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Designing Social Research

Designing Social Research
A Guide for the Bewildered

April 2011 | 224 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd

Using everyday jargon-free language, Designing Social Research guides you through the jungle of setting up a research study. Ian Greener provides guidance on how to practically plan your research and helps you to understand the underpinning methodological principles that should inform your decisions about the methods you plan to use.

This is the perfect book for beginner students and new researchers looking to design a research project and make sense of and justify the many decisions that go into the research design process. It will help you to assess the appropriateness of a range of methods and to understand the strengths and limitations of different approaches to research.

Greener highlights key debates in the field, both philosophical and practical, and presents them in such a way that they remain constantly relevant to research practice of his readers. Coverage includes:

  • Framing an effective research question/problem;
  • Examining the jargon of social research;
  • The links between theory, methodology and method;
  • The role of literature reviewing in research design;
  • Managing and planning the research process;
  • Sampling;
  • Qualitative designs;
  • Quantitative designs;
  • Mixed methods designs;
  • Data analysis.

Designing Social Research will be ideal first reading for undergraduates planning significant research projects for their dissertations. It will also be invaluable to first year PhD students considering how they will go about their research projects.

Introduction to Social Research Design - Or What Are You Talking About?
Defining terms
Some general points about research questions
Some other general guidelines
Some practical examples of how questions, methods and philosophy combine
What's the problem, and how are you going to research it? A logic of appropriateness
Five things to remember about this chapter
Reviewing What Other People Have Said - Or How Can I Tell If Others' Research is Any Good?
Nuts and bolts
The hierarchy of evidence
Reading efficiently and critically, and taking notes
So is the study any good?
Writing a review
Five things to remember about this chapter
Example - 'Qualitative research and the evidence base of policy'
Surveys and Questionnaires - Or How Can I Conduct Research With People at a Distance?
The use of questionnaires - the best (and worst) of quantitative (and qualitative) social research
Surveys and questionnaires
Perspectives on questionnaires
Designing questionnaires
Open and closed responses
Getting questions really clear
Common response forms
Questionnaire design
Analysing and reporting questionnaire responses
Reflexivity and questionnaires
Contentious issues
Conclusion - working with the good and bad of questionnaires
Five things to remember about this chapter
Example - The Paradox of Choice
Elements of Quantitative Design: Sampling and Statistics - Or What Can I Do With Numbers?
Numbers and their importance
What are numbers good for?
The philosophy of quantitative research
Some issues in quantitative analysis - basic descriptive statistics
Five things to remember about this chapter
Example - Super Crunchers
Ethnography as a Research Approach - Or What Do I Gain from Watching People and Talking to Them?
What is ethnography?
When would I want to use an ethnography?
What does it mean to conduct an ethnography?
Philosophical debates around ethnography
What do the differences in approach mean for the resulting ethnography?
What kind of research does an ethnographic research project produce?
How can you increase the chance of doing good ethnographic research?
Conclusion - getting close or producing useless knowledge?
Five things to remember about this chapter
Example - Reading Ethnographic Research
Dealing with Qualitative Data - Or What Should I Do With All These Words?
The aims of qualitative research
Grounded theory, coding and generalisation
The mechanics of grounded theory
Discourse analysis and its variants
Quantitative approaches to textual analysis
Analysing documents
What are the criteria for a good qualitative analysis?
Truth in social research
Conclusion - finding appropriate methods for dealing with your data
Five things to remember about this chapter
Example - The Body Multiple
Causality in your research - or how deep should ontology go?
Ontology and depth
Science, method and causality
Constant conjunction
The world is flat
Going deeper
Levels of analysis
Conclusion - how deep do you need to go?
Five things to remember about this chapter
Example - Rogue Traders and financial losses
Dealing With Time and Control - Or What Time Period Suits My Research, and How Do I Stop the World from Interfering in It?
How does Social research deal with time?
Phenomenology and process philosophy - researching the present
History and political science - researching the past
What time frame fits your research, and how does time affect what you can say?
The openness (and closedness) of systems
A way around the problem of the experimental method - scale and sampling
What are case studies for - an aid to generalisation or an analysis of power and expertise?
Conclusion - time and control in social research
Five things to remember about this chapter
Example - accounts of the financial crisis
Ethics - Or What Practices are Appropriate in my Research? 142
The importance of ethics in research
The official line - what bodies such as the ESRC have to say
Questioning the official line - or is it even possible to follow all these ethical principles?
The importance of balance and appropriateness in ethics
Different perspectives on ethics
Conclusion - doing what's right and doing what's ethical
Five things to remember about this chapter
Example - 'Teenagers telling sectarian stories'
Writing Up Your Research - Or What Can I Say I've Found?
The differences between description, analysis and argument
Making an argument - what have you found out?
The bases of good arguments
Supporting a conclusion
Other concerns with arguments
Deductive and inductive arguments
Structuring a piece of writing to bring out your argument
Conclusion - writing up research so that it is clear to you (and to everyone else)
Five things to remember about this chapter
Writing up reviews and putting together proposals - or can you provide some examples of all of this?
Putting together a literature review
The role of the literature review
Doing a literature review
Exclusion and systematic review
Exclusion and realist review
Putting together a research proposal
Conclusion - the skills of being a practising researcher
Five things to remember about this chapter
Conclusion - Or Getting on with Social Research
Others' claims as a basis for your own work
Defining the job at hand
Designing research that is appropriate for the job at hand
Mixing methods
Being careful with data and with ethics
Writing it all up
Conclusion - doing research well
Example - Ladbroke Grove

