Introduction to Social Research

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SLMtitle.png Introduction to Social Research

Chapter Outline

  1. Objectives
  2. Introduction
  3. Meaning and Purpose of Research in Social Sciences
  4. Research in Natural Sciences Vs Social Sciences
  5. Methodology, method and Technique
  6. Logic of enquiry in social Research
  7. How social sciences are scientific Disciplines
  8. Philosophy of scientific research
    • What is Empiricism?
    • Issues of subjectivity
    • Issues of ethics
    • Theory building
  9. Different approaches of Research
  10. An overview of Research process
    • Formulating the Research problem
    • Preparation of synopsis and working hypothesis
    • Preparing the Research Design
    • Determining the sample design
    • Planning of Collection of data
    • Execution of project
    • Analysis of data and Hypothesis testing
    • Generalizations and interpretations
    • Preparing the report
  11. Criteria for good research
  12. Let us sum up
  13. Key Words
  14. Suggested Readings
  15. Answers /Hints to SAQs

SLMinto.png Introduction

Man by nature is inquisitive, and humans have an extraordinary capacity to exercise rational judgment and probe the realities of the world around us. Inherent in humans is the urge to find out the truth and to make a sense out of the things going around us. You might have observed how a child observes, comprehends and understand the world. While you take this first step towards the course in research methodology at the end of this course you will come to a realization that all these things are already in your behavior and you in fact practice these things every day, perhaps without realizing it.Social research is that domain of human inquisitiveness which primarily deals with the structures and processes of the social world, in both their enduring and changing dimensions. Man’s quest to reflect and probe the social realities at ever deeper levels gives rise to new perspectives which are then questioned by future researchers, further probed and ultimately lead to social theories. In an earlier unit you studied the eminent philosophers in the different parts of the world who have tried to understand and analyze the social realities. This unit takes you further and gives you an understanding about how modern concepts of social research have developed over the years and helps you to differentiate between research methodologies, research methods and techniques. End part of the unit provides you a bird's eye view of research process which researchers have developed over the years to probe the social realities.

SLMobj.png Learning Objectives
After reading this chapter, you are expected to learn about:

  • Explain the meaning and purpose of research in social sciences
  • Understand the difference between research in natural science and social science
  • Understand difference between methodology, method and technique
  • Understand logic of inquiry in social research
  • Describe various approaches to social research
  • Describe various steps in the process of research

Meaning and Purpose of Social Research

We can define research as a systematic and logical pursuit made by human beings to find out knowledge from any “phenomenon or relationship”. This tendency is deep rooted in human behavior. Understandably, any human activity, can develop errors and therefore the pursuit of research should use systematic methods so that errors can be brought to minimum .There is no single prescribed method in research. In fact there are variety of methods which can be used seeing the nature of phenomenon or relationship – which we investigate. The range of research methods and the philosophy behind such methods taken together constitute research methodology. The success of the research primarily depends upon whether we have opted for the right kind of methodology to investigate the issue in hand. This tendency, peculiar to human beings has led mankind from it’s primitive stageof existence to modern age. Significance of research is not only limited to satisfying human urge to know the unknown it is linked to whole process of development. In modern times it is much more relevant. There is no sphere of human endeavor which is untouched from the influence of research. The entire economic planning,framing of government policies, business,studying social process, or marketing is carried out with the help of research tools in our hand. You might have seen how big business houses project and advertisetheir products. These advertising tactics are based on serious research exercise. You will not find any other phase of human history when research might have played such an important role in our life.

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You are advised to listen to a video programme by Dr Picciano to get more clarity on this topic

Research in Natural Sciences Vs. Social Sciences

You may be rather surprised to know that the most of social scientists are preoccupied with research methodologies to the extent that it sounds a bit obsessive. However most of the natural scientists are not at all required to study any such course on research methodology and they do not seem to be bothered about it at all. The reasons are rooted in different nature of the disciplines. In natural sciences there is a clear cut separation of the observer and observed reality which is why the observer does not interfere in what is going to be observed. The objectivity of the natural reality can be easily observed. However picture is altogether different when we enter into the domain ofsocial sciences. There is hardly any separation between the reality under observation and the observer. Being a human being, the observer’s biases and emotions have a strong tendency to play a role which interferes in the observed reality. Hence how to observe the objective facts of the reality has been a big question. Social scientists are still grappling with this issue of influence of observer on the objects and impact of such influence on the process of producing valid knowledge. Apart from this issue of subjectivity, social sciences have to face variety of ethical issues, and cultural relativism. You will study about these issues in subsequent subsections.

