Formulating and Answering Research Questions (5EC)

February 21 – February 25 2022 
Registration deadline: December 17 2021

Merlijn van Hulst (Tilburg University) 
Dimiter Toshkov
(Leiden University) 

Course fees

  • Free for NIG members
  • 500,- for non-members from an NIG member institution
  • 750,- for third parties

Formulating and Answering Research Questions is an important part of the NIG curriculum. It explores general issues of research design in public administration and political science. It engages with some fundamental epistemological and methodological questions from multiple perspectives, as well as with more practical issues related to the formulation of a research question, the choice of research approach, and the development of the elements of the research plan.

We will discuss how different methodological assumptions underlying research are manifested in designing research projects and in analyzing and presenting the data collected in the context of this design. In particular, we will cover the construction of research questions; the selection of research goals; the fit between goals, questions and research design; the selection of cases or sites to research and evidence to collect; and strategies for enhancing the trustworthiness (e.g., reliability, validity, credibility) and relevance (generalizability, practical significance, and scientific contribution) of research projects.


After finishing this course, students will be better able to:

  • Explain the epistemological and methodological assumptions underlying their PhD thesis research;
  • Understand, assess and discuss the epistemological and methodological assumptions in the work of other researchers working in public administration and political science;
  • Construct well-formulated research questions that pose clear and appropriate research goals;
  • Develop the elements of research designs;
  • Understand the connections between research design choices with (1) research questions and goals, on the one hand, and (2) the validity/reliability or credibility and relevance of research results, on the other hand;
  • Justify their research design choices as well as critically evaluate and discuss the research design choices of other projects and researchers;
  • Understand the uses and limits of social-scientific inference.


The students are expected to read the assigned literature (articles and book chapters on various aspects of research design) prior to the start of the course. Students will also have to prepare a short text in which you they describe the main elements of your PhD research proposal and explain and justify some of the research design choices they have made or plan to make. Finally, the students will make two short presentations – one presenting their own research and one presenting and discussing the research question of one of their colleagues.


Assessment will be based on active participation in the course sessions, the quality of the written assignment (research proposal based on their PhD research) and of the two short presentations.