POS 2300: Introduction to Political Science Research

Dr. Paul Hensel
Office: 165 Wooten Hall

Please note that this web page does not include the full syllabus for this course. The remainder of the syllabus -- most notably the schedule of assigned readings, course exams, and other assignments -- is only available in the full syllabus (in PDF format). Be sure to print out that complete syllabus and be familiar with it, so that you do not fall behind or miss any assignments during the semester.

Course Description

The primary purpose of this course is to introduce students to the methods and terminology used by social scientists. We will examine basic concepts used in research (such as theories, hypotheses, independent and dependent variables, reliability and validity, and sampling). We will also examine basic statistical techniques that are used to examine data, with an emphasis on interpreting the results (ranging from descriptive statistics to crosstabs, correlation, and regression). Upon completion of this course, students should be able to understand and interpret most research published in political science journals, as well as public opinion polls, surveys, and research findings reported in the news. As a result, students who complete this course should be prepared for future coursework in the social sciences, for starting to pursue their own research, and for a life as an educated and informed citizen.

Students are expected to finish the course readings before the class period for which they are assigned, attend class regularly (showing up to class on time and staying through the end), and participate actively in class discussion where relevant. The course will be graded using three examinations (two midterms and a final), five homework assignments (several of which will require the use of SPSS statistical software), and 6-10 in-class exercises or quizzes.

Required Texts

Book: This should be available at the usual Denton locations, or maybe cheaper through online bookstores -- but wherever you buy it, be sure to get the correct edition!

Canvas: The remaining readings are available online through the Canvas page for this course, which you can access by using your EUID to log in at https://unt.instructure.com. It would be smart to print or save these readings early in the semester, because Internet connections disappear at inconvenient times (like the night before a quiz or an exam).

SPSS software: Some of the homework assignments toward the end of the semester will require the use of SPSS statistical software, which is installed in many UNT computer labs. If you are interested in getting your own copy of SPSS rather than depending on computer labs, you may order it through UNT at a substantial student discount. You will need the "SPSS Statistics Standard" version of the SPSS Grad Pack, which is available for both Mac and Windows at a cost of $58.99 (6 month rental) or $86.99 (12 month rental) at the following site:

There is also a free statistical package called PSPP that is claimed to be very similar to SPSS: "it behaves as experienced SPSS users would expect, and their system files and syntax files can be used in PSPP with little or no modification, and will produce similar results (the actual numbers should be identical)". Students are welcome to use this if they would like to avoid paying for their own SPSS license or having to go to a campus computing lab, although future employers may prefer to hire people with experience using the actual SPSS package, and some of the more advanced statistical techniques discussed at the end of the class are not currently implemented in PSPP (although PSPP should work just as well as SPSS for the techniques used in course homework assignments). This may be downloaded freely for Mac, Windows, and Linux platforms:

Course Requirements

(1) Examinations: Three (noncumulative) exams are required. The exams will involve a mixture of questions to measure understanding of the wide variety of material covered in this course, including some multiple choice and some short answer (some requiring the interpretation of results and others requiring calculations). Each exam will be worth 20% of the total course grade.

(2) Homework Assignments: There is no better way to learn concepts than through hands-on experience. There will be five (5) homework assignments, which will each be handed out one week before the due date. Together, these assignments will be worth 20% of the total course grade; each student's lowest homework grade will be dropped.

(3) Class Preparation, Attendance, and Participation: An important part of a course like this is making sure that students understand the concepts as the semester is moving along. The best way to do this is to attend class regularly, having done the assigned readings beforehand (trying to cram a month's worth of reading, or xeroxing a classmate's notes from the entire semester, a few days before an exam is rarely a good strategy). Students are expected to prepare for class by doing the assigned readings and thinking about the assigned discussion topics as described in the syllabus before class, and to attend class regularly.

Attendance, preparation, and participation will be measured with approximately 6-10 (unannounced) in-class activities or assignments, which may range from class surveys to group activities. Together, these assignments will be worth 20% of the total course grade; each student's lowest assignment grade will be dropped.

Rest of Syllabus

The remainder of the syllabus -- course rules, notes about the academic honor code and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and assigned readings -- is only available in the complete syllabus (in PDF format). Be sure to print out that complete syllabus and be familiar with it, so that you do not fall behind or miss any assignments during the semester.

Exam Review Sheets

Review sheets will be posted here one week before each exam, to help students prepare for the exams (do not bother checking before the date when it is handed out, because these will not be posted early):

Homework Assignments

Each homework assignment will be posted here when it becomes available (do not bother checking before the date when it is handed out, because these will not be posted early):

Using SPSS Software

SPSS statistical software ("Statistical Package for the Social Sciences") is used in many academic settings and many businesses, so experience using it can be very helpful after completing this course. Even if you end up in a discipline or business that uses a different statistical package, the experience of having worked with SPSS will help you make the transition to their preferred software much more easily than if you had never done this. This document offers a brief introduction to SPSS and guidelines on how to use it for this course's homework assignments. Note that this will be a work in progress, with more guidelines and instructions being added later in the semester as later assignments require additional statistical techniques, and I will eventually add material that won't be required this semester but could be very helpful if you ever use SPSS for future research, coursework, or employment (such as reading in raw data, formatting and recoding data, and using SPSS syntax files rather than just using the dropdown menus).

These additional online resources go into more detail about some of the techniques and options that we will be using in this course's homeworks, as well as many of the techniques and options available in SPSS that we will not be using this semester but that you might need to use later:

Using PSPP: These resources cover the use of PSPP, the free open-source equivalent to SPSS. Based on my testing so far, it should work almost identically to SPSS, except that PSPP does not currently offer some of the more advanced statistical techniques that we will discuss at the end of the semester (although it does everything that is required for course homework assignments).

Last updated: 2 December 2019
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