Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Course Description

This course is designed to provide an introduction to a variety of empirical research methods used by political scientists. The primary aims of the course are to make you a more sophisticated consumer of empirical research in the social sciences from a variety of methods and to give you a stronger foundation for the independent work you will do later in your junior year and in your thesis. This class is not a course in data analysis, which is covered in 17.871 Political Science Laboratory; rather, it is a course on research methods.

There are two main sections to the class. The first deals with social science goals and methods, with many examples of research in the field. In this section you will get some exposure to critiquing individual pieces of research and reviewing a (subset of) literature. In the second section, you will learn more about how to gather data when conducting your own work, giving you a sense of what it is like to do certain types of research. Specifically, you will work with the TAs on one of two projects involving the collection of data online; you will also develop an interview guide and conduct some mock interviews in class.

Many important topics are not covered at all, or are covered in only a cursory way, including: true ethnography, content analysis, survey research, focus groups, writing up your research, and submitting material for publication. Furthermore, for each topic covered in this class (e.g., experiments or interviewing in the field), there is a larger literature that is left off the syllabus. Once you know your own thesis topic and have a better sense of what methods you will use, you will want to consult other sources.

This course has been designated Communication Intensive (CI-M). A CI-M course is designed to help you develop your writing and speaking skills in the major. The TAs and I are available to help you as you might need with your writing.


For course readings, see the table in the Readings section.

I will also be making liberal use of the following book, which you may wish to buy:

Shively, W. Phillips. The Craft of Political Research. 6th edition. Routledge, 2004. ISBN: 9780131174405.

Requirements and Grading

Grades will be based on class participation (30%) and class assignments (70%). There is an assignment almost every week (with the more onerous ones in the first two-thirds of the semester). Each assignment counts equally except for the quantitative data-collection exercise you will conduct, to be presented to the class during Session 12, which counts three times more than each other assignment, and the paper due during Week 11, which counts twice as much.

All assignments (including the slides you will use in your formal class presentations) are due by 4 PM the day BEFORE the class on which they will be discussed. Because the assignments are crucial to class discussion, late submissions will be penalized in a draconian fashion. For your papers, make sure to consult the Hints for Writing Papers (a.k.a., pet peeves). Also consult the Hints for Making Presentations.

Attendance is obviously a prerequisite for class participation. An unexcused absence will jeopardize your class participation grade; two would do so fatally.

This class is rather front-loaded by design (opposite to many MIT classes). Weeks 7 and 11, for instance, are particularly challenging. By contrast, the last three weeks are less intensive. There is no final exam.

As this is a 12-unit class, on average you should expect to work 10 hours per week on this class outside of class time. Thus, for a week in which you are expected to read ~120 pages (Week 2), you might spend about two hours doing the reading if you read reasonably fast and about 5 hours if you read slowly or are totally unfamiliar with the material. That would still leave you many hours to think about connections among the readings and to craft your essay for that week (which in the case of Week 2 is one page). For other weeks the distribution of time will be somewhat different. For instance, Week 6 asks you to read only about 25 pages (which you should be able to do in a couple of hours at most) and then write two two-page essays on those readings (which you should be able to do in eight hours).

Course Info

Learning Resource Types

assignment Written Assignments
group_work Projects
notes Lecture Notes