Jane Allyn Piliavin- Sociology at UW Madison, bascom graphic

Sociology 357: Methods of Sociological Inquiry (Honors)


Fall, 2005

Room 6116 Social Science

MW 2:30-3:45

Professor Jane Allyn Piliavin

Office Hours: MW 4:00-5:45, and by appointment

Phones: 262-4344(O),
Office: 2450 Social Science

Website: http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~jpiliavi

This is a basic course in how to do social science research and how to evaluate the research of others. It provides an overview of the ways sociologists collect information about social phenomena, with a special emphasis on what can be done to yield information that is trustworthy and useful for our theoretical understanding of social life. During the semester, you will develop the skills to collaborate within a research group of colleagues, investigate a topic using several research techniques, write a description of your methods and analysis of your findings, and present your work to a broader group. This is the core of what sociologists do. This course assumes no background in research methods or statistics; if you have had other research methods courses you will probably find this course to be too elementary. I can suggest alternatives.

The main goals for this course include:  (1) to introduce you to the elements of research design as a foundation for future learning,  (2) to teach you how to read a research report with a critical eye, (3) to prepare you to write a senior thesis or a master's thesis based on empirical research, if that is what you choose to do, (4) to show you that doing research can be fun.

I have organized this course to simulate the process of starting a new research project. It begins with exploratory work, using observation and unstructured interviewing, then moves to a survey and a third method you choose to suit your particular project. All work will be done in a group of 3 or 4 students who share a research interest, because most social research is done in groups. There are two products at the end of the semester: a working paper (a common step towards later writing a grant proposal or a published paper) and a conference presentation. As in the real world of research, this product will be written in stages, with peer and expert review and feedback leading to revision at each stage. This is a relatively new organization for me, so there probably will be unanticipated problems. But then again that usually happens when you begin a research project!

There are three required texts for the course:

P Pettigrew, T. F. 1996. How to Think Like a Social Scientist. New York: HarperCollins (paper). A brief, well-written introduction to just what the title says.

S Schutt, R. K. 2001. Investigating the Social World. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press, 3rd edition (paper). A basic text in how to do social research. (Make sure to get the 3rd edition.)

G The Sociology Writing Group. 2001. A Guide to Writing Sociology Papers, 5th Edition. New York: St. Martin's Press (paper). Slim volume that delivers just what it claims.

Most of these are available used.

A number of readings from various sources will be on electronic reserve in the social science reading room, each one under the name of the chapter or article author. The link is in this syllabus, or you can access them directly through your library portal.

Requirements and Grading

All students are expected to attend class regularly, have read the assigned readings and/ or done the assigned work for that day, and to participate in discussions. The grading will be based on participation and attendance (10%), reflections on readings (10%), peer reviews (10%), evaluation of your work group (5%), the initial proposal (5%), the draft up through the survey section (10%), the final research paper (40%), and the final presentation (10%).

General procedural matters

The class will consist of a mix of lecture, lecture-discussion, and group work sessions. As we go across the semester, the mix will shift away from lecture towards group work. Similarly, the reading at the beginning of class will be quite heavy, as you are learning the basics of research methods. It will get lighter as you get more intensely involved in your own research and particularly your writing, and will cease entirely at the Thanksgiving break.

There is a tremendous amount of paperwork in this class. I cannot manage the paper flow myself. Students must take responsibility for maintaining their own files of information. This is an important aspect of research work, often ignored. I once had a student lose all three copies of the punched cards on which she had her dissertation data. She had to go back to the original questionnaires and recode everything. Keep copies of everything. Throw nothing away until the class is over!

Description of assignments

Participation and attendance refers to whether you come to class and demonstrate engagement in both individual and group activities. In calculating this part of the grade I will take into account both your participation in the classroom and formal feedback I receive from your co-researchers about your participation in your working group.

You will complete five sets of reaction notes across the semester up to Thanksgiving break, which I will evaluate according to whether you do them in a timely way and whether it appears that you have put some thought into them. Each reaction paper should be about 2 pages long (typed, double-spaced), though it can be longer. In each, you should comment on one day's readings, how you think the reading material might relate to your ongoing project, and any questions that you have about the readings or your project. These must be turned in no more than one week after the time of the assigned readings or they will not count. I will use some of these to structure class discussions. You must do at least three in the first six weeks of the class.

You will complete four sets of peer review comments, which will be evaluated on their thoroughness and thoughtfulness. For class sessions during which we do peer review, you will bring a copy of your written comments for each author of the paper that you are reviewing, and a copy that you will submit to me. Your working group will save one copy of each peer review comment that it receives, and will include these with each draft of the paper that you submit to me (and in the final portfolio). At the end of class you will write an evaluation of your collaborators' work. This is designed to let me know how the collaborative process worked, who provided leadership, and the particular talents of each.

