Applied Qualitative Methods and Field Research in Political Science

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 05 October 2023
Friday 15 December 2023
19 May 2022


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

What is qualitative research and how is it used to answer questions about politics? In this module, students will learn about the various facets and tools of qualitative research.

In political science and the social sciences, qualitative research is applied to trace and understand the mechanisms behind social puzzles. Qualitative research investigates causal processes, and tackles `why` and `how` questions to uncover what explains politics, while producing and analysing detailed, nuanced information. Applied qualitative research involves fieldwork – that is, scholars using qualitative methods leave their offices to meet and experience their subjects.

The module introduces students to the different methodological approaches, research designs and schools of qualitative inquiry. The module highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of qualitative research.

The course emphasises application, with students running their own qualitative applications. Students also will learn how qualitative and quantitative research designs can be combined. The course uses various examples from the field of comparative politics of development to for illustration and to produce best practice examples.

Module aims

The goal of this course is to provide students with an understanding of how research using qualitative methods works. Students will learn how to apply various qualitative methods, how to organise and conduct field research to gather qualitative data (and how to do so ethically), and how to mix qualitative and quantitative methods in a research project, in order to prepare students to conduct original and rigorous qualitative research, e.g., for their Capstone undergraduate thesis.

Module learning outcomes

1. Students will learn about various facets of qualitative research (e.g., interviews, focus groups, ethnographies, archival research, process tracing, analytic narratives, case selection, field research etc.) and how to critically interrogate qualitative research.
2. Students will learn how to design and conduct qualitative research and how to analyse qualitative data rigorously.
3. Students will learn how to conduct field research ethically when involving human subjects.
4. Students will learn how to combine different qualitative and quantitative methodologies to generate robust evidence.

Module information

Week 2 – Introduction: What is qualitative research and how is it used in political science?
Week 3 – Fieldwork ethics before, during and after qualitative research
Week 4 – Site selection and case selection
Week 5 – Interviews
Week 6 – Focus groups
Week 7 – Ethnography and participant observation
Week 8 – Archival research
Week 9 – Mixing methods to combine qualitative and quantitative approaches
Week 10 – Transparency in qualitative research
Week 11 – Quiz; and conclusion

Learning and teaching methods

The module consists of two weekly hours of instruction. In the first half of each session, the instructor will introduce approaches to qualitative inquiry, field research and mixed methods. In the second half of each session, students get to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each approach and learn how to design the tools to run qualitative analyses. This will include students e.g., co-designing ice-breaker questions, interview questionnaires, case selection design, or taking ethnographic together with partners during the class. The assignments are geared toward individual students producing their own qualitative tools and analyses. We will also critically discuss the role of positionality and power in the production of knowledge, qualitative and quantitative.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography for this year.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Ethnographic Exercise  10/11/2023  30% 
Coursework   Interview Questionnaire  24/11/2023  30% 
Coursework   Quiz (in-class)  15/12/2023  40% 

Additional coursework information

Students will have the opportunity to undertake formative assessment as part of this module

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Florian Kern, email: fkern@essex.ac.uk.
Dr Florian Kern
Module Supervisor: Dr Florian Kern - fkern@essex.ac.uk / Module Adminstrator: Jasini Hobbs - govquery@essex.ac.uk



External examiner

Dr Max Gallop
University of Strathclyde
Senior Lecturer
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.


Further information

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