Social research is all around us. Educators, government officials, business managers, human service providers, and health care professionals make frequent use of social research findings. Many people use social research to raise children, reduce crime, improve health, sell products, or just understand life. Daily broadcast news programs, magazines, newspapers, and websites disseminate research results.
In simple terms, research is a way to find answers to questions. Professors, professional researchers, practitioners, and students in many fields conduct research studies to answer questions and learn about social life. You probably already have some notion of what social research entails. There are some possible misconceptions. When we asked students in our classes what they think social research entails, they may gave the following answers:
■ It is based on facts alone; there is no theory or personal judgment.
■ Only experts with a Ph.D. degree or college professors read it or do it.
■ It means going to the library and finding a lot of magazine articles or books on a topic.
■ It is when someone hangs around a group and observes.
■ It means conducting a controlled experiment.
■ Social research is drawing a sample of people and giving them questionnaires to complete.
■ It is looking up lots of statistical tables and information from official government reports.
■ To do it, one must use computers to create statistics, charts, and graphs.
The first two answers are wrong, and the others describe only part of what constitutes social research. It is unwise to confuse one part with the whole.
We do social research to learn something new about the social world; or to carefully document our guesses, hunches, theories, or beliefs about it; or to better understand how the social world works. In research we combine theories and ideas with facts in a careful, systematic way and this requires creativity. To do a study, we must organize, plan carefully, and select appropriate techniques to address a specific question.
We want to treat the people in a study in ethical and moral ways. Once we complete a study, it is
time to communicate the results to others in a complete and accurate way. In the process of social research we combine principles, outlooks, and ideas (i.e., methodology) with a collection of specific practices, techniques, and strategies (i.e., a method of inquiry) to produce knowledge. It is an exciting process of discovery, but it requires persistence, personal integrity, tolerance for ambiguity, interaction with others, and pride in doing quality work.
By reading the research text book will not transform you into an expert researcher, but it can teach you to be a better consumer of research results, help you to understand how the research enterprise works, and prepare you to conduct your own small-scale studies. Hope, after reading and studying the basic social research, you will be aware of what research can and cannot do, and why always conducting research properly is important.