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Research methods in the Social Sciences

Social science research methods are used in many disciplinary areas (education, health, marketing, management, to name a few). Since they are used by many students coming to research for the first time, we have provided a brief guide to some common terms.

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research and/or data is descriptive and contextual. It investigates the' who', 'which', 'what', 'when', 'where' and 'why' of a particular issue or situation and typically investigates real-life experiences. Qualitative data is not necessarily counted, but classified into contextual categories or themes which come from the data. The following are different approaches to qualitative research:

  1. Action or formative research

    Action research has a change-inducing element and the changes are built into the research design as the research progresses. This type of research design us usually illustrated with a flow chart where the cyclic processes 'change-observe-reflect-change again' are demonstrated:

    Formative research cycle: change, observe, reflect, change again, return to observe and continue cycle
  2. Case Study

    A case study is a thorough investigation of a particular person, of a group or of any unit of social life (e.g. a child's language development, a family, or a workplace, a village, and industry). General conclusions can be drawn from this in-depth study. Sometimes case studies are used as pilot studies to explore issues on a small scale before committing to studying a large sample. Case studies can also be used to focus more intensely on a particular feature within a larger study.

  3. Ethnography

    Ethnography involves the study of groups and societies. It often uses the method of participant observation, which involves the researcher immersing him/herself within the group being studied so that their perspective on the group is from within and not from outside. There is a lot of debate as to whether this type of research is still affected by researcher-bias or the researcher's own cultural perspectives.

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research is concerned with 'quantity', providing data which tells 'how many' or 'how much'. The data is numerical and measurable and collected with pre-structured instruments which enable its analysis. Quantitative analysis involves counting how much or how many of some characteristic or property with respect to some established dimension that we have in mind.

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