Topics in Quantitative Sociology

Fall 2020 ENSAE

Evaluation Criteria

The evaluation for this course is based on three components (an in-class presentation, a 2-page written commentary and a 4-page written review) in addition to class attendance and participation.

The logic of the course requirements is to ensure that with a minimal but reasonable enough effort you get a sufficient exposure to quantitative sociology. My overview at the first half of each session should give you the necessary background, which is why I do not expect from you to read beyond the two weekly case-studies. However, because I have selected good but tough papers for the case-studies, it is expected that you read through them in order to follow and participate in the class discussion. The in-class student presentations should help clarify each paper. Aided by their written commentaries, students should be able to further enrich the discussion. All this should also give enough background knowledge to prepare the written review for a given week. All in all, this method aims to oblige you to work in-depth (commentary+review) on the material for two specific weeks, to cover material for an additional week (one presentation), and to get working knowledge for the remaining sessions.

Reading requirements

All readings are available on the course website. Everyone is responsible for having a general understanding of the background reading and the two weekly case-studies so as to be capable to contribute to the class discussion constructively. For the two case-studies, this entails, at a minimum, to skim through a paper’s introduction, theory section, visuals and conclusion (approximately 60 min per article for a total of 2 hours of work per week). Note that while a good comprehension of the statistical issues in a paper may be useful, the emphasis in this course will be on the logic and design of the paper: most fundamental problems in any piece of research largely occur before any model is ever estimated.

How to prepare your in-class student presentations

Students are responsible for preparing and presenting briefly (max. 15 min) in class the weekly case-studies. The presentation should discuss, in clear and concise manner, the following elements: research question, relevant debate on the subject, working hypotheses, data and measures, methods, results and conclusions. Students prepare each presentation in groups of two; each student is required to present one case-study from a given week in the course of the semester.

For illustration, here is an example of a student presentation from the previous year: ex.1, ex.2, ex.3.

Here is simple manual by Eric L. Peters with fun guidelines on how to prepare a good (or bad) student presentation.

How to write your commentary

Each student is required to submit a 2-page critical commentary (one page per case-study) on all two case-studies for a given week, which is different from the ones for the presentation and the review. The purpose of this commentary, which will be made available on the course website on the day of class, is to provide other students with a critical perspective on the works presented in class. I will also use the commentary to animate the discussion in class.

The commentary should follow the same structure as the commentary in the paper review described under Review. The only difference is that in the review your commentary is more detailed, two pages on a single paper; this one is less detailed, one page per case-study for a total of two pages. Note that your commentary does not need to summarize the case-studies - the student presentations will do this - you simply need to address their strengths and weaknesses.

For illustration, here are examples of a good commentary: ex.1, ex.2.

How to write your review

Each student is required to prepare a written 4-page review of an empirical paper. The review is similar to the presentation except that it includes an extended critical commentary at the end:

  • describe and explain (max 2 pages), in a clear and concise manner, the following elements of the empirical paper of your choice: research question, relevant debate on the subject, working hypotheses, data and measures, methods, results and conclusions;

  • comment (max 2 pages) on the paper's contributions to advancing our knowledge on the reseach question at hand, in terms of theory, methodology, and/or empirical evidence; evaluate its shortcomings. I am looking for two basic things here: how well you understand the article; and whether there are sufficient and convinging elements to justify what you identify as main contributions and shortcomings of the article.

A list of papers for review are available for each week. The paper for review must be chosen for a week different from the ones on which the student presents or writes a commentary.

For illustration, here are examples of excellent student reviews from previous years: ex.1, ex.2, ex.3.

By what deadline to submit your work

Student presentations and commentaries are due the night (no later than 23:59) before the class when the case-studies are discussed (example: if you choose to present a case-study from week 3, the presentation is due on the Tuesday night before our class on Wednesday). Reviews are due on the night (no later than 23:59) a week after the class from which the paper was chosen (example: if you choose to review a paper from week 3, the review is due the Tuesday night of the following week). Failure to submit your work on time will result in a 20% penalty of your grade. (The penalty aims to motivate you to finish before midnight and to get a full-night sleep.)

How to submit your work

Use this link to submit/upload your presentations, review and commentary as a PDF file with a name formatted as such: [familyname(s)][Pres/Rev/Com][week#].pdf . For example: PetevWagnerPres3.pdf, PetevRev4.pdf, PetevCom4.pdf.


  • 1 Presentation: 25% (group grade)

  • 1 Review: 45%

  • 1 Commentary: 25%

  • Class participation: 5%

How to choose your work assignments

Use this link to complete a survey with your preferences for papers to present and to review. Based on the survey results and in accordance to the preferences in the class, I will assign each student a paper for presentation (along with corresponding group mate), a paper for review, and a week for the commentary. Complete the survey by Sunday October XX (no later than 23:59) to ensure that I take account of your preferences. The paper and group assignments will be published on the course website by midnight on Tuesday October XX.

Attention in class (no smartphones, tablets or computers)

More important than class attendance, attention in class is crucial for a good working environment. The course material requires your full attention. The use of smartphones, tablets and computers, which are inevitable distractions for you and to the classmates around you, are therefore not allowed. For a clearer statement of my position by a fellow professors, see link and link.

Class attendance

Every non-justified absence counts for 1% less of your final grade.