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Chapter

Ethics play a vital part of the research process. They provide a set of value-based principles that enable research to be conducted in an appropriate manner. Research ethics help ensure that the relationships built during the process of conducting social research are respectful and constructive, and that the student’s project does not endanger either the student or those he or she comes into contact with. This chapter provides an introduction to the practice of ethics in social research. It provides an outline of basic ethical practice, before discussing the nature and purpose of ethical review boards. It demonstrates how ethical rules of thumb are often more complicated when encountering them ‘in the field’. Finally, it explores how ethics also informs the process of writing up research.

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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.

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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.

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

This chapter discusses survey research. Surveys are a very common method of data collection used by many social researchers. As such, they are used in public opinion polls to gauge political trends and trait, but also in marketing research examining consumer behaviour and feedback. Surveys are also a common data collection method in many social research projects. They are further used to evaluate needs, processes, and outcomes. Importantly, surveys are a unidirectional communication approach to collect data, which is very different from observational methods, semi-structured and structured interviews, or other types of data collection where the researcher takes an active role. Specifically, using surveys, participants are presented with a set of instructions and predetermined questions. The researcher is not expected to engage in any participatory interaction or in-depth conversation with participants.

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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.

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This chapter outlines some of the basic features of social research. It introduces students to the notion that social research is a process, helps to clarify the reasons for reearch, and explores the relationship between theory and research. Using the analogy of a voyage, it demonstrates that specific tasks associated with for carrying out social research tend to be ordered, but not always orderly. There are dynamic points of issue that need to be negotiated to move a dissertation project toward completion, or otherwise there is a risk of being blown off course. By understanding what is meant by the research process, and how theory can be used in social research, readers can begin to explore, describe, and explain the human world with greater confidence.

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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).

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Louis Bélanger Pierre-Marc Daigneault

This chapter highlights concept construction. All social sciences research projects, be they qualitative or quantitative, are dependent on concepts. The chapter first explains what concepts are and why social scientists should be self-conscious in the way they use them. It then describes the methodology of concept construction and presents three different ways to structure a concept. Finally, the chapter provides criteria to evaluate the quality of the concepts we have built ourselves or borrowed from others. Concept construction involves two basic operations beyond choosing a term to designate the concept: identifying the fundamental characteristics of the phenomenon of interest, and logically connecting these characteristics.

Chapter

Mathieu Ouimet and Pierre-Olivier Bédard

This chapter highlights literature review. Reviewing the published literature is one of the key activities of social science research, as a way to position one’s academic contribution, but also to get a bird’s eye view of what the relevant literature says on a given topic or research question. Many guides have been created to assist academic researchers and students in conducting a literature review, but there is no consensus on the most appropriate method to do so. One of the reasons for this lack of consensus is the plurality of epistemological attitudes that coexist in the social sciences. Before initiating a literature review, the researcher should start by clarifying the need for and the purpose of the review. Once this has been clarified, the actual review protocol, tools, and databases to be used will need to be determined to strike a balance between the scope of the study and the depth of the review.

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This chapter focuses on a key debate in the philosophy of social science: whether it is possible to separate facts and values in social science research. It first considers normative and empirical theory in political research before discussing the ways in which the values of the researcher influence the research process. It then examines Thomas Kuhn’s arguments concerning paradigms and how they change through scientific ‘revolutions’, along with their implications for the possibility of value-free social inquiry. It looks at an example of how the notion of ‘paradigm’ has been applied to a specific area of inquiry within politics: the study of development. It also compares Kuhn’s paradigms with Imre Lakatos’ concept of ‘scientific research programmes’.

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This chapter focuses on the distinctions between historical research and social scientific research, and how these are being challenged by scholars in pursuit of a genuinely ‘historical social science’. It begins with a discussion of historical approaches in Politics and International Relations, including historical events research, historical process research, and cross-sectional comparative research. It then examines three approaches for addressing temporality as the sequential active unfolding of social action and events: historical institutionalism, process tracing, and event structure analysis. It also explains how to locate essential historical information and evaluate various types of sources, and what special considerations need to be made in using documents, archival sources, and historical writing as data in historical research.

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Bias  

Unavoidable Subjectivity?

Aysel Küçüksu and Stephanie Anne Shelton

This chapter looks at bias, a term which refers to an uninvited, but inevitable aspect of conducting research. It is usually equated with subjectivity, the distortion and manipulation of data, or a lack of objectivity, which undermines the credibility of the research. Bias comes in many forms and the chapter discusses the two that are the most common in the literature: gender bias and confirmation bias. The long-standing positivist interpretation of bias considers that it is an inherently problematic ‘ethical issue’. Yet, contemporary research has called for a ‘reconceptualization’ of this perception of bias in order to encourage a more nuanced view. In the social sciences, bias is a manifestation of how cultural and political standing affects our approach to science. Bias should be acknowledged early on to ensure that both researchers and readers have the critical tools necessary to recognize it and evaluate its influences. This approach originated in anthropology and is known as ‘positionality’.

