Tools of Research
software tools of research are typically more
abundant than hardware tools in the social sciences.
Software is usually thought of to mean
computer programs that tell the hardware what to do,
but any tool not related to a physical device can be
Included in this category is statistical
software, consent forms, published tests,
questionnaires, observation forms, and, to a lesser
degree, the interview.
Simple statistical problems, such as
determining the mean or the median of a small data
set, can easily be done with a calculator.
Most formulas that will be used in a research
report, however, are a lot more complex.
While a calculator will work, a statistical
program can reduce the computation time by hours,
days, or even weeks.
Imagine trying to determine the mean,
standard deviation, t-score, and z-score conversions
of twelve data sets each containing 300 subjects.
Even the best statistician will spend many
hours on this project that could be done by a
computer in a matter of minutes once the data is
most widely used statistical software used for
social science research is the Statistical Package
for the Social Sciences (SPSS) and is relatively
easy to use if you have basic computer knowledge.
SPSS can perform hundreds of statistical
computations and even graph your data. Another program, SAS, also performs these functions and is
gaining popularity with many researchers.
Both, however, can be expensive to purchase
so it would be wise to use your school’s software
or look into a student version.
The consent form is a necessity for anyone
doing research with human subjects (see Figure 3.1). The purpose of the consent form is to provide information to
the potential subject regarding the experiment or
study and to answer questions regarding their
Consent forms should always include both
potential benefits and harm that may result from
participation as well as the option to quit the
study at any time without repercussions.
3.1 lists ten important areas that should be
included in a consent form.
The title of the study, purpose, and
researchers’ names and affiliation are often
included toward the top of the form.
Contact information, such as phone numbers,
should also be included.
The bulk of the consent form involves the
specific procedures that will be used, how the
information gathered during the study will be used,
and the expected experience that the subject will
endure if he or she agrees to participate.
Procedures and Requirements.
Before a potential subject can consent to any
study, especially those involving invasive techniques,
he or she must be made aware of the process that will
take place. The procedures and requirements section explains to the subject
what he or she will experience during the study. If a survey is involved, this section might inform the subject
that they will be asked to respond to questions related
to their past work experience or their college grades,
3.1: Sample Statement of Informed Consent
of Voluntary Consent
participate as a subject in the study
January 14, 2004
The effects of work experience on
To better understand the role of work
experience and college performance and to
make recommendations to the college administration regarding the
college work study program.
Dr. Christopher L. Heffner,
Information: [Include office phone, school
or organization address, and information
regarding any committees on ethical
research within your organization]
a volunteer participant in the above
mentioned research, I understand that I will
be asked to complete a survey that will ask
questions related to my work experience and
The survey typically takes about 20
minutes to complete although this time can
vary depending on each subject.
I also understand that I may consider
some of the questions personal in nature but
that the information I provide will be used
exclusively for this project and will in no
way be associated with my name, address,
student ID or any other identifiable
a participant in this study I am aware that
the questions on the research survey may
cause anxiety or stress depending on my
personal situation but that most find the
experience harmless and even enjoyable. As
a participant, I am aware that the responses
I provide may assist future college students
at this University and perhaps other
colleges across the country.
signing below, I state that I have read this
consent form in its entirety and that all of
my questions have been answered.
I understand that I may withdrawal
from this study at any time and that my
participation or lack of participation will
in no way affect my status as a [student,
patient, employee, etc.]
Whenever research is done, information is gathered.
This information can be relatively innocuous
such as hair color, gender, or number of siblings
or it can be quite personal such as sexual history,
views on abortion, or yearly income.
No matter what information is collected, the
subject has the right to know how this information
will be used.
Often times this section states that subjects
are assigned a number and that no personal information
will be associated with their identifiable information
such as name, address, phone number or other characteristic
that distinguishes them from others.
In this situation, we would then know that
subject number 14 is a female who is pro-life, and
earns $35,000 per year, for example, but we wouldn’t
be able to identify her.
3.1: Checklist for the Statement of Informed Consent
There are often potential benefits to any
study for the individual subject and should always
be potential benefits to the population at large.
This section allows the researcher to make
statement such as, “the results of this research
could lead to better teaching methods that may
ultimately improve the way children learn.”
