I’m supervising senior theses this semester and so I have to be a super stickler about something that makes most students’ eyes roll back in their heads: operationalization.  Wait!  Keep reading!

The term refers to a careful definition of the variable you’re measuring and it can have dramatic influences on what you find.  Dmitriy T.C. sent in a great example.  It involves whether you include church donations in your definition of “charity.”   Friendly Atheist breaks it down.

If you include church donations, the South appears to be the most generous U.S. region:

But if you don’t, everyone looks a whole lot stingier and the Northeast comes out on top:

All you budding sociologists out there remember!  Think long and hard about how to define what you’re measuring.  It can make a huge difference in your results.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and Gender, a textbook. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
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