Operational definitions

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Mr. Kim What should we study about operational definitions?

-- Nicholas Mink (minker@eden.rutgers.edu), February 17, 2000


Hi, Nicholas and others-

What is it, operational definition? how does it differ from conceptual definition? Can you think of a good example?

Suppose that I am study of "social support" found in a health related usenet newsgroups. First I may want to do is to define what I mean by "social support." I might look up a dictionary to see how "social support" is defined in a conventional way. Or I might dig up the social science index (or others) database to see if there are studies defined such a concept. Based on this kind of ground work, I define, in my paper, what I mean by "social support." This is the conceptual definition part.

But, there is another problem. I need to quantify the concept. That is I need to measure the thing, which is different from defining it. So, I should eventually develop some sort of method to record "social support" as my data. This method is "operationalization." For example, I might elaborate, in my study: in order to measure such a concept (social support, which I defined conceptually earilrer), I took out each sentence in message threads in the newsgroup and quantified it by counting how many emotional, soothing words were there. I may go further by stating that emotional and soothing words may include: 'cheer', 'support', 'help', ..... etc. By making the concept "measurable", I am pleaing that the readers agree with what I measure as "social support." This is supposedly done by my objective efforts. But, it eventually becomes an "inter-subjective" agreement between the readers and me (the researcher). If anyone does not agree with what I measure as a truthful effort to capture the meaning of "social support," there would be no common ground to build social knowledge. This is a kind of problem which "scientific method" inherently holds.

Hope this helps...

-- hyo kim (hkimscil@rci.rutgers.edu), February 17, 2000.

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