Benefits to the potential subject should also
be stated, such as free medication and treatment for
a medical study, or consultation with a
something as simple as self-growth could be included
in this section.
Perhaps, more important than benefits, are
the potential harms that could result from
participating in the study.
The subject must be informed of any risks
involved, including both physical and emotional. Even if these potential harms are rare or farfetched, the
subject has the right to know before consenting to
you will see statements that discuss the possibility
of negative thoughts or feelings associated with the
subject’s responses or actions.
For example, a study addressing depression
after the death of a loved on could easily bring
about sad thoughts and depressed feelings as the
subject answers questions related to his or her
this is a possibility, it should be addressed in the
of Voluntary Consent.
The statement of voluntary consent typically
contains two main statements.
First, the subject will be agreeing that he
or she has (a) read this form, (b) understand the
form, and (c) has had all questioned answered.
Second, the subject should be informed that
he or she can drop out of the study at any point (if
this is feasible without causing harm) without repercussions.
This means that at any point from signing the
form to the completion of the study, they could refuse
to continue being a subject and will not be harassed,
humiliated, or otherwise coerced.
researchers want to gather information related to a
general area such as personality or intelligence.
For these instances, the use of a
standardized test may be the best choice.
With already published tests you can be sure
of both validity and reliability and can save a lot
of time that might otherwise be spent on test
tests can be classified into five main categories:
achievement, aptitude, interest, personality, and
Achievement tests are designed specifically
to measure an individual’s previously learned
knowledge or ability.
They are available for many topic areas
related to psychology, education, business, and
other fields. Achievement
tests require that prior learning take place and
that this learning be demonstrated in order to pass.
Aptitude tests attempt to predict an
individual’s performance in some activity at some
point in the future.
They do not require any specific prior
learning although basic knowledge related to reading
and writing is usually required and some
preparation, such as studying up on math formulas or
sentence structure, can be helpful.
A well-known example of this type is the
Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT), designed to
predict future college performance.
Interest inventories also require only
general knowledge but no preparation is needed. These tests look at an individual’s subjective interests in
order to make predictions about some future behavior
or activity. Perhaps
the most used interest inventory is the Strong
Interest Inventory, which compares interests related
to specific careers in order to help guide an
individual’s career path. Endorsed interests are compared with the interests of
successful individuals in various fields and
predictions are made regarding the test-taker’s
fit with the various career fields.
Typically designed to assess and diagnose
personality and mental health related disorders,
personality tests are used extensively by
psychologists in clinical, educational, and business
By far the most widely used test of this type
is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory,
Second Edition (MMPI-2), which compares an
individual’s responses on a series of true-false
items to those suffering from various mental
disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, and
theory behind the test argues that if you endorse
items similar to the items endorsed by those with
depression, for example, then the chances that you
are also depressed increases.
Intelligence tests could be classified as
aptitude tests since they are sometimes used to
predict future performance.
They could also be classified as personality
tests since they can be used to diagnose disorders
such as learning disabilities and mental
retardation. However, because of their limited scope, we will place them
in their own category.
The purpose of an intelligence test is to
attain a summary score or intelligence quotient (IQ)
of an individual’s intellectual ability.
Scores are compared to each other and can be
broken down into different subcategories depending
on the intelligence test used.
The most commonly used tests of this type are
the Wechsler Scales, including the Wechsler Adult
Intelligence Scale (WAIS), the Wechsler Intelligence
Scale for Children (WISC), and the Wechsler
Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI).
Self-response questionnaires are a great way
to gather large amounts of information in a
relatively short amount of time.
A questionnaire, similar to a survey you
might see on a web page, allows subjects to respond
to questions, rate responses, or offer opinions.
Their responses can then be used to place
them in specific categories or groups or can be
compared to other subjects for data analysis.
A concern with self-report, however, is the
accuracy of the responses.
Unlike direct observation, there is no way of
knowing if the subject has told the truth or whether
or not the question was understood as intended.
There are several different methods for
gathering information on a questionnaire or survey,
including a Likert scale, the Thurstone technique,
and the semantic differential.
The Likert scale is a popular method used ion
surveys because it allows the researcher to quantify
opinion based items.
Questions are typically grouped together and
rated or responded to based on a five-point scale.
This scale typically ranges in order from one
extreme to the other, such as (1) very interested;
(2) somewhat interested; (3) unsure; (4) not very
interested; and (5) not interested at all.
