On Week #5, you are to submit a two-page statement describing your research question and explaining why it was selected.
Think hard about your research question – you will be spending a great deal of time on this question over the course of the semester. So you should pick a topic you find interesting.
After you find a topic of interest, it may be helpful to try to frame your project in the form of a question. Say that you want to examine the effect of voter registration laws on turnout in the United States. You might ask, "What are the effects of electoral reforms – such as voting by mail and day-of-election voter registration – on turnout?" or, better still "Are some electoral reforms more effective than other reforms at increasing turnout?" Phrasing the problem in terms of a question will lead you to think about both relevant theories and relevant data.
First, consider how phrasing the problem in terms of a question will help you identify and develop relevant theories. In the case of voter registration laws, you might look at existing theories of the decision to turnout on Election Day to identify reforms that you think would be particularly effective. For example, many scholars have framed the decision to vote in terms of cost/benefit analysis. Voting is a costly act; you need to inform yourself about the candidates and their issue position then, on Election Day, you need to actually get to a polling place. By this logic, laws that more effectively reduce the direct costs of voting will stimulate turnout at greater levels than laws that do not effectively reduce these costs.
Phrasing the problem in terms of a question will also lead you to think about relevant data. With your question in hand, you can ask yourself, "what data would I need to provide a convincing answer to my research question." In the case of the effects of voting reforms, for example, you might want to design an experiment where voting reforms would be adopted differentially across a single state. Or you might want to perform an observational study by collecting state-level data on turnout rates and lists of electoral reforms adopted by various states. If you wanted to examine a small set of cases, you could look at turnout figures before and after the adoption of a particular reform in a given state (for example the effect of day of election registration in Maine). Or you might do a large-N cross-state comparison of the effects of registration laws. Making a precise statement of your research interests will focus your data collection efforts, no matter what research design you choose.
The first step in your assignment was the selection of your research topic. The next step is to identify and review the relevant literature on your topic.
To conduct your literature review, you should first identify work that has been done on your topic by social scientists. A good way to begin is to use JSTOR, an archive of scholarly journals (http://www.jstor.org/), to identify recent articles on your topic. You should also consult BARTON and VERA library databases. Another good source is the Web of Science search engine (which you can access through the library VERA webpage). I expect you to refer to at least 12 books and/or articles in your literature review (though you may consult as many sources as you wish).
Once you have read the relevant literature, prepare a 15 page review of the literature. The paper should be doubled spaced with one-inch margins. Do not use fonts that are smaller than 12 point.
You should begin your paper with a brief statement of your research topic and a description of its importance. Look to the feedback you received to guide your research statement. You should then move to an integrated description of the material you have read. Do not structure your paper as a series of book reports or article abstracts. The literature review should show that you understand how to find scholarly literature on the topic that interests you, and relate that literature to your research question. Your goal is to describe what is already known about your topic, how it has been researched by others, and how your question differs from that of previous researchers.
The literature review is due at the beginning of class on Ses #10. This will serve as the basis for a 15-minute in-class presentation, which will be followed by a 15-minute group discussion of research strategies, during weeks 11, 12, and 13.
The final project is a 20-25 page research proposal, due at the beginning of class on Ses #15. This proposal should include a revised version of the literature review – with revisions based on feedback from the Teaching Assistant, Writing Program faculty, and from your classmates during your oral presentation – and a new section that proposes an original research design.
The literature review should flow into your specific research question. You should place the research question in the context of the literature that you reviewed. Some questions that might guide your effort are:
One you have established your research question, you are ready to describe how you intend to answer that question. Begin by clearly stating your hypothesis (or hypotheses) and describe how your hypothesis is related to theories in the literature you reviewed.
Your task for the rest of the paper is to describe how you will evaluate your hypothesis against data. You are not required to actually complete the data analysis you describe in your research design, but you should think through the hard questions involved with any data collection project.
First, choose a particular method of analysis (experiments, case study, comparative case study, or large-N) and describe why you have chosen that particular methodology. Think about which method is most appropriate for your research question. You may decide that you need to employ multiple methods.
Next, describe the data collection process, paying special attention to questions of case selection and measurement. Some questions you might consider are:
Finally, describe how you would analyze your data. Think about the analyses you would need to perform in order to: