Sample research paper on application of research in social sciences
Research in Social Sciences is a ticklish issue. While some of us shun the topic for the intricate statistics involved, the others think that “…research and statistics is a sophisticated way of postulating half truths” (Barber A. & Korbanka, J., P.1). We shall in this paper examine the purpose of research in Social Sciences, its necessity along with advantages and disadvantages. Our discussion will focus on the methods and steps involved in research in social science, the utility and relevance of research and their limitations as well as advantages.
Research in social science involves a research plan which may be said to be the blue print of research. The research plan outlines step by step process involved in the research project. The steps involved in conducting a research project may be presented as follows:
(i) Identification of research issue (ii) Formulation of the problem and aims/objectives guiding the research (iii) Formulation of a theoretical framework (iv) Research design or Research Methodology (v) Data Collection, Analysis and Interpretation (vi) Conclusion and Recommendation In the field of social science, there are several research strategies such as experiment, survey, or historical exploration, computer based analysis of archival records, comparative study, and observation including participant-observation, among others. The strategy you choose depends to a great extent on the topic of the research project. Each of these represents different modes of collecting data and evaluating them. They are characterized by their own logic. The choice of method depends on three factor: (i) the type of research question (ii) the control an investigator has over actual behavioral events (iii) the focus on historical as against contemporary phenomenon (Yin p.1)
These strategies are not arrayed hierarchically but on the contrary the more appropriate view of these strategies is an inclusive and pluralistic one. Each of them can be used for all three purposes - exploratory, descriptive or explanatory (Yin p.3).
Case studies method for instance, is only one of the ways of doing research. Generally case studies is the preferred option when ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions are raised in which case the investigator has little control over events; when the phenomenon to be investigated is real life context. These are explanatory case studies. They can also be explorative and descriptive. On the other hand Experimental research design will be based on exploratory strategy for there is an unknown variable that an investigator wants to find out.
Let us address two issues in the first place. One, why is research needed at all in Social Sciences? Two, what are its advantages and disadvantages?
We can address the first issue best by recognizing the element of curiosity that we possess as human beings. Right since our childhood we are a bundle of questions. If we had no questions we would not have progressed in Science and Social Science. Research is the basis of all knowledge we have today. However, the knowledge with us can be seen to exist in a hierarchy of its sources from opinion and expert opinion to magazines and scientific journals (Barber A. & Korbanka, J., pp.3-4). In other words scientific journals are our best sources of information because they are peer-reviewed and the information they contain is cross-checked at different levels, apart from the fact that they are authenticated after a meticulous research. The process of research in social sciences begins with a specific and narrow hypothesis followed by the background review of existing material and a specific plan of action. This is followed by data collection and analysis. The results are then interpreted so as to address the issues validity and alternate explanations (Barber A. & Korbanka, J., pp.9-12). If the causal connection is established, the hypothesis is said to have been proved.
It would however be wonderful if knowledge in Social Sciences were based on the same standards of excellence as science. That would impart the subject matter with predictability and theories that are at par with the sciences. The truth value in Social Science discipline would be much higher if the causal connection between cause and effect could be established with a similar degree of perfection as in Science. However, that is not possible, “since many objects and constructs that social scientists find interesting are not “things” as such and therefore don’t have physical properties. For instance, attitudes or feelings, such as the level of depression an individual has, are not “things” …most attitudes and feelings are much more difficult to observe and measure. Because social sciences are concerned with “objects” that do not have physical properties, they are referred to as the “soft sciences”” (Barber A. & Korbanka, J. p.5).
Given the nature of social sciences, where controlled experiments are not always possible, they are likely to be disputed. Never the less, even social scientists have their ways of objectifying the subject matters of their research by assigning numbers to feelings and attitudes, which are in fact intangible (Barber A. & Korbanka, J. p.5). This does not however, reduce the limitations of conducting controlled experiments in social sciences because not only can human beings never be absolutely controlled but there are always multiple causes for a phenomenon not all of which can be taken into account or explained (Barber A. & Korbanka, J. p.6). Next to that we have to redefine our understanding of truth as not black or white but in the shades of grey as enunciated by the post-positivist schools.
Cho-Yee To in his book Scientific Merit of Social Sciences has raised a pertinent question, “Do modern social sciences, after having accumulated over a hundred years of experience, now possess the ability to identify the various social problems, understand causality in social environments, predict social change, and thus provide intelligent direction for solution?” (P. 4). To him the record of the social sciences in this regard has been “dismal” or even “dubious”. According to him:
While research and training in all branches of social sciences continue to expand, resulting in voluminous findings and interpretations, pressing problems continue to exist, change and multiply, as if proposals and recommendations made by economists, sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, educationists, and other social scientists have had no positive effect. The contributions of social sciences to our understanding of our society have been inevitably ephemeral because the nature of the social environment makes it virtually impossible to consider every permutation of events that could conceivably occur. Even if social scientists select the permutation that they anticipate will have a successful outcome, those affected by it can change their behavior, in response to the selection, which may make the alternative solution chosen no longer appropriate (Cho-Ye To. P.4).
While this may be the disadvantage of social science research, an even analysis leads us to believe that the progress and advancements in sociology, education, economics, political science etc. would have been impossible in the absence of sound researches leading to the accumulation of knowledge. It is true that most of the generalizations in social sciences do not enjoy the status of theories, never the less they provide us with valuable guidelines in the direction of further studies and research. None the less there are theories in Population Studies and Economics which are almost universally accepted.
From our discussion above we can conclude (i) Research in social science is necessary because human beings have innate curiosity to known unknown. Secondly, research makes it possible for us to build a systematic body of knowledge on which the progress of mankind is based. However, what may strictly be called a research study depends upon whether an established procedure has been followed or not; whether the steps involved in research have been rigorously adopted or not. In other words, beginning with identification of problem to hypothesis to conclusion and recommendation follows a set pattern that must be followed. (ii) Next, a chasm divides research in social science and science. While, research in science is rigorous and controlled the same may not be asserted of research in social science. Research in science, therefore, leads to predictability to a much greater degree than that in social science. This may well be said to be a limitation in social science research. However, we must be able to appreciate this limitation in social science arising from the nature of subject matter in the two disciplines. The subject matter of pure science are physical objects that can be controlled, manipulated, and studied that leads to better explanation and greater predictive value. The subject matter of social science are not things but human and social behavior that may be difficult to test and control under laboratory conditions.
Barber, Andrew and Korbanka, Juegren. Research and Statistics for Social Sciences (PP.1-16), Pearson Custom Publishing, 2003
Cho-Yee.Scientific Merit of the Social Sciences, Trentham Books, 2000
Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research: Design and Methods, SAGE 2003