Skip to main content

Preliminary Exam Study Guides

These study guides are provided to assist students in preparing for their preliminary exams.

Methods Study Guide

Topics for Comprehensive exams in Research Methods: (currently under review)

The following study materials are designed to help students preparing for their preliminary exam in research methods. The list is organized into two major categories: Quantitative Methods and Qualitative Methods, and Although the topics within each of these general categories could be sorted further, and many of them may overlap in one way or another, at this point a better arrangement of items is left to the student. At the end of each section I have included a list of books that might help you prepare. Please do not think that these books are somehow required or that you need all of them or that you need to run out and buy them. There a many good books which cover these topics which are not included among these suggestions, and faculty all have their favorites. 

Quantitative Research Methods:

1) Be prepared to describe and discuss the overall logic of the scientific process. You should be familiar with and able to discuss the logic and processes that make up the components of what has been variously described as “the wheel of science” or Wallace’s wheel. These include such concepts as: inductive logic, deductive logic, hypotheses, empirical generalizations, measurement, sample summarization, parameter estimation, concepts, concept formation, propositions, proposition formation & arrangement, scaling, instrumentation, observation, tests of hypotheses, logical inference.

2) Be prepared to describe, explain, and discuss the importance of various preliminary issues that may affect the ultimate outcome of research such as the identification of researchable topics, clear research problems, and well written problem statements.  

3) Be able to discuss the discrete steps that a researcher might carry out in conducting a quantitative research project.

4) Be prepared to discuss the conduct of literature reviews in sociological research with regard to the different purposes served by literature reviews, the various types of literature reviews, and the different kinds of documents (or chapters) where one might expect to encounter those different types of reviews.

5) Be prepared to describe and explain the steps that one might follow in conducting a successful literature review and the things that a researcher should make not of and record as they search and review literature.

6) Be prepared to discuss the importance and qualities of good research designs.

7) Be prepared to explain and discuss the importance of issues relating to the design of research such as:

  • the purposes of research (exploratory, descriptive, explanatory),
  • nomothetic vs. ideographic explanation
  • causality and the criteria for establishing causality
  • internal and external validity & threats to validity
  • random assignment & random selection
  • units of analysis
  • the ecological fallacy
  • the reductionist fallacy
  • the element of time in research (cross-sectional studies vs. longitudinal studies)
  • the process of conceptualization
  • the process of operationalization
  • populations & sampling
  • choice of research methods
  • data processing
  • data analysis

8) Be prepared to describe and discuss the nature of various different research designs such as:

  • cross-sectional studies
  • trend studies
  • cohort studies
  • panel studies
  • case studies
  • pretest, post-test, control group classical experiments
  • Solomon four-group experimental design
  • quasi-experimental designs
  • field experiments

9) Be prepare to explain and discuss the uses, advantages, and disadvantages of unobtrusive research methods such as content analysis, the use of existing statistics, administrative data sets, and secondary data.

10) Be prepared to describe and explain and discuss the importance of concepts relating to measurement such as:

  • The 4 levels of measurement (nominal, ordinal, interval, ratio)
  • reliability
  • face validity, content validity, criterion validity, construct validity
  • variables and attributes
  • indices
  • scales
  • latent variable

11) Be prepared to describe, explain and discuss issues and concepts relating to data and data sets such as:

  • coding
  • formatting
  • cleaning
  • codebooks
  • data dictionaries

12) Be prepared to describe, explain and/or use basic statistical concepts such as:

  • the normal distribution
  • the mean, mode, and median
  • standard deviations
  • percentiles
  • Z scores
  • central tendency
  • descriptive statistics
  • confidence intervals
  • inferential statistics
  • statistical significance
  • correlation
  • statistic vs. parameter
  • random variable
  • experimental variable
  • sampling distribution

13) Be prepared to describe, explain the logic of hypothesis testing including null hypothesis, alternative hypothesis, test statistic, statistical significance, significance level, and types I and II errors.  

14) Be prepared to discuss the use of sampling in social research, to explain the overall goals of sampling, and to explain sampling related concepts such as: sampling frame, sample size, simple random selection, systematic selection, quota sampling, snowball sampling, sampling with and without replacement, sampling proportionate to size, clustering, stratification, and multistage selection.

15) Be prepared to describe the two basic kinds of error that occur in samples (sampling error & bias), to explain why each of those kinds of errors occur, and how each kind of error can be affected by aspects of the sample such as sample size, clustering, stratification, and the response rate.  

16) Be prepared to discuss the qualities that make good survey questions reliable measures, describe the pitfalls researchers who are writing questions want to avoid, and explain the measures researchers might take to help insure that their questions are good.

17) Be prepared to describe and discuss the circumstances when social researchers might employ different data collection instruments and modes of data collection; such as in-person interviewing or self-administered questionnaires that are administered either through the mail, by telephone, over the internet, or in-person, and; be able to explain the advantages and disadvantages of the different methods and modes.   

18) Be prepared to calculate simple basic statistical analyses, such as the mean, the standard deviation, or Z scores and to interpret those analyses.

19) Be prepared to explain the basic assumptions that underlie the use of common parametric statistical techniques such as correlation, regression, and ANOVA (For example, what kinds of data and what qualities must your data have in order for these techniques to be appropriate?). 

