Criminal Justice Research Methods

Criminal Justice Research Methods – Final Paper Guidelines
OK, so it’s “putting it all together time”. You’ve written your first paragraph, come up with hypotheses and variables, which you’ve operationalized (hopefully), and you’ve thought of a method by which you could collect the data you want, to analyze and answer your research question. Although the final step, writing the research proposal, seems like a large one, and a daunting one at that, I think you should consider it a series of small steps. You know, like the adage about a journey of a thousand miles. And the outline that I provided you at the beginning of the course should help quite a bit. However, I want to give you that outline again, with a little more detail and suggestions, which I hope will make the job even easier. Not that I’ve intended this to be “easy”…
1. State the general problem area. What topic are you investigating and why? Note any previous studies in the area, and what they found.
This is your initial paragraph, plus your research writeup. You should have at least a couple of pages (and maybe a few more than that) in which you introduce the reader to your research question. Give us background information and prior research in the area. What have OTHER researchers looked at, how have they studied the topic, and what have they found? (2-4 pages, I would imagine)
2. What are the two (or more) concepts you are trying to link? Conceptualize your main concepts adequately.
This shouldn’t take too much space. You need to VERY CLEARLY identify the main variables you are going to propose studying. How do you define them? If you’re looking at “juvenile delinquency” as a variable, for example, you need to tell me not just what “juvenile delinquency” is as a basic concept, you need to specifically tell me what it will be defined as for this project. (a page or so)
3. Working with your conceptualization, operationalize your concepts into measurable constructs. I need to be very clear on how you will measure each concept.
Take the clear definitions you gave the reader from the section right above, and indicate how you will MEASURE each and every one of the concepts you plan to study. Again, if you’re looking into whether a group of kids engaged in delinquency, are you defining it as “reporting on a self-report questionnaire that they have ever engaged in a criminal act”? Or are you defining delinquency as “having been apprehended by law enforcement on a criminal charge while under the age of 18”? Or “having been convicted of a criminal charge while under 18”? Or what? Remember that there are many different ways that different researchers measure things. You have to tell me how YOU would measure your variables. (again, a page or so)
4. State the specific hypotheses you are intending to examine.
This is the “hypotheses” part of your “hypotheses and variables” statement. It really can simply be a copy/paste from the relevant section you turned in to me earlier (with any changes you made to make it better, of course) (less than a page)
5. Identify the independent and dependent variables. How did you determine which variable was dependent and which was independent?
Remember your statement of hypotheses and variables? This is the other part. List your variables, indicate clearly which is (are) dependent and independent in your project. Also in this section you will…(see #6)
6. At what level is each variable measured? Why?
…Identify the level of analysis of each variable (nominal, ordinal, etc.). Tell me how you know. (5 and 6 together probably won’t be more than a page)
7. Discuss the reliability and validity of your measurements. What techniques will you use to assess the reliability and validity of each?
OK, so you have identified how you will measure each of your variables. Discuss how you will ascertain (or have ascertained) whether these are valid and reliable measures of what you want to study. Remember, your measurements should ACCURATELY (validly) measure PRECISELY (reliably) the thing that you actually want to study. Again using delinquency as an example. If you were to tell me “I’m going to tell whether the kids in my study were delinquent by asking their parents if they’ve ever done anything criminal”, I’m going to wonder whether the parents are really going to know this. It’s likely that most delinquency never comes to parents’ attention. I know MINE never did, or I would probably never have seen the light of day again. So that may be an inaccurate measure, and also potentially unreliable as well. Or if you tell me that you are defining “delinquency” as having been convicted in a juvenile court, I’m probably going to wonder how many kids who ENGAGE in delinquency actually get CONVICTED of doing so (I don’t really have to wonder – it’s less than 5%). Again, probably an inaccurate measure. Look at the notes and text section on reliability and validity, and make sure that the ways you have chosen to define and measure your variables are reasonably likely to actually obtain the information you want. (a page, maybe a bit more)
8. What type of research design will you use to collect and analyze your data? Why? Identify the advantages and disadvantages of your selected research design, in studying your problem.
And here’s where your research design submission will come in. In fact, this item and the next two are all a part of your overall research design. You will take what you gave me earlier, make any changes you feel are a good idea (based on my comments, further study, etc.) and answer the questions in 8-10. After reading this section of your paper, I want to have a clear idea of how you’ll identify your population for sampling, obtain the sampling frame, actually pick your sample, etc. (3 pages or so – remember, this is a really important part)
9. What is your sampling strategy? Identify your population adequately, your sampling frame, and indicate what type of sampling design you intend to use and why.
See #8. Tell me who you’re studying. How many. How you’re selecting them. Why that’s a good way of doing it.
10. What type of data collection technique do you intend to use and why? Note advantages/disadvantages.
See #8, but make sure that you justify your reasoning for your particular methodology. If you are going to use telephone interviews, explain why that’s a good method of obtaining the data you are looking for. If you’re going to use internet polling, again, tell me why and how that is an effective method for your particular study.
11. What ethical considerations need to be addressed in your project? How do you intend to address them?
You will (most of you, anyway) be dealing with human subjects. Identify and describe the ethical standards you will need to follow. How will you obtain informed consent? How will you insure against harm? IS your project one which could in any way harm your participants? (no more than a page, I would imagine)
12. Discuss any special problems or issues you might experience in doing your research. How will you deal with these issues?
Some of you may have particular issues with data collection (dealing with juveniles, for example) or obtaining truthful responses to questions about sensitive issues (if you’re asking people about abuse or criminality, etc.). How will you address these potential issues? (from a paragraph to a page, depending on project)
So, by my count, that’s somewhere between 10 and 15 pages, which amazingly happens to be the page requirement for this project! However, in this world I have found that excruciating precision is required, so let us be excruciatingly precise – you MUST have at least ten pages of written body, using commonly accepted font and margin settings, for this paper to be considered acceptable. By “written body” I mean “the main body of the paper, that is responsive to the 12 points I have laid out here”. Thus:
Your cover page doesn’t count.
The blank page you have incorrectly placed in there between the Title Page and the Table Of Contents (which you also don’t need) doesn’t count.
The Table of Contents doesn’t count.
Your reference page at the end doesn’t count.

