POLS 602 – Fall 2009

Scope & Method I:  Research Design

Professor Mikel Wyckoff

Office:  Zulauf 403

Hours:  MWF 11-12:00 & by Appointment

753-7056  mwyckoff@niu.edu





This first semester of the scope and method sequence focuses on a variety of issues that must be considered when planning and executing a research project.  The goals of the course are to introduce major research strategies and data collection methods extant in the political science literature and to lay out some of the philosophical underpinnings of the social science research process.  While POLS 602 is definitely not a course in statistics, it will provide a very brief introduction to data analysis that will help you better understand certain research design issues and provide a useful bridge to other, more quantitative courses. 





            Royce A. Singleton and Bruce C. Straits, Approaches to Social Research (5th ed.),

               Oxford University Press, 2010.


            Selected chapters from:  Michael K. LeRoy, Research Methods in Political Science

            (7th ed.), Cengage-Wadsworth, 2009.  These can be purchased as electronic “i-chapters”

            online at the Cengage web site:



            Students also will read one of the following books for an assignment in the second half of

            the course:  Richard Fenno, Home Style (1978) or John Kingdon, Congressmen’s Voting

            Decisions (1989).  The Fenno book involves field research that borders on participant

            observation.  The Kingdon study features in-depth interviews with political elites.   


            Other required readings in the form of online articles, available on the POLS 602 Blackboard

            website, e-reserves, or at www.jstor.org, also appear in the syllabus. 





Class Participation.  Although I will be lecturing more than would be the case if the class had a traditional, seminar format, I expect everyone to come to class prepared to discuss the assigned readings.  


Exams.  A midterm and a final exam will be given.


Computer Exercises.  Four or five computer exercises will be assigned during the semester.  Each will receive a grade of “pass,” or “fail.”  Inadequate exercises can be redone and resubmitted.  Failure to achieve a grade of at least "pass" on all assignments will result in a one-letter reduction in your course grade.  No one should be frightened by these assignments.  No previous experience with statistics is required and all work can be completed in the POLS Computer Lab on the first floor of Zulauf Hall, or in the SOCQRL computing lab in DuSable Hall.  The extra fee charged for taking POLS 602 helps fund this very useful research facility which was established by Professor Charles Cappell.  If you happen to run into Professor Cappell, please thank him for his willingness to share the Sociology Department’s computer labs with us.


Research Design.  Each student will prepare an original research proposal based on a topic of his or her choice.  Additional guidelines for the proposal will be discussed in coming weeks.  All proposals must include procedures for testing a causal hypothesis, and the procedures chosen should maximize (within reason and within the bounds of practicality) your ability to conduct a rigorous test of the hypothesis.  Two preliminary elements of the design are required before the end of the semester:


            Annotated Bibliography (3-5 pages, due by Week 6).  To ensure that everyone gets started

on the research proposal in a timely fashion I will ask you to start digging into the political

            science literature right away and generate an annotated bibliography based on the studies

            you locate.  This preliminary paper should: (1) provide a brief description of your research

problem; and (2) briefly summarize the salient features of at least six books, book chapters,

or articles in scholarly journals that have relevance for your final research proposal.  One good

paragraph for each work cited should be satisfactory.   With additional work, this initial

bibliography should evolve into the literature review portion of your research proposal.


            Research Design Prospectus (maximum 3 pages, due by Week 11).  This second preliminary

Paper will provide a brief summary and overview of your final research design as you envision

it at Week 11.  It should include:  (1) a brief description of your research problem; (2) one or

            more specific hypotheses to be tested; (3) an O’s and X’s scheme that applies to your anti-

            cipated research design, along with supporting discussion (this will make more sense as

time goes on); (4) tentative plans for collecting and analyzing the data needed to test your



Final Research Design.  Your final research proposal should be approximately 15-20 pages

in length (typed and double‑spaced).  All proposals are due on November 30.  Late papers

will be penalized at the rate of one-third of a letter grade per day.


      Grading System.  Final grades will be computed as follows:


Exam I                                      30%

Exam II                                     30

Annotated Bibliography               5

RD Prospectus                            5

Final Research Design               20

Class Participation                     10







You are responsible for all of the readings listed on the following pages as "required."  Journal articles can be found online at www.jstor.org.  Readings marked as "suggested" are just that—suggested in case you want to read more about the topics covered that week.


The following journal abbreviations are used in the outline:


            APSR =  American Political Science Review

            AJPS  =  American Journal of Political Science

            POQ  =  Public Opinion Quarterly



Week 1 – Overview of course and a preliminary look at the nature of scientific inquiry


            Required:    Singleton and Straits, Preface and Ch. 1.



