POSC 523, Sec. 1, #16208, T 7-9:45 pm, H-512

Instructor: Jay Wachtel                                                                        Last modified:  8/23/05

This course presents a detailed overview of tools and techniques used to conduct public policy research.  Students will learn to interpret scholarly studies that employ descriptive and inferential statistics, to structure their own inquiries, and to analyze data and display their findings using SPSS.

Pre-requisite:  Successful completion of an undergraduate course in research methods and statistics.

Required text

Babbie, E., F. Halley & J. Zaino.  Adventures in Social Research, 5th. Edition.  Pine Forge Press.

NOTE:  Since you will be using the CD-Rom and turning in original pages, this book cannot be resold.

Recommended text

O'Sullivan, E., G. Rassel and M.Berner.  Research Methods for Public Administrators, 4th. Edition.  Longman.

Required materials

  • Calculator with square root key
  • USB flash drive (256K or better)

Required preparation
(knowledge you should have coming in)

By the third week of class be sure you understand the following topics (see links for online material):

Basic concepts: Research process, variables, working hypotheses, theory, validity and reliability
Research designs:  Experimental, quasi-experimental and non-experimental
Sampling techniques:  Random and other methods
Measurement and Variability:  Mean, median, mode, proportions, variance and standard deviation, z-scores
Association between categorical variables: Using crosstabulation and proportions
Association between continuous variables: Correlation and regression

You should also be familiar with the following concepts and procedures:

Basic inferential statistics (probability, estimating parameters, null hypothesis)
Tests of significance (R-square, t-statistic, Chi-Square, ANOVA.)

An excellent reference is your undergraduate research methods textbook, or any quality research methods text.  Two examples, "Research Methods for Public Administrators" by O'Sullivan et al and "Research Methods and Statistics in Criminal Justice" by Fitzgerald & Cox are on reserve at the library.  Relevant links to my research methods course (RM) are given above.

NOTE:  If you don't thoroughly understand inferential statistics or significance tests don't panic, as we will be reviewing these topics in detail during the semester.

Required calculator

Students must bring an inexpensive calculator with a square root key to each class session.  Please do not bring a scientific or advanced calculator - they are not allowed for exams.

Homework and Computer Labs

Homework will be assigned as the semester progresses.  Each assignment is worth two points, for a possible total of twenty points.  Homework is graded on accuracy, completeness and neatness.  Each  exercise will require that you turn in one or more original pages from the text.  Copies are not acceptable!  SPSS work necessary to complete homework assignments can be done at the computer labs in the basement of the library or at McCarthy Hall.


Two in-class exams that will require you use SPSS to probe a dataset.  Questions will resemble the exercises at the back of each chapter.  Each exam will be worth 20 points.

A makeup mid-term may be given for a documented emergency.  If you cannot take this exam on the scheduled date, e-mail.  There is no make-up for the final.  If you cannot take the final on the scheduled date because of a documented emergency, you may qualify for an "I"ncomplete (see rules under "grading").

Both exams are mandatory components of the course.  To qualify for a term grade higher than "F" both must be taken.

Oral Presentations

Class will be split into 2- or 3-student teams.  Each team will analyze an academic article in the prescribed manner and present their findings to the class in two parts, at mid-term and at the end of the term.  Use of PowerPoint slides is mandatory; handouts are optional but recommended.  Presentations will be 15 mis. (max) in length, with each team member expected to cover their proportion of the allotted time.

Students will be graded individually.  Each student can earn up to 20 points per presentation (40 points total for both parts).  Presentations will be graded on clarity, content and delivery.  Each presentation is a required component of the course; both are required to earn a term grade higher than "F".

Only the first oral presentation can be made-up, and only for a documented emergency.  Please see the rules under "grading".


100 points can be earned - 20 for the homework, 20 for each exam and 20 for each presentation.  At the end of the term, grades will be assigned using the conventional scale (A=90, B=80, C=70, D=60, F=59 or lower), adjusted as necessary to reflect class performance.  Points lost cannot be "made up". No extra credit assignments will be given.

Any instance of academic dishonesty, such as plagiarism or cheating, will result in a grade of zero or "F" for that activity and a term grade of "F".

"I"'ncompletes are assigned for good cause and at the instructor's discretion.  They will not be considered for students who miss more than one required component of the course (there are four - two exams and two presentations.)  If you think you might run afoul of this rule please withdraw by the deadline.

Please note:  It is the instructor´s policy to grade from student ID numbers only and not to change grades except for a computational error. Students who wish a good grade are encouraged to work as hard as possible.  Please do not ask for special consideration.