Methodology, Methods and Technique

Some of you might have got confused by this bewildering nomenclature.These terms are used quite often and you need to be very clear about them.methodology is a systematic process to probe the research problem. It is a comprehensive step by step process ranging from why a research problem has been undertaken to why specific techniques have been used. It involves all the methods which are used by the researcher with categorical logic for using them. Researcher has to be very clear about which method or technique will be relevant for his study and why others will not. Research methodology is therefore much more than just a collection of research methods. It has several dimensions and research methods are just a part of it. To be precise let me tell you that the methodologies refers to the perspective of research whereas method implies how these theoretical perspectives are being applied to get the facts or data collected. Quite often the word Techniquesand methods are differently used. Research methods are more general and in a way we can say that research methods include techniques of collecting data. I give you a simple example. For instance in library research if we are using analysis of historical records as a research method then recording of notes or tape & film listening may be referred as techniques of data collection. Technique refers to the researchers’ way of collecting data. These three components of the research process are vitally linked to each other. We can not expect a reliable data to be collected with out proper understanding of research techniques. This data can not be explained with out proper method guiding collection of data and we can not employ a research method with out well articulated research methodology i.e. proper understanding of the perspective behind the method.

SLMsaq.gif Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs)- 1

Answer the question as instructed below and compare the answer with the one given at the end of the unit

(a)Please identify methods and techniques in the following

(i)Mail questionnaires,use of attitude scale ,use of socio metric scale

(ii)Analysis of documents,statistical compilation,reference and abstract guides,content analysis

(b) Please find out whether following statements are true or false(Tick Mark the relevant answer)

(i)A researcher's job is more like a judge and not as an advocate who is only interested in proving his point in favour of his clint TRUE/FALSE

(ii)The research methodology is just a collection of different research methods TRUE/FALSE

(iii)Natural sciences are generally more objective than social sciences TRUE/FALSE

Logic of Inquiry in Social Research

As far the logic of enquiry in social research is concerned we need to start our discussion with the Aristotle (384-322 BC) who was the first thinker who emphasized on the faculty of reasoning of human mind. Aristotle used the most elementary form of deductive logical inquiry to understand social realities. You may be wondering what we mean by the word deductive .In very simple terms it relates to the deriving of a conclusion by reasoning in such a way that conclusion necessarily follows from the premises. His logic is based on a major premise; a minor premise and conclusion. I give you a very simple example to explain the Aristotelian logic. For instance if we have a major premise that “All the students in this class are girls” and a minor premise that “Sita is student of this class”then the conclusion that “Sita is a girl” immediately follows. This logical way of analyzing the social realities was a major philosophical departure from age old superstitious thinking patronized by religious institutions. Though Aristotle’s deductive logic for social inquiry did not have any logical errors and influenced the western thought up to 1600AD, the 16th century philosophers like Galileo (1564-1642), Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and Tycho Brahe(1546-1601) concluded that it did not correspond to scientific inquiry about nature. The followers of the scientific methods therefore took recourse to inductive method of reasoning. In contrast to deductive approach where logic is the main operating tool the inductive method emphasizes observations as the main operating tool. In case any idea (or statement) is not consistent with the observations then it does not correspond to truth. Inductive method is often called scientific method also. Natural sciences are inductive as they rely on observations as the only tool to discover the truth. The earliest mention of scientific approach in the social research is found in the work of August Compte (1798-1857) a French philosopher who argued that social realities can also be probed using the approach of natural sciences .But the moment we apply this approach to social sciences we immediately confront with the question, whether social realities can be treated as separate from the observer. As you have already studied that this is a major difference between social and natural realities. He advocated for the fact that the methodology and insights of natural sciences can be used by social researchers as guiding principle to explore social realities. He was strongly of the view that social realities are also as objective as natural world and therefore approaches of natural sciences are the ideal way to discover the dynamics of social world also.

