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Research Methods

CONCEPTS:Concepts are an Abstraction of Reality, Sources of Concepts

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Research Methods ­STA630
VU
Lesson 5
CONCEPTS
Things we observe are the observable realities, which could be physical or abstract. For purposes of
identification of reality we try to give a name to it. By using the name we communicate with others and
over time it becomes part of our language.
A concept is a generalized idea about a class of objects, attributes, occurrences, or processes that has
been given a name. In other words a concept is an idea expressed as a symbol or in words. Natural
science concepts are often expressed in symbolic forms. Most social science concepts are expressed as
words. Words, after all, are symbols too; they are symbols we learn with language. Height is a concept
with which all of you are familiar. In a sense, a language is merely an agreement to represent ideas by
sound or written characters that people learned at some point in their lives. Learning concepts and
theory is like learning language.
Concepts are an Abstraction of Reality
Concepts are everywhere, and you use them all the time. Height is simple concept form everyday
experience. What does it mean? It is easy to use the concept of height, but describing the concept itself
is difficult. It represents an abstract idea about physical reality, or an abstraction of reality. Height is a
characteristic of physical objects, the distance from top to bottom.  All people, buildings, trees,
mountains, books and so forth have height. The word height refers to an abstract idea. We associate its
sound and its written form with that idea. There is nothing inherent in the sounds that make up the word
and the idea it represents. The connection is arbitrary, but it is still useful. People can express the
abstract idea to one another using thee symbols.
In other words concepts are the abstractions of reality ­ physical of non-physical like table, leadership,
productivity, and morale are all labels given to some phenomenon (reality). The concepts stand for
phenomenon not the phenomenon itself; hence it may be called an abstraction of empirical reality.
Degree of Abstraction
Concepts vary in their level of abstraction. They are on a continuum from the most concrete to the most
abstract. Very concrete ones refer to straightforward physical objects or familiar experiences (e.g.
height, school, age, family income, or housing). More abstract concepts refer to ideas that have a
diffuse, indirect expression (e.g. family dissolution, racism, political power)
The organization of concepts in sequence from the most concrete and individual to the most
general indicates the degree of abstraction. Moving up the ladder of abstraction, the basic concept
becomes more abstract, wider in scope, and less amenable to measurement. The scientific researcher
operates at two levels of concepts (and propositions) and on the empirical level of variables. At the
empirical level we experience reality ­ that is we observe objects or events.
Sources of Concepts
Everyday culture is filled with concepts, but many of them have vague and unclear definitions.
Likewise, the values and experiences of people in a culture may limit everyday concepts. Nevertheless,
we borrow concepts from everyday culture; though these to be refined.
We create concepts from personal experiences, creative thought, or observation. The classical theorist
originated many concepts like family system, gender role, socialization, self-worth, frustration, and
displaced aggression.
We also borrow concepts from sister disciplines.
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Research Methods ­STA630
VU
Importance of Concepts
Social science concepts form a specialized language, or jargon. Specialists use jargon as a short hand
way to communicate with one another. Most fields have their own jargon. Physicians, lawyers,
engineers, accountants, plumbers, and auto mechanics all have specialized languages. They use their
jargon to refer to the ideas and objects with which they work. Special problems grow out of the need
for concept precision and inventiveness. Vague meanings attached to a concept create problems of
measurement. Therefore, not only the construction of concepts is necessary but also these should be
precise and the researchers should have some agreement to its meaning.
Identification of concepts is necessary because we use concepts in hypothesis formulation. Here too one
of the characteristics of a good hypothesis is that it should be conceptually clear.
The success of research hinges on (1) how clearly we conceptualize and (2) how well others understand
the concept we use. For example we might ask respondents for an estimate of their family income. This
may seem to be a simple, unambiguous concept, but we may receive varying and confusing answers
unless we restrict or narrow the concept by specifying:
 Time period, such as weekly, monthly, or annually.
 Before or after income taxes.
 For head of the family only or for all family members.
 For salary and wages only or also for dividends, interest, and capital gains.
 Income in kind, such as free rent, employee discounts, or food stamps.
Definitions
Confusion about the meaning of concepts can destroy a research study's value without the researcher or
client even knowing it. If words have different meanings to the parties involved, then they are not
communicating on the same wave-length. Definitions are one way to reduce this danger.
Dictionary Definitions
Researchers must struggle with two types of definitions. In the more familiar dictionary, a concept is
defined with synonyms. For example, a customer is defined as a patron: a patron, in turn, is defined as
customer or client of an establishment; a client is defined as one who employs the services of any
professional ..., also loosely, a patron of any shop. These circular definitions may be adequate for
general communication but not for research.
Dictionary definitions are also called conceptual or theoretical or nominal definitions. Conceptual
definition is a definition in abstract, theoretical terms. It refers to other ideas or constructs. There is no
magical way to turn a construct into precise conceptual definition. It involves thinking carefully,
observing directly, consulting with others, reading what others have said, and trying possible
definitions.
A single construct can have several definitions, and people may disagree over definitions. Conceptual
definitions are linked to theoretical frameworks and to value positions. For example, a conflict theorist
may define social class as the power and property a group of people in a society has or lacks. A
structural functionalist defines it in terms of individual who share a social status, life-style, or subjective
justification. Although people disagree over definitions, the researcher should always state explicitly
which definition he or she is using.
