This is the syllabus from the last time I taught POS 3713 (Understanding Political Science Research, a.k.a. "Research Methods") at Florida State University. It will obviously need to be updated before I teach PSCI 2300 (Introduction to Political Research) at UNT in Spring 2018.

POS 3713: Understanding Political Science Research
(a.k.a. "Research Methods")

Dr. Paul Hensel
Phone: 644-7318
Office: 563 BEL

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, sampling, and generalizability). 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, as well as 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 also require three exams (two midterms and a final) and six homework assignments (several of which will require the use of SPSS statistical software).

Required Texts

The following texts have been ordered through the FSU Bookstore and Bill's Bookstore; they may be cheaper online through such online sources as,,, or

*FNLG: Chava Frankfort-Nachmias and Anna Leon-Guerrero (2006). Social Statistics for a Diverse Society, 4th edition. Pine Forge Press. [ISBN 1-4129-1517-1] Note that some of the homework assignments will require the use of SPSS statistical software, which is installed in many FSU computer labs. If you are interested in getting your own copy of SPSS rather than depending on computer labs, you may order a package deal of this same textbook with the SPSS Student Version through online bookstores, for around $30-40 more than the textbook alone [ISBN 1-4129-1793-X]. To save students money, I have only ordered the textbook alone through the campus bookstores.

*J&R: Janet Buttolph Johnson & H.T. Reynolds (2004). Political Science Research Methods, 5th edition. CQ Press. [ISBN 1-56802-874-1] Note that this book can also be purchased with an optional workbook entitled "Working with Political Science Research Methods: Problems and Exercises." We will not be using this workbook in class, but interested students may find that its problem sets and exercises offer useful material for reviewing material before exams. If you are interested, you may order a package deal of this same textbook with the workbook through online bookstores, for around $10 more than the textbook alone [ISBN 1-56802-929-2]. To save students money, I have only ordered the textbook alone through the campus bookstores.

*JSTOR: An academic journal service that FSU provides for us, which includes the full content of a number of major Political Science journals; some of the assigned readings in this course are available through JSTOR ( Access is free from any FSU computer (e.g., in computer labs, dorms, or through FSU modem or DSL connections), and you can use a proxy login from any other computer. JSTOR allows you to search for individual articles by author or title, or browse by journal name and issue (; the assigned JSTOR readings are all linked from the online syllabus for students' convenience.

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, some short answer (primarily involving interpretation of results), and (for the second and third exams) some calculations. Each exam will be worth 25% of the total course grade.

(2) Homework Assignments: There is no better way to learn concepts than through hands-on experience. There will be six (6) homework assignments, which will each be handed out one week before the due date. Together, these assignments will be worth 25% of the total course grade; each student's lowest homework grade will be dropped.

Some of the homework assignments will give you practical experience in analyzing and interpreting data using SPSS, a widely uses statistical software package. SPSS is available in a number of FSU computer labs (the Strozier lab even has it loaded on a few Macs; I believe the others all use the PC version), and a student version may be purchased online. The FNLG book provides an overview of how to use SPSS, and previous students at FSU have found the book's instructions very helpful. We may also try to schedule an optional lab "help session" to help you learn SPSS, depending on student interest and timing.

Note that the work that is turned in must be your own -- while students are allowed (and even encouraged) to organize study groups to review the material and prepare for exams, each student must do his or her own work on homework assignments, and failure to observe this requirement will be treated as a violation of FSU's Academic Honor Code (as discussed below).

(3) Preparation and Attendance: 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). Class preparation and attendance will not be graded directly, but students are expected to prepare for class and attend regularly, and failure to do so will almost certainly be reflected in one's performance on exams and homework.

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.

Online Readings

This section includes links to all online readings, to make it easier for students to acquire these readings. Please note that I can not provide links to online versions of the textbooks because of copyright law, so you must still purchase both books.

Homework Assignments

The syllabus lists when each homework assignment is handed out, as well as when it is due. Because not all students can be in class when a given assignment is handed out, and some may lose the assignment sheet before it is finished, I will make each homework assignment available through this web site after the end of the class period when it is handed out.

Review Sheets

Review sheets will be handed out during the last class period before each exam, to help students prepare for the exams. Because not all students can be in class when a given review sheet is handed out, and some may lose the review sheet before the exam, I will make each one available through this web site after the end of the class period when it is handed out.

Additional Resources

These resources are not required for the class, but some students may find them interesting or helpful.

Greek Letters

Confused by all of the Greek letters used in statistics? This web page offers pictures of both uppercase and lowercase Greek letters, with the name of each letter spelled out and the English equivalent.

Using SPSS

The FNLG book gives a good overview of how to use SPSS for the purposes of this course, but you may be interested in further advice. SPSS ("Statistical Package for the Social Sciences") is a widely used statistical package, both in college methods courses and in the professional world, so many places offer tutorials in using it. Note that these tutorials were written using different versions of SPSS (Windows, Nac, or Linux, not to mention version 9 through the newest version 15), but for the purposes of this class there shouldn't be any real difference; the basic menu structure of SPSS should be the same on every computer platform, and most of the differences between SPSS versions involve much more complex features that are beyond the scope of an introductory course like this.

Statistical and Methodological References: Online

Is the coverage of a topic in the textbook and the lecture too confusing for you? Interested in further methodological topics that we didn't cover in class? These resources might be just what you need. Be careful about the notation, though -- different stats books, web sites, and lecture notes will often use slightly different notation for the same concept or formula (e.g., using Y instead of X, or using parentheses or brackets differently).

Statistical and Methodological References: Published

While many students in this course will be satisfied with completing the course and will not want to use quantitative methods in their own careers (at FSU or afterward), others will want to go further with topics covered in this course, perhaps in writing a senior honors thesis or in preparing for graduate school. Sage Publications' Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences offers an affordable discussion of many important topics in more detail than was possible in this course. Each volume in the series offers short (around 80 pages), affordable (under $20), relatively accessible discussions focused on a single topic in quantitative social science. Some of the most useful volumes are the following, organized in the order in which we cover these topics in this course (these links are to, which allows users to view tables of contents and excerpts from most of these items, but the volumes can be purchased from any bookstore):

Online Data Sources

These sources may be used to download many of the main data sets used by professional political scientists, as well as other sample data sets that might be helpful in learning or applying quantitative techniques.
Last updated: 2 January 2014
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