Pagers and cell phones

Turn off or place pagers and cell phones on silent mode before entering class.  If you must leave to respond to a message please do not interrupt us again by reentering the room while class is in session.  If for any reason you cannot comply with these requirements please do not enroll in this section.

Weekly schedule

Please bring to each class session:

  • Textbook and companion CD-Rom
  • USB flash drive
  • Calculator

1 - 8/23

  • Measurement, research basics -  Chapters 1-5, RM website weeks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

HOMEWORK:  Read text, Chapters 1-5, complete SPSS Lab exercise 5.1 (both sides).  Remember - to receive credit you must turn in the original page from the book!

2 - 8/30

  • 7:00 pm: MEET AT LIBRARY NORTH INFO. DESK for article selection
  • 9:00 pm: Return to classroom, discuss presentations

NOTE:  Make a FULL copy of the approved article for each team member and for the instructor.

3.  9/6

  • Univariate (single variable) analysis using frequency distributions, recoding continuous data into categories - Chapter 6, RM website week 6
  • Displaying data graphically - Chapter 7

HOMEWORK DUE:  SPSS Lab exercise 5.1 (both sides) (2 pts.).  To receive credit you must turn in the original page from the book.   Be sure that you have a working knowledge of SPSS by this date.

HOMEWORK:  SPSS Lab exercise 6.1, questions 10-12, 14-16, 19-20
HOMEWORK:  SPSS Lab exercise 7.1, questions 5b, 5c, 5e, 6-9

NOTE:  From here on, be sure to bring a 3.5" diskette for saving data
NOTE:  This is the LAST day to get your term paper topic approved without penalty.

4.  9/13

  • Introduction to bivariate (two variable) analysis, using crosstabs - Chp. 8, RM website weeks 7-8
  • Building a composite measure ("index") - Chp. 9

HOMEWORK DUE:  SPSS Lab exercises 6.1 and 7.1 (2 pts. each)
HOMEWORK:  SPSS Lab exercise 8.1, question 15

5.  9/20

  • Bivariate and trivariate analysis using crosstabs: Chps. 11, 12, 13, 17 (pp. 345-351), website weeks 5-6

NOTE:  This is the LAST day to give the instructor a full copy of the approved article without penalty.
HOMEWORK DUE:  SPSS Lab Exercise 8.1, question 15
HOMEWORK:  SPSS Lab exercise 11.1, questions 11-18

6.  9/27 - Week 5 cont'd.

NOTE:  Before the next class meeting e-mail PowerPoint presentations to instructor. Use your Team number as a filename.  (Bring the finalized presentation with you on 10/4 on a disk.)
HOMEWORK DUE:  SPSS Lab exercise 11.1, questions 11-18

7 - 10/4

  • 7 - 8:30 pm: MIDTERM EXAM (weeks 1-6)
  • 8:45-9:45 pm:  Teams meet with instructor to discuss Part I of their presentations. Bring an outline and a printout of your PowerPoint slides (mandatory - 5 point penalty if missed)

8 - 10/11 - NO CLASS

9.  10/18

  • PRESENTATIONS, Part I (all teams)

10 - 10/25

  • 7 - 8:30 pm: MIDTERM EXAM (weeks 1-6).  Optional re-take to earn a higher score.
  • 8:45 - 9:45 pm:  PRESENTATIONS, Part I (cont'd)

11 - 11/1

  • Measures of association - I/R variables (Pearson's r & Regression):  Chp. 14, pp. 270-292,
    RM website week 9

HOMEWORK:  SPSS Lab Exercise 14.1, questions 27-36

12 - 11/8

  • Tests of significance (Chi-Square, T-test, Anova):  Chp. 15, RA weeks 12-15

HOMEWORK:  SPSS Lab Exercise 15.1 (all, #1 - 19)
:  SPSS Lab Exercise 14.1, questions 27-36

13 - 11/15

HOMEWORK:  SPSS Lab Exercise 17.1, questions 18-25 (PRINTOUTS REQUIRED)
HOMEWORK DUE:  SPSS Lab Exercise 15.1 (all, #1 - 19)

14 - 11/22 - NO CLASS

15 - 11/29 - Week 13, cont'd. RA weeks 12-15

HOMEWORK DUE:  SPSS Lab Exercise 17.1, questions 18-25 (PRINTOUTS REQUIRED)

16 - 12/6 - PRESENTATIONS, Part II

17 - 12/13 - 7:30-9:20 pm - FINAL EXAM (weeks 11-16) - Correlation, Partial Correlation, Chi-Square, Analysis of Variance, Multiple Regression (incl. dummy variables)