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What is Social Research?

By Sarah Valek
Updated May 21, 2024
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Social research is the scientific study of society. More specifically, social research examines a society’s attitudes, assumptions, beliefs, trends, stratifications and rules. The scope of social research can be small or large, ranging from the self or a single individual to spanning an entire race or country. Popular topics of social research include poverty, racism, class issues, sexuality, voting behavior, gender constructs, policing and criminal behavior.

Social research determines the relationship between one or more variables. For example, sex and income level are variables. Social scientists will look for underlying concepts and cause-and-effect relationships of a social issue. Before even beginning research, scientists must formulate a research question. For example, a researcher might ask if there is a relationship between a person’s sex and his or her income level. Do men have higher incomes than women? Are women most likely to be poor?

A third variable, race, can be added to the question. Then the social scientist can pose a research question: Does race and sex affect a person’s income level? Social scientists will then collect data, organize and analyze information and create a report of their findings. People conducting social research must also consider ethics, biases and the reliability and validity of the research they’re conducting. They must decide which form of sampling to use, how to measure information, how to analyze data and present their findings.

Research can be conducted using surveys, reports, observation, questionnaires, focus groups, historical accounts, personal diaries and census statistics. There are two types of research: qualitative research and quantitative research. Qualitative research is inductive, meaning the researcher creates hypotheses and abstractions from collected data. Most data is collected via words or pictures and mostly from people. Researchers are interested in how people make sense of their lives and in the research process itself.

Quantitative research is the complete opposite and most often involves numbers and set data. Quantitative data is efficient but focuses only on the end result, not the process itself, as qualitative research does. Quantitative data is precise and is often the result of surveys or questionnaires.

Even though social research is most often conducted by social scientists or sociologists, it is an interdisciplinary study crossing into subjects like criminology, the study of crime; politics, the study of power; economics, the study of money and business; psychology, study of the mind; philosophy, study of beliefs and morals; and anthropology, the study of culture.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1005276 — On Jul 26, 2021

So, Quantitative Social Science is just another degree in basket weaving.

By anon937477 — On Mar 05, 2014

Actually, there are several reasons for the pay gap, only one of which is differences in negotiation style, and even that reason does contain hidden elements of gender bias. Women who try to negotiate in the same way that men do are far less successful because they're seen as aggressive and arrogant in a negative way, whereas men are seen as confident and competent. It can actually damage a woman's career to attempt a masculine style of negotiation.

Other reasons include the relative low pay of jobs dominated by women and the fact that men in those professions tend to be promoted with greater frequency. It's very common to see, for example, a small school with a lot of female teachers and a male headmaster, or a lot of female nurses and a male head of nursing. You can argue that women choose to enter those professions, but they're also limited in their choices because they're more likely to be sole parents or to be responsible for child rearing in a marriage and thus require flexibility that is often only found in lower paid work.

There's also the question of why caring roles such as nursing, teaching, daycare, home help and carers in residential facilities are so low paid considering what vital work it is, and the theory that they're low paid because these jobs are considered women's work is a very credible one.

By anon359863 — On Dec 21, 2013

I am surprised about the phenomenon recently appeared in a practice that a new type of artificial sadism, which in fact is slavery, and those persons engaged in slavery under the guise of sadism, and they are misleading the people and corrupting the minds of the exercise, and all this happens in public and in the streets and public places and are published from without any limit. I am surprised and wonder at the deafening silence by governments and human rights organizations, since the practice of slavery as they watched with their own eyes. I wonder how this is happening?

By SauteePan — On Nov 07, 2010

Sneakers41-Sometimes in sociology social research many determine that women earn less than men on average.

The researchers might want to point out the data to prove that there is sexual discrimination in the workplace. However, another explanation for the disparity in income between men and women could also consider the negotiation tactics of men over women.

The differences in income between the two sexes can easily be explained by the level of negotiation. Men usually do more aggressive negotiations which is why they generally earn more, not because there is a bias against women.

The social research methodology that you choose has to explain other theories not just the one that the researcher is trying to prove. This is really the basics of social research. You must remove all bias in order to develop the integrity of the study.

By sneakers41 — On Nov 07, 2010

SurfNturf-The basics of social research involve the study of a societal issue and what are the leading contributing factors.

For example, if you wanted to understand the effects of poverty in a society. You would have to study a group that succeeded despite their impoverished upbringing while those that continued the cycle of poverty.

This is an interesting observation that can be very inspirational as well as educational. The fact that some people are able to overcome obstacles would lead us to believe that many people can. Here some focus groups can be assembled in order to fully understand the dynamic.

Often questionnaires are first put together in order to screen potential subjects. A combination of qualitative and quantitative data is important to add credibility to the study.

A social survey research study is a fair way to determine accurate data. However, the social research methods must never use leading questions because it will void the results of the study.

By surfNturf — On Nov 07, 2010

The practice of social research is broad and usually requires a hypothesis. The hypothesis can question if women are more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate.

This can be easily measured through quantitative social research. The use of register and likely voter data could measure the percentage of female voters that are registered Democratic instead of Republican.

In addition, polls and social research surveys could also enhance the data to prove the hypothesis.

The social research ethics demand a level of impartiality. The social research may want an outcome to occur and might skew the results to indicate their point of view.

For example, suppose a registered Democratic decided to do some social research and determine that women are more likely to be Democrats. If the sample of women voters is done with just a Democratic group that the researcher happens to know instead of a group at random, then the data is not accurate.

This often happens with political polling. Often one side is over sampled and that is why it is skewing results in that direction. This is really unethical, but the best thing to do is to take polls with a grain of salt. I have seen too many that were completely wrong.

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