Social Research Methods/Reading and Writing Social Research
It is important to be able to understand how to effectively interpret and write social research.
Key terms that are important in understanding the reading and writing of social research include:
- Abstract: A summary of a research article. The abstract usually begins the article and states the purpose of the research, the methods used, and the major findings.
- Research Monograph: A book-length research report, either published or unpublished. This is distinguished from a textbook, a book of essays, a novel and so forth.
- Search Engine: A computer program designed to locate where specified terms appear on websites throughout the World Wide Web.
- URL: Web address, typically beginning with "http://"; stands for "uniform resource locator" or "universal resource locator."
- Plagiarism: Presenting someone else's words or thoughts as though they were your own, constituting intellectual theft.
Reading Social Research
There are many things to keep in mind while reading social research. Social researchers have access to resources like the internet and libraries for organizing a review of the literature. Keep in mind that reading scholarly literature is different form reading other works. Begin by reading the abstract, skimming the piece, and reading the conclusion to get a good sense of what it's about. Readers of social science literature should also form questions and take notes as they go along. When reading a research report, be sure to consider theoretical orientation, sampling, and other data-collection methods.
When conducting research, sources are of outermost importance. It is always beneficial to check the sources of newspaper reports, academic articles, and even books, as there may be information that is left out or simply a more in-depth information. A researcher should always prioritize academic works before any popular media sources or periodicals, because information in those can often be biased and unreliable, as it is often "third-hand". Academic works, on the other hand are subject to intensive reviews by other scholars.
When locating literature, the ease of access does not always mean usefulness. As such, online databases make it real easy to locate literature on the subject of interest but there are often way too many and it is hard to distinguish the truly important ones. This is why, for a good research, a researcher should take the time to review all the relevant works, in order to narrow the literature spectrum, and draw out what is important for his/her research. This does not mean that internet can not be used as a powerful research tool, yet a researcher should be very selective when choosing sources.
Journals vs. Books
Unlike novels, journals are structured in a formal manner opposed to the subjective ways a novel is formulated (Ex: Novels encourage the reader to finish the piece with suspense in many cases). A journal introduces an abstract which has two purposes: first, to give a broad overview of what the piece will entail and what is being researched; second, to set the framework leading into the journal. Upon this, the summary outlines the remainder of the journal and the conclusion offer a summary to the result. If the reader has questions concerning procedure or how the experiment was conducted, he/she may continue to read the journal for the details. Among these details, heading should be applied within the article for easy reference to what questions you may wish to ask. For example, methods would entail how the procedure was carried out as well as the sampling groups selected. Graphs can usually be identified by skimming through the article which is another good way to summarize the journal before you read the piece in its entirety. One helpful tactic to use when reviewing a journal is recording questions before hand and during the reading to better examine what the journal offers and outline any particular faults/recommendations to better the piece.
Research formatted to a book are similar to journals and can be referred to as research monographs. Instead of using am abstract, these lengthy books offer a preface that focuses on purpose, method, and main findings of the study. This preface can also be written more informally to make the study an easier read to the readers. Considering graphs and harts, it is ideal to skim though the book similar to a journal to grasp the general feel of how the piece is written. Also, reading the full piece of material is ideal. However, sometimes selecting only portions of the work to read or skimming through in search of material that is of particular interest as opposed to the whole body of work may be ideal to save time.
Identifying Academic Journals:
•Authors' academic affiliations and contact information (usually email) •Begin with an abstract of the article •Reference list at the end •Tend to be exclusively black and white
Academic journals are typically edited by full-time faculty members at major universities. An editor’s roles include soliciting articles, arranging reviews, and making final decisions as to what gets published in the journal. Editors generally serve 3-5 year terms, often without pay, as a service to the profession. Every article is reviewed by 2-3 professionals in the same field, and articles are sent to reviewers who have established publication records in the same area. This has both benefits and detriments—reviewers can make legitimate contributions; however, they can also reject new ideas that do not confirm to their beliefs. An article can be accepted, rejected, or given a “revise and resubmit.” Publishers range from an academic or commercial press to a professional association. The responsibility of the publisher is to handle printing, distribution, and finances.
Goals to Meet When Writing a Literature Review
There are four goals that should be met when writing a literature review: 1. Demonstrate familiarity with the body of knowledge -cite important authors and show that you understand their main points and findings
2. Show the path of previous research and how your project can be linked to it -organize your review in a historical way, starting with general sources and narrowing down to more specific sources
3. Summarize what is already known in the field -weave the sources together to integrate and interpret their meanings
4. Learn from previous research and generate new ideas -identify existing gaps, offer explanations for your ideas that may help yourself and others gain a clear understanding
Evaluating the Quality of Internet Materials
How to evaluate the quality of Internet materials:
- Who/what is the author of the website?