How social sciences are scientific disciplines

For a long time in the history of mankind the influence of religion and supernatural ideologies influenced and governed the progress of sociological thought. Comte was a strong proponent of the view that sociology needs to be developed in line with the natural sciences. He argued that realities of social world could be probed exactly in the same way realities of the natural science are probed. He argued that natural sciences can in fact provide a reliable model with in which the social realities can also be probed.

SLMsaq.gif Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs)- 2

Answer the question as instructed below and compare the answer with the one given at the end of the unit

Please answer which of the following statement is TRUE/FALSE(Please tick mark the correct answer)

(i)Aristotle's deductive reasoning is based on observations TRUE/FALSE

(ii)The deductive logic has been completely discarded by the modern thinkers TRUE/FALSE

(iii)Inductive logic emphasises on observation as the tool of discovering the knowledge TRUE/FALSE

(iv)Subjectivity in the process of taking observations is an important issue which makes research in social sciences difficult TRUE/FALSE

Philosophy of Scientific Research

The invention of inductive thinking in the west, pioneered by Francis Bacon(1561-1626) an English thinker gave rise to a dramatic turn in research methodology. As you have seen in earlier sections that Inductive reasoning put deductive reasoning upside down and emphasized that observation or human experience is the main operating tool in the discovery of knowledge . This method brought observation or human experience in to focus of the research methodology and raised the social sciences to the level of natural sciences. This is the genesis of the scientific method in social sciences which may be alternatively also called “Empiricism”. This idea is at the heart of the modern scientific method, which emphasizes that our theories should be based on the experience, particularly of the senses which as per this view is the only source of knowledge.Synthesis of inductive and Deductive approaches has finally come to be as the mainstay of the social science research.Credit for developing this modern trend of synthesis of two major strands goes to John Dewey (1859-1962) American philosopher and psychologist.

Despite the fact that all these developments have given social sciences the status of scientific discipline,researchers are still grappling with a range of issues out of which issue of subjectivity is of crucial importance.As researchers you should be very clear about these issues.In the following sections we introduce you to the concept of Empiricism, subjectivity in social science research and issues in data collection.

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You are advised to read an important lecture by Prof Laksiri Fernando published in Asian Tribune for a lucid explanation of these issues.

What is Empiricism

As per this philosophical approach, what ever we can sense or observe is the only source of knowledge. Main proponents of empiricism are Francis Bacon (1561-1753), John Locke (1632-1704), George Berkeley (1685-1753) and David Hume (1711-1776). This approach which is widely supported now basically refers to methodology of collecting facts through observations. However what type of observations will constitute scientific has been a matter of debate. Where as in the initial years of growth of social sciences even great sociologists relied on the data gathered by laymen like travelers, missionaries or administrators subsequently as the scientific collection of data got more prominence in research, the authenticity of these facts started being questioned. In this regard Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) has done commendable work who has strongly emphasized in his book “ Rules of sociological method” that data has to be collected keeping in view of certain rules. Durkheim argued that social realities have an external existence and the preconceived representations of these realities in the minds of observer should not make the observer biased. To put it slightly in different words observations will be considered scientific only if the objectivity of the facts is maintained. While we talk about scientific method we can not overlook the another significant contribution made by Decartes (1596-1650) through his book “Meditation on first philosophy” in which he has emphasized that every thing which exists need to doubted if we want to explore the truth. Descartes laid the basis of truly scientific approach and a general consensus emerged among the researchers that scientific approach should not accept any thing without proof. Hence reliability of the data emerged as central to scientific endeavors.

Issues of subjectivity

Objectivity of the data collection and rejection of preconceived notions gradually occupied central place in the development of research methodologies. It gave rise to a very strong mind set in the social thinkers that researchers have to be ethically neutral and their emotions should not vitiate the research process. Researchers have to come out of the preconceived and ethnocentric notions that something which is not part of their own culture is wrong . This is difficult to acquire this mind set while you will work in the community but please remember that this is first & foremost requirement to come out of this ingrained nature of our values if you want to be a good researchers.