The working paper is a group project. In response to feedback from the first time I taught the course, fifteen percent of your grade will be based on early drafts: 5% for the proposal and 10% for the draft up through the second (survey) method. Not quite half (40%) of your final grade will be based on the completed paper, which will be graded as a cohesive whole because its success will depend on how the parts are integrated with one another. For an example of a final paper, click here. The subsections of the paper include the following:

  • Introductory discussion (5%). You will introduce your problem, summarize how existing research has addressed it (drawing on -- at a bare minimum - five existing studies), articulate a set of research questions, and briefly describe the three methods that you will use to explore the problem.
  • Method and results section 1 (7%)
  • Method and results section 2 (7%)
  • Method and results section 3 (7%)

For each of the three methods sections, you will describe the method, the particular aspects of the research questions that this method will address and why this method is the best choice to address them, the data collection, and findings from the data (along with appropriate examples and summary tables from the analysis).

  • Analysis and conclusions (7%). Here you will discuss how the three methods, together, address your research questions. You will note both the contributions of this study to existing knowledge and its limitations, concluding with suggestions for further research in the area. You may bring in research not mentioned in the introduction as it becomes relevant.

  • Lead researcher section (7%). One of the aspects of collaboration is division of labor. For each of the three methods, one group member will be chosen as (or will choose to be) the lead researcher. You will receive a second set of points for your section, because it will be your responsibility to organize this part of the data collection and writing. This allows both your individual effort on the project and the success of the group to affect your grade.

Each group has substantial latitude in organizing the project and distributing the work among its members. In almost any job in a complex society, the ability to collaborate is an essential skill. In research work it is absolutely essential. Students often complain about group work and prefer to do everything alone. At least in the research area, however, a well-coordinated collaboration makes it possible to produce more ambitious, more carefully thought out, and more polished pieces of work. In regard to this course, I would be remiss in trying to teach you how research is really done were I not to require you to do collaborative work.

The final presentation (10%) will take place on one of the last three days of the semester. Your group will have 15 minutes to present your project to the rest of the class, followed by up to 5 minutes of questions. This is exactly the format that is used at the American Sociological Association meetings and most other professional meetings as well.


Date Topic Work you do Readings
W 7 Sept.
Introduction: What are social research questions? Different methods and what each is best for. Steps in research.
M 12 * How research is actually done. Example: my blood donation research.
Advice on working in groups.
List of research ideas brought to class. Generate research topics to be rated in class. P Ch 1
S Ch 1
G Ch 1
Lofland Ch 1
Golden Ch1 pp 3-8
W 14 The elements of research: concepts, hypotheses, theoretical and operational definitions, etc. Techniques for searching research literature. Get together in working groups I have assigned based on interests S Ch 2 , Appendices B, C; H for reference only
Golden Ch 1 pp 8-29

Hoover Ch 2

G 6 (skim)
M 19 Observation and informal interviewing. Working on proposal S Ch 8
Lofland Ch 2
Berg Ch 2
W 21 The presentation of research reports. Working on proposal S Ch 12, pp 415-436;
G Chs 2, 3, 7

M 26 * Theory and its relationship to data. Proposal due to me P Ch 2, 3
Schutt Ch. 3 from 4th edition
W 28 Ethics of research Receive initial feedback from me on observation plan Humphreys
Human subject training
Sections 11 and 12 of ASA ethics code
M Oct 3 Coding qualitative materials and using them in writing. Issues of reliability. Doing observation and interviews. Meetings with me. Lofland Ch 9
W 5

Surveys. How to write formal open- and closed-ended questions. We will discuss this in class. Continue doing observations and interviewing; write up results. S Ch 7
S Ch 12 p 436-end
Neuman bad example of a questionnaire
M 10 * Discussion of Ransford and Rubin articles as examples of different uses of survey questions. Scaling. Observation/inter-viewing section due -> peer review #1 and me. Work on survey proposal. Rubin , Ransford
W 12 * Validity, In class discussion of peer reviews #1 for feed-back. Class time for work on survey pro-posal and questions. Peer reviews #1 back. Work on survey proposal. S Ch 3
P Ch 5
G Ch 8
M 17 * Sampling. Survey proposal, including questions, in for peer review #2 and me S 4

W 19 * Introduction to experiments. In class discussion of peer reviews #2 for feedback. In class time for question revisions Peer reviews #2 back. Feedback from me on questions. S 6
Doob & Gross
M 24 Experiments Doing survey Darley & Batson
W 26 Other methods in brief: Historical and comparative analysis; secondary analysis of existing data sets; focus groups; content analysis; structured observation Doing survey S Ch 9, 11: 395-407
Berg, Ch. 5
M 31


Data analysis lab Proposal for 3rd method -> peer review #3 and me S Append E
W Nov 2 * In class discussion of peer reviews #3 for feedback. Historical and comparative analysis; focus groups; content analysis in more detail (Readings provide examples.) Peer reviews #3 back.
Begin doing third method section.
Nemoto et al. or Bergin, et al.
M 7 Continue with above; secondary analysis of existing data. (Reading provides example.) Doing third method section. Lindsay

W 9 * Causation Entire paper up through surveys in -> me S Ch 5
P Ch 4
M 14 The elaboration model Doing third method section. Babbie Ch 16
G Ch 4, Finishing up
W 16 More on elaboration; regression and other multivariate methods; meta-analysis Doing third method section. Okun & Schultz
Cole and Dendukuri
M 21 *

