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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

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

Literature Review  

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.

Chapter

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

Concept Construction  

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

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

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

Cover Political Research

3. Objectivity and Values  

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’.

Chapter

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

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

Cover Political Research

5. Finding Answers: Theories and How to Apply Them  

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

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

Descriptive, Explanatory, and Interpretive Approaches  

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

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

Ethics in Research  

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.

Chapter

Cover Political Research

1. Political Research  

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

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

I. Interdisciplinarity  

The Interaction of Different Disciplines for Understanding Common Problems

Roberto Carrillo and Lidia Núñez

This chapter describes interdisciplinary, a term which refers to a mode of conducting research that ‘integrates information, data, techniques, tools, perspectives, concepts, and/or theories from two or more disciplines or bodies of specialized knowledge to advance fundamental understanding or to solve problems whose solutions are beyond the scope of a single discipline or area of research practice’. Therefore, it is a way of conducting research that goes beyond the frontiers of traditional disciplines. The chapter provides an overview of the main features of how interdisciplinarity is applied in the social sciences. It defines the concept and traces its origins and evolution, as well as the interrelationship between interdisciplinary studies, society, and the development of public policies. The chapter then discusses the measurement and analysis of interdisciplinarity. Finally, it presents the main criticisms of interdisciplinarity and its use in the social sciences.

Chapter

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

L. Levels of Analysis  

Mauro Caprioli and Claire Dupuy

This chapter studies levels of analysis. Research in the social sciences may be interested in subjects located at different levels of analysis. The level of analysis indicates the position at which social and political phenomena are analysed within a gradual order of abstraction or aggregation that is constructed analytically. Its definition and boundaries vary across social science disciplines. In general, the micro level refers to the individual level and focuses on citizens’ attitudes or politicians’ and diplomats’ behaviour. Analyses at the meso level focus on groups and organizations, like political parties, social movements, and public administrations. The macro level corresponds to structures that are national, social, economic, cultural, or institutional — for example, countries and national or supranational political regimes. The explanandum (what research aims to account for), the explanans (the explanations), the unit of analysis, and data collection can be located at different levels. The chapter then considers two main errors commonly associated with aggregation and levels of analysis: ecological and atomistic fallacies.

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

Interview Techniques  

Matrakova Marta

This chapter explores interview techniques. The use of interviews in social science expanded during the twentieth century. Research interviews with industrial, commercial, and market objectives have also contributed to their development as one of the main methods of social inquiry. The extensive use of interviews as a means of investigation and self-representation in modern society has contributed to their position as the ‘characteristic format for personal narratives’. While positivists conceive interviewers as miners whose main objective is data collection, post-positivists view them as travellers who unravel the intersubjective process of knowledge construction. These different epistemological conceptions of interview research have led to the development of various techniques. The chapter then looks at different types of interviews, including structured/directed interview, semi-structured/semi-directive interview, and in-depth/non-directive interview.

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 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.