Understanding Political Science Research Methods
The Challenge of Inference
Routledge – 2014 – 240 pages
This text starts by explaining the fundamental goal of good political science research—the ability to answer interesting and important questions by generating valid inferences about political phenomena. Before the text even discusses the process of developing a research question, the authors introduce the reader to what it means to make an inference and the different challenges that social scientists face when confronting this task. Only with this ultimate goal in mind will students be able to ask appropriate questions, conduct fruitful literature reviews, select and execute the proper research design, and critically evaluate the work of others.
The authors' primary goal is to teach students to critically evaluate their own research designs and others’ and analyze the extent to which they overcome the classic challenges to making inference: internal and external validity concerns, omitted variable bias, endogeneity, measurement, sampling, and case selection errors, and poor research questions or theory. As such, students will not only be better able to conduct political science research, but they will also be more savvy consumers of the constant flow of causal assertions that they confront in scholarship, in the media, and in conversations with others.
Three themes run through Barakso, Sabet, and Schaffner’s text: minimizing classic research problems to making valid inferences, effective presentation of research results, and the nonlinear nature of the research process. Throughout their academic years and later in their professional careers, students will need to effectively convey various bits of information. Presentation skills gleaned from this text will benefit students for a lifetime, whether they continue in academia or in a professional career.
Several distinctive features make this book noteworthy:
"Understanding Political Science Research Methods is intuitively organized and extremely well-written. It introduces social science research methods in a way that simultaneously presents the challenges and complexity of doing original research while also demystifying the process and making it all sound eminently doable. I plan to use this book in all my courses that require original research papers."
—Edward B. Hasecke, Wittenberg University
"Barakso, Sabet, and Schaffner ‘draw back the veil’ on the challenges and complexities of political science research, in a refreshingly understandable manner that engages undergraduates. The authors explain the underlying assumptions and hidden decisions underlying the research process, encourage more careful and critical evaluation of the many dubious assertions filling our airwaves and political dialogue, and help students effectively conduct and convey their own research in the classroom and out in the real world."
—Pat Sellers, Davidson College"Barasko, Sabet, and Schaffner present the fundamentals of designing empirical political science research in a manner that is concise, thorough, and transparent. Students and instructors alike will benefit from this welcome and valuable contribution."
—Francis Neely, San Francisco State University
"One rarely comes across introductory research methods textbooks that strike the perfect balance between accessibility, breadth of coverage, and rigor. That Barakso, Sabet, and Schaffner are able to do so is to their credit. That they do so with a fundamentally fresh and interesting take on the material, all the more so."
—Matthew Wright, American University
"The authors do a wonderful job balancing accessibility and sophistication. The book is a good introduction to political methodology for all types of undergraduates, from the ‘math-phobic’ to those comfortable with statistical analysis."
—David J. Ciuk, Franklin & Marshall College
"Barakso, Sabet, and Schaffner make the often-daunting concepts of inference and research design clear, accessible, and practical. They do an excellent job of conveying the intuition behind and the analytical components of the research process. This book will be a wonderful addition to any undergraduate research methods course and a nice primer for beginning graduate students in political science."
—Jonathan Cole Winburn, The University of Mississippi
"Understanding Political Science Research Methods is an excellent text for undergraduate students. The focus on inference, theory, and research design will give students a solid foundation to build upon as they learn about the research process."
—Sarah Allen Gershon, Georgia State University
Introduction. Section I: Establishing the Framework. 1: The Challenge of Inference. 2: The Research Question. 3: Linking Theory and Inference. Section II: A Menu of Approaches. 4: The Challenge of Descriptive Inference. 5: Experiments. 6: Large-n Observational Studies. 7: Small-n Observational Studies. 8: Conclusion
Maryann Barakso is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research focuses on interest groups, civic engagement, and women and politics. She is the author of Governing NOW: Grassroots Activism in the National Organization for Women (Cambridge University Press, 2004). Barakso previously served as president of the Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association.
Daniel M. Sabet is Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Enterprise and Society at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh and an affiliated researcher with Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is the author of Police Reform in Mexico: The Challenge of Institutional Change (Stanford University Press, 2012) and Nonprofits and their Networks: Cleaning the Waters along Mexico’s Northern Border (Arizona University Press, 2008).
Brian F. Schaffner is Professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a faculty associate at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. His research focuses on public opinion, campaigns and elections, political parties, and legislative politics. Schaffner’s research has appeared in over two-dozen refereed journal articles and he previously served as Program Director for the Political Science program at the National Science Foundation.