Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Specification refers to one aspect of the elaboration of relationships in multivariate analysis.

explanatory context

A specificatory variable is one which acts to mediate the relationship between a dependent and independent variable.

When an association is observed to be non-spurious (in as far as all theoretically sound control variables have been incorporated into the analysis) it is usually necessary to use the control variables to specify the relation of X and Y. This presupposes that, in social science, an observed phenomena is not simply contingent upon a single independent variable but that several factors may be involved: that is, several factors may serve to mediate, or specify, the relationship between X and Y. Control variables that serve to elaborate the relationship between X and Y, in this way, are called specificatory variables.

For example, an observed relationship between income and educational attainment may be specified by age and gender. (Older, more experienced employees tend to be paid more; women often have lower income than men.)

Thus age, in this case, does not render the observed relationship spurious but the nature of the relationship between income and education may change for different age groups.

analytical review

associated issues


related areas

See also

multivariate analysis

Researching the Real World Section 8



copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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