Chapter 2 textbook

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16 Feb 2011

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In this Chapter:
Various ways of thinking about
and designing research
Relationships among ideas
and theory, concepts, and
Strategy for conducting literature
Explains the importance
of carefully designing and
planning research in
In the natural sciences, there are certain patterns of relationships between things that occur with
such regularity that they are deemed laws: occurrences of universal certainty
There are no such laws found in the social sciences
However, social life operates within fairly regular patterns
Social scientific research is to make sense from those various patterns
This is accomplished by creating, examining and testing, and refining theory
What then is theory?
Theory is a comprehensive set of statements or propositions that describe different aspects of some
Theories can be understood as interrelated ideas about various patterns, concepts, processes,
relationships, or events.
Theory might also represent attempts to develop explanations about reality or ways to
classify and organize events, describe events, or even to predict future occurrences of events
Social scientists usually define theory as a system of logical statements or propositions that explain
the relationship between two or more objects, concepts, phenomena, or characteristics of humans
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How to construct a theory:
Need some smaller components or the "basic building blocks of theory," (i.e. concepts)
First, define relevant concepts that will be used in a given research project
Concepts are symbolic or abstract elements representing objects, properties, or features of objects,
processes, or phenomenon
May communicate ideas, introduce particular perspectives, or be a means for casting a broad
In terms of ideas, concepts are important because they are the foundation of communication
and thought
Concepts provide a means for people to let others know what they are thinking, and
allow information to be shared
Ex. Describing a youth who is involved with drugs and/or crime, truancy, or problems with parents and other
Use the concept of delinquent to communicate these same elements (ideas)
Whenever a concept is used, it is important that the researcher makes clear what meaning is being
attached to that term; in other words, what ideas are being attached (Operationalization)
Every research project has to start somewhere; typically, the starting point is an idea
Ideas promote potential research endeavors
The world is a research laboratory, and that you merely need to open your eyes and ears to the sensory
reality that surrounds all of us to find numerous ideas for research
Some ideas will be more difficult to investigate than others
Those who control access to a given location (gatekeepers) or the subjects themselves may be
reluctant or resistant to cooperate / Some ideas may initially seem extremely interesting, but
become rather plain or uninspiring upon further investigation
So, you begin with an idea... But how is this related to theory?
Theory-before-research model: ideas and theory must come before empirical research
One begins with ideas (conjectures) and then attempts to disprove or refute them through
tests of empirical research (refutation)
You begin with an idea, gather theoretical information, design a research plan, identify a means for
data collection, analyze the data, and report findings. This may be diagramed as follows:
Idea -> Theory -> Design-> Data Collection -> Analysis -> Findings
Research-before-theory: research must occur before theory can be developed
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It is my central thesis that empirical research goes far beyond the passive role of verifying and testing theory; it
does more than confirm or refute hypotheses. Research plays an active role: it performs at least four major
functions, which help shape the development of theory. It initiates, it reformulates, it deflects, and it clarifies
Research may suggest new problems for theory, require theoretical innovation, refine existing
theories, or serve to vary past theoretical assumptions:
Idea -> Design -» Data Collection -» Theory ->Analysis -» Findings
A model that encompasses both the research-before-theory and theory-before-research models
Possible because the approach is conceived as spiraling rather than linear in its progression
You begin with an idea, gather theoretical information, reconsider and refine your idea, begin to
examine possible designs, re-examine theoretical assumptions, and refine these theoretical
assumptions and perhaps even your original or refined idea
With every two steps forward, you take a step or two backward before proceeding any further
What results is no longer a linear progression in a single, forward direction. Rather, you are spiraling
for-ward, never actually leaving any stage behind completely. This spiraling approach may be drawn
as follows:
After developing a rough idea for research, you begin to examine how other share their thoughts
Visit the library to get started on a literature review (cumulative indexes)
These indexes contain many thousands of journal and monograph references, indexed
by both authors' names and subject topics
In many larger public libraries and in a growing number of colleges and universities,
these cumulative indexes have been placed in CD-ROM format.
The next task is to begin to think creatively about cryptic subject topics related to your rough
research idea or question and to search for these topics in the indexes
It is important to develop a number of different subject areas to search.
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