantitative approaches, as well as mixed approaches to research. Students will be considered primarily as consumers of statistics, rather than producers of them, but we will also explore how quantitative data are generated. Questions of how to study cultural questions, community and ethnographic studies, and participant observation will be covered. We will also look at journalistic and historical approaches to research. We will spend the last part of the course learning about how to write properly, how to cite and how to present one’s work.

Students will follow a firm schedule for developing their research project for the course, will meet firm deadlines for topics, preferred method of study, literature review, identification of appropriate data sources and their availability, operationalization of concepts, commencement of research activity and data collection, and presentation of the project to the class.



Students, upon completing the course, will be able to construct a research project and present it in writing and orally using power point and other tools. Students will be able to develop relevant questions on issues of social and historical interest, to determine the best method for going about answering their questions, to identify key variables, to identify data sources and analyze such data using appropriate methods.

 Students will learn how to:

  • do a literature review of a social or historical question using published academic sources
  • find appropriate data sources in libraries, on the internet, in archives and in newspapers and journals
  • think in an informed way about paradigms, epistemologies and theories as research tools
  • consider in a professional manner the ethical considerations involved in a research project
  • identify the truth claims of an analysis whether official, academic, advertising or journalistic
  • identify independent and dependent variables and determine their relation to one another using a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods
  • judge how statistics are used to make truth claims
  • identify theoretical and methodological underpinnings of arguments made in research studies
  • determine how polls and surveys are constructed and carried out
  • construct an argument
  • develop a research design of one’s own and carry it through from start to finish – that is from initial formulation of a question and a hypothesis and literature review to written publication and public presentation
  • write in a manner that conveys the argument students want to make
  • present such projects coherently using appropriate tools.

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Excellent Dissertations Levin, P Open University Press 0335238610  
Basic research methods. An entry to social science research Guthrie, G Sage 9788132104575  
Preliminary bibliographyThe bibliography should meet the following requirements: Topic clearly defined, APA style or Chicago Author-Date style, Variety of sources (the bibliography should include a variety of sources including books, journal articles, and reliable web sources) At least 12 items cited 5%
Annotated bibliography One paragraph summary (per source) of scope, content, quality and utility of 5 sources (see detailed assignment handout)10%
Literature ReviewStudents must turn in a 5 page double-spaced literature review with no fewer than six academic sources representing different schools of thought or points of view addressing students’ research projects. Alternatively they can develop an essay of the same length which builds a theoretical framework for their thesis. Students are graded on the quality and thoroughness of their research, on how in-depth their understanding of the relevant literature is, and on how well they have constructed their research problems to allow them to arrive at the relevant literature to address their research interests (see detailed assignment handout). Students are required to send a draft to the English for Success tutors by the designated deadline. Failure to do so will result in the grade being lowered by 10%.25%
Creation of a Social Science Research ProjectSee assignment guidelines. Work in pairs to develop full research projects proposal.15%
Students’ Outlines for Research ProjectsStudents are graded on logical order and consistency, and on how well the outline articulates the logic of their research problems. It must include explicit research questions and should present a hypothesis if appropriate. Grades are based on converting topics into research problems, on the sophistication and depth of the research questions and on how well those research questions are constructed so as to permit the student to engage in useful research to accomplish what they set out to do for their thesis. The hypothesis is graded on how well it is constructed in relation to the research question and in connection to the debates in the secondary literature.15%
Final research project10-15 page essay corresponding to one chapter of thesis (or overview of thesis). See guidelines handout. Students are required to send a draft to the English for Success tutors by the designated deadline. Failure to do so will result in the grade being lowered by 10%.20%
In-class presentation Oral presentation based on final research project, explaining RQ, hypothesis, methodology and findings.10%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required f
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performance demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


Attendance is mandatory and you are expected to not miss any classes. If you do, for example for health reasons, I will accept a maximum of 3 absences after which I will deduct 3% of your final grade for each class missed.

Unjustified lateness will not be accepted. If you are more than 5 minutes late for class, you will be marked absent.

Active participation in class, raises or lowers grade by maximum of 5% (ie B+ becomes B). Class participation will be assessed based upon the quantity and quality of comments made as part of class discussion and on evidence that you have done the required readings. Attendance is mandatory. More than 2 absences will result in 2% being taken off your final grade for each subsequent absence.

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until 13 Dec 2019.

As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.



Session Focus

Reading assignment

Other assignment


2 Sep

Introduction to course. Embarking on a senior thesis

Levin Intro & Ch. 1



4 Sep

What is Social Research? Why do it? How to do it?

Levin Ch. 2&3


Prepare research topics


9 Sep

Library Session: Finding and Citing Sources


Start collecting materials


11 Sep

Library Session 2:

Critical Reading

Levin Ch. 4&5

Start preliminary bibliography


16 Sep

From Topic to Question(s)

Levin  Ch. 6,7&8

Finish bibliography


18 Sep

Bibliographies Due to Livia Piotto

From Topic to Question(s)


Work on annotated bibliography


23 Sep

From Topic to Question(s)


Work on annotated bibliography


25 Sep

From Topic to Question(s)


Work on annotated bibliography


30 Sep

Annotated Bibliographies Due

Doing a Literature Review

Levin Ch. 14

Work on Literature Review


2 Oct

Operationalizing Concepts: How to Define Something so you can Study It

 Levin Ch. 9&10


Draft preliminary outline

Read two articles (handouts) for class discussion


7 Oct


Variables and hypotheses


Work on Literature Review


9 Oct


Using official statistics


Work on Literature Review


14 Oct

Dealing with big data


Work on Literature Review


16 Oct

Survey design and analysis

Literature Review Due


Work on Literature Review


21 Oct





23 Oct





28 Oct

Qualitative data analysis


Work on Social Science Research Project


30 Oct


Using primary documents


Work on Social Science Research Project


4 Nov

Social Science Research Projects Due

Values and Ethics in Research




6 Nov

Formulating Good Cases




11 Nov

Time-management and structuring a solid thesis


Work on Thesis Outline


13 Nov

Constructing Arguments: logic, truth claims and determining causality


Work on Thesis Outline


18 Nov

Writing, editing and who to write for


 Work on Thesis Outline


20 Nov


Thesis Outlines Due

Individual meetings with students on research projects


Final Research Project


25 Nov

Individual meetings with students on research projects


 Work on Final Research Project


27 Nov


Individual meetings with students on research projects



 Work on Final Research Project


2 Dec


Levin Ch. 20-23



4 Dec

Presentations of Final Research Project




Presentations of Final Research Project