Issues of ethics

There are vital ethical issues which may confront you while you study social systems which are alien to your culture. For instance, can your resist reacting to human sacrifice observed in any society which you are studying. It is quite obvious that it will evoke intense emotions in your mind which will ultimately affect outcome of your study which may cease to be as objective as it should be. This is a big challenge for social science researchers to continue to remain unbiased in such circumstance. However one important question might have cropped up in your mind about how to analyze such issues for example child marriages, superstitions, “sati Pratha” etc. Your doubt is very much obvious. There has to be some universal referent, against which such issues can be analyzed. You might have heard about universal declaration of human rights. However such a issue of using universal referent is still not completely resolved. You can still ask the question that “what criteria we should choose to construct the Universal reference”. There is a persistent question about how to deal with the concepts of right or wrong particularly when the cultural setting is alien to us. Now you must have realized how difficult the job of social scientist as compared to the natural scientist is. This is precisely the reason why the progress is the social sciences has been rather slow as compared to natural sciences

Theory building

An empirical investigation aims at building a new theoretical insight about the society and the entire research process is focused to achieve this end. You may be wondering what we mean by theory. Oxford dictionary of the sociology defines theory in following words. An account of the world which goes beyond what we see and measure. It embraces a set of interrelated definitions and relationships that organizes our concepts of and understanding of the empirical world in a systematic way.Another word which might be bothering you is concept. The concepts are basic building blocks of the theory and are connected in a logical sequence. Concepts are described by standardized description called their definition.. The concepts are basically abstractions based on observations and evidence at a particular point of them. It is quite likely that some of the observation considered true at a particular point of time will have to either given up or modified as new piece of evidence came up. However there is a big difference between scientific concepts & social concepts. Where as in natural sciences such definitions are very precise it is not so in social sciences.Concepts in all sciences are scrutinized again & again in different conditions so that the existing understanding of these concepts can be put to test their validity and further refined to make them universal truth. However as compared to natural sciences it is much more difficult in social sciences to evolve a concept to the level as precise as “two plus two is equal to four”. There is always a perceived difference between what we observe experimentally and constructed theoretical framework. But still theory building is central to the whole exercise of social research You might be wondering why do we need theories in social sciences when they can rarely match with facts to the extent of last digit precise. The reasons are simple .Theories are needed to simplify the task of dealing with realities. The societal phenomena is of highly diverse nature with large number of parameters contributing for it’s evolution. If we want to make a sense out of it & discover any pattern in it then some observations have to be collected out of different situations so that any thing common in different situation or specific pattern can be easily visible.So now, you can understand that task of a theorist in sociology is to discover general prepositions of the theory and put them to test. If existing theory satisfactorily makes sense out of data, then theory stands verified. However if there is any contradiction then we need to reformulate the theory or replace it by another one. The second task of a theory, apart from explaining the observations is to construct a hypothesis which can be put to test by a theory.Let us start with what do we mean by hypothesis. In simple words hypothesis is just a logical statement written on the basis of our subjectiveunderstanding of the social phenomena. It may or may not be true. We may also say that it is a kind of deductive statement and is to be proved inductively i.e. based on observations.

SLMsaq.gif Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs)- 3

Answer the question as instructed below and compare the answer with the one given at the end of the unit

(a)Write down the names of three major thinkers who gave birth to scientific methods in research

(b)Which philosopher emphasized on rules of data collection

(c)Tick mark following as TRUE/FALSE

(i)Hypothesis are deductive statements which are required to be proved inductively TRUE/FALSE