Week 2 – Epistemological Issues: science as a philosophy of knowledge or method of knowing; the

   8/31       the nature of concepts and theories; stages of social research; getting started


            Required:    Singleton and Straits, Ch. 2 (all); Ch. 4, pp. 79-81 (identifying a research question),

                                    pp. 108-111 (stages of research); and Ch. 17 and pp. 568-573 (literature review).

       Stephen J. Gould, "The Freezing of Noah" (available on Blackboard).

                               Krauthammer, "Let's Have No More Monkey Trials," locate online at:


                                         Dawkins and Coyne, “In Science, Fact, Not Faith, Measures Ideas’ Validity,”

                                    (available on Blackboard)

       Shively, “A Machiavellian’s Guide to Developing Research Topics,” in

                                    The Craft of Political Research (e-reserves). 


            Microcase:  Ch. 1 (a basic assignment that introduces you to the software and to several data sets)


            Suggested:   Suggested readings are just that – suggested for those who want to do additional

                                reading for fun and/or for their own personal edification.

                                Nash, The Nature of the Natural Sciences.

                                Hayek, “The Theory of Complex Reality,” in Studies in Philosophy,

                                    Politics and Economics.

                                Beveridge, The Art of Scientific Investigation (especially good on the

origins of concepts and theories).

                                Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery.

                                Kaplan, The Conduct of Inquiry.

                                Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

                                Lakatos and Musgrave (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge.

                                Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.



Week 3 – Labor Day; No Class




Week 4 – Units of Analysis and the Problem of Measurement  


            Required:    Singleton and Straits, Ch. 4, pp. 81-84 (aggregate vs. individual level data);

                                    Ch. 5 (all); Ch. 13, pp. 434-439 (multiple item scales or indices).

                               Diamond, "Soft Sciences Are Often Harder Than Hard Sciences,” at:


                               Nash, The Nature of the Natural Sciences, pp. 46-62 (e-reserves).

                               Sears, et al., “Is It Really Racism?” Public Opinion Quarterly 61 (1997).  Find at

                                    www.jstor.org.  Read esp. pp. 16-28. Focus on the twin problems of defining the

                                    concept of “racism” and how best to go about measuring racist values and beliefs.

                                    Try to make sense of Table 1.


            Microcase:  Ch. 3 (Types of data and levels of measurement)


Suggested:  Kerlinger, Foundations of Behavioral Research.

                               Zeller and Carmines, Measurement in the Social Sciences.



Week 5 – Thinking About Variables and Their Relationships


            Required:   Singleton and Straits, Ch. 4; pp. 84-108; Ch. 15, skim pp. 497-508, read pp. 508-end.

                                    Ch. 16, pp. 537-540, 549-558.

                              Swedlow and Wyckoff, “Value Preferences and Ideological Structuring of Attitudes in

                                    American Public Opinion,” American Politics Research (2010).  Location tba.


            Microcase: Ch. 4 (Variables, variation and explanation)


            Suggested:  Kerlinger, Foundations of Behavioral Research (a classic text on research

design written by a prominent psychologist; see initial chapters).

                               Babbie, The Practice of Social Research (a very good, upper level under-

                                    graduate text on research design).

                               Manheim and Rich, “Techniques of Systematic Bibliographic Research,”

                                    in Empirical Political Analysis.          



Week 6 – Strengthening Both Descriptive and Causal Inferences:  Random Sampling and Random Assignment 


Annotated bibliography due today


            Required:   Singleton and Straits, Ch. 6, and Ch. 7, pp. 193-204.


            Microcase: Ch. 6 (Sampling)


            Suggested:  Babbie, The Practice of Social Research (his chapter on sampling issues is a very

                                    igood one).  See also Survey Research Methods.

       Fowler, Survey Research Methods (a Sage paperback).

       Sudman, Applied Sampling (good book by one of the nation’s top sampling

            statisticians; lots of concrete examples)

                               Kish, Survey Sampling (rigorous, classic text on sample design and sampling

issues by another superb sampling statistician).



Week 7 – General Strategies for Research Design I:  Experiments


            Required:    Singleton and Straits, Ch. 7 (remainder) and Ch. 8, pp. 230-250.

                               Nelson, et al., “Media Framing of a Civil Liberties Conflict …” APSR 91 (1997).

                                    Find at www.jstor.org.  Read esp. pp. 567-572. This is an experimental study.  What

                                    makes it so?  What are its strengths and weaknesses?    Also, think consciously about

                                    the theory that is being tested in this study.