There will be a 2-letter-grade reduction for each page your paper body is short. So, if you have 9 and ¾ pages, you can’t get any higher than a B. Less than 9 pages, you can’t get any higher than a C. Less than 8 pages, you can’t get any higher than a D. Etcetera.
You will also need to correctly cite and reference your paper. I would expect that at a minimum, you should be able to find ten sources, and at least five of those should be from research articles (journal articles, research chapters in a book written for professionals/academics, etc.) You should use APA or MLA format in your citations/references. If you don’t know how to do this, consult a style guide. Also, you can use the Citation Machine (it’s at It’s a great tool that provides you with a form to fill out with all the available information on your source. It then produces a ready to copy/paste end reference, AND the correct form for the parenthetical citation in the text of your paper. It’s really cool. One final reminder regarding references/citations: You must cite everything you reference, and vice versa. So if you have a parenthetical reference for something (Boeringer, 2012), you need to have the correctly formatted reference at the end, and if you have the reference at the end, you need to have cited it somewhere in the body of the paper. If you don’t do this, see the entry for “C” in General Evaluation Guidelines below.
Please remember that your paper will be submitted to Safe Assignment and reviewed for originality. I don’t have any problem with you using the assignments from earlier in the term, but any source material that you did not write must NOT be used verbatim, or close to verbatim, in your final submission. If you have any questions about what constitutes academic dishonesty under USF guidelines, please consult the Student Handbook (and review the syllabus for this course). One more reminder – you cannot use material you have previously used in another course. So don’t.
General Evaluation Guidelines:
An "A" paper will be something which impresses me: a paper displaying serious effort and a clear understanding of the material going beyond simply what you read. An "A" paper will not be deficient in any area. Although it is not impossible (and has happened in the past), I have found that generally speaking, papers that are EXACTLY (or very nearly exactly) the minimum length tend not to be “A” quality papers.
A "B" paper will be a paper which is technically correct in all aspects, but which does not display outstanding effort; or a paper which displays serious effort but which has minor technical flaws, or which is slightly short of minimum length guidelines, or which has minor issues with reference/citation format.

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