CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012 Susan R. Hutchinson, Ph.D.

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First Steps in Designing Quantitative Research: Asking the Right Questions
CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012 Susan R. Hutchinson, Ph.D. Department of Applied Statistics & Research Methods

Workshop Outline Overview of purposes for conducting quantitative research Role(s) served by research questions Attributes of useful RQs Group activity on evaluating RQs Exercise on constructing RQs CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Pretest CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

All quantitative studies include one or more research questions.
False CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Research questions and research hypotheses are the same thing.
False CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Research questions should “foreshadow” the data analyses.
True CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Research questions should be posed after data are collected.
CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012 False

Research questions should be written using non-specific language to allow flexibility in designing the study. CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012 False

All of the following are types of variables that might be included in research questions: dependent, moderator, mediator, extraneous, independent CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012 True

Writing quantitative research questions requires knowledge of statistics.
True CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

What are the major purposes for conducting quantitative research?
CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Quantitative research is intended to examine:
Differences between groups Statistical significance, magnitude, and direction of differences Change over time Direction, magnitude, and between-group differences Relationships between 2 or more variables Direction, magnitude, type/form, between-group differences Descriptions of populations and phenomena CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

As you’re constructing your research questions, keep in mind the overriding purpose of quantitative research is to understand differences CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

What role do research questions play in designing quantitative research?
CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

What information should research questions include?
Indicate the target population Identify the variables/constructs and what we want to know about them Foreshadow the type of data analysis (and sometimes the research design) CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

What characterizes a “good” research question?
Clearly conveys the variables/constructs and the nature of their relationships Includes independent, dependent, moderator, and mediator variables (where applicable) Must be answerable based on data from the study RQs should not be rhetorical or require a value judgment to answer RQs should match the research design Should be worth investigating A good RQ does not address a trivial issue; “so what?” Answers to RQs should further the researcher’s understanding of the phenomenon CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

“It is better to have an approximate answer to the right question than an exact answer to the wrong one.” John Tukey CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Types of variables that might appear in research questions
Dependent Independent Extraneous Moderator Mediator CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Dependent variable(s)
The dependent variable is a phenomenon one is attempting to explain or predict Also referred to as the outcome or criterion variable In a survey study, often this is the variable or construct of primary interest to the researcher It is something which the researcher wishes to understand more fully For many researchers conducting nonexperimental research this is the starting point in planning a study SRM 627 Survey Research Methods, Hutchinson

Independent variable(s)
In an experimental or quasi-experimental design, an independent variable would be the manipulated or treatment variable in your study In a survey or other type of nonexperimental study, where no variables are manipulated, independent variables are the factors used to explain or predict the DV SRM 627 Survey Research Methods, Hutchinson

Extraneous variables Extraneous variables are also called nuisance variables These are variables which are not usually of primary interest but are believed to be related to the independent and/or dependent variables Their effects need to be controlled in order to obtain meaningful results Extraneous variables are of two broad types: dispositional and situational SRM 627 Survey Research Methods, Hutchinson

Illustration of controlling for extraneous variables
salary job satisfaction SRM 627 Survey Research Methods, Hutchinson A researcher is interested in examining the relationship between salary and job satisfaction. However, the researcher suspects that factors other than salary (such as job autonomy) are also responsible for an employee’s level of job satisfaction.

Relationship with “job autonomy" taken into account or controlled
satisfaction salary job autonomy SRM 627 Survey Research Methods, Hutchinson Relationship with “job autonomy" taken into account or controlled

Moderator variable(s)
A moderator variable influences the strength of the relationship between the primary independent variable and the dependent variable Usually a moderator variable is of secondary interest A moderator variable would be the variable that interacts with the independent variable SRM 627 Survey Research Methods, Hutchinson

Illustration of moderator effect
Satisfaction with online course low aptitude high aptitude SRM 627 Survey Research Methods, Hutchinson Computer skills/comfort

Mediator variable Also referred to as an intervening variable
A mediator (or mediating) variable is some construct through which the independent variable indirectly affects the dependent variable SRM 627 Survey Research Methods, Hutchinson

Illustration of mediator variable
Parents’ educational level Achieve- ment motivation Performance on standard- ized tests SRM 627 Survey Research Methods, Hutchinson

Examples of less than ideal RQs
What are psychologists’ perceptions of professional development? Are university faculty depressed? What is the relationship between self-esteem and happiness? How many undergraduate students dropped out of college in 2011? What factors predict job satisfaction? How are exercise and blood pressure related? Is there a difference between gender and depression? What is the impact of test anxiety on test performance? Is religion good for society? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

