Week 1, Chapter 1
Chapter 1 - Doing Social Research
Social Research: is a process in which people combine a set of principles, outlooks & ideas (i.e
methodology) w/ a collection of specific practices, techniques & strategies (i.e a method of inquiry) to
produce knowledge. It is a challenging process of discovery that requires persistence, personal integrity,
tolerance for ambiguity, interaction with others & commitment to doing quality work.
Alternatives to Social Research
Authority: When you accept something as true b/c someone in a position of authority says it is true or b/c
it is in an authoritative publication, you are relying on authority as a basis for knowledge. Relying on the
wisdom of authorities is a quick, simple & cheap way to learn something. Authorities often spend time &
effort to gain knowledge & you can benefit from their experience & work.
1) Easy to overestimate the expertise of other people. You may assume that they are right when they
2) Authorities may not agree & all authorities may not be equally dependable.
3) Authorities may speak on fields they know little about, or they may be plain wrong.
4) The misuse of authority. Sometimes organizations/ individuals give an appearance of authority so
they can convince others to agree to something that they might not otherwise.
Too much reliance on authorities can be dangerous to a democratic society. Experts may promote ideas
that strengthen their own power & position. When we accept the authority of experts but don't know how
the experts arrived at their knowledge, we lose the ability to evaluate what the experts say.
Tradition: is a special case of authority - the authority of the past. Tradition means you accept something
as being true b/c "It's the way things have always been.
Common Sense → Limitations : Allows logical fallacies to slip into thinking. Also, common sense
contains contradictory ideas that often go unnoticed because people use the ideas at different times, such
as "opposites attract" & "birds of a feather flock together." Common sense can originate in tradition. It is
useful & sometimes correct, but it also contains errors, misinformation, contradiction & prejudice.
Tv shows, movies, newspaper & magazine articles are imp sources of info. The writers distort reality,
either out of ignorance or b/c they rely on authority, tradition & common-sense. Their primary goal is
to entertain, not to represent reality accurately.
Unfortunately, the media tend to perpetuate the myths of a culture, as do some bloggers & individuals
on social networking tools such as Twitter.
Competing interests use the media to win public support. Public relations campaigns try to alter
public opinion about scientific findings, making it difficult for the public to judge research findings.
The 4 errors reinforce each other & can occur in other areas as well. They are a basis for misleading
people through propaganda, cons or fraud, magic, stereotyping & some advertising.
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1) Overgeneralization - occurs when some evidence supports your belief, but you falsely assume
that it also applies to many other situations.
2) Selective Observation: when you take special notice of some people or events & tend to seek out
evidence that confirms what you already believe & to ignore contradictory info.
3) Premature Closure: often operates w/ & reinforces the 1st two errors. Premature closure occurs
when you feel you have the answer & don't need to listen, seek info, or raise quesns any longer.
4) Halo Effect: when we over generalize from what we accept as being highly positive or
prestigious & let its strong reputation or prestige "rub off" onto other areas.
Scientists gather data using specialized techniques & use the data to support or reject theories. Data
are the empirical evidence or info that one gathers carefully according to rules or procedures. Data
can be quantitative (i.e expressed as numbers) or qualitative (i.e expressed as words, visual images,
sounds or objects)
Empirical evidence refers to observations that people experience through the senses - touch, sight,
hearing, smell & taste. These can be direct or indirect.
The Scientific Community
SC : a collection of people who practice science & a set of norms, behaviours & attitudes that bind
them together. It is a professional community - a group of interacting people who share ethical
principles, beliefs & values, techniques & training & career paths.
At the core of the S.C are researchers who conduct studies on a full-time or part-time basis, usually
w/ the help of assistants.
Scientific Method: not one single thing. It refers to the ideas, rules, techniques & approaches that the
S.C uses. It includes a way of looking at the world that places a high value on professionalism,
craftsmanship, ethical integrity, creativity, rigorous standards & diligence.
Scientific Method Def: the process of creating new knowledge using the ideas, techniques & rules of
Steps In The Research Process
1) Select a topic: a general area of study or issue, such as domestic abuse, homelessness etc.
2) Narrow down the topic or focus the topic into a specific research quesn for a study.
3) Decide on the many practical details of doing the research (use a survey or qualt observation in
the field, how many subjects to use)
4) Collect the data/evidence (ask people the quesns, record answers etc)
5) Analyze the data. This will help you see any patterns
6) Interpret data
7) Finally, you must inform others by writing a report that describes the study's background, how
you conducted it & what you discovered.
Dimensions of Research
1st - is a distinction of how research is used or b/w applied and basic research
2nd - purpose of doing research, or its goal : to explore, describe or explain
3rd - how time is incorporated into the study design
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4th - the specific data-collection technique used
Use of Research
Basic Research: focus on testing theories that explain how the social world operates, what makes
things happen, why social relations are a certain way & why society changes. Basic research is the
source of most new scientific ideas & ways of thinking about the world.
Although basic research often lacks a practical application in the short term, it provides a foundation
for knowledge that advances understanding in many policy areas, problems or areas of study. Basic
research is the source of most of the tools, methods, theories & ideas used by applied researchers to
analyze underlying causes of people's actions or thinking. Often, the applications of basic research
appear many years or decades later.
Applied Research: designed to address a specific concern or to offer solutions to a problem
identified by an employer, club, agency, social movement or orgz. Applied social researchers are
rarely concerned w/ building, testing or connecting to a larger theory.
They usually conduct a quick, small-scale studies that provide practical results for use in the short
The S.C is the primary consumer of basic research. The consumers of applied research findings are
practitioners such as teachers, counsellors & social workers or they are decision makers such as
managers, agency administrators & public officials.
Types of Applied Research
Evaluation Research Study :