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How to Conduct Social Science Research


Social science is the study of human society. It includes a group of diverse academic disciplines including history, sociology, political science, anthropology, law, geography, economics and education. Although these fields focus on different aspects of human society, they follow the same general methods for conducting research.

Pick a topic to research. Narrow the topic down as much as you can. Develop one question, a hypothesis, to answer about this topic. For example, you might want to study elections in the United States. You could narrow this down to congressional elections and ask the following question: What factors do voters consider when voting for their representatives?

Develop a research design outlining the specific steps you'll take to answer your research question. Determine whether to do a qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods study. The qualitative method uses the researcher’s personal observations of the data to draw inferences, while the quantitative approach uses statistical analyses of the data. Mixed methods design is the incorporation of both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. For example, when studying voter behavior, you may wish to conduct in-depth interviews of a small group of voters in addition to randomly surveying a larger group of voters.

Describe previous research relating to your hypothesis by providing an literature review of these investigations.

Collect data, carefully following your research design. Gather this data yourself or use public data gleaned from reliable sources, such as academic journals, books, online library databases or government reports.

Analyze and draw conclusions from the data using your own observations or statistical analysis. Qualitative methods generate new insight into the specific subject you studied. Quantitative methods allow you to generalize your conclusions, which means using your findings to predict similar outcomes in cases not included in your study. Mixed methods research results in subjective and objective findings that can help explain a complex research topic that's broad in scope.

About the Author

Marci Sothern has written as a tutor in the academic field since 1999. She holds a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in political science from the University of Texas at Tyler. Her main areas of expertise include American history, comparative politics, international relations and political theory.

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