SOC 357: Methods of Sociological Inquiry

SOC 357: Methods of Sociological Inquiry

Instructor: Alex Hanna
Office: 2411 Social Science

Section 7: MWF 9:55 - 10:45 AM, B223 Van Vleck
Section 8: MWF 12:05 - 12:55 PM, 4308 Social Sciences
Office hours: MW 11:00 - 12:00 PM; or by appointment

Course description

What do sociologists actually do? How are they different from philosophers or social theorists? How is sociology a social science? How does sociology make claims with any kind of certainty? How do sociologists gather and analyze data? And what counts as "good" research?

This course will introduce you to the various ways sociologists perform research on a day-to-day basis. Our claims about how society works only become substantiated when those claims are supported by systematic empirical study. This course will be about understanding those methods.

In this course, you will learn by doing. This is a hands-on course where we will not only read work of other sociologists, but attempt small-scale interrogations of social life through a variety of sociological methods.

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  1. Generate feasible research ideas to approach the study of social phenomenon
  2. Pick an appropriate research design for the interrogation of particular research questions
  3. Develop research designs for both qualitative and quantitative research studies
  4. Have a working knowledge of statistical computing packages including R and Stata
  5. Evaluate research of other social scientific studies

Course requirements

Reading - Most readings for this course will be available on Learn@UW unless otherwise noted. You are expected to have completed all reading prior to the meeting of each class session.

We will be primarily be using Earl Babbie's The Practice of Social Research (11th or 12th edition) but you are not required to purchase it. Copies of the Babbie text are on reserve at College Library and are also available for purchase at the University Bookstore (used copies sell for approximately $90, new for approximately $150).

Otherwise, we will read the entirety of Mitch Duneier's ethnography, Sidewalk. You can buy it for $20 or cheaper.

Blue book journals - Every day in class, you need to write a short (two to three sentences) statement on your thoughts and reflections in a blue book which I'll provide. The writing is not graded for content but completion. The purpose of this is to encourage you to think about the course material in your own way without feeling that you have to censor what you say. You may even openly disagree with me, but this will in no way lower your grade. The important thing is that you critical engage the material.

Research projects - This is a methods class, and I firmly believe that the best way to learn methods is to engage in them. To that end, you will have the chance to apply two different methods to small-scale research projects. Sociological research is full of many unexpected twists, turns, and difficulties, and it can also produce results that contradict "common sense." These are all part-and-parcel of the research experience. Instructions for each assignment will be posted to Learn@UW.

Mini workshops - Fridays will act like a mini research workshop. One time in the term, you will prepare a short memo (300-500 words) and give a 10-minute presentation about a research topic within sociology. The memo should include a proper research question and suggest several methods of answering it. After your presentation, we'll have a 10-minute Q&A around the project. Two students will go on each Friday. We'll start on February 7th and go every Friday after. I'll circulate a signup list during the first week of class and provide an example of a presentation during the second week of class.

Exams - There will be two exams: a midterm and a final. The midterm will test you on material from the first part of the semester, and the final will test on the second half. These exams will be composed of a mix of multiple choice, true/false, and short answer questions.


The grading breakdown is as follows:

Workshop presentationSign-up in class10
Ethics training2/145
Survey project3/2820
Ethnography project5/220
Final Exam5/915

The letter grade distribution will be:

FBelow 60

Late assignments

You are expected to complete each assignment on time, turned in on the due date. Exceptions will only be granted in special circumstances, such as extended illness or other personal concerns. Late assignments will be penalized one full grade for each day it is late, and will not be accepted after one week.

If you have a conflict with a due date or the final exam date, you must let me know during the first two weeks of the semester.

Academic integrity

I understand that as the semester progresses, you will no doubt be juggling multiple class assignments, studying for exams, part-time paid work, and campus/community activism. This added stress can affect your well-being, emotions, and school performance. Therefore, time management early in the semester is part of the key to success in college. Avoid cutting corners and especially, avoid any type of behavior (such as copying and pasting material from the Internet without proper citation) that can be interpreted as plagiarism and academic misconduct. A clear definition of plagiarism as well as information about disciplinary sanctions for academic misconduct may be found at the Dean of Students website:

Students are expected to be aware of these guidelines and the related consequences. If I suspect plagiarism, I will speak with the Dean of Letters and Sciences and a report written by me will be placed in your academic file detailing the circumstances. Avoid this painful hassle for everyone, manage your time wisely and do not knowingly (or ignorantly) plagiarize. If you are unclear on what constitutes plagiarism, please contact me well before the assignment is due.

Class conduct and technology

Conduct - I aim to treat you with respect, and I expect you to do the same of me and of your fellow students. This means acknowledging and engaging opinions of others that you may not agree with, refraining from personal attacks, side conversations, and snide remarks, and waiting until the end of the class period to put away your personal items. Acting disrespectfully degrades the learning experience for you and other students in the class.

Laptops - Laptops and other mobile devices can be invaluable learning tools. They can also be endless time sinks that distract you and those around you from lecture. If you plan to use one of these devices, I ask that you sit in the first few rows of the lecture hall. If I notice you disrupting class, I will ask you to put the device away. With great (computing) power comes great responsibility.

Email - I am mostly available on email during the day. If you email me after 5 PM, I generally won't respond until early next morning.


The Writing Center: Excellent writing instructors offer classes and one-on-one meetings to help you with all aspects of the writing process from ways to improve your skills to focused work on a particular class assignment. Visit for more information.

The McBurney Center: The university and I intend to work toward full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to make facilities and instructional programs accessible to all people regardless of ability, and to provide reasonable accommodations according to the law. Please see me early in the semester to discuss special arrangements that may be needed to help you succeed in this course. You should contact the McBurney Disability Resource Center at for assistance and evaluation.


Below is the rough schedule of the semester. It is subject to change, and I will try my best to give you sufficient notice when it does and I will update the webpage version of the syllabus.

Foreword: Motivation, epistemology, and ethics

Unit one: Quantitative methods

3/15 - 3/23: Spring break

Unit two: Qualitative methods

Unit three: Relational, historical, and automated methods

Last updated: April 2, 2014.