Research Methods – 2016/2017

Research Methods 2017


Instructor Dr. Paola Tubaro.
Office hours: by appointment.


The goal of the course is to help you develop your research idea, through analysis of existing, professional research designs, a reflective approach to your own work, the practice of peer reviewing, and awareness of existing resources and support. Successful completion of this course prepares you to develop your proposal for your doctoral thesis – the very first milestone in your research journey, and the basis for all subsequent steps.
Class format and preparation work
The course provides a structured environment to support you in an independent learning process. The taught part consists of four highly interactive sessions. You will do teamwork and individual tasks, in class and at home, and you will participate in collective discussions. You will reflect critically on the outcomes and use this insight to advance your own, unique research idea.
Some preparation is required in advance of the course:

  • Write a one-page outline of your initial idea of what your PhD thesis might be about. You are not expected to provide much detail at this stage, and of course it is understood that further changes will be inevitable. But you should identify, even if grossly, your broad field; the topic you are interested in; one or more questions that your research may contribute to  answering; possibly the key theories you might want to refer to (eg efficient markets hypothesis, prospect theory, new growth theories…); an initial intuition of what data and/or methods (eg econometrics, experiments, etc.) might help you answer your question(s). You need to make your ideas understandable to others who may be less familiar with your field, so please aim to be clear, concise and convincing. Have a printed copy of your outline ready for our second session (19 April 2017). We will use it for an in-class peer-reviewing exercise: you will exchange with two-three of the other students in the class, and each will comment on your slides, while you will comment on theirs.


There are only three grades for this course: failure; pass; pass with distinction.
Evaluation depends on two factors: Attendance and in-class tasks (30%), and paper (70%).
The portfolio of in-class tasks includes: giving and receiving feedback (session 2, 19 April); discovering resources through social networks (session 3, 20 April); short class presentation (session 4, 21 April), plus overall attendance and participation.
The paper is a 4000-word research proposal to submit by 1 September 2017.
Your proposal is expected to formulate a research question (and if applicable, hypotheses) on your research topic. It will set out a plan of work which, it is expected, will be undertaken in the thesis.
The proposal will identify clearly:

  • the research question(s) and/or hypotheses with the project aims & objectives, clarifying reasons for choosing the topic area;
  • the background to your proposed area of study – including an outline of the literature you intend to review, with a discussion of the issues you will consider;
  • your proposed research methods – the nature of the data you intend to collect, analyse and report with a clear justification of reasons for choosing such methods;
  • the way in which you will gain access to your data (including anticipated problems and your proposed solutions);
  • a timetable for completion of the research with clear intermediate targets.

Your proposal should be fully referenced to appropriate literature.

Reading materials

The instructor’s slides as well as other relevant articles and papers are posted on the course web page,


All meetings will take place at the Department of Economics, Via Monte Generoso 71, first floor.


Session 1: Research strategies and designs, 18 April 2017
This session introduces basic notions around research: what it is, how it is produced, how it takes different forms. We will explore the relationship between these concepts and research strategies, designs and methods, using a few seminal past research  projects as a basis to reflect on the scope, applicability, and general relevance of these notions. Concrete examples will help you develop a sense of the scientific process, in terms of the underlying thinking and the evidence to be collected.
At the end of this session, you will be able to:

  • Understand what research is
  • Conceptualise and describe the process of research
  • Describe and explain what theory is (necessary and sufficient conditions; causality; moving from general theories to specific research questions)
  • Understand research design as the process of operationalizing a theory and choosing suitable methods; define aspects of research design; draw a typology of approaches to research design

Session 2: Your research idea, 19 April 2017
This session brings theory closer to you, as you will explore which approaches are most appropriate to your own research question(s). It includes specific guidance on how to write a proposal that is both scientifically innovative and feasible. You will be introduced to the peer-reviewing process, an essential part of the life and activity of a researcher. You will be offered a first opportunity to review other students’ work, offering constructive comments and suggestions for improvement, and to benefit from feedback from others, as a way to improve your own work.
At the end of this session, you will be able to:

  • Structure and delineate the essential lines of a scientific argument;
  • Give feedback to other students on their research ideas;
  • Receive feedback on your work and devise ways to take maximum advantage of it.

Session 3: The research proposal, in more detail, 20 April 2017
This session looks deeper at specific aspects of your research proposal, notably the literature review and empirical strategy. In particular, this module introduces the relationship between method selection and research question. It illustrates issues related to data, research ethics, and access to resources. There will be some personal reflection on your social (research-related) network and how it may embed resources that you can activate to support you in the process of doing research.
At the end of this session, you will be able to:

  • Understand the purposes of a literature review;
  • Categorise your references dividing them into classics, landmarks and recent developments;
  • Be aware of resources available;
  • Be able to reference appropriately according to an accepted standard and be aware of plagiarism issues;
  • Understand the relationship between method selection and research question;
  • Select the correct approach to your research question;
  • Identify key ethical issues and risks that might arise as part of your research and how you could manage them.

Session 4: Presenting and publishing, 21 April 2017
This session will go through two key research activities, giving oral presentations and publishing in journals. The first part will be focused on presentations and will be organized around a practical exercise, where each of you will give a short talk (5 minutes) to the class. This will be an opportunity to highlight the do’s and don’ts of oral presentations and to share guidelines and best practices. The second part of the session will familiarize you with the publishing process, outlining its different phases (submission, review, proof-reading, dissemination), and discussing different relevant aspects (choice of journals, co-publishing, citations, open-access publications, replication and data-sharing).
At the end of this session, you will be able to:

  • Effectively prepare and successfully deliver a presentation of your research idea;
  • Improve your communication skills;Be aware of the different steps of scientific publication process
  • Understand issues related to scientific publishing.