Items that might be rated with this scale
representing the subject’s level of interest could
include a list of careers or academic majors, for
3.2 lists some examples of a five-point Likert
3.2: Examples of Five-point Likert Scales
The Thurstone technique allows subjects to
express their beliefs or opinions by checking items
that apply to them.
It requires that a series of statements,
usually 10 or 20, be created by experts in a
specific area of interest.
These statements are placed in order of
intensity or rated in order of intensity by the
subject is then asked to check all of the statements
that apply to her and a median score is computed
based on which items she has checked.
For example, if the subject checked three
items that were rated an intensity of four and three
items rated an intensity of two, her median score
would be 3. The
subject who checked higher rated items would receive
a higher median score and the subject who checked
lower level items would receive a lower median
3.3 provides a hypothetical Thurstone
scale for major depressive disorder with the
symptoms starting at the bottom representing low
intensity and then progressing upward to the top,
which represents high intensity.
3.3: Sample Thurstone Questionnaire
Somewhat similar to a likert scale, a
semantic questionnaire asks subjects to rate their
opinion on a scale representing two extremes and a
series of points in between.
Unlike the Likert, however, this technique
usually provides a total of seven points rather than
five, and the points in between the extremes are not
subject is therefore forced to provide his own
rating on a ‘one to seven’ scale only knowing
the description of the two extremes.
Good examples of these semantic differentials
include dichotomies such as extroverted/introverted,
friendly/cruel, interested/not interested, or
Figure 3.2 provides an example of what the
results of research might look like using a semantic
3.2: Research Results of a Hypothetical Semantic
Observation of subjects has been a
longstanding means of gathering information.
While this method works well for informal
research or research involving only a single
subject, it is not an easy task to generalize to the
Scientific methods require that any
observation be as standardized and objective as
possible if generalization is to occur. Observation forms are often used to allow researchers to
detail their observations on an agreed upon scale
and observer ratings are often correlated to
determine if all are measuring the same behaviors.
behavior is complex and measuring it merely by
watching behaviors presents unique challenges.
Imagine measuring violent behavior is a group
of 3rd graders during recess.
What one observer sees as violent, pushing
another child for example, a second researcher may
view as aggressive but not violent.
A third observer may miss the behavior all
together due to other behaviors or some distracter
on the playground.
To increase validity and reliability, the
following steps are recommended:
Operationally define behaviors to be observed
as much as possible
Practice observations before the study to
correlate results in order to make sure all
observers are measuring the same behaviors
Use at least two observers per subject when
possible in order to minimize missed behaviors or
Retrain observers frequently and correlate
these training observations.
The Q-Sort is a technique adopted originally
into humanistic psychology as a means for a client
to self-evaluate his current status and then decide
on treatment goals.
Since the instrument is completed and
interpreted by the client without the opinion of the
therapist, it allows the client to be in complete
control of what issues are to be worked on.
This follows the humanistic view that the
client, not the therapist, is the one with the
answers to the client’s problems.
Q-Sort consists of a number of cards, often as many
as 40 or 50, each consisting of a single trait,
belief, or behavior.
The goal is to sort these cards into one of
five columns ranging from statements such as,
‘very much like me’ to ‘not at all like me.’
There are typically a specific number of
cards allowed for each column, forcing the client to
balance the cards evenly.
The qualities in each column are then
recorded and the results are used to assist the
client in determining issues he or she wishes to
work on in treatment.
The Q-Sort can also be completed during and
after treatment to assess changes and progress
toward the self-determined goals.
3.3: Sample Outcome of a Q-Sort
The interview is a well-known means of
gathering information, especially in organizational
settings such as hiring employees or gathering
Just like observations, interviews can be
It is therefore important to determine
questions prior to the study and to develop a
protocol that will be followed by all interviewers.
This protocol will ask the same questions in
the same order to every subject and responses should
be recorded exactly. It is also helpful if possible responses to questions are
kept as closed ended as possible.
For example, “how many siblings do you
have?” rather than “tell me about your
makes the interview different than a
self-administered questionnaire is the ability to
judge behaviors, and to inspire or clarify
can be time consuming, especially if a large number
of subjects are to be interviewed.
And, if open-ended questions are used, the
quantitative procedures of statistics become much