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The Philosophy of Social Research


The paper is an analysis of the philosophy of research, core concepts of research designs as well as other approaches to research. In philosophy of research, it has been established that there is a progression from scientific methods alone into more flexible concepts that incorporate contextual experiences such as pragmatism.

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In research design, it has been found that one’s research question actually determines what is contained in subsequent parts of the paper and must be given careful thought. Aspects such as limitations, validity and sampling must be considered because they determine outcomes of the research.

Other approaches of research have also been highlighted such as active research which involves direct participation as well as program evaluation which leads to improvement of policies.

Philosophy of research

Empiricism is relevant to quantitative research in that it ensures that observations are tested for their reality. This influences research design as it can be used as a means to gauge how realistic a particular research is. Aside from that, empiricism entails a research cycle that contributes towards its academic rigor. Here, a researcher must observe empirical facts (observation), then formulate a hypothesis (induction), deduce the importance of the hypothesis (deduction), test the hypothesis through different empirical items (testing) and lastly evaluate the test’s outcome (evaluation). All these components go a long way in ensuring that the research is accurate (Gadamer, 1999).

Scientific methods are characterized by the use of primary as well as secondary sources of information in order to affirm one’s assertions in research. This means that precedence is given to primary observation. However, assertions or research made by other scientists can be used as proof of one’s theories. Positivism encompasses using empirical observations in order to come up with a relationship between limited variables that are applicable universally. In other words, experiments or observations are carried out in controlled environments that eliminate other possible explanations hence only leaving one form of truth; this is how validity is ascertained in positivism. Post positivism allows for the utilization of empirical observations as well other work but this must be done systematically (Whitehead, 1993).

Objectivity is essential in every research because the findings and conclusions made from any study have an adverse impact on the researchers, the sponsoring institutions as well as the research participants. If a survey is not done objectively, then this can make researchers appear as though they participated in impropriety and it therefore compromises trust in them as problem solvers. Besides that, the participants of the research may also be affected negatively because resources may be sanctioned or increased wrongfully towards that population. Research institutions that do not carry out their work objectively may even influence their entire societies negatively because their findings could lead to wrong policies. However, it is challenging to remain objective in research owing to the fact that researchers have a financial, policy or institutional stake in outcomes of particular work (Garreau, 2005).

Scientific realism is largely attested to the belief in scientific methods as being the most accurate determinants of relationships existent in the world. In research, most scientific realists tend to use empirical observations or experiments; a good amount of this work is done quantitatively while relativism is therefore not a guiding concept in this school of thought. Social constructivism on the other hand adheres to the view that knowledge is often rivaled and that it is built upon previous work. It opposes the idea of there being absolute truths or banking on discovery alone. Instead, most researchers employing social construction embrace case study methods as well as qualitative analysis because personal experiences affect how social phenomena are perceived. Advocacy is characterized by descriptive policy studies in which researchers address social issues like poverty or unplanned pregnancies. Their intentions are to increase people’s knowledge or awareness on the matter and hence promote policy responses towards such problems. Pragmatism in research refers to causes and treatments that are valid in precise conditions but are also flexible enough to be adjusted to different contexts. In other words, this school of thought opposes the isolation of variables or researching in a context free environment (Warren & Elliot, 2002).

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Frameworks refer to those structures that make up certain ideas or concepts. Therefore, theoretical frameworks refer to all the interrelated theories that are entailed in research questions. Conceptual frameworks on the other hand are linked to concepts which differ substantially from theories. Concepts can exist in isolation without being understood while theories cannot. Therefore, a conceptual framework is an explanation for the interrelation between various concepts. It can therefore be said that a research may sometimes involve a theory or it may not. However, no research can do without a concept. In other words, conceptual frameworks are more common or relevant than theoretical frameworks. In determining what one’s respective research significance, conceptual frameworks are often employed. Theoretical frameworks may be applicable if the theory has been used before by a different population. Conceptual frameworks are also essential in connecting variables as theoretical frameworks may not achieve this effectively. On the other hand, theoretical frameworks are fundamental in explaining the cause- effect relationship (Garreau, 2005).

Core concepts for a research design

A research question defines what type of phenomenon being studied is about; it provokes readers’ arguments and interests as well as offers a guideline against which one can argue out their statements or inquiries. Every single word in the research question is important as the rest of the essay will be governed by this question. Hypotheses on the other hand refer to those linkages between various variables. Consequently, a hypothesis allows a researcher to provide more insight into the research question and to test the said experiments. A research problem on the other hand refers to the issues that led to carrying out a particular study. This is essential in formulating a hypothesis as well as a research question as it highlights gaps existent in previous research hence validating the need for doing one’s study.

When tackling the purpose of research, one normally outlines what they want to achieve in the study. For instance, one can assert that purpose the purpose of one’s study is to “explore effects of gain and loss framed messages on career decision making” or “ to explore the extent of Gay and Lesbian terminologies in teachers’ coursework.” (Tansley et al, 2007), (Macgillivray & Jennings, 2008).

A literature review is a combination of references that are used to substantiate one’s assertions and they involve summaries or analyses of previous research on the research topic. In other words, this is a method of substantiating one’s sources. References used in literature reviews are only those that are relevant to the research problem. Best practices entail understanding the importance of literature review by the researcher first. This should then be backed up by identification of all the useful resources in that area. Primary sources ought to be given more precedence than secondary ones. One must then identify a research strategy through these writings. When creating the literature review, there should more than just description of what was found in the review, instead, more emphasis needs to be given to an analysis of the work. (Murray et al, 2002).

