Presentation on theme: "Writing an Undergraduate Criminology Thesis at Penn John M. MacDonald Undergraduate Chair."— Presentation transcript:
Writing an Undergraduate Criminology Thesis at Penn John M. MacDonald Undergraduate Chair
The thesis is your chance to demonstrate mastery of a topic of research Your thesis is an exercise in doing research A thesis is NOT a term paper The coursework at Penn has exposed you to quantitative work in criminology and ways of thinking numerically about the patterns of crime, theoretical explanations, and appropriateness of different social policy responses. The senior thesis is supposed to be quantitatively oriented and answer a specific research question A qualitative thesis is acceptable in principle if it follows a basic scientific approach
A basic scientific approach involves answering a clearly defined research question guided by existing research. A few examples… 1) What influence does race have on decisions to seek the death penalty in murder cases? –Review of existing research on the topic that include studies quantitatively examining racial disparities in prosecutors’ decisions to charge suspects with the death penalty –Data collected – relying on data collected and available for analysis. –Existing datasets available from the Univ of Michigan ICPSR website or other publicly available source –Analytic plan – statistical analysis of patterns of racial disparities Tests of association (e.g., conditional probabilities, mean differences, correlation analysis) –Results section – clearly explained discussion of the results from the analysis as they relate to answering the research question –Discussion and conclusion section – discussing how your study answered your research question; the key findings; and the implications for either theory, policy, or future research endeavors
A research question can also be answered using a systematic review of the literature 2) Does neighborhood watch reduce crime? –Review of existing research on the topic that include studies that quantitatively evaluate the effect of neighborhood watch programs –Data collected – relying on existing published studies in scientific journals or refereed government reports Using criminal justice abstracts and NCJRS (national criminal justice reference service) to find existing studies published evaluating neighborhood watch programs Coding the differences in study designs, general effects found, and authors of the reports –Meta-analysis - tests of strength of effects across studies (e.g., average change in crime associated with neighborhood watch program in each published study) (I’m personally not a fan of this method (see Berk, 2008). –Descriptive analysis – discuss general trends observed but not differences in study qualities, etc. –Results section – clearly explained discussion of the results from the analysis as they relate to answering the research question –Discussion and conclusion section – discussing how your study answered the research question about neighborhood watch effects on crime; the key findings; and the implications for crime prevention policy
A research question can also be answered using an existing dataset used in faculty research 2) Does exposure to paint increase a child’s risk for delinquency? –Review of existing research on the topic that include studies quantitatively examining exposure to lead and other toxins and delinquent behavior –Data collected – Part of an existing faculty research project on neuroscience and crime –Analytic plan – Statistical analysis of patterns of exposure to toxins and probability of delinquent behavior –Results section – Clearly explained discussion of the results from the analysis as they relate to answering the research question –Discussion and conclusion section – Discussing how your study answered your research question about exposure to lead and delinquency; the key findings; and the implications for criminological theory
A thesis can also involve collecting your own data 3) Are neighborhood attributes associated with racial disparities in patterns of homicide in Philadelphia? Review of existing research on neighborhood attributes of crime and violence Data – collect data from the city on the race and location of homicide victims; and data from the census, schools, and other sources measuring differences between neighborhoods in Philadelphia Analytic plan – statistical analysis of patterns of homicide by race (counts) in each Philadelphia neighborhood as predicted by neighborhood related features (e.g., correlation) Results section – clearly explained discussion of the results from the analysis as they relate to answering the research question Discussion and conclusion section – discussing how your study answered your research question about the association between neighborhood environments and patterns of homicide; and the implications for criminological theory and policy
Structure of thesis can vary but should follow some basic guidelines A section that provides the (1) Introduction discussing the topic, some very basic background, and introducing the research question A section (2) Reviews Existing Research on the topic A section on the (3) Methodology discussing your data, measures, and analytic plan A (4) Results section A (5) Discussion and Conclusions section It’s helpful to use headings for each section There is no set length but most theses range from 30 to 60 pages of text and tables.
Concluding thoughts There will always be more than one methodology that might be appropriate to try and answer a research question –Weigh what is gained and lost by choosing a particular approach. – Research may not come to any definite conclusions but that in itself can be interesting and important. –An important final, or penultimate, stage in any piece of research is to know what questions remain unanswered and how one might formulate the next step. Directions for future research.