20 Be prepared to interpret and explain the various coefficients and statistical tests that are provided by computer generated statistical outputs for analytical procedures that use categorical or grouped data such as cross-tabulations t-tests, and ANOVA in terms of statistical significance, strength of relationship, and nature of relationship.

21) Be prepared to interpret and explain the various coefficients and statistical tests that are provided by computer generated statistical outputs for analytical procedures that use interval or ratio level measures such as correlation and multiple regression in terms of statistical significance, strength of relationship, and nature of relationship.  

22) Be prepared to explain what is meant by “data reduction” and discuss the different techniques available to analysts for data reduction.

23) Be prepared to perform an analysis of categorical data in which you may need to make appropriate decisions about collapsing categories, calculate a chi-squared test of significance, interpret your test, and explain why the chi-squared test is either a goodness-of-fit test, a homogeneity test, or a test of independence.  

24) Be sure that you understand and can explain the meaning of the following terms:

  • Zero order correlation
  • Multiple correlation coefficient (R) (and also R2 (coefficient of determination) and adjusted R2)
  • Partial correlation
  • Semi-partial (part) correlation
  • Regression
  • Regression (b) coefficients
  • Beta coefficients
  • F test
  • t test
  • significance level
  • dummy variable

Some sources to study for quantitative research:

You should probably start by studying all of the materials from your research methods class.  You might want to look at some additional sources. If you search you will see that there are a lot of sources for information and many books about quantitative research. You don’t need to read them all, but it would be good to review one or two basic methods texts and a basic statistics text. Here are a few books that might be useful. Remember that earlier editions for some of these books that may still be very serviceable may be available at a relatively low cost.

  1. “The Literature Review” by Lawrence A. Machi & Brenda T. McEvoy, Corwin Press, 2009. 
  2. “Multivariate Statistical Analysis, 2nd edition” by Sam Kash Kachigan Radius Press, 1991.
  3. “Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences 5th edition” by Jaccard & Becker, Wadsworth, 2009
  4. “Survey Research Methods, 4th edition” by Floyd J. Fowler, Jr. Applied Social Research Methods Series, Sage, 2009.
  5. “The Logic of Science in Sociology” by Walter L. Wallace, Aldine Publishing Company, 1971.
  6. “The Basics of Social Research” by Earl Babbie, Wadsworth Publishing 2008
  7. “Quantitative Research Methods in the Social Sciences” by Paul S. Maxim, Oxford University Press, 1999
  8. “Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches 5th edition” by W. Lawrence Neuman, Allyn and Bacon, 2003
  9. “Foundations of Behavioral Research” by Fred N. Kerlinger, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1973
  10. “Applied Social Research: A tool for the Human Services” by Monette, Sullivan, & DeJong, Brooks Cole, 2011

Qualitative Research Methods:

  1. Be able to discuss the processes and steps involved in setting up and conducting qualitative fieldwork with regard to issues such as site selection, gaining access, entering the field, observations & interviewing, field notes, and leaving the field.
  2. Be prepared to discuss the concepts of validity and reliability as they apply to qualitative research as well as the methods that qualitative researchers use to insure or enhance validity and reliability.
  3. Be prepared to discuss different purposes and different research designs for which qualitative research methods may be employed.
  4. Be prepared to discuss the different types of triangulation and also the different purposes for which triangulation might be used.
  5. Be prepared to discuss the sampling issues that arise in qualitative research and be able to explain different types of sampling that are used in qualitative research such as: internal sampling, theoretic sampling, time sampling, and snowball sampling.
  6. Be prepared to discuss data analysis within the context of qualitative research and explain how data analysis in a qualitative research process differs from data analysis in a quantitative research process.
  7. Be able to discuss the uses of existing literature and theory in qualitative research and to explain how existing literature and theory might be used differently by researchers engaged in qualitative studies than by researchers engaged in quantitative studies. 
  8. Be able to discuss the nature, sources, and the range of different kinds of materials that might constitute data for a qualitative study.
  9. Be prepared to describe and explain effective techniques for recording field notes.
  10. Be able to explain the use of codes and coding in qualitative data analysis. For example be able to explain coding related concepts such as: open coding, axial coding, selective coding, and analytic memos.
  11. Be able to explain how the methods for interviewing research subjects that are employed in qualitative research are likely to differ from those employed in interviews conducted for quantitative research.
  12. Be prepared to discuss grounded theory and the logic, processes, and methods involved with developing grounded theory.
  13. Be prepared to discuss circumstances in which qualitative methods are particularly appropriate & also circumstances in which they may not be appropriate.
  14. Be prepared to identify issues that may present problems for qualitative research, such as reactivity, and discuss both the nature of the problems they present and techniques that can potentially be used for addressing them.
  15. Be able to identify the major ethical issues likely to arise in the context of qualitative research and discuss how qualitative researchers might best address the ethical obligations that they incur.  

Some sources to study for qualitative research:

You should probably start by studying all of the materials from your qualitative research class.  You might want to look at some additional sources. If you search you will see that there are a lot of sources for information about qualitative research. Here are a few that might be useful.

Lawrence Neuman, 2003, “Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, 5th edition,” Allyn & Bacon.

John Creswell, 2009, “Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches, 3rd edition,” Sage.

Glaser & Strauss, 1967, “The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research,” Aldine Transaction.

Birks & Mills “Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide,” Sage.