- Is the site advocating a particular point of view?
- Does the website give accurate and complete references?
- Are the data up-to-date?
- Are the data official?
- Is it a university research site?
- Do the data seem consistent with data from other sites? Is the site making extraordinary claims?
Elements of a Proper Citation
Elements of a proper citation for internet materials:
- Publisher information
- Date and time site was accessed
- URL; web address
When citing sources, proper grammar and spelling should always be used. Also, the researcher needs to consider which type of style to use. (MLA, APA, ASA)
Use of ASA Style
- ASA style uses parenthetical referencing in the writings, and has full references appearing at the end of the sentence. (ex. Smith 2008)
- When referring to a specific page or section of the article, and not the entire article, page numbers are to be used. (ex. Smith 2008:16)
Sections of a Research Paper
Parts of an effective research paper
1. Start with and an overview
- Provide a short overview of what is being researched, and the main findings. Introduction should be both engaging and readable.
2. The body
- The main body is where findings will be presented--tables and graphs are effective ways to get a point across.
- Be sure to include; population,sample frame, sample method, sample size,data collection method and data processing and analysis.
- Be sure to clearly present information in table or graph form.
4. Conclusions and Summary
- Review all significant findings, review all shortcomings, and suggest future research.
- The conclusion section can be more informal. In this section, opinions are to be expressed; this is the only section where persuasive writing is tolerated.
Helpful Hints for Writing a Research Paper
Keys to writing a research paper
- Keep the sentences simple, stay away from using subordinate clauses and other complex sentence structures.
- Keep average lengths of the paragraphs to around five sentences.
- Always write in the third person.
- Writing in a passive voice is very important.
- Never express opinion in first person.
Six suggestions for writing a research paper (George Orwell)
- Avoid metaphors or others figures of speech.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, do so.
- Never use passive tense when the active can be used instead.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon if you can thing of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Regular School Paper vs. Research Paper
Regular school paper v. Research paper
- Normal school papers are usually essays or library papers. In essays the writer will present the opinion of the author but not any new facts. In a library paper, information that is already known about a subject is presented, whereas a research paper is supposed to provide an original contribution to society about that certain topic.
- The writer must review all the literature on the subject, similar to a library paper, and then the writer must make an original contribution to the subject.
- The writer must then make and interpret the new findings, with this part the reader may or not not agree, similar to an essay.
- The original contribution discussed in the research paper can be a new theory, new data, new analysis, or new interpretation of facts that are already known.
Quantitative Research Papers
Quantitative research papers are usually highly formulaic.
- Introduction, presentation of the problem, literature review
- Sampling, methods, variable definition
- Discussion and Conclusion
- The organization of research proposals are very similar to that of a research paper, minus the results section.
- Start with a very detailed literature review and methods sections.
- End with a discussion about why the proposed research is so important.
- Usually written in the first person.
Goals of Literature Reviews
The Four Goals of Literature Reviews (According to Neuman): 1. Demonstrate familiarity with a body of knowledge
- find (and cite) the important authors in the particular field
- the most important and/or influential authors will be cited many times by other authors
- show that you understand the main ideas and results of these authors
- you don't have to agree with them, but be sure to discuss their work and why it is significant (or not)
2. Show the path of prior research and how a current project is linked to it
- the easiest way is to organize research historically or chronologically
- begin with the seminal/earliest works and trace the development of the field
- use the funnel approach
- start with general sources (usually books), narrow to specific topic sources (usually journals)
3. Integrate and summarize what is known in an area
- work your sources into a coherent account of the debate over your research question
- don't summarize one source at a time
- instead, weave the sources together, interpreting what each means for the other
4. Help both yourself and the reader to learn from others and stimulate new ideas
- when you've finished reviewing the literature, you should have a better understanding of the material
- when you organize what is known in a field, it becomes more apparent what gaps still exist
- this will both help focus your own research, as well as give others ideas about future research
An abstract is a summary of a research article. The abstract usually begins the article and states the purpose of the research, the methods used, and the major findings. Research monograph is a book length research report, either published or unpublished. This is distinguished from a textbook, a book of essays, a novel, and so forth. A search engine is a computer program designed to locate where specific terms appear on Web sites throughout the World Wide Web. URL is a web address, typically beginning with http:// stands for uniform resource locator or universal research locator. Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s words or thoughts as though they were your own, constituting intellectual theft.
Popular books and magazines should be avoided. Although they may offer brief insight to a topic, true, credible sources are maintained in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. The author of a popular book or magazine may get his/her information from second- or third-hand sources; they do not create information, rather they collect it. Social journals can be differentiated in that they do not contain many colored graphics, since these are expensive. The University of Pittsburgh offers two major sociological sources: PsychLit, EconLit, or Anthropological Index.