Common Methods Used in Social Science Research

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In the eyes of trained sociologists, society is similar to a prism. It must be perceived from a variety of angles to be best appreciated. Accordingly, instead of practicing their craft on the basis of a single research method, social scientists employ a variety of methods as they conduct their social science research.

Case Studies

  • Society is comprised of people and the events with which these people are involved. This simple truth must inform the social science research of astute sociologists. The case study research method aims to observe and analyze the attitudes or behaviors expressed by particular individuals with regard to particular events, or cases. Case studies, such as sleep deprivation studies, drug research experiments or consumer product comparisons are often conducted in controlled conditions.

Focus Groups

  • A prime imperative of social science is to describe the dynamics of group mentality. For this purpose, social scientists make use of focus groups. Such groups are designed to observe the behavior or elicit the opinions of a number of individuals, sometimes under controlled conditions. They are used in clinical settings, to test experimental pharmaceuticals or in mock court settings to test the strength of legal arguments. To excel as a sociologist, one must investigate how individuals influence one another within a group setting.

Questioning

  • Growing children quickly learn that the best way to learn more about society is to ask questions. Similarly, social scientists arrange interviews and distribute questionnaires to supplement information gained through other avenues of research. Other means of questioning research participants include via face to face interviews as well as by means of self-administered online surveys (See Reference 1).

Field Research

  • Be a fly on the wall. Through field research, sociologists attempt to blend into a social environment even as they analyze the environment as if through the lens of a microscope. This research method permits a social scientist to study the behavior of large groups within their natural social setting. While studying in this way, social scientists must rely upon their qualitative skills of assessment. Earl R. Babbie, author of The Practice of Social Research adroitly remarks that "field research is especially appropriate for the study of those attitudes and behaviors best understood within their natural setting, as opposed to the somewhat artificial settings of experiments and surveys (See Reference 2)."

Analysis of Archival Data

  • Evaluate history. From a social science perspective, historical documents and archival records contain a wealth of information. Such information allows researchers to ferret out variables that affect the average human life span. "The data resources for the long-lived persons and their families are particularly interesting and promising for future studies of familial aggregation of human longevity," according to Natalia Gavrilova and Leonid Gavrilov, authors of "Data Resources for Biodemographic Studies on Familial Clustering of Human Longevity."

References

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