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Durham University

Postgraduate Module Handbook 2022/2023

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2021-22. The current handbook year is 2022-23
No such Code for pgprog:

Department: Government and International Affairs


Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2021/22
Tied to


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • The module aims to provide an overview of the types of research designs most frequently used in empirical research in politics, international relations and security. It aims to marry the theoretical and conceptual insights of the substantive modules with the generic research skills modules of the degree program, focusing explicitly on how to effectively combine theory and empirics in politics, international relations, and security.
  • The module is taught in two blocks, organized around the two main types of research designs: theory-generating (i.e., inductive) and theory-testing (i.e., deductive) research designs.


  • The material considered in each block will introduce and discuss a series of designs, including:
  • Theory-generating research designs in politics, international relations and security, such as ethnography and participant observation, phenomenology, discourse analysis, and case study analysis.
  • Theory-testing research designs in politics, international relations and security, such as Experimental research, quasi-experimental designs, small-N and large-N comparative research, and computational research methods, such as machine learning and quantitative text analysis.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A sophisticated understanding of the basic principles of designing empirical research in the context of politics, international relations and security.
  • An advanced knowledge of how to appropriately use different research methods to answer empirical research questions in politics, international relations and security, including their strengths and weaknesses.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Ability to identify different research designs and their key elements in empirical research.
  • Critical engagement, assessment and evaluation of different types of research designs and their use.
  • The ability to develop an appropriate and effective research design to empirically investigate a specific research question concerning politics, international relations, and security.
Key Skills:
  • Effective presentation of scholarly analysis.
  • Independent research skills to augment initial guidance on suitable sources.
  • Effective assessment of the quality and suitability of empirical scholarly work.
  • Demonstrate skills of independent learning through reaching and defending personal intellectual judgments on complex issues.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The module is principally taught through a combination of lectures and seminars. Following an initial introductory lecture setting out aims, learning outcomes, teaching, learning and assessment methods, and an introduction to the basic principles of research design, there will be 8 fortnightly two-hour lectures, typically four on theory-generating and four on theory-testing research designs. Lectures serve as a means to impart foundational knowledge of specific research designs and how it relates theory and empirics. They provide a basis for further independent studies and seminars. Within a module where students will typically have diverse levels of prior knowledge of research designs, the lectures provide a common body of core knowledge, aimed at facilitating discussions in the seminars and interaction amongst students as part of independent learning. The fortnightly seminars will discuss scholarly work in politics, international relations, and security that used the research design discussed in the previous week. The seminars serve as a means for students to deepen their understanding of how different research designs are used in scholarly work and learn to critically evaluate the appropriateness and use of particular research designs. Attendance of lectures and participation in seminars is compulsory.
  • In addition, the learning will be supported through academic staff’s regular ‘office hours’. Office hours are typically two hours per week when academic staff are available to meet with students to address individual queries and concerns.
  • The formative assessment consists of the 2,000 word research proposal, focusing on developing a convincing empirical research design on a question of the students choosing, which could be their dissertation research question. While the structure of proposals will differ depending on the type of research design they use, all proposals must clearly state the type of research design they employ, why it is appropriate, and the types of methods used to collect the necessary information. Written feedback will be given on the proposals and lecturers will be available to discuss feedback individually.
  • The summative assessment consists of a 6,000 word long essay that discusses and critiques two randomly assigned scholarly articles (one from each block) from a research design perspective. It will assess whether students are able to identify research designs, their key elements, and whether they are able to critically engage and evaluate their us in empirical research in Politics, International Relations and Security Studies. The set of articles, published in international peer-reviewed journals, will be determined by academic staff and is unknown to students. Articles will be randomly assigned to students at the end of the last lecture.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 9 Fortnightly, distributed across the term 2 hours 18
Seminars 8 Fortnightly, distributed across the term 2 hours 26
Preparation and Reading 120
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 6,000 100%

Formative Assessment:

Research design proposal of 2,000 words.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University