Introduction to Social Research


  • Research is a way of going about finding answers to questions.
  • Social research involves learning something new about the social world.
  • A researcher combines theories or ideas with facts in a systematic way and uses his or her imagination and creativity.
  • Social research is a collection of methods people use systematically to produce knowledge.

Alternatives to social research

Social research is a more structured, organized, and systematic process than the alternatives.
Knowledge from the alternatives is often correct, but knowledge based on research is more likely to be true and has fewer errors.

The alternatives to social research are:

  • Authority
  • Tradition- means you accept something as being true because “it’s the way things have always been”.
  • Common Sense
  • Media Myths
  • Personal Experience (seeing is believing)
  • Overgeneralization occurs when you have some evidence that you believe and then assume that it applies to many other situations, too.
  • Selective observation occurs when you take special notice of some people or events and generalize from them.
  • Premature closure operates with and reinforces the first two errors.
  • Halo effect says we overgeneralize from what we believe to be highly positive or prestigious.

How Science Works

The critical factor that separates social research from the alternatives is that it relies on science.
Social research involves thinking about questions about the social world and following a set of processes to create new knowledge that is based on science.


  • The natural sciences are the basis of new technology and receive a lot of publicity. Most people first think of them when they hear the word science.
  • The social sciences are soft sciences. This is not because their work is sloppy or lacks rigor but because their subject matter, human social life, is fluid, formidable to observe, and hard to measure precisely with laboratory instruments.
  • Science is a social institution and a way to produce knowledge.
  • Science refers to both a system for producing knowledge and the knowledge produced from that system.
  • The knowledge of science is organized in terms of theories. For now, social theory can be defined as a system of interconnected abstractions or ideas that condense and organize knowledge about the social world.
  • Social theory is like a map of the social world; it helps people visualize the complexity in the world and explains why things happen.
  • Scientists gather data using specialized techniques and use the data to support or reject theories.
  • Data are the empirical evidence or information that one gathers carefully according to rules or procedures. The data can be quantitative or qualitative.
  • Empirical evidence refers to observations that people experience through the senses, touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste.

Pseudoscience and Junk Science

  • The public faces a constant barrage of pseudoscience through television, magazines, film, newspapers, special seminars or workshops, and the like.
  • Some individuals operating a business, or who strongly embrace a belief system, weave a mix of the outward trappings of science and a few scientific facts with myths, fantasy, or hopes.
  • Junk science is the term that corporate defenders apply to any research, no matter how rigorous, that justifies regulations to protect the environment and public health.
  • Sound science is used in reference to any research, no matter how flawed, that can be used to challenge, defeat, or reverse environmental and public health protection.

The Scientific Community

  • Science is given life through the operation of scientific community, which sustains the assumptions, attitudes, and techniques of science.
  • The scientific community is a collection of people and a set of norms, behaviors, and attitudes that bind them together. It is a professional community because it is a group of interacting people who share ethical principles, belief and values, techniques and training, and career paths.

The Norms of the scientific community

  • Behavior in any human is regulated by social norms.
  • The scientific community is governed by a set of professional norms and values that researchers learn and internalize during many years of schooling.
  • Norms are ideals of proper conduct.
  • Diverse social, political, and economic forces affect its development and influence how it operates.

Five norms of the scientific community

  • Universalism—Irrespective of who conducts research and regardless of where it was conducted.
  • Organized skepticism—Scientists should not accept new ideas or evidence in a carefree, uncritical manner.
  • Disinterestedness—Scientist must be neutral, impartial, receptive, and open to unexpected observations or new ideas.
  • Communalism—scientific knowledge must be shared with other; it belongs to everyone.
  • Honesty—Scientists demand honesty in all research; dishonesty or cheating in scientific research is a major taboo.

The scientific method and attitude

The scientific method refers to the ideas, rules, techniques, and approaches that the scientific community uses. The method arises from a loose consensus within the community of scientists.
Scientific method is an ideal construct; the scientific attitude is the way people have of looking at the world.
Doing science includes many methods; what makes them scientific is their acceptance by the scientific collective.

Journal Articles in Science

  • The primary forms in which research findings or new scientific knowledge appear are scholarly journal articles. They are how scientists formally communicate with one another and disseminate the results of scientific research.
  • The review is “blind” because the referees do not know who conducted the research and the author does not know the referees. The reviewers evaluate the research on the basis of its clarity, originality, standards of good research, and contribution to knowledge.
  • The researcher sends the paper to the journal. The review can be or doesn’t have to be blind. The referees are scientists who have conducted research in the same specialty area or topic. They evaluate the research on the basis of its clarity, originality, standards of good research, and contribution to knowledge. The referees return their evaluations to the editor, who decides to reject the paper, ask the author for revisions, or accept it for publication.
  • A researcher gains prestige and honor within the scientific community, respect from peers, and a reputation as an accomplished research

er through such publications.

Science as a Transformative Process

You can think of research as the use of scientific methods to transform ideas, hunches, and questions, sometimes called hypotheses, into scientific knowledge.

Steps of the research process

The Steps

  1. The process begins with a researcher selecting a topic- a general area of study or issue such as divorce, crime, homelessness or powerful elites.
  2. The researcher narrows down, or focuses, the topic into a specific research question that he or she can address in the study.
  3. The researcher reviews past research, or the literature, on a topic or question. The researcher also develops a possible answer, or hypothesis. Theory can be important at this stage.
  4. After specifying a research question, the researcher plans how he or she will carry out specific study.
  5. The research makes decision about the many practice`al details of doing the research.
  6. The researchers gather the data or evidence.
  7. Once the researcher has collected the data, his or her next step is to manipulate or analyze the data to see any patterns that emerge. The patterns help the researcher give meaning to or interpret the data.
  8. Finally, the researcher informs others by writing a report that describes the background to the study, how he or she conducted it, and what he or she discovered.

Qualitative and Quantitative Social Research

The best research often combines the features of each.
Most quantitative data techniques are data condensers. They condense data in order to see the big picture. Qualitative methods, by contrast, are best understood as data enhancers. When data are enhanced, it is possible to see key aspects of cases more clearly.

Quantitative Style Qualitative Style
Measure objective facts Construct social reality, cultural meaning
Focus on variables Focus on interactive process, events
Reliability is key Authenticity is key
Value free cValues are present and explicit
Independent of context Situationally constrained
Many cases, subjects Few cases, subjects
Researcher is detached Researcher is involved

Why conduct social research?

  • The finding from research yield better informed less biased decisions than the guessing, hunches, intuition, and personal experience.
  • People conduct social research for many reasons. Some want to answer practical questions. Other wants to make informed decisions. Still others want to change society. Finally those in the scientific community seek to build basic knowledge about society.
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