Making research endeavors more meaningful

30 October 2017

In general, social scientists are not very good at motivating why their research should be conducted, argue Linus Hagström and Karl Gustafsson, political scientists and researchers at the Swedish Defence University and the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, respectively.

In order to help overcome this problem, they wrote an article encouraging researchers to focus more on explaining the significance and relevance of their work and even provided practical advice on how to do it. "What is the point? Teaching graduate students how to construct political science research puzzles" was recently published in the peer-reviewed academic journal European Political Science.

Portrait of Linus Hagström"Why should this article or dissertation be written? Research becomes less meaningful if we cannot explain why it is relevant and what it will and can be used for. Previous justifications for research endeavors have primarily focused on three main arguments, which is limiting and inadequate. Consequently we set out to provide a new approach for addressing this challenge," says Linus Hagström, Professor of Political Science at the Swedish Defence University.

Recipe for success

Linus Hagström asserts that little has been written in the political science literature that actually describes how to come up with a clear rationale for an essay, dissertation or article. Therefore, he and Karl Gustafsson decided to write the article. They hope it will help graduate students, and even more established researchers, to formulate what they call "research puzzles," which is a method for arguing how a certain research effort contributes to existing work and for justifying why that specific contribution is necessary. In order to simplify the process of drafting a research puzzle, they boiled down their advice and approach to a 12-step recipe. Some of the ingredients include: clarify your motives and preconceptions; approach your topic as a political puzzle, rather than just a political problem; read broadly in fields related to your problem area, and make sure your research aims provide new knowledge.

By using a fictitious conversation between a junior and a senior researcher, the article illustratively demonstrates how a vague idea can be developed into a research puzzle.

Still more to be done

Linus Hagström and Karl Gustafsson feel that there is still much more that needs to be investigated and understood so they are planning to do more in-depth research on this topic. In particular, they will apply for research funding in order to study to what degree research endeavors are successfully justified and motivated in political science journals and research applications.


What is the point? Teaching graduate students how to construct political science research puzzles (PDF)

Karl Gustafsson (Swedish Institute of International Affairs) and Linus Hagström (Department of Security, Strategy and Leadership, Swedish Defence University). European Political Science. doi: 10.1057/s41304-017-0130-y. Published online 31 July 2017 and available at:


Linus Hagström
Department of Security, Strategy and Leadership, Political Science Section

linus.hagstrom [at]