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Research design and data collection

Main objectives
How to formulate research questions (from methodological viewpoint How best to investigate research questions in terms of fit between research question and research methodology (evidence/data) Identifying appropriate paradigm

Paradigms
Paradigms in social sciences help us understand phenomena. They advance assumptions about the social world, how science should be conducted and what constitutes legitimate problems, solutions and criteria of proof. As such paradigms encompass both theories and methods. Often contested e.g. qualitative vs quantitative

Qualitative Paradigms
Oral history (e.g. Paul Thompson): Strength subjective narrative accounts of life course Weakness - retrospective bias; accounts influenced by subsequent events/experiences Ethnographic and observational methods (e.g. Darin Weinberg; Clifford Geertz): Strength thick description Weakness specificity of time and place limited generalisability Interview methods (e.g. Piaget) Strength individual tayloring of appropriate questions Weakness replication difficult, more potential for researcher bias in recording and interpretation.

Quantitative Paradigms
Experimental method: Strength ability to control experimental variable and address issues of causation Weakness -problems of ecological validity artificial laboratory setting, distorting complexities of social context. Survey method: Strength ability to measure individual and population attributes and monitor behaviour or attitudinal change Weakness measures are usually collected at individual level; problem to take adequate account of environmental and institutional contexts.

Research task
Becoming craftsmen of techniques (tools) The socio-logic of different techniques is basically the same Objective knowledge? Few defendants non-issue Yet not relativism either, which does not enable conduct or communication of research As sociologists we must act as if we are positivists, who can operationalise measures, collect evidence and agree on what would refute theory There is a continuous need to reassess how knowledge (data) and understanding (theory) inter-relate

Possible Goals of Research (Ragin 1994) include:

Identify general patterns and relationships Test and refine theory Make predictions Interpret culturally or historically significant phenomena Explore diversity Give voice Advance new theories

Choosing a research topic/questions


1. Is the problem amenable to scientific inquiry? 2. Is the topic researchable given the amount of time, resources and the availability of data? 3. Does the topic really interest me enough to sustain my attention? 4. Will my research question/methods lead to ethical problems? 5. Is the topic of theoretical interest?

Choosing a research topic/questions contd.


6. Will the results be of interest to others (e.g. academics in field /policy makers)? 7. Is the topic likely to be (a) basis for PhD or (b) publishable? 8. Does the study fill a void, replicated, extend or develop new ideas in scholarly literature ? 9. Will the project contribute to my career goals?