Increasing the Relevance of Research Questions: Considerations on Theoretical and Social Relevance in Political Science
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Most introductions to the methodology of social inquiry start somewhere in the middle of the research process. They do not, however, shed light on the first stage of a research project (e.g., Brady and Collier, 2004; George and Bennett, 2005; Pennings, Keman and Kleinnijenhuis, 1999). Others touch upon the issue — but in some rather vague way (Geddes, 2003; Gerring, 2001; King, Keohane and Verba, 1994). Most importantly, such companions do not say anything about how to find appropriate research questions. Experience tells us that determining the question one sets out to answer is by no means an easy task. In this chapter, we offer some guidance in this respect. The concept of relevance which we use builds on three pillars: methodological appropriateness, theoretical relevance and social relevance. Methodological appropriateness is the subject of the chapters which follow in this book. We will therefore only briefly discuss it here. Theoretical relevance refers to the analytical value a research question adds to the scientific discourse of the subdiscipline — such as international relations, comparative political science, political sociology — it addresses. Socially relevant research furthers the understanding of social and political phenomena which affect people and make a difference with regard to an explicitly specified evaluative standard.
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