Planning and designing social research
1. Maria Georgievna MatskevichPhD in Sociology
Senior Research Fellow, Sociological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences
E-mail: [email protected]
2. Methodology and Methods for Sociological Research (offered in English) (for the 2nd year students)Topics
■ Designing and planning social research. The program of social research.
■ Validity, quality of research and ethical issues. Secondary analysis and official statistics. Eresearch.
■ Types of survey research and questionnaire design. Self-completion questionnaires.
■ Structured observation. Documents as sources of data. Content analysis.
■ Sampling and language in qualitative research. Participant observation.
■ Interviewing and focus groups.
■ Case study. Mixed methods research. Interdisciplinarity.
■ Home reading for class discussion
■ Homeworks on practical issues of research design and research methods
■ A midcourse and a final tests
3. Planning and designing social researchPLANNING AND DESIGNING
4. Steps of the process in quantitative research (U. Flick)■ Selection of a research problem
■ Systematic searching of the literature
■ Formulation of the research question
■ Formulation of the hypothesis
■ Development of a project plan or research design
■ Application of a sampling procedure
■ Selection of an appropriate methods
■ Access to the research site
■ Data collection
■ Documentation of the data
■ Analysis of data
■ Interpretation of the results
5. Steps of the process in quantitative research (continued) (U. Flick)■ Discussion of the findings and their interpretations
■ Evaluation and generalization
■ Presentation of the results and the study
■ Use of the results
■ Development of new research questions
■ Identification of a new study
13. Asking Answerable QuestionsThe first step in developing a workable research project is to ask the kind of question that you
can answer with the scientific method. Not all questions can.
A question you can answer with objective observation is called an empirical question.
To be objective a question must meet three criteria:
■ First, you must be able to make the observations under precisely defined conditions.
■ Second, your observations must be reproducible when those same conditions are present
■ Third, your observations must be confirmable by others.
Operationally Defining Variables
■ One way to give precise meaning to the terms that you use is to provide an operational
definition for each variable you are using. An operational definition involves defining a
variable in terms of the operations required to measure it. Defining variables operationally
allows you to measure precisely the variables that you include in your study and to
determine whether a relationship exists between them.
14. Asking Important QuestionsDeveloping answerable questions is not enough. They also should be important questions.
Researching a question imposes demands on your time, financial resources, and the
institution’s available facilities. Researching a question makes demands on the available
participants, documents or data.
■ A question is probably important if answering it will clarify relationships among
variables known to affect the phenomenon under study.
■ A question is probably important if the answer can support only one of several
competing models or theoretical views.
■ A question is probably important if its answer leads to obvious practical application.
■ In contrast, a question is probably unimportant if its answer is already firmly
established. (that different scientists have replicated (duplicated) a research finding
and agree that the finding does occur under the stated conditions).
■ A question is probably unimportant if the variables under scrutiny are known to have
small effects on the phenomenon of interest and if these effects are of no theoretical
15. Getting ideas for the researchHow to get research ideas and develop them into viable, testable research questions?
■ Everyday experience and observations – reading newspapers, preparing for classes,
casual encounters etc.
■ Casual, unsystematic observation – curiosity about the causes or determinants of
commonplace, everyday behavior and public opinion.
■ Systematic observation – a planned activity, You decide what you are going to observe,
how you are going to observe it, and how you will record your observations. Reading
published research reports and academic papers, relying on the experience from your
own previous or ongoing research.
To form a truly educated opinion on a scientific subject, you need to become familiar with current research
in the field.
Reading and understanding research papers is a skill that takes patience and practice.
Reading a scientific article is a complex task. The worst way to approach this task is to treat it like the
reading of a textbook—reading from title to literature cited, digesting every word along the way without any
reflection or criticism. Rather, you should begin by skimming the article to identify its structure and
a primary research article
a review article
Useful advice: as you read, write down every single word that you don`t understand (you`re going to look
them all up – you won`t understand the paper if you don`t understand the vocabulary. Scientific words
have extremely precise meanings).
Before starting to read you need to consider why you are reading and what you are trying to learn.
You will need to vary the way you read accordingly.
If you are reading for general interest and to acquire background information for lectures you will
need to read the topic widely but with not much depth.
If you are reading for an essay you will need to focus the reading around the essay question and may
need to study a small area of the subject in great depth. Jot down the essay question, make a note of
any questions you have about it, and don't get side-tracked and waste time on non-relevant issues.
It is unlikely that you will be able - or be expected - to read all the books and articles on your readinglist. You will be limited by time and by the availability of the material.
To decide whether a book is relevant and useful:
Look at the author's name, the title and the date of publication. Is it essential reading? Is it out of date?
