POLS 340:  Undergraduate Research Methods

Tuesday and Thursday, 11:00-12:15

Dusable 170 and DuSable 406

Fall 2006


Dr. Matt Streb

Office:  Zulauf 412

E-MAIL:  mstreb@niu.edu

Office Hours:  Tuesday and Thursday, 3:30-4:30; Wednesday, 8:30-11:30


“Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary a qualification

for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write.”

--H.G. Wells


Course Description:  The world of politics offers a nearly infinite array of interesting questions.  Why did George W. Bush win the 2004 presidential election?  Is Europe’s adoption of a common currency a merely superficial change or an important development fundamentally affecting the region’s political and economic institutions?  Why has religious fundamentalism thrived in Islamic countries?  Do Supreme Court justices generally follow precedent when making their rulings or their own personal beliefs?  Does a cultural divide exist in the United States?  For these and literally thousands of other questions, potential answers may be difficult to sort out, and it is even harder to demonstrate conclusively that one of those answers is more “correct” than another.  This course will help you think more carefully and systematically about political questions, their potential answers, and the types of evidence needed to evaluate those answers. 


The first half of this course introduces students to social science research by discussing how one develops a research question and hypotheses.  The second part of the course provides students with the tools necessary to test hypotheses systematically and quantitatively.  This does mean that you will learn some basic statistics.  Many students get ill when they find out that they are required to take a quantitative methods course to graduate (I was one of them!), but learning data analysis can be extremely beneficial to you in the future and even fun.


You probably won’t believe this now, but a course on quantitative methods can benefit every student in different ways.  While still in school, the course will help you in other courses by making it easier to understand political science research and leading you to ask important questions about that research.  In addition, a basic knowledge of statistics also makes students more attractive to potential employers in a wide-range of fields.  This course will also help those of you who are headed to a graduate program in social science by providing you with a background in the tools necessary to excel in that program.  We don’t require the course to punish you; we require it because it is important and useful.  Who knows?  You might shock yourself by deciding you want to take another statistics class!  I certainly never imagined when I walked in to my first methods class that I would end up teaching it for a living!




Your grade will be based on the following components:

  • 30% Take Home Assignments-- Each assignment is worth 6% of your final grade.  I will drop your lowest score, however your lowest score will only be dropped if you hand in all six of your assignments.  In other words, if you don’t hand in an assignment, each assignment then counts 5% of your final grade and none can be dropped.   


  • 30% Midterm


  • 30% Final Exam--The final will not be cumulative.  It will only cover material discussed after the Midterm.


  • 10% Participation


The reading load for this course is light.  On the other hand, you will be expected to complete six take home assignments during the semester.  These assignments will require a fair amount of work, so procrastination is not encouraged.  Read the assignment when you receive it and be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to complete it.  An assignment is considered to be late if it is not turned in at the beginning of class on the day it is due.  I do not accept late assignments!  If the assignment is not handed in on time, you will receive a 0 for that assignment.


Several of these assignments will require you to use the statistical program SPSS.  We will work through several SPSS exercises in class together and then you will be required to do some assignments outside of class.  When we use SPSS, we will meet in DuSable 170; otherwise we will meet in DuSable 406.


The two in-class examinations will be held on Tuesday, October 17th and Tuesday, December 12th (10 AM).


Finally, participation will constitute 10% of your final grade.  I have no formal attendance policy, but I will take attendance in class and your participation grade will depend on how frequently you attend and how much you participate (constructively) in class discussion.  Do not take your participation grade for granted! 


Grading Scale:

93%-100%      A         90%-92.9%     A-        87.5%-89.9%  B+      

83%-87.4%     B         80%-82.9%     B-        77.5%-79.9%  C+      

73%-77.4%     C         70%-72.9%     C-        67.5%-69.9%  D+      

63%-67.4%     D         60%-62.9%     D-        Less than 60%   F


In rare instances, I will raise a final grade slightly if the student regularly attends class, participates, and shows progress. 
Required Course Materials:

Three books are required for this course:


Johnson, Janet Buttolph, and H.T. Reynolds.  2005.  Political Science Research

Methods, 5th ed.  Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.


Pollock III, Philip H.  2005.  An SPSS Companion to Political Analysis, 2nd ed. 

Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.


Rochefort, David A.  2006.  Quantitative Methods in Practice: Readings form PS. 

Washington, D.C.:  CQ Press.


These books are available at the NIU bookstore. Students are strongly encouraged to visit sites such as www.campusi.com to find cheaper, used versions of these books (although students should not buy earlier editions of the books as they have been updated substantially.  Also, if you buy the Pollock book online you must be sure that the CD is included with it). 


You may have also noticed that a fee was required to take this course.  That fee allows you access to the SOCQRL Computer Lab in DuSable 222.  You will be able to do your assignments in the SOCQRL Lab and have trained tutors available to help you.  The lab is open Monday-Thursday from 12PM-10PM, Friday from 8AM-5PM, and Sunday from 6PM-10PM.  You can visit the SOCQRL webpage (ww.socqrl.niu.edu) for more information.  If you have questions, please do not hesitate to ask.      


Course Policies:


1.  Attendance:  Simply put, you are expected to be here.  If you want to have any hope of passing the class or doing well, you will need to be in class.  I have yet to meet a person who has regularly missed my class and has passed the course. 


