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This course explores basic issues in sociological research, focusing on the interplay of explanation, measurement, observation, and description. The course begins with orienting issues about research design, and with broad questions about science itself: what it is and isn’t, how it varies, and how it differs from alternatives. Seven topics related to measurement follow, from conceptualization to analysis. Finally, you will alternate between exploring five methods of observation (content analysis, experiments, surveys, focus groups, and field work) and applying basic descriptive (statistical) techniques.
In conjunction with the readings and lecture notes, homework and lab assignments will develop your expertise in different areas and require you to apply what you have learned. Some of these (four homework assignments, and at least four labs) constitute a semester-long research project involving complete design and implementation of a survey, as well as analysis of data collected with it. (You may plan ahead to make these about the same topic, though they need not be related.)
Throughout, the course will emphasize the application and appreciation of various modes of observation, review of basic statistics, and reflection on the practice of sociology as much as on its claims. As a result, you will gain valuable (and marketable) practical skills in coding, sampling, hypothesizing, testing, and design generally; and will have the opportunity to integrate various aspects of your undergraduate major: analysis, theory, statistics, and substantive areas of interest to you.
By the end of the course you can expect to: know the basic concepts of social science research; understand the advantages and disadvantages of various research methods, and to be able to evaluate the appropriateness of each of these methods for different types of sociological problems; understand how to design and present a communication research study, including identification of, the problem, instrument construction, pretesting, selecting a sample, data collection, presentation of findings obtained through statistical analyses, and formulation of conclusions; understand the nature, scope, and limits of social-scientific study, and thereby be able to evaluate research, data, and claims that you encounter either in some professional endeavor or elsewhere in your life; and become aware that there is excitement in inquiry and discovery, drawing on both creative and analytic abilities.