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354 PART III Research Designs

correlational studies used in meta-analyses, and how it is


unethical for the researcher to exclude studies because of their
small sample sizes and insignificant results.
In the scenario to follow, in Box 11.1, you will be asked to
respond to a situation that often arises in correlational research
and weigh in on the ethics of the situation:

BOX 11.1 Ethical Dilemma


Describing Results Inappropriately
A key concept in correlational research is understanding the
difference between causation by an independent variable on
a dependent variable and an associa- tion or a relationship.
Because all variables cannot be tightly controlled in a cor-
relational study, the researcher cannot make claims about
causation (or probable causation because nothing can be
absolutely proved). Instead claims of association or
relationship, a lesser standard, can only apply. This impacts
how educational researchers write up the results from their
correlational studies. It is considered to be an ethical problem
when the write-up misconstrues the result to be cause-and-
effect. How would you suggest that a researcher rewrite the
result "It was found that prior academic success and support
systems for freshman students caused (or explained) their high
grade point averages in college."?

WHAT ARE THE STEPS IN CONDUCTING


A CORRELATIONAL STUDY?

From our discussion about the key characteristics of correlational


research, we can begin to see steps emerge that you might use
when planning or conducting a study. The fol- lowing steps
illustrate the process of conducting correlational research.

Step 1. Determine If a Correlational Study Best Addresses


the Research Problem
A correlational study is used when a need exists to study a problem
requiring the identi- fication of the direction and degree of
association between two sets of scores. It is useful for identifying
the type of association, explaining complex relationships of
multiple fac- tors that explain an outcome, and predicting an
outcome from one or more predictors. Correlational research does
not "prove" a relationship; rather, it indicates an association
between two or more variables.
Because you are not comparing groups in a correlational
study, you use research questions rather than hypotheses. Sample
questions in a correlational study might be:
+ Is creativity related to IQ test scores for elementary children?
(associating two variables)
+ What factors explain a student teacher's ethical behavior during
the student-teaching
experience? (exploring a complex relationship)
+ Does high school class rank predict a college student's grade
point average in the
first semester of college? (prediction)