Social Research – Definition, Types and Methods

Social Research: Definition

Social Research is a method used by social scientists and researchers to learn about people and societies so that they can design products/services that cater to various needs of the people. Different socio-economic groups belonging to different parts of a county think differently. Various aspects of human behavior need to be addressed to understand their thoughts and feedback about the social world, which can be done using Social Research. Any topic can trigger social research – new feature, new market trend or an upgrade in old technology.

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Social Research is conducted by following a systematic plan of action which includes qualitative and quantitative observation methods.

  • Qualitative methods rely on direct communication with members of a market, observation, text analysis. The results of this method are focused more on being accurate rather than generalizing to the entire population.
  • Quantitative methods use statistical analysis techniques to evaluate data collected via surveys, polls or questionnaires.

Social Research contains elements of both these methods to analyze a range of social occurrences such as an investigation of historical sites, census of the country, detailed analysis of research conducted to understand reasons for increased reports of molestation in the country etc.

A survey to monitor happiness in a respondent population is one of the most widely used applications of social research. The happiness survey template can be used by researchers an organizations to gauge how happy a respondent is and the things that can be done to increase happiness in that respondent.

Learn more: Public Library Survey Questions + Sample Questionnaire Template 

Types of Social Research

There are four main types of Social Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Research, Primary and Secondary Research.

Qualitative Research: Qualitative Research is defined as a method to collect data via open-ended and conversational discussions, There are five main qualitative research methods-  ethnographic research, focus groups, one-on-one online interview, content analysis and case study research. Usually, participants are not taken out of their ecosystem for qualitative data collection to gather information in real-time which helps in building trust. Researchers depend on multiple methods to gather qualitative data for complex issues.

Quantitative Research: Quantitative Research is an extremely informative source of data collection conducted via mediums such as surveys, polls, and questionnaires. The gathered data can be analyzed to conclude numerical or statistical results. There are four distinct quantitative research methods: survey research, correlational research, causal-comparative research and experimental research. This research is carried out on a sample that is representative of the target market usually using close-ended questions and data is presented in tables, charts, graphs etc.

For example, A survey can be conducted to understand Climate change awareness among the general population. Such a survey will give in-depth information about people’s perception about climate change and also the behaviors that impact positive behavior. Such a questionnaire will enable the researcher to understand what needs to be done to create more awareness among the public.

Learn More: Climate Change Awareness Survey Template

Primary Research: Primary Research is conducted by the researchers themselves. There are a list of questions that a researcher intends to ask which need to be customized according to the target market. These questions are sent to the respondents via surveys, polls or questionnaires so that analyzing them becomes convenient for the researcher. Since data is collected first-hand, it’s highly accurate according to the requirement of research.

For example: There are tens of thousands of deaths and injuries related to gun violence in the United States. We keep hearing about people carrying weapons attacking general public in the news. There is quite a debate in the American public as to understand if possession of guns is the cause to this. Institutions related to public health or governmental organizations are carrying out studies to find the cause. A lot of policies are also influenced by the opinion of the general population and gun control policies are no different. Hence a gun control questionnaire can be carried out to gather data to understand what people think about gun violence, gun control, factors and effects of possession of firearms. Such a survey can help these institutions to make valid reforms on the basis of the data gathered.

Learn more: Wi-Fi Security Survey Questions + Sample Questionnaire Template

Secondary Research: Secondary Research is a method where information has already been collected by research organizations or marketers. Newspapers, online communities, reports, audio-visual evidence etc. fall under the category of secondary data. After identifying the topic of research and research sources, a researcher can collect existing information available from the noted sources. They can then combine all the information to compare and analyze it to derive conclusions.   

Social Research Methods

Surveys: A survey is conducted by sending a set of pre-decided questions to a sample of individuals from a target market. This will lead to a collection of information and feedback from individuals that belong to various backgrounds, ethnicities, age-groups etc. Surveys can be conducted via online and offline mediums. Due to the improvement in technological mediums and their reach, online mediums have flourished and there is an increase in the number of people depending on online survey software to conduct regular surveys and polls.

There are various types of social research surveys: Longitudinal, Cross-sectional, Correlational Research. Longitudinal and Cross-sectional social research surveys are observational methods while Correlational is a non-experimental research method. Longitudinal social research surveys are conducted with the same sample over a course of time while Cross-sectional surveys are conducted with different samples.  

For example: It has been observed in recent times, that there is an increase in the number of divorces, or failed relationships. The number of couples visiting marriage counselors or psychiatrists is increasing. Sometimes it gets tricky to understand what is the cause for a relationship falling apart. A screening process to understand an overview of the relationship can be an easy method. A marriage counselor can use a relationship survey to understand the chemistry in a relationship, the factors that influence the health of a relationship, the challenges faced in a relationship and expectations in a relationship. Such a survey can be very useful to deduce various findings in a patient and treatment can be done accordingly.

Another example for the use of surveys can be to gather information on the awareness of disasters and disaster management programs. A lot of institutions like the UN or the local disaster management team try to keep their communities prepared for disasters. Possessing knowledge about this is crucial in disaster prone areas and is a good type of knowledge that can help everyone. In such a case, a survey can enable these institutions to understand what are the areas that can be promoted more and what regions need what kind of training. Hence a disaster management survey can be conducted to understand public’s knowledge about the impact of disasters on communities, and the measures they undertake to respond to disasters and how can the risk be reduced.

Learn more: NBA Survey Questions + Sample Questionnaire Template

Experiments: An experimental research is conducted by researchers to observe the change in one variable on another, i.e. to establish the cause and effects of a variable. In experiments, there is a theory which needs to be proved or disproved by careful observation and analysis. An efficient experiment will be successful in building a cause-effect relationship while proving, rejecting or disproving a theory. Laboratory and field experiments are preferred by researchers.

Interviews: The technique of garnering opinions and feedback by asking selected questions face-to-face, via telephone or online mediums is called interview research. There are formal and informal interviews – formal interviews are the ones which are organized by the researcher with structured open-ended and closed-ended questions and format while informal interviews are the ones which are more of conversations with the participants and are extremely flexible to collect as much information as possible.

Examples of interviews in social research are sociological studies that are conducted to understand how religious people are. To this effect, a Church survey can be used by a pastor or priest to understand from the laity the reasons they attend Church and if it meets their spiritual needs.

Observation: In observational research, a researcher is expected to be involved in the daily life of all the participants to understand their routine, their decision-making skills, their capability to handle pressure and their overall likes and dislikes. These factors and recorded and careful observations are made to decide factors such as whether a change in law will impact their lifestyle or whether a new feature will be accepted by individuals.

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Quantitative Observation

Qualitative Observation