121 posts categorized "Statistics and Methods"

June 03, 2019

What is Sociological Research?

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

We do research all the time, or at least we use the word research regularly. Trying to figure out where to stay on a vacation? “Research” it online! Choosing a restaurant? Do some “research” by asking your friends about their favorite places in the area. Hoping to learn more about a movie before shelling out money for tickets? “Research” reviews and see what other people think.

You can probably tell from my use of quotations that looking something up online is not the same thing as doing sociological research. This should go without saying, but on several occasions I have seen students genuinely confuse a Google search with doing social science research.

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May 28, 2019

Comparative Historical Research: The Intersection between Sociology and History

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

We’ve written a lot on this blog about the intersection between biography and history, C. Wright Mills’ now classic explanation of the sociological imagination. But beyond individuals’ connections with history, sociologists sometimes venture into the historical study of social phenomena and events in order to identify shifts over time and what social forces may be the cause of change. This is called comparative historical research.

Sociologists who conduct comparative historical research often use methods that overlap with historians’ research, such as using census data and other archived records, historical news clippings, oral histories, written correspondence and other sources of data. When sociologists use historical data, we are often trying to explain macro-level changes in society and have the benefit of time to analyze the causes and consequences.

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April 29, 2019

Connecting the Dots: Linking Theory with Research

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

As I wrote about previously, one of the main things to consider when making sure that your research topic is sociological is its connection with sociological theory. How does your study—or idea for a study—reflect or inform a theoretical perspective within the discipline?

First, let’s remind ourselves about what the difference is between a hypothesis and a theory. A hypothesis is a specific, testable “educated guess” about the relationship between two or more variables, while a theory is a system of ideas, often based on previous studies.

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March 25, 2019

Researcher Reflexivity: Why who we are Matters

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you are interested in researching something, there is often a personal reason. Maybe you have a parent who is incarcerated and are interested in understanding the relationships between family members of the incarcerated. Or perhaps your religious background gives you unique insight into a specific cultural practice that many people might not know about.

You might have your own point of view about these issues, even if they are not experiences you have had. Does having a perspective prohibit an individual from conducting research on a subject?

Of course, the answer is no. People conduct research on issues close to their experiences and interests all the time. Does this make their research “biased?”

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March 11, 2019

Applied Sociology: Evaluation Research 101

author photo Karen Sternheimer

If you have taken a sociology class, you know that sociology has many practical applications. Some sociologists use the tools of the discipline to help organizations make decisions—this can include anything from a small nonprofit to your university and even the government.

Evaluation research can take on many forms, but put simply its purpose is to determine whether a particular program, technique, or approach to addressing an issue is effective. This can be very helpful when deciding how an organization might spend its time or money. Why invest in a program that isn’t effective, or assume that something won’t work without first testing it and finding out?

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February 11, 2019

How (and Why) to Write a Literature Review

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The core of any academic paper involves a literature review (heretofore known as a “lit review”), where you write about previous studies that are related to your own research. (We call previous research and writing on a topic “the literature,” and a synopsis of the literature is a “literature review.”) This is often a challenging process for students writing lit reviews for the first time. In this post, I’ll break down the steps you should take to write an informative—and dare I say interesting—lit review.

First, let’s go over why lit reviews are important. Yes, they are important if you are being graded on writing one, but they are important components of research. Here’s why:

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January 28, 2019

What Makes a Research Question Sociological?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In your sociology research methods class, you will likely be asked to design and maybe even complete a sociological research project. As sociology major, this should be an exciting prospect: you get the opportunity to learn more about something specific to your interests.

At the core of any research project is coming up with a research question. A research question is basically the question that you hope your research project answers, or what you are hoping to learn from conducting your study. It is typically more general than a research hypothesis, which should be very specific and concrete. A research question should also be the “so what” of why you are conducting research. Ideally, your research will help you answer a particular question.

One of the biggest challenges new sociology students face is creating research questions that are sociological. What makes a research question sociological?

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January 07, 2019

Getting Excited about Sociological Research Methods

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In our department, Research Methods is a required course that many students put off taking until their junior or even senior year. For several reasons, this class is often viewed as one of those requirements that you just have to get through, rather than as one to eagerly anticipate.

I aim to change that. Here’s why you should be excited to take a research methods course:

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October 15, 2018

The Behavior of Buffalo Bills Fans: A Mini-Ethnography

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

Buffalo Bills fans have a reputation. As seen in this Deadspin video, they are known for wild antics that take place at home games. Last season, in his role as an analyst, former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher acknowledged Bills tailgaters by breaking a table during a CBS pregame show. The so-called Bills Mafia arrives several hours before kickoff for tailgate parties.

I’ve attended many Bills games in my life and have fond memories of partying with my peer group in the parking lots surrounding the stadium. We did most of our tailgate partying in our 20s, and I can recall cracking open the first beer during breakfast. Our partying consisted of drinking, eating chili (our gatherings usually occurred in winter), and playing catch with a football. I have no recollection of people jumping through tables in those days. I decided to conduct a mini ethnography to see if this reputation reflected the experiences of fans, at least in my presence.

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September 24, 2018

How to Find Reliable Data

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the big challenges students face in writing research papers is finding reliable sources of data. This challenge isn’t exclusive to students: many people might need a refresher course in what constitutes a reliable source.

First, what constitutes data? If you search the word “data” you will likely get many vague generalized definitions. When researchers are talking about data, we mean findings that are the result of empirical observation based on systematic study. Simply put, data are what we get when we do research. In most cases in the social sciences, research papers should include findings from a systematic study, yours or other peoples’.

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