Read the publisher's blurb on the cover or look through the editor's introduction to see whether it is
Look at the contents page. Does it cover what you want? Is it at the right level? Are there too few pages
on the topic - or too many?
Look through the introduction to get an idea of the author's approach.
Look up an item in the index (preferably something you know a bit about) and read through one or two
paragraphs to see how the author deals with the material.
Look though the bibliography to see the range of the author's sources.
Are the examples, illustrations, diagrams etc. easy to follow and helpful for your purpose?
Read the summary or abstract. Is it relevant?
Look at the Conclusions and skim-read the Discussion, looking at headings. Is it worth reading carefully
because it is relevant or interesting?
Look through the Introduction. Does it summarise the field in a helpful way? Does it provide a useful
Unless you have loads of time, only read the whole article if one or more of the following is satisfied:
- It is a seminal piece of work – essential reading.
- It is highly relevant to your essay, etc.
- It is likely that you can get ideas from it.
- There is nothing else available and you are going to have to make the most of this.
- It is so exciting that you can't put it down!
Use the library website.
Find a general textbook on the subject.
Use encyclopedias and subject based dictionaries.
Do a web search BUT stay focused on your topic AND think about the reliability of the web sites.
Browse the relevant shelves in the library and look for related topics.
Ask your tutor for a suggestion for where to start.
Keep focused on your reading goals.
One way to do this is to ask questions as you read and try to read actively and creatively. It is a good idea to think of your own
subject related questions but the following may be generally useful.
■ What do I want to know about?
■ What is the main idea behind the writing?
■ What conclusions can be drawn from the evidence?
■ In research, what are the major findings?
Questioning the writing
■ What are the limitations or flaws in the evidence?
■ Can the theory be disproved or is it too general?
■ What examples would prove the opposite theory?
■ What would you expect to come next?
■ What would you like to ask the author?
Forming your own opinion
■ How does this fit in with my own theory/beliefs?
■ How does it fit with the opposite theory/beliefs?
■ Is my own theory/beliefs still valid?
■ Am I surprised?
■ Do I agree?
■ Your reading speed is generally limited by your thinking speed. If ideas or information requires
lots of understanding then it is necessary to read slowly. Choosing a reading technique must
depend upon why you are reading:
■ To enjoy the language or the narrative.
■ As a source of information and/or ideas.
■ To discover the scope of a subject - before a lecture, seminar or research project.
■ To compare theories or approaches by different authors or researchers.
■ For a particular piece of work e.g. essay, dissertation.
■ It is important to keep your aims in mind. Most reading will require a mixture of techniques e.g.
scanning to find the critical passages followed by reflective reading.
Good for searching for particular information or to see if a passage is relevant:
Look up a word or subject in the index or look for the chapter most likely to contain the required information.
Use a pencil and run it down the page to keep your eyes focusing on the search for key words
Good to quickly gain an overview, familiarize yourself with a chapter or an article or to understand the
structure for later note-taking
Don't read every word.
Do read summaries, heading and subheadings.
Look at tables, diagrams, illustrations, etc.
Read first sentences of paragraphs to see what they are about.
If the material is useful or interesting, decide whether just some sections are relevant or whether you need to
read it all.
Good for building your understanding and knowledge.
Think about the questions you want to answer.
Read actively in the search for answers.
Look for an indication of the chapter's structure or any other "map" provided by the author.
Follow through an argument by looking for its structure: main point / subpoints /reasons, qualifications, evidence,
Look for "signposts" –sentences or phrases to indicate the structure e.g. "There are three main reasons, First.. Secondly..
Thirdly.." or to emphasise the main ideas e.g. "Most importantly.." "To summarise.."
Connecting words may indicate separate steps in the argument e.g. "but", "on the other hand", "furthermore", "however"..
After you have read a chunk, make brief notes remembering to record the page number as well as the complete reference
(Author, title, date, journal/publisher, etc)
At the end of the chapter or article put the book aside and go over your notes, to ensure that they adequately reflect the main
Ask yourself - how has this added to your knowledge?
Will it help you to make out an argument for your essay?
Do you agree with the arguments, research methods, evidence..?
Add any of your own ideas – indicating that they are YOUR ideas use [ ] or different colours.
Good for scanning and skim-reading, but remember that it is usually more important to understand what you
read than to read quickly. Reading at speed is unlikely to work for reflective, critical reading.
If you are concerned that you are really slow:
1 ) Check that you are not mouthing the words – it will slow you down
2) Do not stare at individual words – let your eyes run along a line stopping at every third word. Practice and then
lengthen the run until you are stopping only four times per line, then three times, etc.
