Introduction to Sociology – Sociological Research

Introduction to Sociology – Sociological Research


>>All right, now in this unit we’re going
to be talking about the research process. How do sociologists collect data to test their
theories? There’s a pretty standard set of procedures that we go through with every research
project that we do. The first thing that we do is we choose a topic. So again I’m interested
in freshmen, and one of the things I hear about a lot is about how freshmen gain weight
in their freshman year. It’s called the freshman 15. So that’s my big question–what explains
the freshman 15? Second, I want to summarize the research that’s been done by other people
who have studied the freshman 15. An easy way to do this is go to Google Scholar and
just type in “freshman 15” to find a whole sort of a whole list of articles and been
written on this topic. I I read those articles, and then I summarize that literature and try
to find out what questions remain to be studied. So after I’ve read everyone else’s research
and I’ve discovered that there is a problem with the freshman 15 that’s real, now I want
to formulate my own hypothesis to to try to determine or describe how this process happens.
So a hypothesis might be that freshmen who live on campus gain weight at a faster rate
than freshmen who live at home. I haven’t found any studies that have looked at that
phenomenon, so that’s going to be my hypothesis, and I’m going to study this question. The
next step then is to describe how I’m going to collect my data. I’m going to do a survey
of freshmen–find out how much they weighed at the beginning of the semester, how much
they weighed at the end of the semester, and I also have to ask where they lived. Did they
live in the dorm or did they live at home? I’ve got to measure all the variables in my
theory. After I collect the data, now the fun part begins. I can sit down on my computer,
plug all the data into a statistical package, and actually do some statistical analyses
to find out if there is a significant relationship between where you live and how much weight
you gain as a freshman. Now the next step is to write up a report and get that report
published somewhere or present it at a conference where people can learn what I’ve learned.
That’s the research process: come up with a question, look at what other people have
done, collect data, analyze the data, write a report, tell other people what I’ve done.
That’s the research process. Most of the research projects that we do look
at the relationship between variables, a cause-and-effect relationship. The idea is that one variable
is having an effect on another variable. The variable that’s causing something to happen
is called the independent variable. The variable that’s being affected by this other variable
is called the dependent variable. What we are interested in doing is looking at the
relationship between the causing variable, or the independent variable, and the caused
variable, or the dependent variable. These kinds of analysis allow us to predict what
will happen in the future or to explain why certain phenomenon happen. Why are crime rates
going up? Why is teen pregnancy going down? Why are divorce rates staying the same? Why
are they higher in one place than the other? One of the most complicated parts of the social
science process is understanding how sampling works. How can we look at 300 or 400 people
and talk about thousands of people that they represent? What we’re talking about here is
sampling, and there’s a whole science around sampling that’s pretty complicated, but I
think I can explain it to you pretty quickly. Sampling works like this: assume you’ve got
a population of people that you’re interested in talking about. If I randomly select people
from that population into a sample, and if I haven’t biased that sample by only selecting
women or only selecting rich people, for example, that sample should look very similar to the
population. It won’t look exactly like it, but I can make pretty good assumptions about
the population based on what the sample says. There’s some error built in there, and we
actually calculate and account for that when we do our statistics. But the idea here is
I can look at a small sample and make inference about the larger population. It sounds kind
of complicated, but it saves us a lot of money, we’re able to talk about a lot of people by
only looking at a few people, and it’s how sociologists do most of their research. The
material that’s provided in this unit will describe the different techniques that sociologists
use to collect data: experimental research, field research, survey research, and so on.
And be sure to check out all the additional resources I’ve provided for you. All right.
Good luck.

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