What are psychologists’ perceptions of professional development?
What is the researcher hoping to learn? What are the variables/constructs in the RQ? What is the target population? How might this RQ be improved? Which aspects of professional development do psychologists rate most versus least positively? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Or, instead of posing a descriptive question about a particular construct, consider rewording so that you can explain differences on the construct. CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

To what extent are private practice psychologists’ perceptions of the need for professional development explained by their years of experience, area of specialization, and professional degree? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Are university faculty depressed?
What are the independent and dependent variables? What assumption about university faculty is implied by the research question? What are possible revisions? Does level of depression among university faculty differ based on their gender, departmental affiliation, and tenure status? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Are university faculty depressed?
What are the independent and dependent variables? What assumption about university faculty is implied by the research question? What are possible revisions? Does level of depression among university faculty differ based on their gender, departmental affiliation, and tenure status, after controlling for marital status and life satisfaction? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Hypothetical depression scores
CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

For complex constructs that are likely to be multiply determined, you should attempt to control for potentially extraneous variables. CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

What is the relationship between self-esteem and happiness?
What do you think the researcher wants to know? How might the question be revised to more clearly convey the type of information sought? What is the strength of relationship between self-esteem and happiness? Is self-esteem linearly related to happiness among college-educated adults? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

How many undergraduate students dropped out of college in 2011?
What is wrong with this question? How might it be improved in order to provide more useful information? Which of the following variables predicted undergraduate college student dropout in 2011? (grade point average, perceived social support, ….) CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

What factors predict job satisfaction?
What are the independent and dependent variables? What is the target population? How might you reword this RQ so that it provides a clearer focus the researcher? To what extent do salary, autonomy, …. predict job satisfaction among full-time employees? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

How are exercise and blood pressure related?
What is the independent and dependent variable? Target population? How would you reword this RQ if you had reason to believe gender could be a moderator variable? Does the strength of relation between amount of daily aerobic exercise and blood pressure differ for male and female adults? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Is there a difference between gender and depression?
What flaw do you notice in this RQ? What do you think the researcher actually wants to know? What is a possible revision? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

What is the impact of test anxiety on test performance?
Assuming the researcher plans to collect data via survey, what part of this RQ needs to be reworded and why? How might you revise this item if you wanted to determine if study strategies was a mediator variable? Do study strategies mediate the relationship between test anxiety and test performance among doctoral level social science majors? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Is religion good for society?
Why is this not a suitable research question? How could you revise the question so that it is suitable? Are rates of violent crimes lower in communities with higher attendance at formal religious services? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Other considerations when writing RQs
Be careful about your choice of words Verbs such as improve, impact, affect, and predict imply certain types of research designs Think about how you plan to answer your research questions as you write them Consider the research design, measurement, and data analysis CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Research question templates
Do [groups of interest] differ on [name of construct]? Do male and female undergraduate students differ in their level of statistical test anxiety? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Templates – cont’d Does [name of construct] differ by [variable]?
Does level of participation in Greeley Parks & Recreation Center classes differ by age, educational level, gender, or ethnic group? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Templates – cont’d To what extent does a set of variables explain (or predict) a given outcome variable? To what extent do salary, working conditions, and types of job tasks predict job satisfaction? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Templates – cont’d Is there a relationship between [variable] and [variable]? Is there a relationship between teachers’ job satisfaction and perceived level of administrative support? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Templates – cont’d Is the relationship between [variable] and [variable] the same for [names of groups]? Is the relationship between teachers’ job satisfaction and perceived level of administrative support the same for novice versus experienced teachers? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Templates – cont’d Does a given explanatory variable (or set of variables) explain a criterion, after taking into account one or more extraneous variables? Does child’s achievement motivation explain performance on statewide standardized tests, after controlling for parents’ SES and academic self-concept? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Templates – cont’d Does [dependent variable] change [or improve or decline] across time among [population of interest]? Does reading level improve during a two-month summer intensive reading program for elementary school English language learners? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Templates – cont’d Is the pattern of change [or improvement or decline] on [name of dependent variable] the same for [names of groups]? Is the rate of improvement in reading level the same for males and females? CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012

Question Writing Exercise
Consider a quantitative study you might conduct Think about the overall purpose and how the research questions will help support the purpose You are to compose at least two research questions, each of which should include a dependent variable and one or more independent variables. One of your RQs will include one or more extraneous variables and the other will include a moderator variable. CETL Workshop, July 10, 2012