very good - very popular with our students who like the clear 'no-nonsense' writing style.

Dr Pete Allison
Moray House School of Education, Edinburgh University
July 4, 2012

The lay out of this book is different as it uses a more discursive approach. This makes reading the book quite tiring as there is no pictures or many breaks in the text . However the content is excellent and if the reader can overcome to need to read in bit sized chunks then this is a book that teaches as well as making you think. A rare feat in a research methods text book!

Dr Margaret Hanson
Occupational therapy, Oxford Brookes University
June 19, 2012

Excellent for its clarity and simplicity of explanation and engaging style. This will be a highly recommended text on my course rather than essential because the students are from various social and health care programmes and the relevance of the exemplar methods to students from these backgrounds is variable.

Dr Sally Richards
School of Health & Social Care, Oxford Brookes University
June 18, 2012

An invaluable resource for advanced undergraduate and graduate students planning their own research.

Miss Frances Jackson
Public Services, Peterborough Regional College
April 4, 2012

Greener deals with some of the concepts that students struggle with in Research Methods in a clear and comprehensible manner. This is a useful book as a general introduction to Research Methods.

Dr Mairin Hennebry
School of Education, The University of Edinburgh
March 21, 2012

This book was very helpful in explaining a great deal of the terminology used in research. For the first time researcher having this to hand helps other texts to become accessible. In addition it provides thoughtful insights into different methodologies and procedures allowing readers to make informed choices.

Mrs Marion Hobbs
Education, Edge Hill University
January 12, 2012

A good starter book for those new to research. Useful glossary at the end. Found the pages on mixed methods useful as a resource. Overall, a good book to reach for when first trying to frame ideas and approach. Will give students confidence.

Mrs Nicola Sowe
NBS Consultancy and Training, NBS Consultancy and Training (Teaching and Learning)
December 19, 2011

What this text does, it does very well. It is an excellent introduction to research practice covering a great deal of ground in a rather short space. Its pace stops the text from dragging, which can be a danger of books on method in particular, and the fact that it covers both complex philosophical issues as well as very practical matters like writing grant applications and literature reviews means that it has something to offer any student, from UG through to doctoral.

In some places, the book necessarily lacks detail that one might have preferred and in order to convey complex ideas simply some violence is sometimes done to them (I am not, for example, convinced of all the claims Ian makes about Actor-Network Theory). However, this is to be expected in such a brief text and I think to have made adjustments to accomodate these concerns would likely have undermined the value of the book.

In summary, very good introductory text, hence essential reading.

Mr William Craige
School of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University
December 16, 2011

I wanted to find a text that did not overwhelm students with its weight, price and jargon, and this text seems to be the right one; I will use it next semester and know better if my hypothesis is confirmed. I also appreciate any academic text on Methods that includes the word "bewildered" as I believe it will help overcome the trepidation many students face when enrolling in the course.

Dr Michelle Ronda
Social Science Div, Marymount Manhattan College
November 21, 2011

This is a well structured book that flows in a logical sequence providing an expansive summary into the different aspects of conducting research. The language is clear and easy to follow which would make this guide best for novice researchers and undergraduates.

Miss Katie Davies
Ctr for Criminal Justice & Criminology, University of Wales, Swansea
November 8, 2011

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1

Ian Greener

Ian Greener is a Professor in the School ... More About Author

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SAGE Research Methods is a research methods tool created to help researchers, faculty and students with their research projects. SAGE Research Methods links over 175,000 pages of SAGE’s renowned book, journal and reference content with truly advanced search and discovery tools. Researchers can explore methods concepts to help them design research projects, understand particular methods or identify a new method, conduct their research, and write up their findings. Since SAGE Research Methods focuses on methodology rather than disciplines, it can be used across the social sciences, health sciences, and more.