Social research methods vary according to the particular area that is in need of further study. And within this narrowed down viewpoint of the ways of arriving at statistics, data, finding answers, calculating and collecting data, questions are answered and problems are solved. Advancements in software, new technology and newer and better ideas have changed and are changing the ways and means of fact finding.
Full participation in a research project demands individual and collective fact gathering under the capable leadership of an inspired leader who knows how to inspire and lead the research team. The purpose of the research determines the type of research; is it comparison oriented, health care related, a quality control issue, an analysis of expenditures, or something else entirely unrelated to previous problems?
Social research leaders
Leaders don’t suddenly spring forward when they are needed; they are trained. As an example: Michigan State University (MSU) “recruits, trains, and inspires tomorrow’s public leaders, preparing them with vision, commitment, and the skills for effective governance”, according to MPLP (Michigan Political Leadership Program).
Likewise, out of other such university programs and educational preparedness approaches, expect to find leaders qualified to lead research teams not only in political matters, but also in health concerns, municipal management, economy concerns, science, and earth studies. The problems of each, however, may be similar in some aspects—cost, statistical, qualitative, quantitative, geographical—but differ widely as to priorities, hierarchy, importance and probability of success.
How societal research begins
Structure of research begins widely and then narrows down to a particular aspect of the original plan. Its shape may be that of an “hour glass”: Wide questioning begins but narrows as plans are finalized and ways and means are agreed upon. The research shape widens again as information and ideas are collected.
Basically the shape of the hourglass model “begins with broad questions, narrow down, focus, observe—this is the narrow midsection of the hourglass—analyze data, reach conclusions and then generalize back to the first broad questions”.
A problem or a lack of something initiates a research project. At this critical level, problem solving is at its most critical level. An example: Lung cancer is higher in one community than in other comparable regions and the citizens are alarmed. A research study begins: Community public health leaders get together and devise ways to getting answers to the questions asked.
What is the best approach to problem solving?
Fortunately there’s no one best approach to solving societal problems. Time brings newer methods and more educational opportunities and more skillfully trained problem solvers. Those who’ve had success share their formula or method by which they solved their problems. Thus those starting out with nothing but the fact that something needs be done, or learned, or stopped, or controlled know how to begin their research project.
Research is designed on what and why questions. “What is going on” and why. What asks and why answers. What could be a better description of what social research is about? Even though these two questions are simple to understand in approach, there’s hundreds and hundreds of questions asked and miles and miles to travel between what and why. Each question asked also brings along its why that leads on to more what and why questions. Complicating the simple what and why further is designating what as descriptive research and why as explanatory.
Descriptive research is either “concrete or abstract”, further complicating the relatively simple first question asked. Concrete is going after the actual facts while concrete is suppositional and full of maybe’s, how come’s and what if’s. Government research is often descriptive in type: census taking, formulating social and economic indicators, employment and crime statistics and others.
Explanatory research deals only with why is this happening type of questions and it can be as complicated and possibly as inconsequential as the subject matter dictates. This is especially so when the research is more abstract than concrete.
Sociological research, by its nature—dealing with individual human conditions collectively—is both illusive and necessary. It is illusive because much of what is learned is either disproved or denied by the next question asked. Yet, despite its intangible nature, sociological research is the best tool society has in learning how to deal with its incongruities.