Chapter

Hypotheses  

State of the Art and ‘Best Practice’

Onna van den Broek and Adam William Chalmers

This chapter addresses hypotheses. Empirical social scientific research often entails an interaction between observations and theory (a logical and precise speculation about an answer to a research question). In the application of deductive reasoning, a specific theory will inform a set of hypotheses that are then tested through empirical observations. Accordingly, hypotheses can be defined as ‘testable propositions entailed by the logic of the theory’. The chapter then details five basic principles to build a theory. Although critics have pointed out that these principles are unsuitable for the investigation of a small-Number of cases due to the reliance on random selection and generalization, it remains an important work in developing procedures for avoiding bias and making reliable inferences. The chapter also discusses the formulation of a good hypothesis.

Chapter

Laurence Marquis and Mark Daku

This chapter studies ethics in research. Ethics play an important role in scientific inquiry, beyond cases of plagiarism, fraud, and misconduct. Importantly, there is a difference between ethical research and ethical researchers. While principles of ethics in research stem mostly from the biomedical field, they have also been adapted to apply to the social sciences. These principles are generally addressed through three common principles: voluntary participation, informed consent, and confidentiality. Researchers themselves must be wary of a number of other factors that can influence their project and role, such as the supervision of students, or other situations where there is a relationship of authority. Similarly, researchers must be careful not to make misrepresentations to subjects about the project or the related risks, or fail to disclose any conflict of interest. Researchers must take steps to ensure their neutrality so that no preconceptions or personal bias can risk influencing the results or subjects. The chapter then looks at ethics review boards and the emergent ethical issues.

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This text provides readers with the analytic skills and resources they need to evaluate research findings in political research, as well as the practical skills for conducting their own independent inquiry. It shows that empirical research and normative research are not independent of each other and explains the distinction between positivism and interpretivism, and between quantitative and qualitative research. Part 1 of this edition discusses key issues in the philosophy of social science, while Part 2 presents a ‘nuts and bolts’ or ‘how to’ guide to research design, such as how to find and formulate a research question. Part 3 evaluates different methods of data collection and analysis that can be used to answer research questions, along with the variety of considerations and decisions that researchers must confront when using different methods.

Chapter

Laura Gelhaus and Dirk Leuffen

This chapter describes case selection, which is a crucial component of designing social research. Its importance can hardly be overstated because the cases you choose affect the answers you get. However, how should researchers select their cases? A careful inspection of the research question, the study’s objective, should be the starting point. The research question typically anchors the study in a research area, specifies the universe of cases, and guides its engagement with theory. Ideally, case selection is solely driven by methodology; however, practicality and feasibility considerations frequently make adjustments to the design necessary. Such considerations concern, for instance, the costs of data collection. The chapter introduces a few commonly used case selection strategies as well as two hotly debated topics in the literature on case selection: selecting on the dependent variable and random case selection.

Chapter

Operationalization  

From the Concepts to the Data

Anne-Laure Mahé and Theodore McLauchlin

This chapter describes operationalization, which refers to the intellectual operations the researcher undertakes to decide how to observe a concept in reality. This is a crucial step of the research process, as many concepts in the social sciences are too abstract to be immediately observed. The most important criteria of a successful operationalization are consequently the consistency between each step of the research design, from theory formation to data collection, and the degree to which the indicators effectively allow the researcher to gather observations that work well in the context under study. One way to synthesize these points is that operationalization should enable the researcher to respect the principle of double adequacy. First, the researcher’s conceptual argument and the operationalized data should correspond. Second, there is a need for adequacy between those data and the ‘reference reality’.

Chapter

This chapter shows how to develop an answer to a particular research question. It first considers the requirements and components of an answer to a research question before discussing the role of ‘theory’ in social science research, what a ‘theoretical framework’ is, and what a hypothesis is. It then explores the three components of a hypothesis: an independent variable, a dependent variable, and a proposition (a statement about the relationship between the variables). It also looks at the different types of hypotheses and how they guide various kinds of research. It also explains why conceptual and operational definitions of key terms are important and how they are formulated. Finally, it offers suggestions on how to answer normative questions.

Chapter

Louis M. Imbeau, Sule Tomkinson, and Yasmina Malki

This chapter assesses descriptive, explanatory, and interpretive approaches. ‘Description’, ‘explanation’, and ‘interpretation’ are distinct stages of the research process. Description makes the link between what is to be described and a concept and its empirical referent. It defines a way to understand empirical reality, as variations, significations, or processes. Description refers to the ‘what’ question, as the first step towards explanation. When it comes to answering the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions, some social scientists differentiate between explanation and interpretation. For them, the aim of social sciences is to ‘understand’, that is, to uncover the meanings of individuals’ or groups’ actions through the interpretation of their beliefs and discourses, whereas the aim of natural sciences is to ‘explain’, that is, to establish causality and general laws. The chapter presents an approach which offers a broader perspective for the social sciences, advocating an explanatory pluralism that allows for a more ecumenical approach.

Chapter

This chapter focuses on fundamental assumptions that researchers make about how we can know and develop knowledge about the social world, such as assumptions about the nature of human behaviour and the methods appropriate to studying and explaining that behaviour. The main objective is how to carry out a systematic and rigorous investigation of social phenomena. The chapter considers three different answers to the question of how to approach the study of social phenomena: those offered by positivism, scientific realism, and interpretivism. It also explores the differences among these answers and their implications for conducting political research. Finally, it discusses the use of a positivist (rational choice) and interpretivist (constructivist) approach to the analysis of ethnic conflicts in Yugoslavia in the 1990s.