SOCI 1301 Unit 2
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Unit 2: The Research Process



A.  Read the following selections from the Margin Notes by clicking on each link.


B.  Watch this presentation. When you click on the link below, a new screen will pop up. Use the scrollbar on the side of the new screen to navigate. You need Adobe Reader to view PDF filesHELP MESSAGE.

[May take a few minutes to download.]




C.  (Optional) Read the following chapter from the textbook.

Chapter 03


D.  The following Optional Links are designed to help you do better in your course but they are not required.

SOCI 1301 Unit 2 Concepts

SOCI 1301 Activity #1 Rubric

SOCI 1301 Unit 2 Review

Sociological Perspectives Table (PDF)

Introductory Sociology Review (PDF)



For every assignment, I've given you a grading rubric.

If you look at the rubrics you will know exactly what I look for when I grade an assignment.

Each assignment's grading rubric will always be under Optional Links on the same unit page as the assignment instructions.


E.  Activity #1: Human Behavior and Observational Research (10 points)To Do Note

For your first activity, you must complete a field observation following the steps outlined below. (Use the hot links below for additional information.)

Take a few minutes to read What is observational research?.


Step 1: Choose a social behavior you wish to observe.

Choose a behavior of which you’re likely to easily find examples that you can observe and come up with a research question you want to answer. The interactions do not have to be overt or vocal. However, you need to choose something that really is observable – how do you observe “friendliness” – and you need to decide in advance what counts – does a glass of water count as a food order? The following are some examples of research questions that might give you some ideas on what you want to observe.

  • Do drivers in parking lots take longer to exit spaces when no one is waiting for the space?

  • Are males or females more likely to use their hands when they speak?

  • (variation of previous) Do females use their hands more when a male is present?

  • How do people arrange themselves spatially (e.g., where they sit) in public settings?

  • Are individuals that are alone likely to order more or less food than those in a group?

  • Who goes to sex shops?

Plan your sampling procedure. That is, explicitly decide who will count as a subject. You should try to study everyone who comes into the setting who is an appropriate subject. However, you should define who counts as a subject. For example, will you consider children, or only adults? Will people have to enter a certain area or spend a certain amount of time in the setting to count as subjects? Will you exclude certain people (e.g. those wearing employee uniforms)? Will you include only those people who enter a certain physical area, or spend a minimum amount of time in the area? What will you do if too many people come in at once for you to observe?


Step 2: Select a public setting where you can observe behavior.

Choose a setting where you can feasibly sit, observe and take notes. It should be a place where people flow through fast enough to give you enough subjects but slow enough to permit accurate observation. (An average of one per minute is a good rate. The acceptable range is as fast as three a minute or as slowly as one every three minutes, on average.) People buying things at a sales counter or vending machine might also give a good flow, as might people going through some sort of exhibit or waiting in line. Keep in mind the topic you choose above … you can’t observe driving behavior at a vending machine! Too, pick a place that gives you sufficient analytical distance. It’s difficult to observe (and impossible to record) behaviors in very small, confined spaces.

Choosing an unfamiliar setting will make this assignment easier for you. Typically, the people who do poorly on these kinds of assignments try to observe the place at which they work, worship, live, etc. Because those places are too familiar to people, they make assumptions about what they see. Too, they are observing people they know, and that has ethical considerations.

There are three limitations on settings that you need to keep in mind.

a.  You MUST choose a public setting that is open to everyone and from which no one is excluded. Therefore, no observations may be done in a private setting such as someone’s house or an institution (hospitals, schools) except in public spaces. The behaviors you observe must be visible to anyone in the vicinity, not just you. This helps avoid ethical issues related to privacy and informed consent.

b.  Under NO circumstances should you be involved in any interactions that are illegal and/or dangerous.

c.  Do NOT choose settings that are likely to have children as their focus. This includes daycare, schools, some parks and playgrounds. Clearly many settings will have situations in which the observation of children is unavoidable, such as at a mall, but we do not have approval to study settings where children are the primary participants.

If you don’t already know what topic and setting you want, take some time to visit a few places, informally observe what is going on there and ask yourself what is interesting about it. You can do this as you go about your normal day — in classrooms, on the bus, in the library, at the grocery store, etc. Your topic and setting don’t have to be “exotic."


Take a few minutes to read How to Be an Effective Observer.


