RESEARCH TOPICS AND QUESTIONS

I.          Deciding on a topic.

A.     Possible sources of topics.

1.      Personal concerns/interests.

2.      Public issues/social problems.

3.      Previous research.

4.      Available data.

5.      Theoretical interests.

6.      Program and policy needs.

7.      Requests/concerns/needs expressed by groups and organizations.

B.     Evaluating a topic.

1.      Are you interested in the topic?

2.      Can the topic be studied given the resources available?

3.      Is the topic sociological?

4.      Is the topic worth studying?

a.       Does it need to be studied and why?

b.            Will anyone be interested in or benefited by the knowledge that might be gained from this study?

 

II.         Developing a topic.

  A.  Examining the relevant literature.

1.    Types of relevance.

  a.      Substantive.

  b.      Theoretical.

  c.      Methodological.

2.     Sources of scholarly literature.

  a.      Scholarly periodicals and journals.

  b.      Books and edited volumes.

  c.      Theses and dissertations.

  d.      Government documents.

  e.      Presented papers.

  f.      Web pages.

3.     Locating relevant resources.

  a.      The Social Science Index.

 b.      Sociological Abstracts.

  c.      Social Science Citation Index.

  d.      Bibliographies from other works.

  e.      The electronic card catalog.

  f.       Electronic databases.

  g.      Dissertation abstracts.

  h.      The government documents section and indices.

        i.       The reference librarian.

j.           Local professionals, scholars, and researchers.

        k.      The Internet.

4.     Reading, recording, and organizing references.

  a.      The abstract.

  b.      Reading the article and taking notes.

  c.      Filing and organizing notes.

  d.      The importance of complete bibliographic references.

B.      Investigating other information sources.

     1.     Insiders and informants.

               2.     Other researchers, experts, and colleagues.

               3.     Non-academic reports, monographs, and records.

              C.      Writing the review.

1.      Organize and outline the material.

a.          Determine what have been the major areas of research on the topic and group those materials

        together.

b.     Determine what are the major findings on the topic and group those materials together.

c.     Determine the best way to meaningfully order and organize the materials.

2.      Write the review.

a.     Do not simply list articles and findings.

b.          Summarize and integrate the literature into a single, consistent essay.  Try to keep it connected 

                                              and logical.

c.          Think of the literature review as a term paper in which you are required to summarize "the facts"

        about a topic.

d.          Cite references using the ASA style.  List all cited references and only cited references

                                              alphabetically in a reference list.  Include full bibliographic information.

 

III.               Stating research question(s).

A.  You must state your research question clearly and concisely.

              B.  Guidelines for developing research questions.

1.      Develop a list of questions about the topic.

  a.      What do you want to know about your topic?

         b.      What kinds of questions and issues have other researchers investigated?

         c.      What kinds of questions and issues have other researchers suggested should be investigated?

         d.      What kinds of questions and issues have other researchers overlooked?

         e.      Are there obvious gaps in the knowledge about the topic?

               2.     Consider the list of questions.

         a.      Eliminate questions that have been answered adequately by previous research.

         b.      Eliminate questions that are repetitive.

         c.      Eliminate questions that appear impossible to answer given your resources.

         d.      Group related questions together, perhaps expressing them as a single, more general question.

               3.     Select the question(s) you want to address.

         a.      Choose the question(s) that interest you most or seem most important.

         b.      Choose a single or a small number of related questions.

         c.      Express your question(s) as simply and clearly as possible.

IV.              Developing Testable Hypotheses.

A.    Hypotheses are statements about the empirical world that are logically derived from theory. They express theory in ways that can be empirically observed and verified.  They typically express relationships between two or more variables.

                                                              1.      Hypotheses are statements, not questions.

                                                              2.     Hypotheses must be empirically verifiable.

a.      Avoid tautological and teleological hypotheses.

b.      Be sure the variables can be observed and measured.

B.      Stating your research question as a testable hypothesis.

                                                               1.      Consider possible answers to your research questions?

a.      What does theory suggest the answers to your questions might be?

b.      What does previous research suggest the answers to your questions might be?

                                                               2.      Develop statements that answer your research question(s).

a.      Come up with statements you believe to be true based on theory or previous research.

b.      Don't ask questions, make statements.

                                                              3.      Develop testable hypotheses by expressing your statement(s) in terms of relationships between variables.

a.      Indicate time order by clearly indicating the independent, dependent, and intervening variables.

i.       The characteristic, attitude, pattern or behavior you are trying to explain is your dependent variable.

ii.      The characteristics, attitudes, patterns or behaviors that precede and influence, affect, or cause change in your dependent variable are your independent variables.

iii.     If the effects of the independent variables pass through or change depending on other variables, these other variables are called intervening variables.

b.      Indicate the type of causal relationships.

i.       Direct.

ii.      Indirect.

iii.     Interaction.

c.      Indicate the type of association between the variables.

i.       Positive associations.

ii.      Negative associations.

iii.    Curvilinear associations.

iv.    Non-directional associations.

v.      No association (spuriousness).

d.      Develop a path model if appropriate.

i.       Multiple variables, multiple hypothesis, multiple causal connections.

ii.      Diagramming hypothesized relationships.

iii.    The path model as hypothesis.

C.       Evaluating your hypotheses.

                                                               1.      Be sure your hypotheses are statements, not questions.

                                                               2.     Be sure your hypotheses are empirically verifiable.

                                                               3.      Be sure your hypotheses are clear, explicit, and concise.

                                                               4.      Be sure your hypotheses are not double-barreled.