(ii)Every research study should involve a hypothesis TRUE/FALSE

(iii)Exercise of research ultimately leads to theory building TRUE/FALSE

Different approaches of research

There are two basic approaches in research namely quantitative and qualitative research approaches. Quantitative research approach, as the name suggests, refers to studies involving measurable quantities. Such approach can be further categorized in to inferential, experimental or simulative approaches. A good example of inferential research is survey research in which the representative samples of the population are taken and analyzed. Based on the data generated by such a study we can get statistical inferences about the characteristics of population. Experimental research refers to a kind of research where we exercise a much greater control the variables. The idea behind such an approach is to manipulate some variable in such a way that their impact over other set of variables can be studied. Lastly the third type of quantitative approach is called simulation approach in which we create an artificial or simulated environment and then study the dynamic behavior of the system under controlled conditions. On the other hand qualitative research deals with subjective assessment of attitudes, opinions or behavior. Obviously in these types of research the results can not be expressed in quantitative forms and research insights or impressions of the investigators tend to play a major role.Different types of researches are described in following box.

An Overview of Research Process

Research process covers a series of steps ranging from formulating the research problem to deriving conclusions, which need to be taken to carry out research. The investigator has to design this process in a scientific and logical way. The most important aspect of research process is that researcher has to incorporate a systematic, planned and logical scheme in his work. These steps are supposed to be intimately linked with each other.The individual topics involved in research process will be covered in details in subsequent units of this course. However before we embark on the exhaustive details of these topics, a bird eye view of the steps is given in following sections.

Formulating of the research problem

The formulation of the research problem is the most important issue in the entire research planning. A well defined research problem means half of the war is won by the researcher. This is supposed to be well thought exercise. It means the researcher has to answer in no ambiguous terms what kind of data has to be created, What type of relations between data to be explored and techniques need to be employed for the purpose The answer to all these questions amounts to fencing the research problem. In the social science research you will find numerous variables playing a role and as long as you categorically define the problem and lay down boundaries within which the research problem is to be comprehended the research work can not be taken to a logical end. The first step of the research process is to find the broad area of research and then narrow it down to specific problem in operational terms. The researchers should simultaneously start making literature survey to find out what kind of conceptual framework and empirical literature is available for research investigation. The literature survey will help the researcher to ascertain the material available for operational purposes, and to rearticulate his research topic into analytical or operational terms. However we need to be careful about objectivity and validity of the background data.

Preparation of synopsis and working hypothesis

Once the research problem is identified, next step should be to develop complete research proposal or synopsis. At this stage a extensive literature survey needs to be done. The details of already published work need to be clearly described and gaps in the existing level of knowledge should be identified and it should be clearly brought out in the synopsis that how proposed study is going to fill up these gaps. Next step after the extensive literature survey is to construct a suitable hypothesis which can give a focus to research. How to construct a hypothesis is a crucial issue. Researcher can discuss his research problem with colleagues, experts, examine existing studies on the subject, or conduct personal investigation on limited scale to construct a hypothesis. Hypothesis emerges out of this a- priori thinking on the subject. However all the research studies do not require a working hypothesis.

Preparing the Research Design

Research design is one of the most important exercises for the overall success of the research project. Research design involves the planning of the means for collecting the information, availability of skilled field investigators, time available for research & cost implication.

Determining Sample design

All the items under consideration in the research constitute the population or universe of the research.Pratically it is not possible to include all the items in the investigation due to variety of reasons mainly due to cost implications. Therefore it is a prevalent practice in research process to take a representative sample of the entire universe and put it to test. How to take a sample out of the population is an important step in the entire research investigation. Broadly there are two approaches to sample design, first is probability sample in which all the items have known probability of being included in the sample and another is non probability samples which do to allow the researchers to determine the probability of each items being included in the sample. Examples of probability sampling are simple random sampling, systematic sampling, stratified sampling, cluster area sampling where as non probability sample designs include convenience sampling, Judgmental sampling & quota sampling techniques. You will study in detail about these techniques in subsequent units

Planning of collection of data

There are a range of methods to collect data and the right method of data collection can be decided by the researchers keeping in view of the consideration of time, cost, and other resources at the disposal of the researchers. The primary data can be collected by way of survey or through an experiment. In the case of survey, data can be collected by way of variety of methods e.g. by observation, personal interview, telephonic interview, mailing of questionnaires or schedules. Researcher has to select appropriate method taking into consideration nature of investigative, time & resources.

