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My Overview of Social Science Research Methods

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My paper produced for social science research assignment


Describe what precisely you intend to show/argue and why (i.e., address the ever-lurking "So What?" question). Is your research problem addressing a significant social problem, or is it testing some theoretical hypothesis, such as the Marxist argument that high television viewing levels make people feel apolitical and powerless?

The success of any "science," whether it be natural or social, depends on asking the proverbial "right" question. What distinguishes good questions from bad? In part, good questions advance knowledge about significant issues, issues that are timely (e.g., why the growing homicide rates of American adolescents), that advance our ability to predict future events, that test theoretical hypotheses or resolve contradictory theoretical predictions. And what constitutes a good sociological question? First, are important issues even raised? Obviously why violent gangs appear in the poorer parts of some cities and not others is more important than whether blue or brown eyed children are more likely to prefer playing with a yo-yo. The issues raised ideally are timely, relevant to the problems or trends of the present time, and have broad applicability. Good questions are those allowing theories to be tested or, as when two theories make opposing predictions, be compared. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a good sociological question is value-free. If, for instance, you are analyzing Americans' attitudes toward government intervention in family life (such as the government intervening when Christian Science parents refuse to give their children life- saving medical treatment), the question is not "Are there circumstances demanding government intervention?" This is a question for lawyers and political philosophers. Instead, a more appropriate question is "Which social groups are most likely to endorse government government intervention when parents, because of their religious beliefs, refuse to allow their seriously ill children to receive life-saving medical treatment."

In this section you should first grab the attention and interest of your readers, and secondly introduce the problem to be studied. You may consider using a rich illustration of the phenomenon you are studying. Remember, a research paper is not an essay nor a journalistic feature story. All assertions of fact must be documented. Be careful of any generalizations that you make. And strive to be value-free in your inquiry. A social science research paper is not an editorial piece wherein one espouses one's own beliefs.


Review of Literature and the Development of Hypotheses

What have others found regarding your research question? From their findings, coupled with your theory, develop a logical argument that leads to the statement of your hypothesis (this is your theoretical hypothesis expressed in terms of concepts). Your hypothesis/hypotheses should be the conclusion of this "Review" section. A good hypothesis is comparative, measurable, and falsifiable.

When writing this section weave the arguments and findings of others into your own argument--in other words, don't have a review simply bulleting the findings of others. Take extreme care to avoid over-generalizations and be sure to document your statements of fact. Do not cite work that has no bearing on your argument. Be sure to define key concepts. In the case of euthanasia, for instance, it is worth distinguishing its active versus passive forms. Example:

Over the past two decades in the wake of the highly-publicized stories of Karen Ann Quinlin, Paul Murphy, Nancy Cruzan, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the Hemlock Society, and the legalization of euthanasia in the Netherlands, researchers have increasingly investigated the determinants of Americans' attitudes toward physician-assisted suicides (or "homicides," according to the perspective of some) and individuals' "right to die." Over the past fifty years, national surveys of Americans (NORC 1947, 1972-98; Harris 1973, 1981) show consistently increasing support for active euthanasia. To what extent is this due to the supposedly increasing secularization and moral relativism of American culture (Bellah 1989)?

In their analysis of the determinants of the American death ethos, Kearl and Harris (1981) found religiosity and education to be two of the strongest predictors of attitudes toward abortion, suicide, and euthanasia. Religion preserves moral tradition, and many faiths believe that the sanctity of life should always be honored and never violated. Here we will test the proposition that the more religious individuals are the more likely they oppose physician-assisted deaths of the terminally ill. We further suspect that this relationship between religiosity and euthanasia attitudes is not uniform across the social landscape. In particular, because of the greater moral conservativism researchers (e.g., Argyle 1993; Nelson 1979) have found among those in the lower classes, we hypothesize that because of this dampening effect of social class that the influence of religiosity on euthanasia attitudes will be greater among those of the middle and upper classes than among those from the low and working classes.

Underlying every theory is the issue of causality. What exactly does it mean to say that poverty "causes" crime, that cultural materialism "causes" moral decay, or that religiosity "causes" one's euthanasia attitudes? Just because two events historically occur simultaneously does not necessarily mean that one is influencing the other.



Describe the sample employed and the variables used to test your hypothesis. One should give just enough information here so that others can replicate your procedures (and hopefully come up with the same findings and conclusions as you did).

In this section you should address anticipated criticisms regarding internal (e.g., adequacy of operationalizing your theory's concepts) and external (e.g., generalizability of findings, sampling representativeness) validity. This matter of operationalization, of transforming concepts of one's theory into measurable variables is considerably more difficult than it may initially seem. How does one, for instance, measure religiosity? Does one discover how often people attend church or pray? Must highly religious Christians have read and understand the Bible? Can we say that one who



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