Sociology 211
Spring 2011
Elementary Social Statistics
Professor: Jacob Felson

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:00 - 3:15 pm

Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays, before and after class
Office Location: Raubinger 451
Email address:

Course prerequisite: SOC 101: Principles of Sociology


My sense is that many students in sociology have fear and loathing of the idea of having to take statistics.  I think that this course will defy your negative expectations.  Statistics can be extremely dull, but it can also be exciting and fun, especially when applied to a topic that interests you.  And therein lies the beauty of statistics: statistics can be applied to almost anything, and people are applying statistics to all manner of topics, from finance to sports.  Often, all that is needed is a good ‘hook’ to lure you in, and then its really not all that bad. 

This course may in fact be one of the most important that you take at William Paterson.  Why?  Because statistical calculations and analysis is everywhere – in the news, on the job, in your leisure activities.  Understanding some basic statistics will not simply fulfill a requirement toward your degree in sociology.  Instead, a basic understanding of fundamental concepts in probability and statistics can help you (1) make important life decisions, (2) evaluate the world around you, and (3) make money.

I have decided to teach statistics using Excel.  Why?  I want this class to be a resume-builder for you.
And I can't think of a business or government agency that doesn't use Excel at some point.  We are going to learn about how to manipulate data to get results, and then learn about how to interpret the results.  At the end of this course, you should be able to add a bullet point to your resume: "proficient in Excel."  

Math and statistics can be dreary and hard.  So is walking for miles carrying heavy objects, yet many of us do this every day -- using a car.  The car allows you to leverage your strength 1000 times, enabling an 80 year old accomplish a task that an athletic, in shape 20 year old would have had trouble doing two hundred years ago.  In the same way, we can leverage our math skills 1000-fold using the computer -- Excel specifically.  Learning Excel can be stressful, in the same learning to drive can be stressful (especially for the driver in the passenger side seat), but its nothing when you consider what the car and Excel allow you to do. 

Here's another analogy: a pulley.  

Use Excel to leverage the strength of your mind the way a pulley leverages the strength of your body!

Salkind, Neil. 2007. Statistics for People Who (Think They) Hate Statistics: Excel 2007 edition. Second edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications
Other requirements

I require you to establish a way to store your files.  There are two options.  First, you can set up a free account at and upload your files to that website.  Alternatively, you may choose to buy a portable electronic hard drive and bring it to class every day.  These devices go by various names: USB  flash drive, flash drive, and thumb drive.   Your USB drive should have at least 1 gigabyte of storage.  Some of you may already own such a device. If you don't own one, you can buy a 2-gigabyte USB flash drive at Office Depot for about $6.00.  Attach it to your key chain so you don't lose it.


There will be four tests: three quarter exams and a final exam, all of which will be given on Blackboard. The tests will mainly consist of multiple choice questions.  Tests will be open-book.  You will be given a certain period of time to complete the tests.


The three main components of your grade are listed below.

    1. Assignments (both in-class and at-home): 30%
    2. Three quarter exams: 15% each = 45% total
    3. Final exam, covering material since the first day: 25%

Translating Percentages into Letter Grades

 Points will be tallied, rounded to the nearest integer, and then translated into a letter grade.


General Attendance – I will not grade directly on attendance.  That said, students who miss more than one or two classes are likely not to learn as much, and are thus not as likely to perform well on assignments and tests. 

Lateness – Lateness is disruptive to the class.  I define lateness here as arriving after class has begun.  The first time that you arrive late, you will receive a warning by email.  If you arrive late to class after you receive a warning, 2 points will be deducted from your final grade.  Each additional late arrival will result in another 2 point reduction. 

Missed exams – If you cannot be present in class on the day of the final exam, please warn me at least 24 hours ahead of time.  Make-up exams will only be available to persons who have acceptable reasons for being absent on exam day and can provide supporting documentation.  Acceptable reasons include: death in the family and severe illness.  If you cannot provide acceptable documentation for missing the midterm, then you will not be able to make up the test. 

List of Topics

  • What is statistics?
  • Data manipulation
  • Scales (or levels) of measurement: nominal, ordinal, interval, ratio
  • Descriptive statistics
  • Inferential statistics
  • Samples and populations, sample statistics, population parameters, sampling error
  • Measures of central tendency: average (mean), median (among other percentile points), mode
  • Measures of variability: range, standard deviation, variance
  • Frequency distributions, histograms, frequency polygons, skewness, column charts
  • Association versus causation
  • The null hypothesis & the research hypothesis, statistical significance
  • The normal curve, z-scores
  • Tests between means of two different groups, tests between means of related groups
  • Scatter plots, correlation coefficients, introduction to linear regression

Statement on Plagiarism

Since plagiarism is a serious offense about which there is occasionally confusion, it is worth reiterating the definition of plagiarism here. 

“Plagiarism is the copying from a book, article, notebook, video, internet or other source material, whether published or unpublished, without proper credit through the use of quotation marks, footnotes and other customary means of identifying sources, or palling off as one’s own the ideas, words, writings, programs and experiments of another, whether or not such actions are intentional or unintentional  Plagiarism also includes submitting, without the consent of the professor, an assignment already tendered for academic credit in another course.”

-- From the William Paterson Student Handbook for the 2007-2008 academic year