Social Research Methods and Common Mistakes

Introduction

Identifying research questions and subsequent hypotheses may present difficulties for researchers, especially for those who do not have sufficient experience in scholarly investigations (Wollman 2013). The most common mistakes made during this process are related to the scope of the research problem. The first type of difficulty is mistaking the problem area for a research question (Neuman, 2014).

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A researcher may identify the issue that needs a thorough investigation correctly but fail to narrow it to a specific research question. The difficulty with the scope of research that is too broad is that the scholar will not be able to cover all the aspects of such a question. There will be too many sources available on the topic, and the investigator will not be able to discern which of them are the most relevant ones.

The second mistake made during formulating research questions and hypotheses is that the problem is too simple (Neuman, 2014). A researcher may choose to investigate the issue that is already known or the hypothesis that is obvious and does not need any justification. In such a case, research will prove unnecessary, and all the efforts made by the investigator will be in vain.

The best way to avoid these mistakes is to approach the choice of research questions upon a thorough analysis of the existing studies in the specific area and to use a solid theoretical framework (Brians, Willnat, Manheim, & Rich, 2016). Theories are the “intellectual tools” used to explain the phenomena better (Brians et al., 2016, p. 18). Also, it is necessary to evaluate whether the question may be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”

Good research questions should require analysis and detailed investigation rather than merely asking about things that almost everyone knows already. A good idea is to try to break the question into several sub-questions and checking whether each of them presents some interesting inquiry. If in the process of such a subdivision the investigator notices further uncommon and unexamined issues, the problem may be considered as the one worth analyzing.

Literature Review

Performing a thorough literature review is a crucial element of the research process. With its help, scholars may place their research within the broader scope of the problem (Brians, Willnat, Manheim, & Rich, 2016). However, some researchers neglect to approach the process of reviewing literature with full seriousness and responsibility. There are several issues that may arise when a researcher fails to conduct the review correctly.

The first problem is that the investigator will not be able to develop any new insight into the topic. In order to do so, it is necessary to analyze the existing ideas first. If a person does not do that, he or she will be deprived of the possibility to see how different insights are investigated in various contexts (Aveyard, 2014). Scholars who do not perform a literature review do not make it easier for the audience to get access to the most relevant studies dedicated to the research question and.

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The second problem is that without the review, the investigator may fail to notice contradictions existing between other scholars’ opinions, which will lead to the inability to identify gaps in the area of research. By getting acquainted with the most relevant sources, one may notice some inconsistencies the resolution of which could make a breakthrough in the chosen research area. On the other hand, when the investigator sees that all scholars concentrate on the same issue, he or she may realize that there is no need to waste time on reiterating the same ideas.

The third issue resulting from performing a poor-quality literature review is that the scholar will not know which of the research questions have already been answered. It is crucial for an author to arrange a “chain of reasoning,” which can be reached as a result of analyzing literature on the topic (Brians et al., 2016, p. 68). With the help of this chain, the author can explain the theory’s plausibility and eliminate misunderstandings. Therefore, conducting a high-quality literature review is of utmost importance in scholarly research since failing to do it may undermine the outcomes of one’s research endeavors.

Research Variables

Variables are inseparable constituents of research due to their ability to identify the connections between the analyzed concepts (Brians, Willnat, Manheim, & Rich, 2016). There are two features constituting good variables: being exhaustive and being mutually exclusive. The first quality presupposes that each variable has to incorporate every possible answer. Since it is not always possible to exhaust all the options with some variables, researchers can list the most significant ones and add a general section “other” to explain the remaining possibilities (Wollman, 2013). The second quality of good variables is the mutual exclusiveness of their attributes.

The respondents should not be able to own two attributes at the same time. An example of this quality is when a researcher asks the participants to state whether they are single or married. If a person chooses one of the options, he or she cannot choose the second one simultaneously.

The two features of good variables play a crucial role in the improvement of the overall research design and its outcomes. It is significant to pay attention to the choice of variables and to make sure that they have the features necessary to increase the value of the study (Newby, 2014). When variables are exclusive, it means that the researcher did everything possible to analyze each aspect of his research question. When variables are mutually exclusive, the possibility of reiterating some of the investigated aspects is eliminated.

One of the most common mistakes in formulating the variables is mistaking the independent for dependent ones (Newby, 2014). Thus, it is important to take into consideration all the aspects of research to determine which features depend on which ones. Another frequent error is when a scholar fails to provide the exhaustiveness and mutual exclusiveness of the variables. In such cases, research may lack validity and reliability and present outcomes that are not statistically significant.

Reliability and Validity

Reliability and validity play a significant role in the process of connecting measures to constructs (Neuman, 2014). Attainting these concepts signifies the success of the research. However, it is not possible to reach ideal validity and reliability. Reliability is synonymous with consistency and dependability (Neuman, 2014). It presupposes the reiteration of the same issue under similar or identical circumstances. The opposite concept to reliability is the inconsistency of results. Validity means the truthfulness of research (Neuman, 2014). This concept indicates how well the ideas investigated by the scholar correspond to the actual reality. If a study lacks validity, it means that there is a poor connection between the ideas used by the author to analyze some social issues and the very issues.

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In order to eliminate the flaws associated with insufficient reliability and validity, researchers resort to different techniques. The most productive one is repeating research several times (Brians, Willnat, Manheim, & Rich, 2016). The data that is collected through repeated observations are more likely to be reliable and valid than the information gathered through single research. Another benefit of such repetition is that the sample size will be increased, and p-values may become lower. The second method employed for reaching validity and reliability is using a pilot test (Neuman, 2014). Developing a pilot version of a study will help to avoid invalid and unreliable results.

The researcher will be able to notice any inconsistencies and will have enough time to change the hypothesis or formulate other research questions. Such an approach is time- and cost-consuming but it is a great way of ensuring the validity and reliability of the main project.

Research that lacks validity or reliability may cause severe negative outcomes not only for the investigators and their scholarly image. People who use the findings of unreliable studies may get hurt. If a healthcare institution uses the results of a study that is not reliable, there is the danger that patients will be not treated correctly. Not only will they lack the improvement but they also may face some complications. Using the results of unreliable and invalid research in any sphere of technology may cause wrong calculations that will lead to losses of money and valuable materials. Thus, it is crucial for researchers to do everything possible to make sure that their studies are valid and reliable.

References

Brians, C. L, Willnat, L., Manheim, J. B., & Rich, R. C. (2016). Empirical political analysis (8th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.

Neuman, W. L. (2014). Social research methods: Qualitative and quantitative approaches (7th ed.). Essex, England: Pearson.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, May 14). Social Research Methods and Common Mistakes. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/social-research-methods-and-common-mistakes/

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Social Research Methods and Common Mistakes." May 14, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/social-research-methods-and-common-mistakes/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Social Research Methods and Common Mistakes'. 14 May.

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