POLS 340:  Undergraduate Research Methods

Tuesday and Thursday, 8:00-9:15

Dusable 170 and Dusable 459

Spring 2010


Dr. Matt Streb

Office:  Zulauf 407

E-MAIL:  mstreb@niu.edu

Office Hours:  Tuesday and Thursday, 9:30-11:30


TA:  Ms. Katie Leb

Office:  DuSable 476

E-MAIL:  kleb1@niu.edu

Office Hours:  Monday, 4:30-6:00; Wednesday, 2:00-3:30


“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 Barack Obama win the 2004 presidential election?  Can we predict how many seats the two parties will win and lose in the 2010 midterm elections?  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 or their own personal beliefs when making their rulings?  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 AssignmentsEach assignment is worth 6% of your final grade.  There are a total of six assignments and I will drop your lowest score.  However, students are strongly encouraged to complete all of the assignments to help prepare for exams.


  • 30% Midterm


  • 30% Final ExamThe 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 459.


The two in-class examinations will be held on Tuesday, March 2nd and Tuesday, May 4th (8 AM).


Finally, class participation and attendance is 10% of your final grade.  Half of your participation grade will be determined by your class attendance.  The way I calculate the attendance grade is simple.  I divide the number of classes you attended by the total number of class periods (not including the exams).  For example, if you missed 2 of the 28 classes, the attendance portion of your participation grade would be 93% (26/28). 

            The second half of your participation grade will be determined by your actual participation in class, either by asking important questions or making pertinent comments.  To receive an A for the second half of the participation grade, a student would have to participate constructively in most classes.  Students who occasionally make constructive comments would receive a B.  Students who rarely ask questions or answer them would receive a C or D.  If I never hear your voice, you will receive an F! Comments that are not relevant to the ongoing discussion and off the point will not be rewarded. Remarks that are disruptive to the discussion, insensitive to others, or attempt to dominate the discussion will not be tolerated.   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.  However, I will only do so if the student hands in all six assignments. 


Required Course Materials:

Two books are required for this course:


Pollock III, Philip H.  2008.  An SPSS Companion to Political Analysis, 3rd 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 Pollock book as it has been updated substantially.  Also, if you buy the Pollock book online you must be sure that the CD is included with it). 


In addition to the two required books, students are encouraged to buy the following:


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

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


Students may find Johnson and Reynolds to be a useful resource to more fully explain many of the concepts we discuss in class.


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, which has SPSS on its computers.  You will be able to do your assignments in the SOCQRL Lab and have trained tutors available to help you.  The lab is open generally open M-F from 9:00 am-8:00 pm.  However, the lab is occasionally closed for classes.  You can visit http://www.socqrl.niu.edu/socqrlhours.htm for weekly hours.  If you would like to use the lab, please plan ahead.  If you cannot use the SOCQRL lab, SPSS is also available in the Stevenson lab near Zulauf Hall.  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 met few people who have regularly missed this course and passed. 


2.  Be on time:  Class begins promptly at 8:00 a.m.  Please be in your seats and ready to go at 8:00 a.m.  Two tardy arrivals are the equivalent of one absence.  If you are not a morning person and will have trouble making it to class on time, then you should consider taking another course.  If the course is required, then you are simply going to have to make it here on time.  If you are a commuter, please set aside an appropriate amount of time for travel and to find a parking space to be certain that you are in class on time.  If you must be late, please enter the class quietly and quickly and sit in the back. 


3.  Cell phones must be on vibrate!:  Because of February 14th, I will allow students to keep their cell phones on vibrate.  Unless the student has an extenuating circumstance (e.g., pregnant spouse, day care, etc.), under no circumstance should he/she answer the phone.  If you have an extenuating circumstance, please let me know.  Any student who is text messaging during class will be told to leave. 


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 an assignment on time, then 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.  Incomplete Requests:  Such petitions will be granted only in extraordinary circumstances.  I reserve the right to ask for documentation to verify the problem preventing completion of the course by the normal deadlines.  If the student does not present documentation from a university office or official, the matter will be left to the professor’s discretion. 


