Operationalizing and Conceptualizing Variables

Conceptualization and operationalization of variables is a essential necessity when researching constructs that can be misrepresented or underrepresented to ensure objectivity in interpreting the variables’ effects derived from the survey. In social research such as the national census surveys, the conclusions arrived at, and the consequent impacts are a direct end result of the researchers’ exhaustive procedures and objectivity employed in drafting the variables that inform the conceptual conclusions. Therefore, it is essential that researchers, especially in social surveys, observe due diligence in the conceptualization and operationalization of research variables to deliver objectivity and impact in their survey results.
Constructs are observable matters that can be described using terms, for example, wellbeing, economic status, and social class. These terms can be bundled up to represent an agreed-upon meaning called a concept, for example, poverty. These concepts cannot be measured empirically and, therefore, should have their meaning well specified in a process called conceptualization and after that broken down into a measurable meanings and units called variables. Conceptualization, therefore, is the specification of the theoretical meaning of concepts while operationalization is the specification of the emphirically measurable meaning. In the development of variables, the concepts are therefore operationalized to acquire empirically measurable sense. Therefore, a conceptual definition explains the meaning of a concept in theoretical contexts whereas an operational definition provides the concrete meaning of the concept to explain its use in research and enable its measurement and observation during the research (Houy, Fettke & Loos, 2012).

In the research on human racial variation, a lot of debate has been evoked in the establishment of universal procedures for conceptualizing and operationalizing race. Social and biological dimensions have been pursued by social researchers to explain the concept of race. Therefore the acknowledgment of the intersections between race and the related associations of color, place of origin, ethnicity, ancestry, and creed is crucial.

Conceptualization of Race

A race is a group of people that share similarities in social and biological traits which results in collective identity and differential treatment of others as a result of these variations. This conceptual definition of race can, however, be broken down into constructs that define or relate to the concept of race. These include ancestry, ethnicity, color, place of origin, citizenship, and creed. In the conceptualization of this phenomenon, it is essential to understand the founding constructs that define the basis of race (Houy, Fettke & Loos, 2012). Ethnicity is the state of being a part of a social group that practice a common cultural or national tradition whereas ancestry is the ethnic origin of a person. A creed is a belief system that defines a person’s actions while the color indicates a person complexion. The place of origin and citizenship has also been used in close correlation to a person’s race.

Despite these known constructs of race, recent research in health has brought forth contentious associations of race with biological makeups. Medical conditions such as hypertension have been found to be more prevalent in members of particular ethnicities which has elicited debate on racial inferiority and the need for proper conceptualization and operationalization of variables included in the social research (Houy, Fettke & Loos, 2012). In light of these findings, race can be conceptualized as stated in the conceptual definition with respect to the building constructs that characterize racial inclinations.

Operationalizes of race.

To empirically measure the racial composition of a population during research, the variables that define ethnic identities have to be stipulated. The mutual exclusivity and exhaustive procedures should be considered in developing variables (Houy, Fettke & Loos, 2012). From the 2010 national bureau census report, some examples of racial variables include white, black or African American, Chinese, Alaska-native or American Indian, native Hawaiian, Korean, Filipino, Japanese and Samoan among others. These questionnaire options are exhaustive but not mutually exclusive since a person can belong to more than a single group of these categorizations. A further specification of one’s origin as Hispanic or not-Hispanic advances the operationalization of racial identities. In this way, a person who declares his Hispanic ancestry and the race can be classified more objectively into a suitable social category.

Therefore, in the operationalization of race all the measurable manifestations of one’s race, both social and biological should be included in the research variables. This enables the developed definitions to lead to a correct conclusion on the concept (Nardi, 2015). However raging debate on the extent to which these procedures relate to discrimination poses a factor to consider in the operationalization.

Census Bureau Changes.

In the 2000 census, the bureau saw the need to revise the questionnaire entries on race and Hispanic origin to map the diversity of the American people better. Due to this, subsequent censuses have to inquire into the Hispanic or non-Hispanic origin of the citizens. These federal standards were established to capture data on Hispanic origins and race so that diversity can be mapped out and various government policies can be easily rolled out exclusively. The changes in formatting and terminology of presented questions in the questionnaire also enabled individuals to opt for one or more races in a self-reporting open manner. These changes were enacted to facilitate clarity and exhaustive exploitation of possible variables that may better inform on racial diversity (Nardi, 2015). The self-reporting procedures appreciated the social and biological manifestation of a race to bring out more objective data.

How changes to variables affect conclusions.

Differences in operationalization and variables produce an effect on the conclusions made. After the implementation of the bureau’s changes, findings on the racial diversity and the growth of ethnic groups were laid bare. The issue of people reporting more than a single race grew significantly and also there was a notable increase in minority groups’ growth as compared to majority races. Another significant trend in conclusions is the high population reporting ‘some other race’ which lays bare the inadequacy of available information on racial diversity and prompts the bureau to employ additional information.


In my view, the conceptualization and operationalization of race by the bureau is commendable. Not only does it help to exhaustively bring to national attention the racial composition of the national population but also ensures sensitivity in recognizing the minority races which have been unrecognized for a long time. I also am a great crusader of the inclusion of such races in the legislation and policy agenda of a country which can only be possible if they are recognized through a census exercise.

In conclusion, any research or survey should recognize the need for in-depth conceptualization and exhaustive operationalization of concepts. It is in such a manner that conclusions arrived at from the established premises can be right and serve the majority and majority interests as in the case of a population census.


Houy, C., Fettke, P., & Loos, P. (2012). Understanding understandability of conceptual models–what are we actually talking about?. Conceptual modeling, 64-77.

Nardi, P. M. (2015). Doing survey research. Abingdon: Routledge.

Neuman, W. L. (2016). Understanding research. London: Pearson.

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