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COURSE NAME: "Social Science Research Methods "
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall Semester 2012

INSTRUCTOR: Driessen Michael
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 16:30-17:45
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: Junior Standing
OFFICE HOURS: T: 2:30-5:30pm, Th: 6-7pm or by appointment

This is an applied course intended to teach students how to design and begin carrying out a substantive research project in the social sciences. It is crafted specifically for John Cabot students who will be writing a senior thesis, although any student curious to learn more about social science research methods is welcome to join. As an applied course, the primary aim is to acquire practical skills which can be employed in the students’ immediate research projects. At the same time, however, students will be introduced to important debates within the science of knowledge accumulation and learn how to begin navigating these debates.

The general structure of this course is meant to teach students how to 1) ask a good research question; 2) craft a research design to begin answering that question; 3) collect evidence appropriate to the task of this research design; and 4) evaluate and articulate the significance of one’s findings relative to this task.

In order to achieve the above, this course will discuss the different types of arguments and logics that social scientists employ to answer questions. We will learn how to conduct background research on these questions using the libraries and computers at our disposition. We will consider how the collection of data may be used to establish causality and how to assess the limits and uncertainties of “truth claims.” The course will also introduce the student to both qualitative and quantitative approaches to data collection and the different strengths and weaknesses inherent in either approach. Students will not be expected to acquire statistical skills of analysis in this course, but they should expect to learn how to interpret basic statistical results and the meaning of statistical analysis. We will also ask what the ethical implications of our research are, chart out how we can carry out field research in our own Italian backyard and learn how to write up the results of our research project.

As an applied course, student interaction will be essential and a student’s final grade will be based on the strength of their collaborative participation in class as well as the quality of their final research project. Students, therefore, will regularly present in class on the progress of their projects and will also be required to critique their fellow students’ presentations.



My pedagogical hope is that students will finish this course with the beginnings of a substantive research project in hand. They will be able to name and apply basic social science research methods to good research questions. They will be prepared to write their senior thesis well.



Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Introduction to Social Research: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches, 2nd EditionKeith F. PunchSageISBN 978-0-7619-4417-1  
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Damned Lies and Statistics: How Numbers Confuse Public IssuesJoel BestUniversity of California PressISBN 978-0-520-23830-5  
The Interpretation of CulturesClifford GeertzBasic Books ISBN-13: 978-0465097197  
Social Science Methodology: A Unified Framework (Strategies for Social Inquiry), 2nd editionJohn GerringCambridge UniversityISBN-13: 978-0521132770  
Concepts and Method in Social Science: The Tradition of Giovanni SartoriDavid Collier and John GerringRoutledgeISBN-13: 978-0415775786  

Research Proposal 5%
Bibliography  5%
Quiz 5%
Presentation I 5%
Colleague Critique I 5%
Meeting with Professor Driessen 5%
Presentation II 10%
Colleague Critique II 5%
Final Paper 30%
Revisions 15%
Outline 10%


Assessment Guidelines for assigning main letter grades: A, B, C,D, and F.

A:  Work of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensiveknowledge 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 for the course.

B:  This 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.

C:  This is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.

D:  This level of performances 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.

F: This work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


A:      95-100

A-:     91-94.99

B+:    87-90.99

B:       83-86.99

B-:     79-82.99

C+:    75-78.99

C:      71-74.99

C-:     67-70.99

D+:    63-66.99

D:      59-62.99

D-:     55-58.99

F:       0-54.99

Attendance is compulsory! Students shall read assigned materials before coming to class and shall participate to class discussions. Please refer to the above notes and the university catalog for the attendance and absence policy.
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.


Week 1
3 September

5 September
Why Methods?
Reading: Punch Chapter 1

Week 2
10 September
About the “Science” in “Social Science”
Reading: Max Weber (1958), “Science as Vocation,” Daedalus, (87)1, (e-journal)

12 September
Asking Questions
Reading: Gerring Chapter 2

Week 3
17 September
Analyzing Things
Reading: Punch Chapter 2

19 September
Background Research and Literature Reviews
Reading: Punch Chapter 3

Week 4
24 September: Research Proposal Due
Library Session I

26 September
Library Session II

Week 5
1 October: Bibliography Due
Reading: Giovanni Sartori “Comparing and Miscomparing,” in David Collier and John Gerring. 2009. Concepts and Method in Social Science: The Tradition of Giovanni Sartori. New York: Routledge (Library Reserves)

3 October
Testing and Arguing about Concepts
Reading: Gerring Chapter 3

Week 6
8 October
Truth Claims and Causation
Reading: Punch Chapter 4

10 October

Week 7
15 October
Presentations and Critiques

17 October
Presentations and Critiques

Week 8
22 October
Comparing Things
Reading: James Mahoney (2004), “Comparative-Historical Methodology,” Annual Review of Sociology (30) (e-journal)

24 October
Case Studies & Deep Knowledge
Reading: Punch Chapter 8: pp.s 142-160

Clifford Geertz, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” available at: http://people.ucsc.edu/~ktellez/geertz1973.pdf

Week 9
29 October: Outline Due
Narratives and Event Analysis, Interviews and Archives
Reading: Punch Chapter 9: pp.s 168-172, 174-187 & Chapter 10: pp.s 193-197, 216-226

31 October
The logic of Statistical Research
Reading: Punch Chapter 5: pp.s 61-83

Week 10
5 November
About Numbers
Reading: Joel Best, Damned Lies and Statistics, Introduction and Chapter 2 (Library Reserves)

7 November
Analyzing Quantitative Studies
Reading: Punch Chapter 7: pp.s 109-120, 127-131

Week 11
12 November
Mixed Method Analyses
Reading: Michael Coppedge (1999), “Thickening Thin Concepts,” Comparative Politics (31), (e-journal)

14 November
Individual meetings with students on research projects

Week 12
19 November
Individual meetings with students on research projects

21 November
Individual meetings with students on research projects

Week 13
26 November
Writing, Rewriting and Ethics
Reading: Punch Chapter 12

28 November
Final Presentations and Critiques

Week 14: Final Project Due
3 December
Final Presentations and Critiques

5 December
Final Presentations and Critiques

Exam Week
12 December
Final Words
Paper Revisions Due