Module 1: Reading and structuring research


Module 1 begins by walking through the course Syllabus. It then kicks off our examination of the different components of good research design by laying out strategies for critically reading and structuring a quantitative social science research report. It then asks you to critically examine a summary report by the Chicago Million Dollar Blocks Project as well as use the Project’s data to create a basic plot using GGplot.


  • Logisitics
    • Examine the course Syllabus
    • Enroll in weekly team meeting via email
  • Reflect on strategies for critically reading quantitative social science research
  • Describe the main components of a social science research report, their contents, and their purpose
  • Reflect on the linkage between theoretical claims and data analysis via examination of the Chicago Million Dollar Blocks Project.


  • You should send an email to me with 3 times that you are available to regularly meet with a team of 3-5 students. See the Syllabus for details and available times. Email me by Thursday evening.
  • Ed Discussion Q&A are due at 8pm CST on Thursday (Q) and Friday (A) each week. This week, you only need to post one comment by Friday at 8pm. Your comment should center on the Chicago Million Dollar Blocks Project. See below.
  • The Module 1 exercise is due at 8pm CST on Friday.

Module 1


Watch the video on “Course Syllabus.” If you have questions about the Syllabus after watching the video, please post your question to Ed Discussion under “Course logistics” so that other students can view the answer.

Course Intro.

Course format

Assignments and grading

Final research report

Course policies

Course schedule

Reading and structuring research

How to read and structure research may seem relatively straightforward; it may even seem obvious. You are at Chicago, after all, in part because you are a good reader. You are also probably a decent writer and have some good intuition about how to do research. But quantitative social science research can be a strange form. It is thus critical that we become deeply familiar with the form — its structure, conventions, jargon, and so forth — so that we can read it critically and, ultimately, apply it to our own research. With this in mind, I encourage you to reflect on your answers to the following questions as you read the Dane and Buttolph Johnson chapters:

  • How does critical reading of quantitative research differ from reading, say, an ethnographic study?
  • What are the different components of a quantitative research report?
  • And more critically perhaps: What should each component do? What is its contribution to the report as a whole?

Now read “Reading a research report” by Dane and “The research report: An annotated example” by Buttolph Johnson.

The Chicago Million Dollar Blocks Project

In addition to examining and reflecting on the different components of quantitative social science research, we are going to examine lots of data and data visualizations this quarter. We will do so mainly via readings, brief videos, and weekly exercises in R. The aim here is to get you thinking about how to effectively support a theoretical using good data and and detailed data analysis.

Go to the Chicago Million Dollar Blocks Project ( Carefully read the web page and examine the data presented there.

The Project begins to exemplify what you will do this quarter: In particular, it uses high-quality data to support a claim about a high-interest and pressing social topic. But there are also areas in which the “report” shown at the Project’s web page could be improved. In this vein, think about your answers to the following questions as you study the page:

  • What is the aim of the web page? What is it trying to do exactly?
  • What is a “war on neighborhoods”?
  • What evidence exists of a war on neighborhoods?
  • What sort of statistic would be clear and compelling evidence in support of the Project’s main claim (as you understand it)?
  • Are you persuaded? If not, how might you improve the web page to make it more compelling?

For this week’s Q&A, post one way that you might try to improve the “report” shown at the Project’s web page. Post your comment to the thread that I have created at Ed Discussion by Friday evening at 8pm CST. The thread is under “Reading Q&A / Chicago Million Dollar Blocks Project.” You are not required to post an additional reply this week, but you may do so if you wish.

Once you have scrutinized the Project web page and posted at Ed Discussion, complete the Module 1 exercise, which uses data from the Chicago Million Dollar Blocks Project. Download the exercise from the “Module 1” folder located at the “Files/Module 1” section of Canvas. Also download the corresponding dataset. Complete the RMD file, render it to PDF, and upload your PDF to the “Assignments” section of Canvas.