Tips for Empirical Newbies

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5 Responses

  1. Dave Hoffman says:

    This is great advice. I’d also recommend:

    1) that folks considering co-authorship generally prefer political scientists and economists to statistics professors;

    2) that you do coding using Access or through a web collection form rather than inputting data directly into excel;

    3) that you focus on what you have a comparative advantage at — i.e., bringing legal situation sense to bear.

  2. Joe Doherty says:

    A great topic. My 4 cents:

    1) Replicate. When you read an interesting article, contact the author(s) and ask for the data. Try to re-create the tables. You will learn a lot about how the analyses were conducted and what choices were made in reporting the results. Most importantly, you will get ideas about how to extend the research for a paper of your own.

    2) Find existing data. Familiarize yourself with the various data archives. ICPSR is fantastic, but some of the longitudinal datasets are no longer updated; the updates are available on project websites, instead. If your campus has a data archivist, pay a visit. If commonly used data seems unmanageable (the Current Population Survey), you are probably not alone. Look around, someone else might have solved the problem for you and posted scripts online.

    3) Get certified with your campus IRB. It takes 2 hours and you may never need it, but you’ll learn much about research ethics.

    4) Hire a good graduate student. Social science graduate students will, for a fee, run or help you run your data. Since you are in the law school, be very clear (if asked by administrators) that this is not a mentor/apprentice relationship but an exchange of money for expertise. At the very least, such an arrangement can serve as a check on your own inexperience.

  3. Thank you. I’ll keep it as a guideline. I just started with this.

  4. William Gallagher says:

    My advice to add to the above sensible advice: Have an interesting research question and be able to explain why the data you’re analyzing are the most appropriate means of exploring that question. It seems to me that part of the research process is under-developed in much empirical work by beginners. (At a seminar on empirical methods sponsored by the American Bar Foundations a couple of years ago, the first question from an aspiring newbie to empirical research was “Where can I find a data set to work on.”) Letting the data or method drive the research is less than ideal–leads to bad, uninteresting research.

  5. Tracy Lightcap says:

    Just two things:

    1. Learn R. It’s the wave of the future, it’s updated continuously by people who know what they are doing, and it’s FREE! It’s quirky, but there’s a good windowing front end to it, John Fox’s R Commander. I use R in my classes since the grad schools are all going to it. Along with businesses, governments, think tanks, consultants …

    2. Learn to frame research questions so that the datasets you develop aren’t the size of the GM parts inventory. See Lane Kenworthy for examples:

    You can even do classroom demos with data you put together yourself!