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Chapter 2. The process and problems of social research. Social research is done through the process of:. Specifying a research question Developing an appropriate research strategy Choosing appropriate units of analysis Conforming to scientific and ethical guidelines.

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Chapter 2 l.jpg

Chapter 2

The process and problems of

social research

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Social research is done through the

process of:

  • Specifying a research question

  • Developing an appropriate research strategy

  • Choosing appropriate units of analysis

  • Conforming to scientific and ethical guidelines

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What is the question?

  • A social research question is a question about

  • the social world that you seek to answer through

  • the collection and analysis of firsthand, verifiable,

  • empirical data.

  • But that doesn’t mean it is easy to specify a research

  • question. In fact, formulating a good research question

  • can be surprisingly difficult.

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What makes a research question “good”?

Feasibility: Can you start and finish an investigation

with available resources and in the time allotted?

Social importance: Will the answer make a difference

in the social world, even if it only helps people

understand a problem?

Scientific relevance: Does your question help resolve

some contradictory research findings or a puzzling

issue in social theory?

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What is the theory?

  • Building and evaluating theory is one of the most

  • important objectives of social science.

  • A theory is a logically interrelated set of propositions that

  • helps us make sense of many interrelated phenomena and

  • predict behavior or attitudes that are likely to occur when

  • certain conditions are met.

  • Social theories suggest the areas on which we should

  • focus and the propositions that we should consider

  • testing.

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How do we find relevant social theory and

prior research?

  • You’ll find that in any area of research, developing

  • an understanding of relevant theories will help you

  • to ask important questions, consider reasonable

  • alternatives and choose appropriate research procedures.

  • The social science research community is large and active,

  • and new research results appear continually in scholarly

  • journals and books.

  • The World Wide Web is also a good source.

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What is the strategy?

  • When we conduct social research, we are attempting to

  • connect theory with empirical data—the evidence we

  • obtain from the social world.

  • Deductive research--starting with a social theory and then

  • testing some of its implications with data.

  • Inductive research--first collecting the data and then

  • developing a theory that explains patterns in the data.

  • A research project can use both strategies.

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Deductive research

  • In deductive research a specific expectation is deduced from a general theoretical premise and then tested with data that have

  • been collected for this purpose.

  • We call the specific expectation deduced from the more

  • general theory a hypothesis.

  • A hypothesis proposes a relationship between two or

  • more variables—characteristics or properties that can vary.

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  • Variation in one variable is proposed to predict,

  • influence, or cause variation in the other variable.

  • The proposed influence is the independent variable; its

  • effect or consequence is the dependent variable.

  • After the researchers formulate one or more hypotheses

  • and develop research procedures, they collect data with

  • which to test the hypothesis.

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Direction of association

  • A pattern in a relationship between two variables---that

  • is, the value of a variable tends to change consistently in

  • relation to change in the other variable

  • When researchers hypothesize that one variable increases

  • as the other variable increases, the direction of association

  • is positive .

  • But when one variable increases as the other decreases,

  • or vice versa, the direction of association is

  • negative, or inverse .

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Inductive research

  • Inductive researchbegins with specific data, which

  • are then used to develop (induce) a general explanation

  • (a theory) to account for the data.

  • Inductive reasoning enters into deductive research when we

  • find unexpected patterns in the data we have collected for

  • testing a hypothesis.

  • We may call these patterns serendipitous findings

  • or anomalous findings.

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What is the design?

  • Researchers usually start with a question, though some begin with a

  • theory or a strategy.

  • If you are very systematic, the question is related to a theory, and an

  • appropriate strategy is chosen for the research.

  • There are several different types of research designs.

  • One important distinction between the types is whether data are collected

  • at one point in time or at two or more points in time.

  • Another distinction is whether the design focuses on individuals or on groups.

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Cross-sectional designs

  • In a cross-sectional research design, all data are collected

  • at one point in time. Identifying the time order of effects—

  • what happened first, and so on—is critical for developing

  • a causal analysis, but can be an insurmountable problem

  • with a cross-sectional design.

