Research Design and Methods in IR

Course Description: 

This course introduces the fundamentals of social science research design and familiarizes students with several approaches to social analysis and their respective methods. It begins with a discussion of most general ground rules for social research applicable across all kinds of research projects. It continues with presenting an overview of different approaches with a particular emphasis on their philosophical underpinnings and preferred research strategies conditioned by those. The remainder of the course introduces students to the basic concepts and methodological techniques that are being currently used in the disciplines of International Relations and Political Science. This part of the course runs on two parallel tracks, which could be conditionally labelled as ‘positivist’ and ‘interpretivist’ approaches to social research. 

Learning Outcomes: 

After successfully completing the course, students should be able to:

  • understand how to design a qualified MA-level research project,
  • read and evaluate existing IR scholarship,
  • orient themselves within the IR academic community and participate meaningfully in the ongoing debates,
  • understand the basics of the most common statistical methods used in IR,
  • comprehend interpretivist and critical social research projects and acquire basic interpretive analytical skills

Attendance, pre-class activities, and active participation (10% of the final grade):

Given the cumulative nature of the material, attendance at the seminars is essential. If you are unable to attend a seminar, please, inform both instructors in advance via email. More than two unexcused absences result in a reduction of the participation grade and more than three unexcused absences results in failure of the course.


  • Problem statement, circa 800 words (20%) – should be submitted to Anatoly:

As will be discussed in class the most ‘researchable’ puzzles come from empirics, not theoretical debates in academic literature. The easiest access to empirics for a student of IR is through media and personal, as well as professional, life experience. This assignment is an exercise in looking for ‘researchable’ problems and puzzles ‘out there’. The task is to find a newspaper article or a real life story (however grand-scale or seemingly insignificant) that is researchable for an MA project and can be formulated in IR terms. The story or article should serve as an ‘empirical hook’ for formulating and elaborating an academic argument/research plan. This essay should begin with a very short summary of the article or real life story (the summary should be a bit more detailed if the article is not available in English), a discussion of the bigger implications of that story, an explanation why this problem is researchable from the IR perspective, and how such a research could be constructed.

  • “Talk to a Professor” Report (25%)should be submitted to Andrew:

Now that you have some ideas on your research topic and the problems you are going to solve. The next step is to formalize these ideas using what you have learned from Week 1-6.  Think about them in terms of concepts, variables, research strategies, causality, hypothesis, context, meanings and reflexivity. What epistemological approach are you going to adopt? Once you have these things ready, go and talk about it with a CEU professor whom you think is the best person to guide you on your research. Take note of the professor’s feedback and suggestions and complete the “Talk to a Professor” Report. A template of the report will be provided at the end of Week 6 and this assignment is due on the Friday of Week 10. The purpose of this assignment is to get you started on your research project under the guidance of an expert in your area of research, so that you can be sure that you are on the right track.

  • Group presentation at discourse analysis workshop OR written evaluation of discourse analysis sample (25%): You will be offered to choose between preparing a group presentation at the discourse analysis workshop (on November 24) or write an evaluation of a discourse analysis sample. The latter will need to be submitted before the workshop and its grade will be conditional upon active participation in the workshop. An individual participant’s grade for each presentation will be based on the quality of the group’s presentation, as well as his or her involvement in the discussion during the workshop.
  • Empirical exercise using Excel (20%):  After the Excel session in Week 11, you will be given a problem set and a dataset in Excel format. You will be asked to carry out some analyses in Excel and provide answers to the problems based on the results. This assignment is due on the Friday of Week 12