Execution of the Project

Execution of the research investigation requires meticulous planning and supervision. The field investigators collecting data should be properly trained and occasional surprise checks should be undertaken to ensure that they are doing their job satisfactory. The job of the field investigators collecting data is specifically important when data is to be collected through interview schedules. Non response is a most common problem being faced by researchers and vigorous follow up is required to tackle this issue. Research investigator has a very important role is this connection as his job is to keep the project going as per time schedule and exercise effective control in the process execution.

Analysis of data and hypothesis testing

Once the data is collected, researchers have to move into crucial phase of analysis of data. However before we analyze the data we have to prepare the data as ready to be analyzed. In involves closely related operations such as categorization of data, coding ,tabulation and finally deriving statistical inferences. You will study in detail about the procedures and statistical methods to be used for analysis of data in subsequent units. After analysis of data, researchers can move ahead to test the hypothesis (if any) various statistical tests, like chi-square ,t test, and F test are available these day to find out whether the data generated through study supports the hypothesis or not. Any or more number of these tests can be applied to test the hypothesis which will decide whether hypothesis constructed at the beginning of the study is to be accepted or rejected.The subject matter of the hypothesis testing has been covered in this course in subsequent unit

Generalization and interpretation

In fact every research study, some how tries to relate observations to theory. If a hypothesis is tested repeatedly then researcher can move to generalization and construct a theory out of it. This is the real objective of the research. Some times there is no hypothesis to start with. Under such circumstances the data generated by the study can give us clues for constructing hypothesis in future studies.

Preparation for the report

The final stage of any research investigation is the preparation of report or thesis. The report should generally carry the sections like preliminary pages like title, acknowledgements, foreword and list of Table/Graphs/Charts followed by main text of report and appendices. The main text of the report is divided in to introduction,main body,statement of findings/recommendations, and conclusion. The report should be concise and written in objective style.

Criteria for Good Research

The basic criteria of good research are that the work should be systematic, logical, based on observation and should be replicable.

SLMact.gif Activity
Choose any five research problem of your interest and categorise them according to different approaches of research studied in this unit.

SLMsum.png Results

SLMgloss1.png Glossary

Deductive -A form of logic which says that conclusion should necessarily follow from the premises

Empiricism-A belief that knowledge can be created through observations of the world

Ethnocentrism-A tendency to look at the other cultures primarily from the point of view of your own culture

SLMtest1.png Practice Test

(a)Give an example from your day to day life which makes the difference between Research methodologies, method and techniques clear to a layman

(b)Give an argument which clearly shows the points of similarity/difference between natural and social sciences.

(c)Write down one such incident which shows how preconceived notion of the researcher interfere with the collection of facts.

(d)Give one example through which inductive and deductive reasoning of research can be explained to a lay man

(e)Choose any five research problem of your interest and categorise them according to different approaches of research studied in this unit.

SLMfeedb.png Answers to SAQs


(a) (i)Mail questionnaire-METHOD

Use of attitude scale,use of techniques,sociometric scales-TECHNIQUES

(ii)Analysis of documents-METHOD

Statistical compilation,reference abstract guides,content analysis-TECHNIQUES

(b) (i)TRUE (ii)FALSE (iii)TRUE







(a)Francis Bacon,John Locke,George Berkeley

(b)Emile Durkheim

(c) (i)TRUE



SLMref.png References and Further Readings
  • Research Methodology –Methods and Techniques by CR Kothari published by New Age International (P)Limited, Publishers
  • The practice of Social Research by Earl Babbie, International Student Edition Published by Thomson Wadsworth
  • Research methodologies and methods Book 1 of MSO 002 Study Material of MA(Sociology ) of IGNOU
  • Kaplan, Abraham1964. The conduct of inquiry. Chandler: London(For a detailed study of logic of inquiry in to social phinomena)
  • Web site of Common wealth of Learning(This site contains valuable materials about Research methodologies)
  • James,Harold Fox,Criteria of good research,Phi Delta Kappan,Vol. 39(March,1958),pp 285-86.