More Like Hunting Than Farming?: Teaching Students Practical Research Skills
18 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2010
Date Written: February 6, 2010
In the spring and fall semesters of 2009, state politics students at Charleston Southern University were required to write issue tracking papers comparing 12 states’ approach to a particular issue area. Successful completion of such a project requires a careful analysis of each state’s statutes (and potentially regulations as well), a superficial (but critical) assessment of whether the laws in each state are actually being implemented, and the generation of hypotheses to explain any interstate differences found.
This project raises several questions. First, this kind of research is much closer to hunting than farming. Each research project is different, and may lead the researcher over uncharted terrain in search of an unknown (and perhaps nonexistent) quarry. Preparing students for one particular research project is not much easier than preparing students for any research project; how does one adequately prepare students for contingencies that may arise in their research without turning the course into a full-blown research methods class? Second, to what extent do traditional quantitative/qualitative methods courses address the needs of policy-focused students as well as discipline-focused ones? To the extent they do not, what additional skills are needed, and how should they be taught? Third, what does Athens have to learn from Washington (or Springfield, or Albany, or Sacramento)? To what extent can the practical skills of policy researchers inform – as well as be informed by – academic research methods?
Keywords: research methods
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