Some constructs are highly abstract and complex. They contain lower level concepts within them (e.g.
powerlessness), which can be made even more specific (e.g. a feeling of little power over wherever on
lives). Other concepts are concrete and simple (e.g. age). When developing definitions, a researcher
needs to be aware of how complex and abstract a construct is. For example, a concrete construct such
as age is easier to define (e.g. number of years that have passed since birth) than is a complex, abstract
concept such as morale.
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Research Methods ­STA630
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Operational Definition
In research we must measure concepts and constructs, and this requires more rigorous definitions. A
concept must be made operational in order to be measured. An operational definition gives meanings to
a concept by specifying the activities or operations necessary to measure it. An operational definition
specifies what must be done to measure the concept under investigation.  It is like a manual of
instruction or a recipe: do such-and-such in so-and-so manner.
Operational definition is also called a working definition stated in terms of specific testing or
measurement criteria. The concepts must have empirical referents (i.e. we must be able to count,
measure, or in some other way gather thee information through our senses). Whether the object to be
defined is physical e.g. a machine tool) or highly abstract (e.g. achievement motivation), the definition
must specify characteristics and how to be observed. The specification and procedures must be so clear
that any competent person using them would classify the objects the same way. So in operational
definition we must specify concrete indicators that can be observed/measured (observable indicators).
Use both Definitions in Research
Look at observable phenomenon, we construct a label for it, then try to define it theoretically, which
gives a lead to the development of criteria for its measurement, and finally we gather thee data.
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Table of Contents:
  1. INTRODUCTION, DEFINITION & VALUE OF RESEARCH
  2. SCIENTIFIC METHOD OF RESEARCH & ITS SPECIAL FEATURES
  3. CLASSIFICATION OF RESEARCH:Goals of Exploratory Research
  4. THEORY AND RESEARCH:Concepts, Propositions, Role of Theory
  5. CONCEPTS:Concepts are an Abstraction of Reality, Sources of Concepts
  6. VARIABLES AND TYPES OF VARIABLES:Moderating Variables
  7. HYPOTHESIS TESTING & CHARACTERISTICS:Correlational hypotheses
  8. REVIEW OF LITERATURE:Where to find the Research Literature
  9. CONDUCTING A SYSTEMATIC LITERATURE REVIEW:Write the Review
  10. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK:Make an inventory of variables
  11. PROBLEM DEFINITION AND RESEARCH PROPOSAL:Problem Definition
  12. THE RESEARCH PROCESS:Broad Problem Area, Theoretical Framework
  13. ETHICAL ISSUES IN RESEARCH:Ethical Treatment of Participants
  14. ETHICAL ISSUES IN RESEARCH (Cont):Debriefing, Rights to Privacy
  15. MEASUREMENT OF CONCEPTS:Conceptualization
  16. MEASUREMENT OF CONCEPTS (CONTINUED):Operationalization
  17. MEASUREMENT OF CONCEPTS (CONTINUED):Scales and Indexes
  18. CRITERIA FOR GOOD MEASUREMENT:Convergent Validity
  19. RESEARCH DESIGN:Purpose of the Study, Steps in Conducting a Survey
  20. SURVEY RESEARCH:CHOOSING A COMMUNICATION MEDIA
  21. INTERCEPT INTERVIEWS IN MALLS AND OTHER HIGH-TRAFFIC AREAS
  22. SELF ADMINISTERED QUESTIONNAIRES (CONTINUED):Interesting Questions
  23. TOOLS FOR DATA COLLECTION:Guidelines for Questionnaire Design
  24. PILOT TESTING OF THE QUESTIONNAIRE:Discovering errors in the instrument
  25. INTERVIEWING:The Role of the Interviewer, Terminating the Interview
  26. SAMPLE AND SAMPLING TERMINOLOGY:Saves Cost, Labor, and Time
  27. PROBABILITY AND NON-PROBABILITY SAMPLING:Convenience Sampling
  28. TYPES OF PROBABILITY SAMPLING:Systematic Random Sample
  29. DATA ANALYSIS:Information, Editing, Editing for Consistency
  30. DATA TRANSFROMATION:Indexes and Scales, Scoring and Score Index
  31. DATA PRESENTATION:Bivariate Tables, Constructing Percentage Tables
  32. THE PARTS OF THE TABLE:Reading a percentage Table
  33. EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH:The Language of Experiments
  34. EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH (Cont.):True Experimental Designs
  35. EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH (Cont.):Validity in Experiments
  36. NON-REACTIVE RESEARCH:Recording and Documentation
  37. USE OF SECONDARY DATA:Advantages, Disadvantages, Secondary Survey Data
  38. OBSERVATION STUDIES/FIELD RESEARCH:Logic of Field Research
  39. OBSERVATION STUDIES (Contd.):Ethical Dilemmas of Field research
  40. HISTORICAL COMPARATIVE RESEARCH:Similarities to Field Research
  41. HISTORICAL-COMPARATIVE RESEARCH (Contd.):Locating Evidence
  42. FOCUS GROUP DISCUSSION:The Purpose of FGD, Formal Focus Groups
  43. FOCUS GROUP DISCUSSION (Contd.):Uses of Focus Group Discussions
  44. REPORT WRITING:Conclusions and recommendations, Appended Parts
  45. REFERENCING:Book by a single author, Edited book, Doctoral Dissertation