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Designing Experiments for the Social Sciences

Designing Experiments for the Social Sciences
How to Plan, Create, and Execute Research Using Experiments

September 2018 | 408 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc
 “This book is a must for learning about the experimental design–from forming a research question to interpreting the results this text covers it all.”

–Sarah El Sayed, University of Texas at Arlington

Designing Experiments for the Social Sciences: How to Plan, Create, and Execute Research Using Experiments is a practical, applied text for courses in experimental design. The text assumes that students have just a basic knowledge of the scientific method, and no statistics background is required. With its focus on how to effectively design experiments, rather than how to analyze them, the book concentrates on the stage where researchers are making decisions about procedural aspects of the experiment before interventions and treatments are given.

Renita Coleman walks readers step-by-step on how to plan and execute experiments from the beginning by discussing choosing and collecting a sample, creating the stimuli and questionnaire, doing a manipulation check or pre-test, analyzing the data, and understanding and interpreting the results. Guidelines for deciding which elements are best used in the creation of a particular kind of experiment are also given. This title offers rich pedagogy, ethical considerations, and examples pertinent to all social science disciplines.

About the Author
1. Discovering Cause and Effect
Experiments Compared to Other Methods  
Basic Criteria for Experiments  
Elements of Experiments  
Starting a Study of Your Own  
2. Ethics and Famous Experiments in History
The Scurvy Studies  
The Contributions of Charles Peirce  
Ronald Fisher’s Plots and Tea  
B. F. Skinner: Small Samples, High Tech  
Stanley Milgram Shocks the World  
Philip Zimbardo: Raising Consciences in a Stanford Basement  
3. Theory, Literature, and Hypotheses
The Literature Review  
Hypotheses and Research Questions  
4. Types of Experiments
Campbell and Stanley’s Typology of Experiments  
Quasi Experiments  
Natural Experiments  
Field Experiments  
5. Internal and External Validity
Ecological and External Validity  
Cause and Effect  
Logical Inference  
Internal Validity  
6. Factorial Designs
Single-Factor Designs  
Factorial Designs  
How Subjects Are Used in Designs  
Control Groups  
7. Random Assignment
The Purpose of Random Assignment  
Operationalizing Random Assignment  
Reporting Random Assignment  
Balanced and Unbalanced Designs  
Checking That Random Assignment Was Effective  
Blocking, Matching, and Other Strategies  
Random Assignment of Other Things  
Random Assignment Resistance  
8. Sampling and Effect Sizes
Student Samples  
Amazon’s Mechanical Turk  
Other Subject Sources  
Sample Size and Power  
9. Stimuli and Manipulation Checks
Examples of Stimuli  
Advice on Creating Stimuli  
Manipulation Checks  
Reporting the Stimuli and Manipulation Checks  
10. Instruments and Measures
Measurement Issues  
11. The Institutional Review Board and Conducting Ethical Experiments
Institutional Review Boards  
Ethical Issues in Experiments  
Protecting Subjects  
Researcher Issues  
Pilot Studies  


Instructor Teaching Site

Password-protected Instructor Resources include the following:

  • Editable, chapter-specific Microsoft® PowerPoint® slides offer you complete flexibility in easily creating a multimedia presentation for your course.
  • Test banks provide a diverse range of pre-written options as well as the opportunity to edit any question and/or insert your own personalized questions to effectively assess students’ progress and understanding.

Student Study Site

The open-access Student Study Site includes the following:

  • Access to full-text SAGE journal articles that have been carefully selected to support and expand on the concepts presented in each chapter is included.

“This book offers many examples and hands-on instruction that can help students learn how to conduct experiments.”

Francis O. Adeola
University of New Orleans

“This book is a must for learning about the experimental design–from forming a research question to interpreting the results, this text covers it all.”

Sarah El Sayed
University of Texas at Arlington

“This text provides students with an excellent explanation of experimental methodology: not just descriptions of elements of the experiment method, but understanding of where those elements came from, how and why they work together, and how students can become scholars.”

Kyle J. Holody
Coastal Carolina University

“This is a comprehensive text on experiments, clearly and engagingly written, with many excellent examples. Renita Coleman has included everything the student will need to develop, design, and execute a methodologically-sound experiment.”

Glenn Leshner
University of Oklahoma

“This textbook is detailed and well organized, with each topic progressing logically to build on foundational knowledge. Students will find it easy to master research concepts, and practice using the exercises and examples provided. The ‘Study Spotlight’ scenarios and practical examples are effective tools to demonstrate research designs, and the ‘Test Your Knowledge Quizzes’ reinforce student learning.”

Janet Reid-Hector
Rutgers University

“This book is well-written and readable. If you need to grasp concepts of experimental designs, this book guides you as to what the experimental designs are, and what you should keep in mind in conducting your studies.”

Ji-Hoon Ryoo
University of Virginia
Key features


  • Step-by-step instructions walk readers through choices that arise in the course of a research study, including whether to use a single-factor or factorial design, how to assign subjects to groups, choosing and collecting a sample, creating the stimuli and instrument, doing a manipulation check, and doing a pilot study.
  • Brief coverage of the statistical aspects of experiments helps those without an in-depth knowledge of statistics to grasp the material.
  • “How To Do It” boxes give instructions and examples from all social science disciplines for executing the steps in the chapter and writing it up for a paper.
  • Study Spotlights showcase particularly well executed or exceptionally creative studies.
  • Common Mistakes provide a bulleted list of the most common things novice experimentalists should avoid.


Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1: Discovering Cause and Effect

Chapter 7: Random Assignment

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