Step 3: Complete your observation.

Within your setting, find an inconspicuous spot where you can sit and take notes. You must do the observation alone … no classmates or friends helping out. Remain as unobtrusive as possible. It’s important that you not affect the behavior of those you are observing. Therefore, observe discretely from a reasonable distance.

Do not talk to people or interview people during this time. However, you must respond honestly and directly to anyone who might ask you why you are there. You can do as much observation as you like but, at a minimum, you must collect data on at least 30 subjects or for one hour, whichever comes first.

Record your observations in the form of detailed notes. If you can take detailed notes and still remain unobtrusive in your setting, that’s fine with me. In most situations, it is better if most of your notes are recorded immediately after leaving the setting. The recording process can take quite a bit longer than the actual observation, so plan to allocate enough time immediately following the observation period to write up your notes. (You’d be surprised how much detail you can forget or confuse by waiting just a couple of hours before completing your notes.)

Suppress the normal instinct to evaluate people or to presume motives – "friendly smile," "in a hurry," "flirting" and "nervous" are interpretations, not behaviors.

The main body of field notes consists of a running description of the observations, with direct quotes duly marked. In addition, the standard convention is to indent those passages which contain personal reactions or analytic insights so as to differentiate them from the actual observations.

If your topic lends itself more to actual counting of behaviors, feel free to create a recording sheet for your observations. For example, if you were studying the topic on parking spaces from the list above, you might create a recording sheet such as the following.








blue Chevy


90 sec







Take a few minutes to read 9 Things to Remember about Observational Research.


Step 4: Analyze and report your results.

Reread your observation notes looking for patterns, exceptions, etc. Review the social behavior topic you choose. What do your observations seem to say about your topic? It is important that you separate your observations clearly and cleanly from the interpretation you develop of those observations. The observations should be objective, neutral reports of behavior. The interpretation should be defensible explanations for these behaviors that are grounded in concepts from the course.

There are two limitations on analysis that you need to keep in mind.

  1. You must base your interpretation on what you saw during the observation period. If you know more about your setting than you saw during your observation, you cannot use it. (Remember the previous advice about choosing an unfamiliar setting.)

  2. Don't over generalize. Don't assume that findings based on observations of a small group apply to larger populations.

Summarize your activity and findings in a brief research report that includes the 5 points below. Your summary should be thorough, specific, include relevant concepts from the course material and be free of spelling and grammar errors. [NOTE: As I've done below, I almost always list the things you need to include in your assignment so you won't miss anything. However, you should never write an assignment as a list unless the instructions specifically tell you to do so. Lists encourage short, quick responses, and they don't usually require much thought or much attention to spelling and grammar. They also won't earn you many points! Instead, write your assignment in complete sentences and paragraphs, using the list only to be certain you cover everything. Do your best to make your writing thorough, thoughtful and organized. Don't try to be concise ,,, Try to be complete.] A positive evaluation does not require that you did everything "right," but you should have reasons for why you proceeded as you did and should demonstrate that you thoughtfully reflected on the outcomes of your decisions.

  1. what you observed, why and how (including your decisions from steps 1 and 2 above)

  2. your interpretation

  3. what you would do next if continuing the study and why, and how you might modify, expand or vary your observation procedures (for instance, observing at the same site at different times of day, or observing at a different site)

  4. your conclusions about the advantages and limitations of observational research as a method

  5. specific and detailed connections to course content. Always include course concepts in your work. If you're reading your margin notes and watching the presentations, you'll have plenty of material from which to choose on every activity.

Do not turn in your recording sheets / field notes. However, you need to keep them until after the assignment is graded and returned in case I ask to see them.


Activity Submission Instructions

By the deadline shown in the Course Schedule on the main page of the syllabus:

  • Send your summary containing the 5 items requested in the body of a new email to

  • Put only your name and Activity #1 at the beginning of your email. (If you read your syllabus, you know that I tend to delete assignments without a name.)

  • Be careful to use the correct subject line. If you are not positive you know the correct subject line, go back and read your syllabus carefully. Emails with incorrect subject lines will not reach me. At best, you'll correct your mistake later and your assignment will be late. At worst, your assignment will never reach me and you'll receive no points for it.

  • Late reports will lose one point per day late, including weekends and holidays.



Copyright 1996 Amy S Glenn    
Last updated:   04/02/2017   0430

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