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Lecture 6

04:192:300 Lecture Notes - Lecture 6: Theoretical Definition, Operational Definition, Alcoholism

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Vikki Katz

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Where Good Research Starts: What Do You Ask?
To evaluate a study ask:
1. What did the researchers want to know?
2. Did they clearly define key terms, in ways that make sense? Did their definitions match
their measurements?
3. How did they phrase and order their questions?
Observation is the foundation of empirical (systematically collecting data) research
It is achieved through measurement: careful, deliberate records of the real world to
describe processes, events, and objects
How we measure affects our results
What We Can Measure in Research
Direct observables
What you can see and record for yourself
(ex. counting people going to the gym)
Indirect observables
Think archives, secondary sources, and retold information
How we measure what we can’t see
Studying What We Can’t See...What is She Talking About?
What do you think of when I say:
The term “construct” emphasizes that we are assigning names and definitions to things that do
not exist on their own
Constructs may not be “real”, but they help up study things that are
To measure well, you need to define well
Personal experiences shape our social understandings of terms, so we need to be clear
when we define them in research
Conceptual definition
Defining constructs in measurable ways: operational definition (ex. universal pain
assessment tool)
Operational Definitions
Are you a moderate drinker?
Are you a heavy drinker?
How often do you binge drink?
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
TV Violence: Conceptual and Operational Definitions
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Inclusion criteria:
What forms of TV violence are we in/excluding?
Intensity/contextual measures:
Time on-screen?
Victim portrayal? Perpetrator consequences?
Constructing TV Violence
Conceptual Definition
TV violence: Representations of harm done intentionally by one person to
another, and not as sport
Operational Definition
We will measure:
Type of violence
Length of violent scenes
Victim reaction
Perpetrator consequences
Number of violent scenes per episode
Defining Constructs
The Law of Parsimony
How much detail do I need?
Ex: Income; Age; Education level
Sensitivity to sharing private information
Limited attention/time
On the other hand--when in doubt, collect more information rather than less
What kinds of questions are you asking?
Will a yes/no do, or do you need a measure of intensity
Did you vote in the last election? VS On a scale of 1-5, how important do you feel
it is to vote?
What range of variation do I need to measure?
Levels of measurement
A way to identify basic differences within a sample
For example:
Religious Preferences
Country of Origin
Measures qualitative difference (differences in kind), not quantitative
difference (differences of degree)
Ask what you need--no more, no less.
What is your research question?
Variable: Set of attributes that vary across a population (ex. country of origin; race/ethnicity)
Attribute: Characteristic of an individual person (ex. Ghana; African American)
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