Empirical Methods in Political Science


By Jean Clipperton

Throughout this text, we’ve covered the fundamental building blocks of political science research. We began with an understanding of theory and how building a strong theory can lead to a set of hypotheses evaluated with data. Evaluating hypotheses, empirical predictions that can be evaluated using a range of quantitative methods, can provide support for your theories and/or lead to new directions of research.

We took up a number of popular quantitative research approaches, considered their advantages and disadvantages, and explored the foundations of how they’ve worked within political science.

As I hope we’ve demonstrated in the text, there are often no right answers within social science. The way you frame your theory, your choice of variable measurement, your selected quantitative approach will all have advantages and disadvantages. Some choices may be better than others but there are often no universally ‘right’ responses. The choices we make in our research will have some costs, some consequences. However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in doing the work. Being mindful of the pitfalls or limitations of our research can help contextualize our findings and help us better understand the phenomena we hope to explain.

Next Steps

From here, you’re well-equipped to analyze academic work in your classes, work on research proposals, and take a quantitative course on the method(s) of your choosing. Consider not just what you’ve learned about these approaches, but how they can help you understand your research question. Your university likely has opportunities for you to work as an RA (research assistant) where you will help collect data and/or readings to develop a publication. Additionally, there may be opportunities for you to conduct your own research, through grants from your department, an office of undergraduate research, and/or research seminars. Using our framework for the scientific method will help you craft a strong proposal with a research method that will help you evaluate your hypotheses and answer your research question. Good luck!