The term scientific method comes from philosophers like Aristotle, who discussed how to use reasoning to prove theories or hypotheses. His definition was that you start with an assumption (a theory) and then test it by doing experiments or investigations. If the theory is proved correct, then additional conclusions can be drawn based on these tests.
The definitions above emphasize using logic to evaluate a theory. This is important to remember when applying the scientific method to social studies! When conducting research about people, their behaviors, or groups of people, there are several components involved.
These components include gathering data, organizing this information, drawing valid conclusions, and emphasizing consistency over accuracy when analyzing findings.
It is very difficult to create sound conclusions when not employing the appropriate methodological strategies. This applies to any discipline, but especially sociology because its field notes often involve studying things such as people, behavior, and environments.
This article will go into more detail on what makes up the scientific method and how sociological concepts relate to it.
Steps of the scientific method
The first step in any systematic study is to identify a topic or area of research you are interested in exploring. You can use your knowledge and experience to choose this topic, or you can learn more about it by doing some research.
The second step is to gather relevant information or materials related to your chosen topic. This could be done through direct interaction with people who know about the subject, reading material that has already been published online, or looking at examples in past studies.
Next comes an analysis or evaluation of the existing information. Are there gaps in what we know? Does what we know make sense? Can we add anything new to our understanding of the topic?
Once these questions have been answered in the affirmative, then and only then should researchers take action! By applying the concepts and rules of the scientific method, they can begin gathering data and shaping their theories.
Examples of the scientific method in action
Conducting research using the scientific approach is not simply asking questions and observing responses, it is exploring answers to your questions with systematic procedures. The term “scientific” is often used loosely to describe any activity that seems rigorous or logical, but this isn’t always the case.
Using the scientific method as a framework helps make sure that you are being clear, consistent, and rigorous in how you conduct your research, which makes your findings more credible.
By having clearly defined steps, researchers can focus solely on gathering and analyzing data without getting distracted by other things like biases or emotions. Emotions may influence what people say, so ignoring them can help ensure accurate results.
This article will go into detail about some important concepts of the scientific method and how they apply to sociological research. There are three such concepts: inquiry, hypothesis, and analysis. Let’s look at each one separately before moving onto something different.
The methodological approach to doing sociology is to determine what questions you want answered, learn how to ask those questions properly, design your study appropriately, conduct your research using appropriate tools and procedures, and then analyze your data.
The first step towards answering any social question is defining the concept of “social”. Are we talking about relationships between people or are we talking about patterns that occur among things (like products)? If it is the second option, then the next thing to do would be determining what constitutes an item or a pattern.
For example, if our topic this week was why some students struggle to motivate themselves before school, then one could look at the way kids dress today and see whether there are trends around motivating yourself by buying clothes that other people like.
Alternatively, one could check out YouTube videos to see if anyone has tips on how to motivate yourself in the morning. Both of these examples would be considered empirical studies because they use observable, tangible materials as stimuli for testing theories.
Now, let’s take all of these concepts and apply them to another important part of sociological theory-the idea that groups shape individual behavior.
According to group influence theorists, not only does society exist independently from individuals, but also individuals develop beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes within groups that have significant impacts outside of the group.
Qualitative research methods
Another major type of research is qualitative. This means studying how people interact with each other, talk about issues, and gather information from conversations, observations, and things they find out about individuals.
Sociologists use this method to study topics such as culture (what makes up society like language, values, and traditions) or social classes (different groups of people who have different levels of income). They also use it to explore concepts like “social cohesion” and why some communities are more stable than others.
Social psychologists use this approach when they want to know what motivates people to behave in certain ways. For example, researchers may ask questions such as why do you think so many people enjoy watching sports? Or why do people praise successful businesspeople but not honest ones?
Other examples of qualitative studies include interviewing people to learn about their experiences, life stories, and perceptions of important issues. These can be done via face-to-face interviews or through written questionnaires or surveys that respondents answer either directly or by referring to notes.
You may also conduct non-interview forms of data collection like observatory studies or field experiments where participants are randomly assigned to test conditions.
Quantitative research methods
The most common quantitative research method is called statistical analysis. This involves using mathematical formulas to determine trends, correlations, and effects of variables on other things. These equations are used to measure or quantify aspects of the topic under study.
Statistical analysis is very popular in sociology because it can be applied almost anywhere there’s data. Companies use statistics to find patterns in customer behavior and survey respondents use math to tell us about themselves and their peers. By applying this technique to lots of different topics, we get some really valuable insights.
However, just like with any type of research, there are “statistics junkies” and people who try to create fake numbers to prove their point. When this happens, the results become misleading at best and totally biased at worst.
As sociologists, we must be careful not to overuse statistics as an analytical tool.
Ethical considerations in research
As mentioned before, sociological studies often involve asking questions about people’s behaviors and experiences. These surveys can be conducted online or via phone interview, and most participants are asked to provide informed consent. This means that they agree to have their answers recorded and published for evaluation by an outside party (usually for credit).
Participants who take part in such studies should know that what they say may have consequences beyond themselves and those around them. They could affect how other people perceive others based on what these individuals do or fail to do. For example, someone might learn about an individual’s behavior from reading his or her survey responses, and thus come to conclusions that cannot necessarily be generalized.
As researchers, we must be aware of ethical rules pertaining to conducting social science studies. Even though our study has been approved by ethics committees and funded through institutional sources, there are additional moral obligations we have as professionals to keep in mind when gathering data. We must also make sure to protect the privacy and confidentiality of our participants at all times.
Research assistants need to be trained in appropriate methods of data collection and in issues related to participant safety and welfare. At the very least, they should receive training about modes of communication like closed-question interviews and open-ended inquiries so that they are familiar with how to ask difficult questions.
Lastly, we as professional sociologists must remain objective and independent during our studies.
Data collection methods
When doing sociological research, there are two main types of data gathering that occur. This is called qualitative or quantitative research. Quantitative research uses structured questions with clear answers to determine information.
For example, a survey questionnaire can be used to gather this type of data. The questionnaire has to be validated as well, so make sure to check out our guide for validation!
Qualitative research does not have to use questionnaires but instead must create open conversations to get insights into what things mean to you. Your conversation partners could be people, experiences, activities, or anything else relevant to your topic.
These discussions are referred to as interviews, observations, or actions depending on which method was chosen. No matter what kind of interview is done, the process will look something like this: asking questions, listening to the responses, and analyzing how concepts relate to each other.
By using both qualitative and quantitative strategies, we can gain an in-depth understanding of different aspects of social interactions.
One of the most fundamental concepts within sociology is that of statistical inference. This concept applies to both qualitative research (such as interviews or surveys) as well as quantitative studies (where researchers use mathematical equations to determine dependent variables).
When conducting social scientific research, there are often times where you need to make assumptions about what will happen next. For example, when asking people why they do not vote, you have to assume that everyone has an adequate understanding of how elections work and that these answers make sense. You can then use this data to draw conclusions about voter turnout!
Another important part of sociological research is controlling for confounding factors. This means finding ways to rule out other possible causes of your outcome variable. If we were studying reasons why someone does not eat enough fruits and vegetables, we would look at all of the potential cause-effect relationships with this statement. Perhaps they cannot afford fresh produce, so they do not buy it. Or maybe they do not like how fruits and veggies taste, so they do not eat them. Or perhaps they do not know how many servings per day are recommended, so they never start eating them. All of these could be reasons why they do not enjoy fruits and vegetables.
Sociologists use advanced mathematics to test whether our theories match up with reality. They compare their theory against past experiences to see if they get similar results. These tests are done through statistical significance, which looks at whether there was too much or too little correlation compared to chance.