2.4 Types of Units

The purpose of social science investigation is typically to discover what people think or do or what objects signify. The main unit or entity that is to be analyzed is considered to be the focus. An e-business might be the focus of a case study, for example. Sometimes the focus of an intended study is a number of different types of units, and in this case, a sampling strategy must be determined for each. For instance, multiple units could be sampled to do a study on a suicide prevention program in Nunavik, Québec. The program itself could be a unit or Nunavik could be a geographical unit.  

The important thing is to clearly identify your main unit of analysis. Is it a gangster (individual) or a gang (group)? A CEO or a corporation? A criminal or crimes? Stand-up comedians or jokes? A homeless person or homeless shelters?

Many people wrongly assume that units of analysis are exclusive to people, never places or things such as programs.


The unit is a particular person, such as the president of a country or a gangster, or the psychological or personal qualities of individuals, such as a stress score of an anxious individual.


The unit is an occupational group such as doctors, students, a street gang or a family unit. Not to be confused with looking at individuals and how they function within groups or social structures.

Social interactions

This refers to what happens when two or more individuals or groups interact in situations such as intimate relationships, weddings, religious ceremonies, sports events, terrorist attacks, demonstrations…

Geographical unit

A geographical unit is a spatial location, such as a suburban district, country or island. For example, you might be intending to study the impact of climate change on small island nations which are collectively witnessing a slow and steady loss of landmass.


This refers to programs operating in policy areas such as health, welfare, education, finance, justice, culture or entertainment, to name but a few. One example of a program in the area of education is an anti-bullying program.


The unit could be an organization from any number of sectors or levels, such as a university, a corporation, a non-profit organization, a non-governmental organization (NGO) or an international governmental organization (IGO).


The units are things or objects, not people. Examples range from toys, cell phones and cars to homes, pottery, jokes and the like.