Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2008-2009 (archived)


Department: Government and International Affairs


Type Tied Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Available in 2008/09 Module Cap None.


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • The module aims to provide students with appropriate, specialised knowledge of the range of research methods available in politics and an advanced understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, and of their relevance for different forms of political research. The module creates a framework within which students can critically assess possible research topics in light of research methods issues and where they can design, discuss and develop a detailed research proposal in consultation with a prospective supervisor that meets the demanding standards of a postgraduate dissertation.


  • An indicative programme of workshops is as follows:
  • 1. Introduction: Choice and Definition of Topic - Requirements and Procedures
  • 2. Research Design and Strategy
  • 3. Validity and Reliability: The Case of Survey Research in Political Science
  • 4. Elite Interviewing and Official Sources
  • 5. Using Ideas, Arguments and Concepts
  • 6. Wrting Up: Structure, Style and Scholarly Practice

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Through the module students will gain advanced knowledge of a wide range of research methods utilised in politics and international relations, including quantitative and qualitative techniques and the relationship between theoretical and empirical forms of research.
  • Students will show advanced knowledge and understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of different research methods and of the contexts in which they rae used.
  • Students will acquire a thorough understanding of the requirements of an MA disseration in terms of the advanced and specialised nature of the research involved and the expectations as to the rigour of research methods to be utilised.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Through the module, students will be able to:
  • discuss and defend their analysis of the respective merits of different research methods in the context of different forms of research, especially their chosen area of specialisation.
  • identify likely problems that may arise in their chosen field of research, and discuss suitable strategies for addressing those problems.
  • develop effective research strategies for identifying and assessing potential sources and for structuring their work in order to sustain complex analaysis of contriversial topics.
Key Skills:
  • conceiving and planning a substantial advanced research project independantly and refining this through responding to critical feedback and discussion.
  • developing research strategies for sustaining independent work accross a substatial period of time and at extended length.
  • Independent thought and judgment in the assessment and selection of research methods.

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

  • The module is taught by means of a series of workshops delivered by members of SGIS staff; by means of individually arranged meetings with staff identified as prospective supervisors; and by individual presentation of disseration proposals in small-group seminars.
  • Summative assessment is by means of two peices of written work: a Dissertation Proposal Outline and a Bibliographic and Sources Exercise (each of 1500 words).
  • The workshops and facilitate discussion of various research aproaches and methods, encopuraging discusion of their applicability to different research topics and styles.
  • Individual consultations enable initial refinement of a subject proposal under the guidance of a subject specialist, requiring students to discuss and assess their research plans and ideas to ensure that they meet appropriate standrds of complexity, sophistocation and engagment with advanced academkc literature.
  • Presentations and seminars provide an oppertunity to presnt plans to an audience of fellow postgraduate students, taking questions and discussing the nature, focus and organisation of planned research. The audience has an oppertunity to learn from and contribute to other proposal.
  • Summative assessment by Bibliographic and Souces Exercises require students to identify potential key sources for their disseration and to offer a preliminary assessment of the quality and suitability of those sources for their work. This requires students to relate the work of other to their own work and to demonstrate their knowledge of the advanced scholarship and other appropriate sources in their chosen field, including understanding the relationship between different research approaches and their own work. The dissertation proposal tests students' understanding and appreciation of the intellectual requirements of an MA and their ability to develop an appropriate research strategy and structure for the fulfilment of the research task.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Individual Consultations 1 1
Other (workshops) 6 Distributed through term 2 hours 2
Seminars 1 One near end of term 2 hours 12
Preparation and Reading 135
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Dissertation Proposal Outline Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
dissertation proposal outline 2 pieces of work, 1,500 words each 100%

Formative Assessment:

Oral feedback on seminar presentation.

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