Introduction: The Tools of Social Science Research

Introduction: The Tools of Social Science Research

Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8116-3.ch001

Abstract

In this chapter, students are presented with the concept of empiricism, which serves as the basis for all social science research. Quantitative, deductive empirical research tools are compared to qualitative, inductive research tools. Quantitative tools include surveys, experimentation, and the use of existing data. The empirical tools associated with qualitative research include in-depth interviews, focus groups, and field observation. The differences between hypothesis testing and hypothesis generation are discussed.
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The Nature And Tools Of Empiricism

The fundamental difficulty with social science research methods is the terminology that is used to convey esoteric concepts. The aim of this book is to simplify the language of research methods. When discussing social science research methods, we are discussing how to collect information in a scientifically valid way. Now, there are many ways to collect information; however, there are a finite number of ways to do this scientifically. The essence of social science research can be boiled down to one word: empiricism. Empiricism – or to be empirical – means observable through the senses. There are six primary empirical “tools” that are used by social scientists:

  • 1.

    Surveys

  • 2.

    Interviews

  • 3.

    Focus Groups

  • 4.

    Field Observation

  • 5.

    Experimentation

  • 6.

    Existing Data

1. Surveys

Surveys consist of closed ended questions that typically provide the respondent with predetermined option choices. Surveys are considered to be “quantitative” in nature. This is because the option choices can be given a numerical designation, even if the choices are words. When words are given a numerical designation this is called coding.

  • Example 1: How would you rate the quality of your research methods professor?

    • a.

      Excellent

    • b.

      Good

    • c.

      Fair

    • d.

      Poor

    • e.

      Very poor

    • f.

      Do not know / no opinion

  • Example 2: Which age range best describes you?

    • a.

      18-25

    • b.

      26-35

    • c.

      36-45

    • d.

      46-55

    • e.

      56-65

    • f.

      over 65

Example questions 1 and 2 above are quantitative in nature because the option choices can be numerically coded. For example, in example question 1, the option choices ranging from “excellent” to “very poor” could be given the following numerical designations: excellent = 5, good = 4, fair = 3, poor = 2, very poor = 1. Survey questions can also be crafted in such a way that there is a finite set of possible responses absent predetermined option choices.

  • Example 3: How old are you in years? ________

Even though the question in example 3 is technically open-ended, we consider this to be a quantitative survey question. The question does not provide predetermined option choices per se, but there are a fairly limited number of responses given the nature of the question.

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