Research Projects: A Guide
Updated: Jul 7, 2020
by Donald L. Horowitz, James B. Duke Professor of Law and Political Science Emeritus
1. Start with a question of great practical or theoretical importance. Make it narrow enough to be answerable. Make sure the answer, one way or the other, will be of some significance.
2. See what others have said about it or about similar questions. This is a very pointed literature review.
3. Develop hypotheses: what might the answer(s) be?
4. Devise a research strategy to get the answers. What materials are available to help get to the answers.
5. Assess whether the strategy can be pursued. Are there obstacles to getting the material? Are there direct or proxy materials?
6. What if the answer is this or is that? Assess the significance of evidence pointing in one direction or another. If the evidence is indirect, can you do causal inference from what might be available?
7. Reassess the project as you do it. You may need to reframe the question, or the method, or the direction of the answers as they emerge. Be flexible.
8. Some conclusions may not be clear until you do the actual writing. That’s normal and is likely to contribute to the accuracy and significance of the findings.
9. But some omissions in the research may also become clear at that stage. You may need to fill them in or be explicit in leaving them for future research.
© 2020 by Donald L. Horowitz