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Social Research Methods

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1 Social Research Methods
Alan Bryman Social Research Methods Chapter 1: The nature and process of social research Slides authored by Tom Owens

2 What is social research?
Academic research which uses the social sciences for conceptual and theoretical inspiration: to formulate research topics to interpret the findings This book is about the methods used to do social research. Pages 4 and 5 2

3 How are research topics formulated?
They stem from social scientists’ attitudes to prevailing social theories; They follow from the researcher’s existing knowledge about the current state of phenomena; They depend on the researcher’s orientation to theory as something to be tested in research or to emerge from research; They depend on whether research is regarded as apart from the social world studied or as an integral part of that world. Pages 5 and 7 3

4 The role of ethics and politics
Certain kinds of research – involving children or vulnerable adults, for example – require special provision with regard to ethics, limiting what can and cannot be researched. Research participants might need to be involved in the formulation of the research design. Certain research topics are more likely to be funded than others, leading to a strong influence by sponsors on the issues actually researched. Pages 6 and 7 4

5 The role of theory in research
Which comes first, theory or research? - should we examine a problem and try to work out how it’s caused and how it might be solved (inductive reasoning), - or should we take a generally accepted theory of how things work and find evidence for it in the problem we examine (deductive reasoning)? Pages 8 and 9 5

6 Epistemological considerations
What is (or should be) considered acceptable knowledge? Can the social world be studied ‘scientifically’? Is it appropriate to apply the methods of the natural sciences to social science research? Page 6 6

7 Elements of the social research process
Literature review Concepts and theories Research questions Sampling Data collection Data analysis Writing up the research Pages 8 and 15

8 The literature review See chapter 5 Essentially, we must read the existing literature to find out: what is already known about the topic, what concepts and theories have been applied to it, which research methods have been applied to it, what controversies exist about the topic and/or how it has been studied, what clashes of evidence exist, if any, who the key contributors are. Page 8 8

9 Concepts and theories See chapter 7
Concepts are a key ingredient of theories; Almost all theories have at least one embedded concept, like bureaucracy, power, status, charisma, cultural capital, McDonaldization and so on; They help us organize our research and make our intentions clear to others. Pages 8 and 9 9

10 Research questions are crucial
Because they guide: your literature search, your decisions about research design, the type of data you will collect and from whom, your data analysis, your final write-up. They will stop you from going off in unnecessary directions. They will give your readers a clearer sense of what your research is about. Page 11 10

11 Types of research question
1. Predicting an outcome (does y happen under circumstances a and b?). 2. Explaining causes and consequences of a phenomenon (is y affected by x or is y a consequence of x?). 3. Evaluating a phenomenon (does y exhibit the benefits that it is claimed to have?). 4. Describing a phenomenon (what is y like or what forms does y assume?). 5. Developing good practice (how can we improve y?). 6. Empowerment (how can we enhance the lives of those we research?). (Denscombe, 2010) Key concept 1.1 Page 9

12 Sampling Because a wide variety of objects can be researched, not just people, the term ‘case’ is used to denote the unit of analysis. Time and money available will constrain the number of cases we can study – we can rarely study all cases – so we have to sample. Samples can be selected for their ability to represent the entire population (see chapter 8) Samples can be selected for their appropriateness to research questions (see chapter 18). Pages 11 and 12

13 Data collection Structured methods of data collection include questionnaires and interviews used in survey studies: the researcher designs research tools relative to what needs to be known; Less structured methods include participation observation and semi-structured interviewing: the researcher can keep an open mind about what needs to be known. Page 13

14 Stages of data analysis
First, the data collected needs to be managed by, for example, entering it into a computer programme; Second, it must be coded; Third, relationships can be discovered between various categories or groups of data, possibly by applying statistical techniques; Fourth, links can be made with the research questions, the literature review and the concepts and theories used. Pages 13 and 14

15 The core ingredients in writing up research
Introduction: An outline of the research area and its significance; the research questions and hypotheses. Literature review: A critical examination of what is currently known about the topic. Research methods: A presentation of how the sampling was done and how the data was collected and analysed. Results: A presentation of the findings. Discussion: Findings are discussed in relation to their implications for the literature and the research questions. Conclusion: The significance of the research. Page 15

16 Social research is messy
Research is full of false starts, blind alleys, mistakes, and enforced changes to research plans. But these are rarely written about in the final research publications. Books (no matter how well written) can only deal with generalities, so individual pieces of research may seem difficult to reconcile with the broader picture. There are plenty of things that can go wrong with a research plan so being flexible and being willing to persevere in adverse circumstances are desirable traits in a social researcher. Nonetheless, the methodological principles and techniques outlined in this book provide a road map for the research journey. Page 16 16

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