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Chapter

Cover How to do your Social Research Project or Dissertation

4. Developing a Research Idea  

Social research is concerned with developing defensible knowledge about people and all of the things that they do. This means that the landscape for social research is both wide and varied. In some cases, the research gaze will be directed by disciplinary interests, in others it will be much more open. This chapter discusses techniques that can help students identify their research interests, develop project ideas, and build a rationale for research. It also considers how research is evaluated and explores the idea of quality in research. It begins by dealing with a question that many students ask — what makes a good dissertation project? To answer this question, the idea of research quality is discussed.

Chapter

Cover How to do your Social Research Project or Dissertation

7. Building Your Project  

Once students have developed an idea, outlined a rationale for their research, and found the relevant literature, they then need to start mapping out what their project will look like. To do this, they will need to make some decisions about how they will answer their research questions. Research can be approached and conducted in many different ways. Broadly speaking, there are four interrelated stages of building a social science dissertation: research strategy: the type of data under investigation (qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods); research design: the framework through which that data will be collected; research methods: the methods associated with collecting the type of data selected; and type of analysis: the techniques through which the data will be analysed. This chapter focuses on the decisions that students can make in relation to the first two stages: research strategy and research design.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Mixed Methods  

Combination of Quantitative and Qualitative Research Approaches

Manfredi Valeriani and Vicki L. Plano Clark

This chapter examines mixed-methods research, which is an approach that involves the integration of quantitative and qualitative methods at one or more stages of a research study. The central idea behind mixed-methods research is that the intentional combination of numeric-based methods with narrative-based methods can best provide answers to some research questions. The ongoing attempts to construct a simple and common conceptualization of mixed-methods provide a good indicator of the status of mixed-methods itself. mixed-methods research has emerged as a formalized methodology well suited to addressing complex problems, and is currently applied throughout the social sciences and beyond. Nowadays, researchers interested in combining quantitative and qualitative methods can benefit from the growing knowledge about the epistemological foundations, essential considerations, and rigorous designs that have been advanced for mixed-methods research.

Chapter

Cover Comparative Politics

3. Comparative research methods  

Paul Pennings and Hans Keman

This chapter examines the ‘art of comparing’ by showing how to relate a theoretically guided research question to a properly founded research answer by developing an adequate research design. It first considers the role of variables in comparative research, before discussing the meaning of ‘cases’ and case selection. It then looks at the ‘core’ of the comparative research method: the use of the logic of comparative inquiry to analyse the relationships between variables (representing theory), and the information contained in the cases (the data). Two logics are distinguished: method of difference and method of agreement. The chapter concludes with an assessment of some problems common to the use of comparative methods.

Chapter

Cover Comparative Politics

3. Comparative Research Methods  

Paul Pennings and Hans Keman

This chapter examines the ‘art of comparing’ by showing how to relate a theoretically guided research question to a properly founded research answer by developing an adequate research design. It first considers the role of variables in comparative research, before discussing the meaning of ‘cases’ and case selection. It then looks at the ‘core’ of the comparative research method: the use of the logic of comparative inquiry to analyse the relationships between variables (representing theory), and the information contained in the cases (the data). Two logics are distinguished: Method of Difference and Method of Agreement. The chapter concludes with an assessment of some problems common to the use of comparative methods.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Introduction. An Introduction to Research Methods in the Social Sciences  

Ece Özlem Atikcan, Jean-Frédéric Morin, and Christian Olsson

Introducing research methods in the social sciences is not an easy task given how complex the subject matter is. Social sciences, like all sciences, can be divided into categories (disciplines). Disciplines are frequently defined according to what they study (their empirical object) and how they study it (their particular problematization of the object). They are, however, by no means unitary entities. Within each discipline, multiple theories typically contend over the ability to tell provisional truths about the world. They do so by building on specific visions of the nature of the world, reflections on how to generate scientific truth, systematic ways of collecting and analyzing data (methods) and of justifying these methods as part of a coherent research design (methodologies).

Chapter

Cover How to do your Social Research Project or Dissertation

1. Introduction  

This introductory chapter begins with a discussion of the definition of a dissertation. It then sets out the ways in which the present volume can help students with their dissertation, i.e. how to move from a focus on the theory of research methods to the process of actually undertaking research. Throughout, the book provides a number of features that help students to deal with the challenges of writing a dissertation, and suggests how they might overcome them. These features draw directly on the experiences of students who have undertaken a dissertation, and the expertise of dissertation supervisors from different disciplines. The chapter then goes on to explain how this book is organized followed by an overview of the subsequent chapters.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Triangulation  

Jean-Frédéric Morin, Christian Olsson, and Ece Özlem Atikcan

This chapter looks at triangulation, which is classically defined as looking at one research object from different perspectives. However, this large and consensual definition masks different approaches to triangulation and ignores its historical evolution since its emergence in social sciences literature. To gain a better insight into its current definitions, the chapter first proposes a brief historical overview and highlight its different meanings. It then illustrates how triangulation can be used in a research design in order to gain extra knowledge. Finally, the chapter talks about mixed-methods research and its relationship with triangulation. In the context of the tensions opposing qualitative and quantitative research, triangulation is used by mixed-methods research to justify that qualitative and quantitative methods should systematically be articulated.