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Longitudinal Designs

  • In longitudinal research designs, data are collected

  • at two or more points in time, and so identification of

  • the time order of effects can be quite straightforward.

  • By measuring the value of cases on an independent variable

  • and a dependent variable at different times, the researcher

  • can determine whether variation in the independent variable

  • precedes variation in the dependent variable.

  • The value of longitudinal data is so great that every effort

  • should be made to develop longitudinal research designs

  • when they are appropriate for the search question asked.

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Types of longitudinal designs

  • Repeated cross-sectional design (trend study).

  • A type of longitudinal study in which data are collected

  • at two or more points in time from different samples of the

  • same population.

  • Fixed-sample panel design (panel study). A type of

  • longitudinal study in which data are collected from the

  • same individuals—the panel—at two or more points in time.

  • In another type of panel design, panel members who

  • leave are replaced with new members.

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Types of longitudinal designs con’t

  • Event-based design (cohort study). A type of

  • longitudinal study in which data are collected at two

  • or more points in time from individuals in a cohort.

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Units and levels of analysis

  • Whenever we design research, we must decide whether

  • to use individuals or groups as our units of analysis and

  • whether to collect data at one or several points in time.

  • The decisions that we make about these design

  • elements will affect our ability to draw causal

  • conclusions in our analysis.

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  • Units of analysis: the level of social life on which the

  • research question is focused, such as individuals, groups,

  • towns, or nations.

  • In most sociological and psychological studies,

  • the units of analysis are individuals.

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  • Levels of analysis:from the most micro (small) to

  • the most macro (largest).

  • Conclusions about processes at the individual level

  • (micro) should be based on individual-level data.

  • Conclusions about group-level processes (macro)

  • should be based on data collected about groups.

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Ecological fallacy

  • In most cases, when this rule is violated, we can be

  • misled about the existence of an association between

  • two variables.

  • A researcher who draws conclusions about individual-level

  • processes from group-level data could be making what

  • is termed an ecological fallacy.

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Reductionist fallacy

  • On the other hand, when data about individuals are

  • used to make inferences about group-level processes,

  • a problem occurs that can be thought of as the mirror

  • image of the ecological fallacy: the reductionist fallacy,

  • also known as reductionism, or the individualist fallacy.

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But is it ethical?

  • Research distorted by political or personal pressures to

  • find particular outcomes or to achieve the most

  • marketable results is unlikely to be carried out in an

  • open and honest fashion.

  • Openness about research proceduresand results goes

  • hand in hand with honesty in research design.

  • Openness is also essential if researchers are to learn

  • from the work of others.

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The uses of science

  • Scientists must consider the uses to which their

  • research is put.

  • Social scientists who conduct research for organizations

  • and agencies may face additional difficulties when

  • the organization, not the researcher, controls the

  • final report and the publicity it receives.

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Research on people

  • Whenever we interact with other people as social

  • scientists we must give paramount importance to the

  • rational concerns and emotional needs that will shape

  • their responses to our actions.

  • It is here that ethical research practice begins, with

  • the recognition that our research procedures involve

  • people who deserve as much respect for their well-being

  • as we do for ours.

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  • Maintaining confidentiality is a key ethical obligation.

  • This means obtaining informed consent.

  • To be informed, consent must be given by persons

  • who are competent to consent, have consented

  • voluntarily, are fully informed about the research,

  • and have comprehended what they have been told

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Other ethical issues

  • The potential of withholding treatment from some

  • subjects, as is done in experiments with placebos.

  • The extent to which ethical issues are a problem

  • varies dramatically with research designs.

  • Survey research creates few ethical problems.

  • But experiments can put people in uncomfortable

  • or embarrassing situations.

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Institutionalreview boards (IRB)

  • Federal regulations require that every institution that

  • seeks federal funding for biomedical or behavioral

  • research on human subjects have an institutional

  • review board (IRB) that reviews research proposals.

  • IRBs at universities and other agencies apply ethics

  • standards that are set by federal regulations but can be

  • expanded or specified by the IRB itself.

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