A population refers to all the entities/ units/ members of a given group that a researcher is studying. In other words, populations refer to the whole or the complete research body. Most researchers find it difficult to use full populations because one may not have the resources or time to interact with all the members. Consequently, there is a need to use a sample. A sample is a small part of a population that actually contains the same characteristics as the whole. However, in order for the latter to be achieved i.e. having equal characteristics between populations and samples then random selections ought to be made. It is therefore important to consider the population because this represents the ideal; it contains all the characteristics being addressed in the research question.

Variables refer to those parameters that can be altered and are the point of focus on a research. For example, age is a variable because subjects may possess different ages. Variables occur in various ways. Some of them may be descriptive in that they are reported and unrelated to other things, some may be numeric like age, some may be categorical like ‘to agree’ or ‘to disagree’ and others may be discrete such as ‘how often’ and ‘how many’. The major issue in research is to establish a relationship between an independent and dependent variable. In other words, one always attempt to look for a predictable pattern that occurs to the dependent variable every time the independent one is changed. However, one must try to eliminate external interference from an unaccounted variable by exerting control in research.

Findings in research are reported through several methods; one may choose to present this through lists or through tables. The latter form is more common than the latter. In both approaches, researchers often explain how they managed to get those findings. For instance, in a research to determine the amount of Lesbian Gay content in textbooks, findings can be reported in tables by including the numbers of lines in various educational texts addressing lesbian Gay issues. Besides that, a percentage of the total textbook content can then be used to bring out this difference (Macgillivray & Jennings, 2008).

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Assumptions are considered in research because before one formulates a research question, there are usually some underlying issues that are presupposed. For example, if a research’s purpose is to ‘ provide an understanding of how test feedback affects students’ performance on learning environments’ then the underlying assumptions here would include; that motivation exists and its constructs are affected by test feedback, that academic achievement is related to motivation and that educators have utilized these parameters in teaching. Limitations on the other hand refer to all the matters related to the study that might compromise its generalizability and those that cannot be controlled by the researcher. In other hand, delimitations include the factors that the researcher chooses deliberately to exclude in his investigations; for instance one delimitation can be “the research will involve only fifth grade students who were present at commencement of the project.” Considering delimitations, limitations and assumptions is important because these factors contribute tremendously to the validity, reliability or generalizability of the research findings (Conceicao, 2006).

Validity refers to the ability of a research method to actually measure what was intended in the first place. Here, valid research methods are those that’ll give predictive results, those that include all the aspects of the construct and those ones that can be comparable to an acceptable research method. Reliability on the other hand refers to the extent to which cause and effects are attributable to certain parameters. Internal reliability refers to a research methods’ ability to produce the same results when used in the same way while external reliability refers to the ability of different researchers to use the same research method and offer similar results.

Other approaches to research

One of the major advantages of program evaluation is that it relies heavily on standards hence indicating that there is a valid and dependable method of assessing whether a certain program is doing well. Besides this, program evaluation provides an avenue against which one can improve their programs through a systematic assessment method. However, in certain circumstances, the presentations of the program evaluation can contribute tremendously towards the perceptions of the results. This means that the method heavily relies upon the expertise of the evaluator and not the actual findings. Another major problem is that the assessment often leaves out other factors that contribute towards complexity of a certain program. Aside from that, they rely upon theory yet theory is static; most programs get altered with time. Some issues such as power struggles and conflict may not be taken into account during program evaluation yet they influence program outcome. Lastly, unexpected consequences may also be disregarded in evaluation yet the possibility of their occurrence is quite high (Aken, 2006).

One of the major advantages of action research is that this form of research allows for problem solving in a progressive and practical manner. Consequently, it challenges conventional researches done by external members and instead promotes active inquiry into practical matters. Besides that, action research also embraces the fact that knowledge can sometimes be experiential in that there is feedback that a researcher can get from the participants. Some of the major disadvantages include the fact that researchers may focus too much on the participants than the research question. Also, organizational and societal transformation is often difficult to consider in a research dwelling on instrumental goals. Lastly, action research sharply divides personal research, team research and scholarly research thus minimizing applicability of these various forms all in one study (Hodkinson, 2004).


Social and behavioral research is largely governed by research philosophies. Here, researchers need to determine which philosophies will meet their goals accurately. Constructivism contains elements of scientific realism. All research designs need to have a purpose that then determines what the hypothesis and research questions will become. Literature reviews should be analytical and assumptions, limitations and delimitations can influence the overall validity, usability and reliability of research. Program evaluation methods refer to systematic assessment of program outcomes while action research entails participation of the researcher in the study.


  1. Conceicao, S. (2006). Faculty lived experiences in the online environment. Adult Education Quarterly. 57(1), 26-45
  2. Macgillivray, I. & Jennings, T. (2008). A content analysis exploring lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender topics in foundations of education textbooks. Journal of teacher education, 59(2), 170-191
  3. Tansley, D., Larae, J., Haase, R. & Martens, M. (2007). The Effects of Message framing on college students’ career decision making. Career Assessment Journal, 15, 301-318
  4. Murray, J., Anderson, P. & Olivarez, A. (2002). The Managerial roles of public community college chief academic officers. Community College review, 30(1), 1-27
  5. Gadamer, H. (1999). Truth and method. NY: Crossroad Publishers
  6. Garreau, J. (2005). Radical Evolution – what it means to be human. NY: Double day Publications
  7. Whitehead, J. (1993). Growth of educational knowledge. Bournemoth: Hyde Publishers
  8. Hodkinson, P. (2004). Research as a form of work. British Education Journal, 30(1),26
  9. Aken, J. (2006). Management research as a form of design science, British Management Journal 4(5), 99
  10. Worren, N & Elliot, R. (2002). When theories become tools. Journal of Human relations, 55(9), 122

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