Political Science
Research in Political Science
Description | Examples | Methodology | Student Resources

Political Science Research is a subcategory of Social Sciences Research.

  • Read the description and explore the various fields of political science research.
  • Study the examples to see what others have done.
  • Navigate through the Steps to plan your methodology.
  • Use the Student Resources to assist in carrying out your research.

According to the American Political Science Association, Political Science is described as the study of governments, public policies and political processes, systems, and political behavior.  Political Scientists are engaged in revealing the relationships underlying political events and conditions and from these revelations they attempt to construct general principles about the way the world of politics works.

Political science subfields include:

  • American Politics
  • Comparative Politics
  • International Relations
  • Political Theory and Philosophy 

Political scientists use both humanistic and scientific perspectives and tools and a variety of methodological approaches to examine the process, systems, and political dynamics of all countries and regions of the world.  


Research topics in Political Science

Presented/Published Research Papers in Political Science 

Questions to ask yourself when reading Political Science research:

  • Who produced the research, was it an academic, a journalist, a politician or a think tank?
  • Why was it produced? 
  • Is it a one off study or part of an ongoing project?
  • How was it carried out? 
  • What method or methods have been employed was the research funded?  If so, by whom? 
  • What sort of access did the writer gain to the subject? 
  • How long did it take? 
  • How long ago was the research carried out?
  • Are all the questions answered? 
  • Could other issues have been investigated? 
  • Has it led to policy change or an affect on political behavior?

William T. Bianco (Indiana University) and David T. Canon (University of Wisconsin) answer the question, "What are some of the different methods political scientists use to investigate a research topic?" This video is part of a longer interview where Bianco and Canon discuss how political scientists do what they do--how they develop research questions and apply method in order to answer them. (View at home or see your teacher)

This video is connected to American Politics Today, 2nd Edition by William T. Bianco and David T. Canon. For more information about this textbook, visit http://books.wwnorton.com/books/detail.aspx?ID=17782

There are several kinds of questions that political science students (and scholars) tackle in order to research in Political Science. Some projects combine two or more of the following, but most focus on just one of the following areas:

  • Theory-proposing projects advance a deductive argument for new hypotheses about the way the world works (or, in the case of political theory, the way it should work).
  • Theory-testing projects use empirical evidence to evaluate existing theories.
  • Stock-taking projects summarize and evaluate the existing theoretical and empirical literature on a subject. The question asked is whether the theories are valuable and whether the tests are persuasive.
  • Historical explanation projects use theory to explain what caused particular historical events or patterns. This differs from pure history in the explicit use of general theory.
  • Policy analysis projects evaluate existing or hypothetical policy proposals. Students might examine whether one or more of the factual or theoretical assumptions of the proposals are valid or invalid, in light of logic or empirical evidence. This kind of analysis is essential to predicting whether a policy will work as advertised.
  • Predictive projects forecast future developments based on an analysis of current events and relevant theories.

How to Research a Political Science Paper - Queens College

General Steps in the Research Process
(adapted from:  McNabb, David E. Research Methods for Political Science: Quantitative and Qualitative Methods. N.Y., New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2004. 571.)

Step 1 Establish your research objectives by describing, in detail, what is to be accomplished by your research in order to systematically acquire the data to answer the research question or solve the problem.  
Step 2 Decide on a research strategy that provides the most cost effective method of gathering information and produces the best possible answers to the research question.  Some of these strategies include sample research, quantified data like mathematical models, statistical analysis and correlation.  Other methods are similar to the field of anthropology where data is collected through participant observation and focus-group interviews found in psychological investigations.
Step 3

Identify the research sample or subjects of your study and begin to collect the primary or secondary data needed to meet your research objectives.  The methods of data collection will vary but is not limited to:

  • participating in a social situation and recording the findings
  • overtly or covertly observing the behaviors of subjects
  • interviewing subjects one at a time or in groups
  • administering a questionnaire to survey the attitudes of your sample population
  • reviewing documents of other sources  
Step 4

Analyze the data by establishing some order to the data by identifying what is typical or average in the sample and how widely the sample responses varies from that average.  To begin, tabulate the responses to all items in the study. 

For a quantitative study:

  • complete a frequency distribution wherein the researcher counts the responses to produce univariate  frequencies ("yes", "no", "male", "female", etc...)
  • now, complete a bivariate tabulation with a second variable ("yes"/"no" broken down by "male" and "female")
  • Then, using graphing tools, summarize the data in order to illustrate the distribution of the variables across the sample.  Finally, show how the different variables relate to each other and find the common patterns

For a qualitative study: 

  • begin by reviewing the data collected to create a "skeleton" structure that will lead to an interpretation and discussion of the data
  • a narrative text that is a re-write of the field notes, observations and verbal interpretation and conclusions from the data
Step 5

All in all, the compilation of the data is not enough and is of little use if we are unable to relate them to structured and logical explanations

student resources

General Research Methods 

Interviews, Polls, Sampling, Surveys,  and Questionnaires 

Political Science Organizations and Associations 

Periodicals and Journals for Research