POS 3300: Political Science Research Methods

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 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). We will also examine such non-quantitative approaches as experiments, case studies, and comparative method, which are also an important part of the science of studying politics.

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 four non-cumulative examinations, four homework assignments (which will require the use of SPSS or PSPP statistical software for data analysis), and eleven shorter exercises or quizzes (most of which will be completed online through Canvas).

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. Students should be able to formulate theoretical arguments and testable hypotheses, and to test these hypotheses in a variety of ways. 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.

This course also fulfills the CLASS requirement for Communication and Digital Skills: "At the end of this course, students should be able to demonstrate effective communication using a digital technology platform and do at least two of the following: (1) demonstrate the ability to communicate a central idea effectively using appropriate organization/structure, (2) demonstrate the ability to develop content at an advanced level using a combination of effective supporting materials, (3) demonstrate the ability to engage in verbal and nonverbal communication behaviors that are appropriate for the audience and adhere to the conventions of the medium selected (written, oral, or visual)." The digital technology platform to be used is SPSS or PSPP statistical software, which will be used in four of the course's homework assignments. The ability to develop content at an advanced level will be demonstrated in these homework assignments, where statistical analysis will be used to produce tables, figures, and other output that will be used to evaluate hypotheses about political outcomes. The ability to engage in appropriate written communication will also be demonstrated in these homework assignments, where the results of the statistical analyses will be analyzed and interpreted carefully to draw conclusions about the hypotheses being tested and discuss implications for the study and practice of politics.

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 very similar to SPSS and can be used for all of the homework assignments. 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 works 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

Please note that this course is not graded on attendance, and almost all assignments except for the exams can be completed online, to make sure that students have no incentive to come to class if they have recently been exposed to or are showing symptoms of Covid-19, the flu, or similar conditions that are common in the Denton area this time of year. This does NOT mean that you are not expected to come to class whenever you are healthy, though; class attendance is strongly recommended. Throughout the Covid era, students who rarely came to class have done poorly in my courses, even if they thought they got enough information from friends, GroupMe, or elsewhere. Seeing and hearing the course material in person, and being part of the class discussion of this material, makes a huge difference in learning and in grades.

(1) Examinations: Four (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 15% of the total course grade. Be sure to be on time; once the first student leaves the exam, anybody else who enters to take the exam will lose five letter grades. [Note that if an exam can not be held in person due to the Covid situation, it will be converted to a take-home short answer/essay format to be turned in through Canvas by the end of the scheduled exam time. Any change will be announced via Canvas email as well as in class.]

(2) Assignments (Preparation for Class): An important part of a course like this is making sure that students understand the concepts as the semester is moving along. Students are expected to prepare for each class meeting by doing the assigned readings and thinking about the assigned discussion topics as described in the syllabus before class. This will be evaluated with 11 assignments, ten of which must be completed through Canvas before class on the day when they are assigned – note that the other one will be completed in class as listed in the syllabus. Some of these are open-book/open-note quizzes on the readings assigned for that day, and others are brief applications of topics covered in the day's assigned readings or in recent class meetings that will then be discussed in class that day. Because each of these assignments is meant to prepare for classroom discussion on the day for which it was assigned, to receive credit, it must be completed by the start of class on the due date listed in the syllabus (no assignments will be accepted after that time). Together, these assignments will be worth 20% of the total course grade; each student's lowest assignment grade will be dropped.

(3) Homework Assignments: There is no better way to learn concepts than through hands-on experience. There will be four (4) homework assignments, which will each be posted on Canvas 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. Unlike the online assignments, these homework assignments may be turned in after the listed due date for partial credit, because these are important learning experiences that help you develop the skills that you are expected to have after completing this course. Homework assignments turned in after the start of class on the due date will face a late penalty, though.

Last updated: 15 January 2024
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