Workshop and discussion exercises

Practice with these exercises to prepare for your seminars and wider research.

1. If you are planning a research project involving data collection, see if you can find a data set in a data archive on the Web that will help you answer your research questions. Investigate its adequacy for this purpose. If you are not currently working on a research project, try doing this for one of the following research problems, or for a research problem that you invent:
(a) In what ways does ethnic origin affect life chances?
(b) How do American attitudes towards world affairs compare with the attitudes of people in other countries?
(c) How do people use home entertainment technology (e.g. smartphones, computers, hi-fi, television, games consoles)?

2. Find ‘The Edwardians’ data set in the UK Data Service’s ‘Qualibank’ section. Select interviews with particular groups (e.g. males living in London in ‘semi-routine’ occupational categories) and find and describe points of comparison with another group (for example, women living in London in ‘semi-routine’ occupational categories).

You can copy and paste the full transcripts into a word processor such as Word. Either print it out and analyse it ‘manually’, or save each transcript as a ‘rich text format’ file and import it into NVivo or a similar qualitative analysis package. You can then code and search the transcripts for themes.

3. Go to the Inter-University Consortium for Social and Political Research website and click on ‘List studies for which online analysis is available’.

There are many different studies there, containing statistical data on a wide range of topics. You can analyse them ‘online’ without having any statistical software on your computer. Find out about how you can do this for a particular survey data set that interests you by clicking on relevant links on the website (e.g. you will need to look at the study’s ‘codebook’ for information about the variable names). Produce some frequency counts, tables or other data displays and comment on what they tell you about the social and cultural processes involved.

4. Choose a topic of interest to you, for example, ethnicity, gender differences, class inequalities, educational inequalities, family structure, health differences. Find some tables of official statistics and/or government survey data on your chosen topic in the reference section of your library. Do not choose data that are already presented in graph form. Some examples of UK statistical series that you are likely to find are: Social Trends; General Household Survey; Annual Abstract of Statistics; Population Trends; Mortality Statistics; Decennial Census; Marriage and Divorce Statistics. Use Google to search for them.

Present an analysis of up to four tables of data from such publications relevant to your chosen topic. Consider questions like: What do the tables tell you about the topic? What might explain the patterns you see? How might the way in which the statistics were collected affect the conclusions that can be reached? How would the tables need to be modified (in other words, broken down by other variables) in order to take your inquiry further? What further data would need to be collected in order to take your inquiry further?

You may find it relevant to recalculate and represent data in simpler or graph form to clarify the main messages of the tables analysed. Speculate on the links between the tables chosen: conduct an inquiry into the topic by analysing the data from the various tables. Make sure you consider critically the measurement validity of the variables involved.