Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Scientific Method of Research and its Problems


Scientific Method
Like the typical man or woman on the street, the sociologist is interested in the central questions for out time. Are we lagging behind in our ability to feed the population of the world? Is the family falling apart? Why is there so much crime in Pakistan? Such issues concern most people whether or not they have academic training. However, unlike the typical citizen, the sociologist has a commitment on the use of the scientific method—a systematic, organized series of steps that ensures maximum objectivity and consistency in researching a problem—in studying society.

Many of us will never actually conduct scientific research. Nonetheless, it is important that we understand the scientific method, for it plays a major role in the workings of our society. As this chapter will indicate, the scientific method is stringent and demands that researchers adhere as strictly as possible to its basic principles.
The scientific method requires precise preparations in developing useful research. It investigators are not careful, research data that they collect may prove to be unacceptable for purposes of sociological study. There are five basic steps in the scientific method that sociologists and other researchers follow.
These are discussed one by one

Defining Problem
The first step in any sociological research project is to state as clearly as possible what you hope to investigate. Early in their research, sociologists face the task of developing an operational definition—an explanation of an abstract concept that is specific enough to allow a researcher to measure the concept of—each concept being studied. For example, a sociologist interested in status might use membership in exclusive social clubs or professional organizations as an operational definition of high status. A sociologist who intended to examine prejudice might rely on responses to a series of questions concerning willingness to hire or work alongside members of racial and ethnic minority groups.

Whenever researchers wish to study an abstract concept—such as intelligence, sexuality, prejudice, love, or liberalism—they must develop workable and valid definitions. Even when studying a particular group of people, it is necessary to decide how the groups will be distinguished.

By conducting a review of the literature—the relevant scholarly studies and information—researchers refine the problem under study, clarify possible techniques to be used in collecting data, and eliminate or reduce the number of avoidable mistakes they make.

After reviewing earlier research concerning a particular area or field of interest, and drawing upon the contributions of sociological theorists, the researcher may develop an intuitive guess about the relationship between the factors involved in the research. Such a speculative statement about the relationship between two or more factors is called a hypothesis.

A hypothesis essentially tells us what we are looking for in our research. In order to be meaningful, a hypothesis must be testable; that is, it must be capable of being evaluated. The statement “God exists” clearly cannot be scientifically confirmed. A research hypothesis must also be reasonable specific. “Young people have more fun” and “Florida is nicer than California” are statements that lack the kind of precision that sociologists need in order to collect suitable data.

A hypothesis usually states how one aspect of human behaviour influences or affects another. These aspects or factors are called variables—a measurable trait or characteristic that is subject to change under different conditions. Income, religion, occupation, and gender can all be variables in a study.

In developing hypothesis, sociologists attempt to explain or account for the relationship between two or more variables. If one variable is hypothesized to cause or influence another one, social scientists call the first variable the independent variable. The second is termed as the dependent variable, because it is believed to be influenced by the independent variable. Causal logic involves the relationship between a condition or a variable and a particular consequence, with one event leading to the other. Under casual logic, the degree of integration into society may be directly related to or produce a greater likelihood of suicide (refer back to Durkheim’s study of suicide in chapter 2). Similarly, the time students spend reviewing material for a quiz may be directly related to or produce a greater likelihood of getting a high score on the quiz.

A correlation exists when a change in one variable coincides with a change in the other. Correlation is an indication that causality may be present; they do not necessarily indicate causation. For example, data indicate that working mothers are more likely to have delinquent children than are mothers who do no work outside the home. This correlation is actually caused by a third variable: family income. Lower-class house-holds are more likely to have a full-time working mother; at the same time, reported rates of delinquency are higher in this class.

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