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Why Conduct Social Research?

Social researchers explore almost all areas of human behavior to gain a greater understanding of individuals and societies — and how to help them make better choices. Anything from a question about a new trend to an age-old behavior can inspire new research.

Methods in Social Research

A great deal of social research explores a single topic, either because only a small body of research exists or because the researcher wants to personally acquaint themselves with a topic. Typically, this type of research involves focus groups or small group discussions. The aim of exploratory studies can include the following:

  • To help a researcher grasp a new topic.
  • To set up more detailed research.
  • To establish methodologies for future studies.

Sociology researchers use exploratory studies to glean new insights regarding a research topic, or as sources for grounded theory (a theory derived from examination of the real world). However, there are some drawbacks to exploratory studies: They often yield direction and hints as to the questions posed but rarely provide satisfactory explanations, often because the samples in the studies are not sufficiently representative.

Descriptive research — which describes situations and events — is another sociological research method. The U.S. Census is an example of descriptive research, in that researchers describe aspects of the U.S. population, including race, ethnicity, age, sex, household size and income. Calculating crime rates in cities and product marketing surveys also involve descriptive research. Descriptive research, though, usually involves more than simply recording the data; sociology researchers interpret the data and determine the implications of what they have discovered.

Studies seeking explanations concentrate on answers to existing questions. For example, these studies could examine why some cities have higher crimes rates than others or why employment rates differ geographically.

Often, studies will incorporate the three elements of exploration, description and explanation into one study.

What Takes Place in a Social Research Project?

Regardless of their disciplines of origin, scientific studies often follow the same procedure. Those new to research will need help from someone with more experience. A research project should open with the researcher defining the research purpose, which includes elements such as type of study (exploratory, descriptive or explanatory). They must also decide where the research will appear (e.g. an academic journal, a course, etc.). The researcher must also determine their purpose for performing the study.

The next step is conceptualization: defining the meanings of the terms they will use to measure the study. Next, the sociology researcher chooses a research method (e.g. a survey, field research, content analysis, or interviews). The researcher then proceeds with operationalization, which determines parameters for measurement — such as the precise wording of questions and answers. The next step for the researcher is population and sampling, which involves determining whom to study and how to get a good sample of that population. After that, researchers use the tools they have developed to collect the data and make observations.

The raw data that the researchers collect requires analysis. This means converting the information to a format that enables computer analysis. This can take several different forms, depending on the type of study and the form of analysis it requires. Researchers can apply statistical programs to quantitative data, or researchers can also evaluate the data based on themes, patterns and connections.

Researchers then draw conclusions that answer basic questions:

  • What do the data reveal?
  • Is this new information or confirmation of existing ideas?
  • Did the study answer the research questions?

Finally, a researcher will write and publish their findings.

The various research methods in sociology allow researchers to gather information according to the purpose of the study. They may apply one research tool, or a few, depending on their project’s goals.

Learn more about the Arkansas State online BA in Sociology program.


About Education: What Are the Purposes of Sociological Research

ThoughtCo: Definition and Overview of Grounded Theory

Open Textbooks: Sociological Research

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