Continue with multivariate analysis. Keeping your levels straight; thinking in systems terms; putting methods together. Almost final draft of paper, incorporating third method section --> peer review #4 P Ch 6, 7
S Ch 11: 407-end
W 23

No Class Happy Thanksgiving! No readings to end of class.
M 28 * Peer review #4 discussions in class. Solicit advice on conclusions. Peer reviews #4 back. Revise one more time.  
W 30 Catch up. Discussion of anything. Talk about presentations. Write conclusion to own paper.  
M Dec. 5 *

Conference submission, publication, and grant proposal processes Final papers due to me at class time. Working on presentations
W 7 * Paper presentations
M 12 * Paper presentations
W 14 * Paper presentations & party



List of Readings on Electronic Reserve

Babbie, Earl. 1986. The Practice of Social Research, 4th Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co.

Berg, Bruce L. 1989. Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Chapters 2 and 5.

Bergin, Christi, Talley, Susan, & Hamer, Lynne. 2003. "Prosocial behaviours of young adolescents: a focus group study." Journal of Adolescence. 26: 13-32.

Bosk, Charles L. 1979. Forgive, and Remember: Managing Medical Failure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Appendix.

Chan, Steve. 2003. "Explaining war termination" A Boolean analysis of causes." Journal of Peace Research. 40: 49-66.

Cole, Martin G. and Dendukuri, Nandini. 2003. "Risk factors for depression among elderly community subjects" A systematic review and meta-analysis." The American Journal of Psychiatry. 160:1147-1156.

Darley, John M. & Batson, C. Daniel. 1976. "'From Jerusalem to Jericho': A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior." pp. 191-214 in Golden, M. Patricia (Ed.). The Research Experience. Itasca, Illinois: F. E. Peacock Publishers.

Doob, Anthony N. & Gross, Alan E. 1976. "Status of frustrator as an inhibitor of horn-honking responses." Pp. 481-494 in Golden, M. Patricia (Ed.). The Research Experience. Itasca, Illinois: F. E. Peacock Publishers.

Duneier, Mitchell. 1999. Sidewalk. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Appendix.

Goldberg, Philip A. 1976. "Misogyny and the college girl" pp. 147-156 in Golden, M. Patricia (Ed.). The Research Experience. Itasca, Illinois: F. E. Peacock Publishers.

Golden, M. Patricia (Ed.). 1976. The Research Experience. Itasca, Illinois: F. E. Peacock Publishers. Chapter 1.

Hoover, Kenneth R. 1992. The Elements of Social Scientific Thinking. New York: St. Martin's Press. Chapter 2.

Humphreys, Laud. 1976."Tearoom trade: Impersonal sex in public places." Pp. 85-114 in Golden, M. Patricia (Ed.). The Research Experience. Itasca, Illinois: F. E. Peacock Publishers.

Kasarda, John D. 1976. "The impact of suburban population growth on central city functions." pp. 412-431 in Golden, M. Patricia (Ed.). The Research Experience. Itasca, Illinois: F. E. Peacock Publishers.

Lens, Vicki. 2003. "Reading between the lines: Analyzing the Supreme Court's views on gender discrimination in employment, 1971-1982." The Social Service Review. 77: 25-50.

Lindsay, Paul. 1984. "High school size, participation in activities, and young adult social participation: Some enduring effects of schooling." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. 6: 73-83.

Lois, Jennifer. 1999. "Socialization to heroism: Individualism and collectivism in a voluntary search and rescue group. Social Psychology Quarterly. 62: 117-135.

Lofland, John & Lofland, Lyn H. Analyzing Social Settings: A Guide to Qualitative Observation and Analysis, 3rd Edition. 1995. Ch 1, 2, 9

Nemoto, Tooru, Operario, Don, Soma, Toho, Bao, Daniel, Vajrabukka, Alberto, and Crisostomo, Vincent. 2003. "HIV risk and prevention among Asian/Pacific Islander men who have sex with men: Listen to our stories." AIDS Education and Prevention. 15, Supplement A: 7-20.

Okun, Morris A., & Schultz, Amy. 2003. "Age and motives for volunteering: Testing hypotheses derived from socioemotional selectivity theory." Psychology and Agina. 18: 231-239.

Ransford, H. Edward. 1976. "Isolation, powerlessness, and violence: A study of attitudes and participation in the Watts riot." pp. 292-314 in Golden, M. Patricia (Ed.). The Research Experience. Itasca, Illinois: F. E. Peacock Publishers.

Rubin, Zick. 1976. "Measurement of romantic love" pp. 495-514 in Golden, M. Patricia (Ed.). The Research Experience. Itasca, Illinois: F. E. Peacock Publishers.

Schuman, Howard. 1976. "Two sources of antiwar sentiment in America." pp. 267-291 in Golden, M. Patricia (Ed.). The Research Experience. Itasca, Illinois: F. E. Peacock Publishers.

Schutt, Russell K. 2004. Investigating the Social World: The Process and Practice of Research,4th Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press. Chapter 3.


Questions? Comments? Please contact jpiliavi@ssc.wisc.edu

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