                               Streb and Burrell, “Support for a Female President is Significantly Exaggerated,”

                                    locate at:  http://www.niu.edu/PubAffairs/RELEASES/2007/jan/research.shtml


            Suggested:  Campbell and Stanley, Experimental and Quasi-experimental

Designs  for Research.

                               Aronson, Brewer and Carlsmith, “Experimentation in Social Psychology"

                                    in The Handbook of Social Psychology, 1985.

                               Kinder and Palfrey, “On Behalf of an Experimental Political Science," in

                                    their (eds.) Experimental Foundations of Political Science, 1993.



Week 8 –General Strategies for Research Design II: Cross-sectional and Quasi-experimental Designs


Required:    Singleton and Straits, Ch. 7, p. 237 (review) and pp. 250-end; Ch. 15,

pp. 536-537, 542-552.  Locate the following articles at www.jstor.org:

       Easton and Dennis, “The Child’s Acquisition of Regime Norms,” APSR, 1967,

            pp. 25-38.  Skim some of the discussion of measurement issues.  Think hard about

            the multivariate relationships observed in Tables 2-5.  

                   Jackman, “Political Institutions and Voter Turnout in the Industrial Democracies,”

                        APSR, 1987, pp. 405-420.


Suggested:  Cook and Campbell, Quasi-experimentation.

                   Burkhart and Lewis-Beck, “Comparative Democracy: The Economic Development

                        Thesis,” APSR, 1994, pp. 903-910 (good, example of a relatively sophisticated

time series study).  For an easier introduction to the technique see the Lewis-

Beck and Alford article assigned in Week 13 below.

                   Stoker and Jennings, “Life-Cycle Transitions and Political Participation:  The Case

                        of Marriage,” APSR, 1995, pp. 421-433 (example of a panel study).







Week 10 – Data Collection Methods I:  Survey Research


            Required:    Singleton and Straits, Ch. 9-10.


            Suggested:   Dillman, Mail and Telephone Surveys.

                                Babbie, Survey Research Methods.

                                Schuman and Kalton, “Survey Methods,” in Handbook of Social Psychology.

                                Fowler and Mangione, Standardized Survey Interviewing.

                                Krueger, Focus Groups.



Week 11 – Data Collection Methods II: Archival and Other Kinds of Available Data 


            Draft research proposal due today


            Required:  Singleton and Straits, Ch. 12 and pp. 81-84 (review).

                             Excerpt from Streb, The New Electoral Politics of Race, (e-reserves)

                             Tate, "A Personal Attribute Model of the Voting Behavior of Supreme Court Justices,”

                                    APSR, 1981, pp. 355-367.

                             Carson, Jenkins, Rohde, and Souva, "The Impact of National Tides and District-

                        Level Effects on Electoral Outcomes: The U.S. Congressional Elections of

                        1862-63." AJPS, 2001, pp. 887-898.


            Suggested: Weber, Basic Content Analysis.

                               Yamaguchi, Event History Analysis.



Week  12 – Data Collection Methods III:  Field Research and Small-N Studies 


            Required:   Singleton and Straits, Ch. 11.

                              Fenno, Home Style, or Kingdon, Congressmen’s Voting Decisions.  


            Suggested:  King, Keohane and Verba, Designing Social Inquiry:  Scientific Inference

                                    in Qualitative Research (an important, relatively recent work that stirred

                                    considerable controversy when published).

                               Symposium on the King et al. book in APSR, 1995, pp. 454-481.

                               Collier, “The Comparative Method: Two Decades of Change,” in Rustow and

                                    Erickson, Comparative Political Dynamics.

                               Jackman, “Cross-National Statistical Research and the Study of Comparative

            Politics,” AJPS, 1985, pp. 161-182.

                               Rubin and Rubin, Qualitative Interviewing.

                               Fetterman, Ethnography.



Week 13 – Evaluation Research


            Required:  Singleton and Straits, Ch. 14.

     Lewis-Beck and Alford, “Can Government Regulate Safety?  The

        Coal Mine Example,” APSR, 1980, pp. 745-756.


            Suggested: Mohr, Impact Analysis for Program Evaluation.



Week 14 – Research Ethics; Writing Research Reports


            Required:   Singleton and Straits, Ch. 3; Ch. 17, pp. 573-end.



Week 15 – Catch Up Day


 Final research proposals are due today. 



Week 16 – FINAL EXAM:  Wednesday December 9, 4:00 – 5:5