3) The more you read, the faster you will become as you grow more familiar with specialist vocabulary, academic
language and reading about theories and ideas. So keep practising…
ibid : In the same work as the last footnote or reference (from ibidem meaning: in the same place)
op.cit: In the work already mentioned (from operato citato meaning in the work cited)
ff: and the following pages
passim: to be found throughout a particular book.
So how do we go about reading academic articles without
wasting too much time or energy?
You need to become not only avid readers, but also efficient
readers, able to extract the maximum information from an
academic article with the least effort.
You need to learn, in other words, the art of the skim.
1. Read the abstract (if provided)
2. Read the introduction.
3. Section headings and sub-headings. But skip
4. Read the conclusion.
5. Skim the middle, looking at section titles, tables, figures,
etc.—try to get a feel for the style and flow of the article.
Go back and read the whole thing quickly,
skipping equations, most figures and
Go back and read the whole thing carefully,
focusing on the sections or areas that seem most
32. Question: How should we READ a scientific paper?■ Answer: not necessarily in order!
A four-step method based on: Ann McNeal, School of Natural Science, Hampshire
College, Amherst MA
33. Step 1: Skim the entire paper■ Look at the major headings (do they follow the “anatomy” we just described?)
■ How many figures are there, what kinds of figures are they (gels, graphs,
■ What is the conclusion of the paper?
– (It may not make sense to you at the moment, but note what it is.)
34. Step 2:Vocabulary■ Go through the paper as a whole simply underlining words and phrases you do not
■ You are not reading the paper for comprehension of the whole paper yet, just
making sure you have understanding of the words to then comprehend it.
35. Step 2: Vocabulary continued■
Look up simple words and phrases, where?
– Biology textbooks
– Online at biology dictionaries or encyclopedias (www.wikepedia.com seems to be a good
resource for basic definitions and procedures)
– Look up methods that you are not familiar with
(i.e. what is an immunoprecipitation or a transformation?)
Note important phrases that are part of a major concept and are bigger than just vocabulary
(i.e. “risk reduction”). You will come back to them in context while reading for comprehension.
36. Step 3: Read for comprehension, section by section (as already mentioned)■
What is the accepted state of knowledge in the field (take notes and even draw your own figures)?
What data led directly to this work?
What question are they answering? (Is there a clear hypothesis?)
What are their conclusions?
37. Step 3: Read for comprehension, section by section■
Materials and Methods and Results:
– Read the methods first or read them as you read the results. (I prefer the latter)
– With each experiment/figure you should be able to explain
■ 1) the basic procedure
■ 2) the question it sought to answer
■ 3) the results
■ 4) the conclusion
You should be able to explain all of these (1-4) to another classmate clearly!
38. Step 3: Read for comprehension, section by section■
What conclusions do the authors draw? Be sure to separate fact from their
Describe for yourself why these data significant. (Does it contribute to knowledge or
39. Step 4: Reflection and criticism■
Do you agree with the authors’ rationale for setting up the experiments as they did?
Did they perform the experiments appropriately? (Repeated a number of times, used correct
control groups, used appropriate measurements etc)
Were there enough experiments to support the one major finding they are claiming?
Do you see patterns/trends in their data that are problems that were not mentioned?
Do you agree with the authors’ conclusions from these data? Are they over-generalized or too
grand? Or are there other factors that they neglect that could have accounted for their data?
What further questions do you have? What might you suggest they do next?
40. Tips for success:■ Spend a lot of time on each paper NOW look up every detail that you are unsure of.
(Time you invest now will payoff in the long run). Discovering the answers for yourself
is one of the best ways to learn and have the information be retained.
■ Imagine yourself teaching the paper or figures to classmates—teaching something to
others is also another great way to learn.
41. Tips for success:■ Start a database of procedures that you take the time to look up and teach to
yourself. What are some of the common procedures that are used in various
papers? (e.g. western, immunoblots, RT-PCR, apoptosis assays, yeast two hybrids,
■ Watch others in your lab experiences and find out what they are doing…you may
never get the opportunity to do RT-PCR, but the more you understand the procedure,
the more critical you can be of data you need to interpret.
42. Home reading for the forthcoming seminar:■ A. Bryman Social Research Methods 4th edition. Chapters 4 & 5. (Dropbox)
■ U. Flick Introducing Research Methodology. Part II. Planning and Design. Chapters 5
– 8. (Library).
■ Горшков М.К., Шереги Ф. Э. Прикладная социология: методология и методы.
Часть 1. Главы 1 -4. (Библиотека, Дропбокс)
■ Ядов В.А. Стратегия социологического исследования. Описание, объяснение,
понимание социальной реальности : Учеб. Пособие. Глава II. (Библиотека)