Chapter

Cover How to do your Social Research Project or Dissertation

3. Getting Started  

This chapter examines the more practical foundations on which all research projects are built and guides students through the realities of planning and managing their dissertation. It examines how to negotiate the workload of the research process, how to cope with unexpected problems, and how to best use the supervisor for support throughout this process. If students start their dissertation with a clear plan, and have an agreement about their working relationship with their supervisor, this will limit the problems they might encounter further down the line and give them the best chance to fulfil their potential. Steps to be taken when planning a dissertation including identifying the topic area and a potential title; making sure that the research aims are achievable; thinking about the kind of theoretical approach and methods to employ; and becoming familiar with dissertation guidelines and requirements, including the format that the dissertation should take.

Book

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Edited by Jean-Frédéric Morin, Christian Olsson, and Ece Özlem Atikcan

Research Methods in the Social Sciences features chapters that cover a wide range of concepts, methods, and theories. Each chapter begins with an introduction to a method, using real-world examples from a wide range of academic disciplines, before discussing the benefits and limitations of the approach, its current status in academic practice, and finally providing tips and advice on when and how to apply the method in research. The text covers both well-established concepts and emerging ideas, such as big data and network analysis, for qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Case Study  

Jessica Luciano Gomes and Miriam Gomes Saraiva

This chapter explores the case study, which is a very common research method in the field of social sciences. Case studies are important because they provide the examination of samples of a larger atmosphere, therefore enabling researchers with a variety of possibilities: to deepen the analysis of a particular occurrence in the world, to contribute to an existing theoretical framework, and to serve as an instrument of comparative analysis. Although it might sound simplistic, the research framework for case studies usually has to satisfy a few key points. Case studies can be divided into separate categories: exploratory, descriptive, and explanatory. They are also directly related to the type of research question being posed from the traditional five types of survey questions: ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘how’, and ‘why’. One can often find case studies among both qualitative and quantitative approaches, focusing on a case study per se or on cross-case method.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Factor Analysis  

Uncovering Unobservable Constructs

Ulf Liebe

This chapter examines factor analysis, which is used to test whether a set of observable or manifest variables can measure one or more unobservable or latent constructs that they have in common. Such constructs are called factors. Factor analysis is therefore a data reduction method. In its foundation period, factor analysis was often applied to the study of general intelligence and mental abilities. Nowadays factor analysis is a workhorse for quantitative research in the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences. There are two types of factor analysis: exploratory factor analysis and confirmatory factor analysis. Exploratory factor analysis is used for examining the underlying structures in a set of variables. Confirmatory factor analysis is used to test theoretical hypotheses; the researcher assumes that variables are interrelated in a specific way and uses factor analysis to find out whether the assumption is supported by the data — i.e. to what extent the data fits the predefined structure.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Hermeneutics  

Theory and Methodology of Interpretation

Mélanie Samson

This chapter assesses hermeneutics, which can refer to an art, a methodological paradigm, or a philosophical movement. In its primary sense, hermeneutics is the art of interpreting texts correctly. Today, hermeneutic method is practised across the human sciences and applied to the study of all types of written texts, actions, and other meaningful material. The chapter then focuses on the relationship between hermeneutics and human sciences. It also examines hermeneutics as a methodological approach used in legal research and the practice of law. There are two broad notions of legal interpretation. According to the first — the prevailing and most traditional notion — the interpretation of the sources of law is knowledge-based; the interpreter’s task is to extract the pre-existing meaning of a legal text, as set out by its author. According to the second notion of legal interpretation, the activity involves the interpreter’s will. The interpreter’s task is to attribute meaning to a text, by choosing from several possible meanings.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Content Analysis  

On the Rise

Leeann Bass and Holli A. Semetko

This chapter explains content analysis, which is a social science research method that involves the systematic analysis of text, media, communication, or information. The source, the message, the receiver, the medium, and the influence of the message are all topics that have been studied using content analysis and in combination with other methods. There are deductive and inductive approaches to content analysis. Two widely cited studies using content analysis take a deductive approach: using predefined categories and variables based on findings and best practices from prior research. Studies taking an inductive approach to content analysis, by contrast, have an open view of the content, usually involve a small-N sample, and are often based on a qualitative approach. Meanwhile, much has been written on methods and approaches to measuring reliability with human coders. Traditional content analysis uses human coders, whereas a variety of software has emerged that can be used to download and score or code vast amounts of textual news data. The chapter then identifies key benefits and challenges associated with new computational social science tools such as text analysis.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Qualitative Comparative Analysis  

Kevin Kalomeni and Claudius Wagemann

This chapter examines qualitative comparative analysis (QCA), which strives to bridge the methodological rift between case study-based research and quantitative studies. QCA belongs to the broader family of configurational comparative methods (CCMs). From an analytical perspective, QCA can be distinguished from quantitative approaches. The emphasis shifts from covariance to the analysis of set relations. Being strongly tied to a profound theoretical and conceptual reasoning which is typical for comparison in general, the analysis of set relations is based on three steps: first, a score is attributed to a social phenomenon (representing either a dichotomous or a graded set membership), usually in relation to other phenomena. Second, necessary conditions are defined. Third, through the help of a truth table analysis, (combinations of) sufficient conditions are analysed.