Lecture: The Research Process


A. Sociologists take several things into account when selecting their area of research including:

1. Personal interests

2. Pressing social issues

3. Practical matters (i.e., funding)

B. Most social scientists go through the process of "reviewing the literature" as they are formulating their research questions. The reason for this is that a researcher must understand the existing knowledge base of a certain subject before they can formulate a question for research that will build on that knowledge base. Questions that a social scientist may ask themselves while reviewing the literature include:

1. What is known about a particular problem and how can I add to this existing body of knowledge?

2. What mistakes have been made? How could you improve upon them?

G. Objectivity refers to the effort, during research, to remain value-neutral -- to represent the object of study as truthfully as possible.

1. Scientists have biases, prejudices, and passions like all humans.

2. One way to ensure objectivity is to try to determine if our ideas are wrong (principle of falsification).

3. A second method of ensuring objectivity is through replication.

4. Sharing the results of one's research also helps make sociology more objective.

II. Formulate Hypotheses

A. The most common way to test sociological theories is to generate predictions or hypotheses about the real world. A prediction derived from scientific theory is termed an hypothesis. In other words, an hypothesis is a speculative statement about the relationship between two variables.

1. Hypotheses enable scientists to check the accuracy of their theories.

2. If research results support the hypothesis, the theory is, for the moment, supported.

B. Formal hypothesis are only used for quantitative analysis.

C. Sociologists who conduct quantitative research take concepts and operationalize them so that they can be measured.

D. Relationships among variables

1. A variable is a measurement that varies (increases/decreases).

2. Sociologists examine relationships between variables - they often measure the degree to which two or more variables correlate or seem to 'go together.'

a. Correlation sometimes implies some kind of relationship between the dependent and independent variable.


c. Spurious relations are examples of correlations between two variables that are actually due to some other unmeasured influence.

C. Validity and Reliability

1. All forms of sociological research are concerned with accuracy.

2. Sociologists think about 'accuracy' in terms of non-biased results, which are both valid and reliable.

3. Sociological research is vulnerable to biased results, that is, results which systematically misrepresent what we are trying to understand.

4. Validity refers to whether or not the results of the inquiry are in fact congruent with the world that is being studied.

5. Reliability refers to the ability to accurately measure the same thing using two different studies, or the same study at two points.


In selecting a method, it is imperative that you select the method that best enables you to answer your research question (i.e., not the one you like the best, is the most convenient, or the least expensive).

A. Survey Research

1. This entails administering a precisely worded series of questions to a group of people in order to determine their characteristics, opinions, and behaviors.

2. The two types of surveys are:

a) questionnaire and

b) interviews

3. Strengths: Surveys permit conclusions about populations to be drawn from samples, and permit patterns and relationships to be discerned.

4. Weaknesses: they may lead to superficial responses, and reflect what people say rather than what they actually believe or do.

B. Field Research/Ethnography

1. Roots in Anthropology and the classic works of sociology via the Chicago School.

2. Methods include interviews, detached observation and participant observation.

3. Strength: Ethnography provides deep detailed understanding of the social world

4. Weaknesses: not generalizable, and time consuming.

D. Experiments

1. Experiments are the classic approach to studying causal relationships, they are rarely however, used by contemporary sociologists.

2. Strengths: they permit particular variables to be isolated from other influences in order to precisely measure their effect.

3. Weaknesses: Not commonly used in sociological research because laboratory settings can be highly artificial (i.e. they are not like real world social situations) hence generalizability to the real social world is questionable.

E. Existing Sources or Available Data

1. This information already exists because it has been gathered by someone other than the researcher (i.e., Census Data)

2. Strengths: reduces the cost and time of collecting data.

3. Weaknesses: may not address what it is you want to examine.


A. Different types of research methods call for different types of analysis techniques.

1. Generally speaking, quantitative techniques require statistical analysis

2. Qualitative methods generally require content analysis.

B. If research is in numeric form, statistical analysis is performed in order to answer the question "is my hypothesis supported or unsupported by the data?"

C. If research is qualitative, researchers try to draw out the theoretical generalizations that can be made from their case(s)


A. Findings are typically presented at regional and national meetings before being submitted for publication.

B. Most studies appear as papers in scholarly journals. Ethnographies however, typically appear as a book.

C. When a paper is submitted for publication, it is reviewed by a panel of experts in the field before being accepted.

D. Publication in scholarly journals (such as the American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, & Social Forces) does not bring any financial gain to the researcher (they are paid no money).

The Research process really works as a circular cycle because the completion of a research project typically generates additional questions - then the process starts all over again!

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