7.  Contacting me:  The best way to get in touch with me is to come to my office hours.  If you cannot make my office hours, then please send me an email with several dates and times that you are available to meet and I will be happy to set something up.  If you send me an email, I will respond as quickly as possible.  However, I will only respond to emails that use capitalization and punctuation and are not replete with grammatical errors.  i will not rspnd 2 u if i recve a messge that look like this lol  


8.  Extra credit:  I do not allow for extra credit. 


9.  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.  The NIU Undergraduate Catalog states:

Good academic work must be based on honesty. The attempt of any student to present as his or her own work that which he or she has not produced is regarded by the faculty and administration as a serious offense. Students are considered to have cheated if they copy the work of another during an examination or turn in a paper or an assignment written, in whole or in part, by someone else. Students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and acknowledging those sources or if they paraphrase ideas from such sources without acknowledging them. Students guilty of, or assisting others in, either cheating or plagiarism on an assignment, quiz, or examination may receive a grade of F for the course involved and may be suspended or dismissed from the university. (Undergraduate Catalog)

Don’t plagiarize or cheat.  I will catch you!  If you are not sure what constitutes plagiarism, ask.  Ignorance will not be tolerated as an excuse.  If you are unaware of how to cite properly, visit http://polisci.niu.edu/polisci/audience/plagiarism.shtml.  


10.  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.


Rules for DuSable 170:


1.  No food or drink.


2.  Turn off your computer before leaving for the day.


3.  Please clean up around your workstation before leaving for the day.


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, I will post Powerpoint slides on Blackboard before each class period.  However, the slides are only a guide to where we are going in that day’s class.  Students who only rely on the Powerpoint slides and do not take detailed notes will not do well in the class. 

Finally, students are strongly encouraged to ask questions during lectures or visit me or Katie during our 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.  Also, if you would like to receive the department’s e-announcements that feature information on internships, scholarships, lectures, POLS club activities, and other important information via email, please send me an email asking to be added to the list. 


Course Outline:

NOTE:  Readings should be finished by class time on the day they are assigned.  P is the abbreviation for the Pollock book.  R is the abbreviation for the Rochefort book. JR is the abbreviation for the Johnson/Reynolds book.  All readings in Johnson/Reynolds are strongly recommended, but not required.

NOTE:  *indicates the reading is available on blackboard

NOTE:  I reserve the right to change the syllabus. 


T  January 12th             Introduction to the Course


R  January 14th            Studying Politics Scientifically (JRM, chps 1-2)


T  January 19th           Creating a Research Question and Developing Your Hypotheses

(Schaffner/Streb/Wright*; JR, chps 4-5)


R  January 21st            Measuring Variables (R, chp 9; JR, chp 6)


T  January 26th             Measuring Variables, cont. 


R  January 28th            Implementing the Research Design (R, chp 8; JR, chp 3)


T  February 2nd            Implementing the Research Design, cont.


R  February 4th            Sample Focus Group              


T  February 9th             Collecting Data:  Making Empirical Observations and Elite

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



R  February 11th          Collecting Data:  Document Analysis (JR, chp 8)


T  February 16th           Collecting Data:  Survey Research (R, chp 1; JR, pp. 275-304)


R  February 18th          Collecting Data:  Survey Research, cont.


T  February 23rd               Sampling (R, chp 19; JR, chp 9)


R  February 25th          Midterm Review


T  March 2nd              MIDTERM EXAM



R  March 4th                Introduction to SPSS/Making Comparisons (P, “Getting Started,”

chps 1, 4; R, 13; JR, pp. 305-321, 339-350)


T  March 9th               NO CLASS.  SPRING BREAK

R  March 11th            NO CLASS.  SPRING BREAK


T  March 16th               Transforming Variables in SPSS (P, chp 3)


R  March 18th              Making Controlled Comparisons (P, chp 5; R, chp 12)

                                                ASSIGNMENT #2 DUE


T  March 23rd               Univariate Statistics/Descriptive Statistics (P, chp 2; R, chp

18; JR, pp. 321-371)


R  March 25th              Making Inferences about Sample Means (P, chp 6)

                                                ASSIGNMENT #3 DUE


T  March 30th               Chi-Square and Measures of Association (P, chp 7)


R  April 1st                  Chi-Square and Measures of Association, cont.


T  April 6th                   Bivariate Regression (P, chp 8; JR, pp 372-402)

                                                ASSIGNMENT #4 DUE


R  April 8th                  Bivariate Regression, cont.


T  April 13th                 Multiple Regression (R, chp 15; JR, pp. 403-428)

                                                ASSIGNMENT #5 DUE


R  April 15th                Multiple Regression, cont.


T  April 20th                 Dummy Variables and Interaction Effects (P, chp 9; R, chp 16)


R  Aprill 22nd               NO CLASS.  MPSA CONFERENCE


T  April 27th                 Practice Final Exam

                                                ASSIGNMENT #6 DUE


R  April 29th                Review for Final Exam


T  May 4th                  FINAL EXAM (8 AM)