A sociologist must formulate good, researchable questions, and know enough to -- be able to choose
the most appropriate research method with which to collect their data
They must follow strict procedures when gathering and analyzing their data
They must seek out ways to present their findings to their peers and the public
Sociological research is undertaken with the objective of describing, understanding and even
influencing or improving the social world in which we live
The results of sociological research can often be used to develop remedies for social problems,
strategies for social projects, or plans for bringing about social change
Empirical (or tangible) Evidence – evidence that has been acquired through direct observation, and
that can be verified or disproved by direct or indirect observation by more than one person
Quantitative Research – an approach in which the researchers collects data that can be quantified and
expressed in terms of numbers, percentages, or rates and can be put into statistics
Qualitative Research – an approach in which the researcher collects data that are rich in description
and not easily measured using statistics
General Factors Influencing Sociological Research
There are 4 general factors that influence all sociological research, regardless of which strategy is used.
They are: theory, epistemology, values and ontology.
Data are empirical facts that become meaningful when they are presented or considered in
relation to a theory. A theory is an explanation of some observed regularity.
All theories work in a similar way. Any theory both reveals certain aspects of human experience.
Sociological theories shape both the research strategy, and the research design that a sociologist
will adopt, the kinds of data that she will collect, and how she will go about analyzing the data
once she has collected it.
American sociologist Robert K. Merton said there are 3 levels of abstraction in theorizing:
LEAST ABSTRACT - WORKING HYPOTHESES: he considered the minor but necessary components
of ‘day to day research’
SEMI ABSTRACT – THEORIES OF THE MIDDLE RANGE: the theories that lie between the two
MOST ABSTRACT – GRAND THEORIES: the all-inclusive systematic efforts to develop a unified
theory that will explain all the observed uniformities of social behavior, social organization and
Merton goes on to state that middle-range theories include theories ‘of deviant behavior, the
unanticipated consequences of purposive action, social perception, reference groups, social
control, and the interdependence of social institutions”
Inductive vs Deductive Theory
When a theory guides the research – when data are collected and analyzed in order to answer the
questions raised by an existing theory – then the theory is said to be deductive. (QUANTITATIVE)
When the theory is not formulated until after the data have been collected and analyzed – in other
words, once the researchers have drawn generalized inferences from the results of their research – then
the theory is inductive. (QUALITATIVE) 2. Epistemology
Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature, scope, and limitations of
knowledge. Epistemology addresses such questions as:
What is or what should be, regarded as “acceptable” knowledge in a discipline?
How is knowledge acquired?
How do we know what we know?
Epistemological questions concern that validity of our knowledge, including what methods should
be used to arrive at an explanation and what proofs are required to establish something as known.
A value is an attitude, belief, or opinion that a person holds and that affects or influences his or her
There is a growing sense that scientific inquiry is never completely value-free because researchers
are incapable of totally excluding the influence of social and cultural values in their attempts to
The values of a researcher can intrude at any number of different points in a research process
Choice of the research area
Formulation of the research question
Selection of the research method
Formulation of the research design and data-collection techniques
Implementation of data collection
Analysis of data
Interpretation of data
Ontology is the study of what there is ‘out there’ – in other words, the study of what can be said to
constitute ‘reality’. Ontological questions include the following:
What is there to know about?
What is the nature of the objects that we study?
In the social sciences, ontological questions about the nature of the social entities we study take
one of two forms:
1. Are the social entities we study ‘objective entities’? In other words, does a group, community, or
organization have an existence that is independent of the social actors involved, either as subjects
of observation or observers? An affirmative answer to these questions is associated with
OBJECTIVISM: an ontological position that asserts that the meanings attached to social
phenomena are independent of the will or ideas of individuals involved in them
2. Should the social entities we study be considered as social constructions? That is, are the entities
that sociologists study to be treated as things that have been constructed out of the actions of the
social actors, whether they are the subjects of the study or the scientists conducting the study? An
affirmative answer to these questions is associated with constructionism.
CONSTRUCTIONISM: an ontological position that asserts that the meanings attached to social
phenomena are constructed out of the acts and perceptions of social actors involved in them
Theory is either inductive or deductive Values are considered to be value free, or values that reflects in the aims and interests of the
An epistemological orientation is either interpretive or positivistic.
An ontological orientation can be either objectivist or constructionist.
Quantitative Research Strategy
In terms of theory, he adopts a deductive approach
In terms of epistemology, he takes a positivist orientation
In terms of ontological orientation, he espouses objectivism
In terms of the role of values, he adopts a value-neutral stance
1. Deductive Theory
Usually begins by formulating a research topic and choosing one of more theories that already
have been developed by other researchers to explain their research findings on that topic
2. Positivist Epistemological Orientation
This orientation, used extensively in the social sciences, dominates research in the natural
sciences, where the highest level of interest is in prediction and control
American sociologist Joyce McCarl Nielsen outlines 5 assumptions of a positivist epistemological
orientation that are applicable to both and natural and social sciences (p61):
1. The social world is knowable in the same way as the natural world is knowable.
2. There is an objective, independent reality, completely detached from and external to the