Module 4: Concepts and measures


Module 4 reviews some key ideas surrounding concepts and measures. In particular, we lay out some attributes of good concepts and measures and examine how these attributes play out in real-world research. We then examine best-practices for translating our concepts into measures. Finally, we dissect “Good cop, bad cop” by Michelle Pautz as a means of examing what these best-practices actually “look like” in practice.


  • Lay out the attributes of good concepts and measures in the social sciences.
  • Learn some strategies for translating latent concepts into observable measures and begin to implement them in a revised research design.
  • Critically analyze social science scholarship for the clarity, validity, and reliability of their concepts and measures.
  • Practice giving and receiving critical and constructive peer feedback during team meetings.
  • Reflect on “tidy data” and brush up on your data tidying skills via the Module 4 R exercise.


  • Thu. / Fri. @ 8pm CST. Post your Q & A about the week’s reading at Ed Discussion.
  • Fri. @ 8pm CST. Submit your revised research design. You should submit your design to Canvas as well as post it as an attachment to your team’s thread at Ed Discussion. I have provided some guidelines for the revised design below. Note that you should read your team members’ revised designs over the weekend and then post written comments for each one by 8pm on Mon. of Week 5.

Revised research design proposal

Your revised research design should be 1-2 pages long, single-spaced. It should clearly lay out (1) a research question and its justification, (2) an answer to the question, (3) the data that you will analyze and why, and (4) an analysis plan and its justification.

In general, your revised design should be more focused and detailed than your initial submission, and it should incorporate relevant feedback from me and your peers. You should also think about what you have learned about good research questions, theory, and concepts and measurement in Modules 1 through 4; you should incorporate these lessons where applicable. Finally, you should also be learning the state of the art surrounding your topic. This should be reflected in how you motivate your research question and in your elucidation of your answer.

I will be marking for completeness, clarity, and thoughtfulness. It is not necessary that you anticipate and address every problem and/or objection. Much of that is still ahead of you. But it does mean – as I mention above – demonstrating that your ideas are developing and becoming more focused, and that you are being attentive to feedback and the course material.

The module

Theories, hypotheses, and arugments review

Before we dive into the material surrounding concepts and measures, watch the two short videos below. The first addresses a couple of key points to keep in mind as you revise your research design. The second reviews key points from Module 3 on “Theories, hypotheses, and arguments.”

Attributes of concepts and measures & Translating conepts to measures

Module 4 focuses on concepts and measures – specifically, attributes of good concepts and measures as well as how we can actually go about translating latent concepts into observed measures.

To get started, read the Chapter by Bernhard Miller on “Making measures capture concepts.” When you have finished reading, watch the videos on “Attributes of concepts and measures” and “Translating concepts to measures.”

Anatomy of a measure: “Cops on Film” by Michelle Pautz

You should now read “Cops on Film” by Michelle Pautz. Given this week’s topic, you should focus on the concepts laid out in the article as well as how Pautz goes about measuring them. In particular, think about your answers to the following questions:

  • What is the puzzle / question, and how does Pautz motivate it?
  • What concept does Pautz aim to measure?
  • How clear is the concept? How does Pautz define it?
  • How closely does the measure match the concept?
  • Would you recognize a good / bad cop if you saw one in film?

We will examine some of these questions in the video, but the video is really meant to be a continuation of the thought experiment that I raised at the end of the last video. That is, I try to show how we should think about thinking about the theoretical scale of our latent concept can help us generate and/or locate a more valid measure of the concept.

Now watch the video on “Anatomy of a measure.”

R exercise on Tidy data

This Module’s R exercise (along with the Module 3 exercise) may be the most useful. The reason is that data cleaning and transforming comprise the bulk of data analysis. And many of you will soon be doing (and may already be doing) lots of data tidying as you obtain, merge, and transform data for your own research projects. Accordingly, I highly encourage you to complete the exercise if you can – the skills and syntax you develop will be useful later on. And even if you are unfamiliar in R, reflecting on what we want our data to look like as well as the steps we can take to convert them into that form will pay dividend later on.

Download the Module 4 R Exercise from Canvas and complete it. You are not required to submit it for a grade.