2.  Be on time:  Class begins promptly at 11:00.  Please be in your seats and ready to go at 11:00.  If you must be late, please enter the class quietly and quickly and sit in the back. 


3.  Turn the cell phones off!:  My policy is that if your cell phone goes off in class, I’m the one who answers it.  Unless you want me talking to your parents, siblings, or boyfriend/girlfriend, turn the cell phones off.  If you have an extenuating circumstance (e.g., pregnant spouse, day care, etc., please let me know). 


4.  Makeup Exams:  I will only give a makeup examination under extraordinary circumstances.  If such circumstances arise, please contact me as soon as possible and before the scheduled exam.  If you fail to contact me before the scheduled exam, you will receive a 0 for the exam.  Students may be asked to support requests for makeup exams with documentation.


5.  Late Assignments:  I do not accept late assignments.  If you fail to hand in one of your assignments on time, you will receive a 0 for the assignment.  If an extraordinary situation arises that will keep you from handing in your assignment on time, please contact me as soon as possible and before the scheduled assignment is due.  Being out of town does not constitute an “extraordinary situation.” 


6.  Academic Dishonesty:  In preparing for your work and meeting the requirements of this course, you are expected to adhere to all the rules, regulations, and standards set forth by the Department of Political Science, Northern Illinois University, and the scholarly community.  This statement encompasses intentional and unintentional plagiarism; cheating on examinations; using, purchasing, or stealing others’ work; misusing library materials; and so forth.  Failure to honor these rules, regulations, and standards could result in a failing course grade and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.  Don’t plagiarize or cheat.  I will catch you!


7.  Students with Disabilities:  Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities.  Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework and for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CARR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building.  CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors.  It is important that CARR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


How Can I Do Well in this Course?:

            This class will be different from previous political science courses you have had.  Because it is different, students sometimes struggle with the material.  Therefore, it is imperative that you attend class and keep up with the readings.  If you get behind, you will find that it is extremely difficult to catch up.  Also, students are strongly encouraged to ask questions during lectures or visit me during my office hours.  Don’t be shy.  If you don’t understand something, I guarantee someone else in the class doesn’t understand it as well. 


Department of Political Science Web Site:

Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science web site on a regular basis. This up-to-date, central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, researching career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach the site, go to http://polisci.niu.edu.


Course Outline:

NOTE:  Readings should be finished by class time on the day they are assigned.  For example, students should have read Johnson and Reynolds, chps 1-2 by August 25th. NOTE:  JR is the abbreviation for the Johnson/Reynolds book.  P is the abbreviation for the Pollock book.  R is the abbreviation for the Rochefort book.  The readings in the Johnson and Reynolds book after the Midterm are not required, but recommended. 

NOTE:  I reserve the right to change the syllabus. 


T  August 29th             Introduction to the Course

R  August 31st             NO CLASS.  APSA Conference

T  September 5th          Studying Politics Scientifically (JR, chps 1-2)

R  September 7th         Creating a Research Question and Developing Your Hypotheses

(JR, chps 4-5; J-stor reading)

T  September 12th        Measuring Variables (JR, chp 6; R, chp 9)

R  September 14th       Measuring Variables, cont. 

T  September 19th        Implementing the Research Design (JR, chp 3; R, chp 8)

R  September 21st        Implementing the Research Design, cont.                                         

T  September 26th        Collecting Data:  Making Empirical Observations and Elite

Interviewing (JR, chp 7 and pp. 270-275; R, chp 5)


R  September 28th       Collecting Data:  Document Analysis (JR, chp 8)

T  October 3rd              Collecting Data:  Survey Research (JR, pp. 275-304; R, chp 1)

R  October 5th                         Collecting Data:  Survey Research, cont.

T  October 10th            Sampling (JR, chp 9; R, chp 19)

R  October 12th           Midterm Review

T  October 17th          MIDTERM EXAM

R  October 19th           Introduction to SPSS/Making Comparisons (P, “Getting Started,”

chps 1, 3; R, 13; JR, pp. 305-321, 339-350)

T  October 24th            Transforming Variables in SPSS (P, chp 4)

R  October 26th           Making Controlled Comparisons (P, chp 5; R, chp 12)

                                                ASSIGNMENT #2 DUE

T  October 31st            Univariate Statistics/Descriptive Statistics (P, chp 2; R, chp

18; JR, 321-371)

R  November 2nd         Making Inferences about Sample Means (P, chp 6)

                                                ASSIGNMENT #3 DUE

T  November 7th          Chi-Square and Measures of Association (P, chp 7)

R  November 9th          Chi-Square and Measures of Association, cont.

T  November 14th        Bivariate Regression (P, chp 8; JR, pp 372-402)

                                                ASSIGNMENT #4 DUE

R  November 16th        Bivariate Regression, cont.

T  November 21st        Multiple Regression (JR, pp. 403-428; R, chp 15)

                                                ASSIGNMENT #5 DUE

R  November 23rd      NO CLASS.  HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

T  November 28th        Multiple Regression, cont.

R  November 30th        Dummy Variables and Interaction Effects (P, chp 9; R, chp 16)

T  December 5th           Practice Final Exam

                                                ASSIGNMENT #6 DUE

R  December 7th          Review for Final Exam

T  December 12th       FINAL EXAM (10 AM)