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Identifying research questions

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1 Identifying research questions
Start thinking about your research early on. Totally open-ended research is risky. Research questions help to focus your literature searches, data collection, analysis and writing. Make sure your research questions have a clear social scientific angle. Page 85 1

2 Sources of research questions (Marx 1997)
Intellectual puzzles and contradictions Existing literature Replication Structures and functions Opposition Social problems Personal experience Gaps between official accounts and facts on the ground The counter-intuitive Deviant cases and atypical events New methods / theories New social trends Sponsors and teachers Thinking deeply 4.1 Page 86 2

3 Steps in selecting research questions
Figure 4.2, page 80

4 Checklist for a research proposal
What is the topic; what are the objectives? Why is the topic important? What are your research questions? What does the literature say? How will you collect the data? Why are these methods appropriate? What resources will you need? What is the timetable? What problems do you foresee? Are there any ethical problems? How will you analyse the data?

5 A few practical hints Be aware of safety issues
Keep a research diary or log book of what you have done and when Keep records of sample recruitment / response rates Allow time for transcription Familiarize yourself with technical equipment and computer software packages Begin coding as soon as you have some data Page 86 5

6 Issues in writing up social research
Many people find writing up research more difficult than carrying it out You must convince your readers about the credibility of the knowledge claims you make Good writing is to do with developing your style so that it is persuasive and convincing Page 684

7 Tips for writing up your research
Start early! Be persuasive. Get feedback. Avoid sexist, racist, and disablist language. Pages

8 Structure of the Kelley and De Graaf (1997) article (quantitative research)
The article is a secondary analysis of survey data on religion in fifteen nations and was published in the American Sociological Review, with the following structure: Introduction; Theory; Data; Measurement; Methods and models; Results; Conclusion. Pages 692, 693

9 1. Introduction The first sentence locates the article’s focus as addressing an important aspect of modern society that touches on many people’s lives. The second sentence notes that there is variety among Western nations in the importance of religion and that this is an area of interest to sociologists. The third sentence suggests that there is a problem with the issue of secularization, a research focus for many sociologists. The fourth sentence outlines the authors specific contribution to this area. Page 693

10 2. Theory In this section, existing ideas and research on the topic are presented, leading to the formulation of their hypotheses: Hypothesis 1. Contextual factors have an impact on religious beliefs. Hypothesis 2a. Family background will have a greater impact on a person’s religious beliefs in predominantly secular societies. Hypothesis 2b. In predominantly secular societies parents and other family members are more likely to try to isolate children from secular influences. Page 693

11 3. Data A general outline is given: of the data sets
of the sampling procedures of sample sizes of response rates Page 693

12 4. Measurement This section explains how the main concepts in their research were measured, including scoring procedures for indicating a nation’s religious or secular orientation on a five-point scale. Page 694

13 5. Methods and models This is a very technical section:
outlining the different ways in which the relationships between the variables might be conceptualized Tracing the implications of using different multivariate analysis approaches for the findings Page 694

14 6. Results Here the authors provide a general description of their findings. Then they consider whether their hypotheses are supported and explore the significance of other contextual characteristics. Page 694

15 7. Conclusion This final section begins with a strong statement of the findings. Then they reflect upon the implications of having their hypotheses confirmed: for our understanding of the process of religious socialization and religious beliefs; and in terms of the impact on certain theories about religions beliefs in modern society. Page 694

16 Lessons to be learned from the article
Strong opening statements grab the reader’s attention and act as signposts to what the article is about The rationale of the research is spelled out clearly Research questions are spelled out very specifically The research methods, nature of data, measurement of concepts, sampling and data analysis are clearly and explicitly summarized The presentation of findings is oriented specifically to the research questions The conclusion spells out the implications of the findings for the research questions and the theories examined earlier in the paper Pages 694, 695

17 Key points Page 707

18 Checklist for writing up your research: 1.
Have you clearly specified your research questions? Have you clearly indicated how the literature you have read relates to your research questions? Is your discussion of the literature critical and organized so that it is not just a summary of what you have read? Have you clearly outlined your research design and your research methods?

19 Checklist for writing up your research: 2.
Have you presented your data in a manner that relates to your research questions? Does your discussion of your findings show how they relate to your research questions? and on how they shed light on the literature that you presented? Are the interpretations of the data that you offer fully supported with tables, figures, or segments from transcripts?

20 Checklist for writing up your research: 3.
Does your writing avoid sexist, racist, and disablist language? Have you included all appendices that you need (interview schedule, communications with research participants)? Have you checked that your list of references includes all the items referred to in your text? and that it follows precisely the style that your institution requires?

21 Checklist for writing up your research: 4.
Have you ensured that your institution’s requirements for submitting projects are fully met in terms of word length (neither too long nor too short) and whether an abstract and table of contents are required? Have you ensured that you do not quote excessively when presenting the literature? Have you fully acknowledged the work of others so that you cannot be accused of plagiarism? Pages 706, 707

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