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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.

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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.

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8. Ethics  

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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16. Evaluating Your Project  

Critical reflection is a key part of evaluating the research project, and a dissertation that demonstrates this is likely to achieve higher marks. However, one of the first things to recognize is that the process of evaluation does not necessarily begin at the end of the project. Instead, issues of research quality are implicitly embedded in all parts of the research process and all sections of the dissertation. This chapter introduces some key criteria that will help students evaluate their project and think critically about the research process. It discusses the importance of originality, rigour, and significance in research, and provides key questions students can ask about their project. Collectively, these questions will help students to assess and evaluate their research.

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Cover How to do your Social Research Project or Dissertation

2. The Social Research Process  

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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5. Conducting a Literature Search  

Today, the world of research is quite literally available through the touch of a few buttons via online resaerch. But this increase in access and availability is not without its challenges. With ‘hits’ that can run into millions, unless the student knows how to search effectively and efficiently, the information that he or she finds can quickly become overwhelming. This chapter guides students through the process of literature searching for their dissertation. It outlines how to develop a successful search strategy and what to do with the literature once it is discovered. Topics covered include what counts as literature; different ‘types’ of literature searching; how to develop a literature search strategy; and common problems associated with literature searching.

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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.

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Cover How to do your Social Research Project or Dissertation

15. Working with Documents  

Although much of the data used in social science dissertation projects is produced by interviews, surveys, and participant observation, there are other forms of data that can be used for the purposes of social science. This chapter explores some of this ‘documentary’ data and how to use it for the purposes of research. Documentary forms of data have some significant advantages that make them particularly useful for student research projects. This does not mean that they are without problems, but the chapter provides a practical guide for those who are prepared to look beyond familiar horizons. It makes the case for using documents; explores what can be included under the broad heading of documents; and introduces both quantitative and qualitative content analysis as a means to analyse documents.

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17. Writing Up  

After going through the process of planning, designing, and carrying out research, the student needs to write up the project. Writing is an extremely important part of the research process as a poorly written dissertation will constrain the student’s ability to communicate findings and limit the final mark he or she can achieve. This chapter discusses the basic elements of writing a dissertation and introduces the structures, forms, and styles that are commonly used to create one. Emphasizing the importance of developing an argument to connect the pieces of the dissertation together, it takes each element of the dissertation in turn and demonstrates how it is ‘built’.

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9. Writing a Research Proposal  

Before starting a dissertation, it is common practice to have to write a research proposal. Not only does a research proposal help make sense of the student’s own project and what it will look like, it also allows he or she to connect research idea to a wider audience so that other people can give advice about whether, and how, it makes ‘research sense’. Often submitted alongside an ethics application, the research proposal is sometimes a requirement of the dissertation process, needing ‘approval’ before undertaking the research project. This chapter details what research proposals look like and why they are important, before outlining the requirements of a typical research proposal.

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10. Sampling  

Whether the research project adopts a quantitative, qualitative, or mixed strategy, there is little point in asking a few non-random people a few non-random questions as the student has no idea what those answers might indicate, or whether they might apply in other situations. Therefore, the student needs to think carefully about his or her sampling strategy and justify this in the dissertation. This chapter explains the key principles of probability and non-probability sampling and explores why ‘who’ is asked is just as important as ‘what’ is asked. It discusses the two key stages of sampling: defining the appropriate population for study and developing strategies for recruiting the sample.

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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.

Book

Cover How to do your Social Research Project or Dissertation

Tom Clark, Liam Foster, and Alan Bryman

How to do your Social Research Project or Dissertation looks to help readers to navigate research for a project or dissertation. It starts with an introduction to the research process and how to get started. It examines the process of developing an idea. It reviews the available literature. It then considers how to build upon the project idea, the ethical issues, and how to write a proposal. Next it considers sampling, and collecting and analyzing quantitative and qualitative data. Finally, it describes how to evaluate the project and the process of writing up.

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11. Collecting Quantitative Data  

This chapter discusses the basics of collecting quantitative material. It outlines the nature of quantitative data in the context of the research process, before exploring the differences between primary and secondary data. In doing so, it highlights some of the benefits of using secondary data sets for the purposes of dissertation-based research. The chapter then examines the relationship between research questions, concepts, and variables, before exploring how quantitative data can be measured at different levels. Finally, it offers some useful tips and advice concerning one technique that is particularly common in student projects — the questionnaire — and demonstrates the different ways in which questionnaires can be developed and administered.

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6. Reviewing the Literature  

The literature review is a key component of a dissertation. It serves to contextualize the aims and objectives of the project, and in terms of the research process it helps to sensitize issues of interest that the student might want to direct their attention towards when they begin collecting and analysing data. This chapter provides an introduction to the literature review and examines its purpose in relation to the research process. Beginning with a short exploration of the nature of a literature review and its relationship with theory, the chapter goes on to examine the different types of review before detailing the key content. By the end of the chapter, students should have a good understanding of the role of the literature review in research and how it informs every aspect of the research process.

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

Research Question  

Irene Wieczorek and Piergiuseppe Parisi

This chapter looks at research questions, which identify what the researcher wants to find out or understand. They are a crucial component of any study and are connected to all parts of the research. Depending on the type of study, the research question may either serve as the starting point of the entire research or change in response to the research design. A research question should naturally be formulated in an interrogative manner and should be a query to which the answer is not known at the outset of the research process. Research questions have a twofold purpose: they define the boundaries of a research project, thus guiding the investigation, and they are meant to spark the reader’s interest.

Chapter

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

Nomothetic and Idiographic Methods  

Nicky Hayes

This chapter looks at nomothetic and idiographic methods. Knowing the purpose helps the researcher define the scope conditions of the research, and will also reveal whether the research should be nomothetic or idiographic. Nomothetic research aims to identify laws about human behaviour — the Greek word ‘nomos’ means ‘law’. It assumes that it is possible to discover regularities of influence or behaviour, allowing experts to predict the likely outcomes of possible actions or innovations. As such, it looks for general principles, not special cases. Idiographic research, by contrast, is all about exploring individuality or uniqueness. Idiographic research tends to focus on a single example, which might be a person, an event, a phenomenon, or an organization, and to analyse that example in-depth. As a result, idiographic methods are often used in case studies, and are characteristic of ethnographic research.

Chapter

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

Survey Research  

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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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.