109 posts categorized "Statistics and Methods"

April 19, 2018

The Art and Science of Survey Writing

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Recently, the news of a question about citizenship in the 2020 Census has made news. Critics are concerned that such a question might lead to a lower response rate, most notably by immigrants.

While a census by definition is distinct from a survey, which seeks out a representative sample of a population, both types of research tools rely on good question construction to get the most accurate results. Not only should the questions be written clearly, but ideally they should be written in such a way that brings you closer to learning more about the population.

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April 09, 2018

Masks and Nods: Distancing and Bids for Acknowledgement


Jonathan WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

The recent news about Amazon Go stores developing technology that eliminates the need for cashiers has renewed concerns over technology’s ability to not only eliminate working class jobs, but also peel away another layer of interpersonal connection. Small interactions can matter, big time.

Cities and shopping are zones of personal contact, places for micro-level exchanges. It got me thinking a lot about all those small interactions that I enjoy. (My friends tease me over how much I like to make small talk with people and it’s somewhat true. I often try simple nonstandard interactional responses like: “How would you like your coffee?” “Black like my heart.”) I love small micro interactions.

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April 04, 2018

Getting Your Sociology Research Project Started

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the most exciting parts of being a student in sociology is the chance to conduct your own research project. But getting started can be a challenge, especially if you have never conducted a full-scale study from start to finish. Here are some steps to take to get started.

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March 05, 2018

Mindhunter as Social Research

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

I recently watched a Netflix show called Mindhunter. The show—based on a non-fiction book—is about the beginnings of a crime division in the FBI that attempts to tackle serial killers.

If you’ve ever taken a sociology class, the first and most obvious thing about the show are the explicit references to our discipline! One of the main characters, Debbie, played by Hannah Gross, is a graduate student in sociology, studying deviance. In the first episode Debbie explains the sociological approach to deviance to her date, a somewhat listless young FBI agent named Holden (played by Jonathan Groff of Hamilton and Glee fame). In a bar she admonishes Holden: “You teach about criminality but you’ve never heard of Labeling Theory?” (Although, granted, Debbie doesn’t get Durkheim right.)

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December 14, 2017

The Problem with Student Course Evaluations

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

It’s the time of year when we start filling out student evaluations. Instructors pass around pencils and leave the room. Some are done online. You might fill out the 1 through 5 quantitative evaluations and write out a few words on the qualitative questions, but don’t know where they go afterward. Where do they go? Do you think about what your instructors think about them? Do you know that they are quite controversial?

I’ll never forget my favorite and least favorite evaluations. My favorite was “Funny like Sesame Street.” (Educational and entertaining!) I don’t think I would be allowed to publish the language in my least favorite evaluation here at Everyday Sociology. Students can get quite inventive with language and, the negative evaluations always stick in our heads more than the positive ones. It’s important to remember that we’re querying students at the most stressful time of the semester: at the end!

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November 06, 2017

The Social Laboratory

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

If you’ve taken a research methods class, you know that some sociologists use the scientific method to conduct research. There are variations to how we employ the scientific method, particularly between quantitative and qualitative studies. While quantitative questions often draw on large datasets, qualitative research often (though not always) requires the researcher to go out and interact with people.

Just as students in the natural and computer sciences research questions in scientific or technical labs, social science students often research their questions in what we can understand as a social laboratory.

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October 30, 2017

Interpreting Numbers in Context

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In the age of big data, one of the most important—and overlooked—skills that training in sociology provides is the ability to interpret numerical data. Being statistically literate is important for so many reasons, not the least being that it ultimately can help you find a job. Even if you aren’t a statistician or data analyst, knowing how to understand numbers can give you a leg up among the math phobic in many professions.

You don’t have to fall in love with equations or mathematical theory to become skilled at interpreting data. The most important thing to keep in mind is that numbers tell a story, and your job as an interpreter of data is to figure out what story they are telling you, and share that story with others.

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April 17, 2017

Learning Sociology through Collaboration

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If sociology teaches us that we learn about our social world, others, and ourselves through social interaction, it stands to reason that a great way to learn about sociology is through interacting with others.

On the most basic level, interactive learning takes the form of class discussions. Many courses require students to conduct research, often through observation, interviews, or surveys, and this is also a good way to learn some of the tools of sociology.

But collaborative learning is more than just talking and conducting research. Collaborative learning involves problem solving with others, where students brainstorm, come up with research questions, seek answers, or work on large projects together.

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March 22, 2017

Don’t Ask an “Expert:” Read the Research

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I regularly get emails from high school students that I have never met, typically asking for help for an assignment where they are supposed to interview an “expert” about a topic of their choosing. The emails often contain a long list of questions that I cannot respond to due to time constraints.

I realize that these students have no control over the assignments that their teachers give them—although I have sometimes wondered if the emailed questions are meant to avoid actually doing some reading—and I can easily gripe about how those of us from the twentieth century never had this option, short of writing a letter if we could somehow find an address.

But the more I think about these kinds of emails, the more I think about the problems with assignment itself. Asking an “expert” is a poor way to learn about social science, which is based on examination of empirical evidence, not from the pronouncements of experts. Unless the students are taking a journalism class, interviewing someone seems like a missed opportunity to learn more about research.

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March 08, 2017

Thinking Beyond the Case Study

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Case studies are singular examples that seem to illustrate a phenomenon. Textbooks would be dull without them, and journalists often use interviews to add color to their stories. But case studies can become so alluring, and seem to illustrate interesting patterns so well that they can encourage us to draw conclusions without further investigation.

Take the case of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman who was stabbed to death in Queens, New York, in 1964. Her case gained notoriety because there were purportedly dozens of witnesses to the attack who did not call the police. This led researchers to study something they called the bystander effect, positing that the more people who observe an event take place, the less likely they are to take action because they presume that someone else will.

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