Understanding the Research Process


Paul Oliver

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Text Size

  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Copyright

    View Copyright Page

    About the Author

    Paul Oliver is a principal lecturer in the School of Education and Professional Development at the University of Huddersfield. He is currently course leader for the Doctor of Education programme. As such he teaches social science research methods, and supervises doctoral research students. His own doctorate was in the area of religious studies, and he also teaches that subject at first degree and postgraduate levels. He has written books in the areas of philosophy, comparative religion and research methods. A previous book for SAGE was Writing Your Thesis (2008, 2nd edn). His books have been translated into seven languages.


    This book is designed to help you understand the process of social science and educational research, by exploring the nature of the terminology used in research. Most academic subjects have developed a specialist terminology to employ when discussing their ideas and concepts. Very often the majority of that terminology has been developed within the parameters of that subject. In some cases, however, where a subject area is inter-disciplinary or multidisciplinary, terms are drawn from a range of subject areas. This is true of social science research, which employs terminology from a range of single disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, sociology and mathematics. Where social science research methods are then applied to a discipline such as education, further terms are sometimes introduced from that subject. The same is true where research methods are applied to management studies or social work for example. There are various consequences which derive from this situation.

    The first consequence is perhaps that this diversity of terms makes the subject of research methods very interesting and stimulating. The synthesis of ideas and concepts drawn from such a broad area results in a discipline which is very diverse and which can be applied in very many different situations. On the other hand, there are some consequences which can sometimes cause slight difficulties. The integration of terms from a wide range of subject areas can occasionally create confusion for students and researchers. Perhaps even more complicated is a situation where there exist different terms in different disciplines for approximately the same idea. This can be very confusing for students when reading textbooks and journal articles, or listening to lectures. Moreover, it is not always easy to understand exactly how to employ terms. Some concepts may be used to express a degree of certainty about something, whereas other concepts may express the provisional nature of reality. Students and researchers need to acquire linguistic skills to use with different types of research concepts. In addition, whatever the original discipline studied by a student, they need to develop a basic competence in subjects such as sociology and philosophy in order to be able write effectively about social science research methods.

    Having outlined the situation, I hope that this book will help you to do some or all of the following. It should help you to use the specialist terminology of social science research in an appropriate context. It should also help you to understand the meaning of research terms, and to distinguish between the appropriate and inappropriate uses of research terminology. Finally, the book should help you in writing lucidly about research topics, and to disseminate your own research in a good academic and scholarly style.

    The book tries to achieve this by identifying as many as possible of the key words and terms which are employed in social science research. These are then grouped into thematic areas such as ‘the scientific method’ or ‘questions of ethics’. These themes form the basis of the chapters of the book. At the beginning of each chapter you will find a list of the key terms discussed in that chapter. It is perhaps worth pointing out that it is generally preferable to avoid defining research terms as if we could summarize them in a brief dictionary-style definition. These are usually far too complex to define in such a succinct way. If we try to do so, we will often lose much of the subtlety and nuance of a term. It is far better to look at examples of the way terms are actually used. In this way we can begin to get a feeling for the sense and meaning of a term. To this end, the book cites many examples of journal articles in which you will find practical examples of the use of concepts. I hope that you find this book useful, and that it helps you to make progress with your studies and research.

  • References

    Allan, H.T. (2006) ‘Using participant observation to immerse oneself in the field’, Journal of Research in Nursing, 11 (5): 397–407. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1744987106068345
    Anagnostou, Y. (2009) ‘A critique of symbolic ethnicity: the ideology of choice?’, Ethnicities, 9 (1): 94–140. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1468796808099906
    Apple, M.W. (2008) ‘Can schooling contribute to a more Just society?’, Education, Citizenship and Social Justice, 3 (3): 239–261. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1746197908095134
    Bahre, E. (2007) ‘Reluctant solidarity: death, urban poverty and neighbourly assistance in South Africa’, Ethnography, 8 (1): 33–59. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1466138107076136
    Berger, P.L. and Luckmann, T. (1967) The Social Construction of Reality. Harmondsworth: Penguin. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/105649260093005
    Bowen, D. (2002) ‘Research through participant observation in Tourism: a creative solution to the measurement of consumer satisfaction/dissatisfaction (CS/D) among tourists’, Journal of Travel Research, 41 (1): 4–14. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0047287502041001002
    Boyd, D. et al. (2008) ‘Surveying the landscape of teacher education in New York City: constrained variation and the challenge of innovation’, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 30 (4): 319–343. http://dx.doi.org/10.3102/0162373708322737
    Bryman, A. (2006) ‘Integrating quantitative and qualitative research: how is it done?’, Qualitative Research, 6 (1): 97–113. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1468794106058877
    Bulterman-Bos, J.A. (2008) ‘Will a clinical approach make educational research more relevant for practice?’, Educational Researcher, 37 (7): 412–420. http://dx.doi.org/10.3102/0013189X08325555
    Cain, D.J. (2003) ‘Advancing humanistic psychology and psychotherapy: some challenges and proposed solutions’, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 43 (3): 10–41. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0022167803043003003
    Calloni, M. (ed.) (2003) ‘Feminism, politics, theories and science: which new link?’, The European Journal of Women's Studies, 10 (1): 87–103.
    Calvey, D. (2008) ‘The art and politics of covert research’, Sociology, 42 (5): 905–918. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0038038508094569
    Carolan, M.S. (2008) ‘The bright- and blind-spots of science: why objective knowledge is not enough to resolve environmental controversies’, Critical Sociology, 34 (5): 725–740. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0896920508093365
    Chandra, K. and Wilkinson, S. (2008) ‘Measuring the effect of “ethnicity”’, Comparative Political Studies, 41 (4/5): 515–563. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0010414007313240
    Chiapello, E. (2003) ‘Reconciling the two principal meanings of the notion of ideology: the example of the concept of the “spirit of capitalism”’, European Journal of Social Theory, 6 (2): 155–171. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1368431003006002001
    Clough, P. and Nutbrown, C. (2002) A Student's Guide to Methodology. London: SAGE.
    Cook, T.D. (2002) ‘Randomized experiments in educational policy research: a critical examination of the reasons the educational evaluation community has offered for not doing them’, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 24 (3): 175–199. http://dx.doi.org/10.3102/01623737024003175
    Cook, T.D. (2003) ‘Why have educational evaluators chosen not to do randomized experiments?’, The Annals, 589 (1): 114–149.
    Crandall, C.S. and Schaller, M. (2001) ‘Social psychology and the pragmatic conduct of science’, Theory and Psychology, 11 (4): 479–488. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0959354301114003
    Darbyshire, P., Macdougall, C. and Schiller, W. (2005) ‘Multiple methods in qualitative research with children: more insight or Just more?’, Qualitative Research, 5 (4): 417–436. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1468794105056921
    Delorme, D.E., Kreshel, P.J. and Reid, L.N. (2003) ‘Lighting up: young adults' autobiographical accounts of their first smoking experiences’, Youth and Society, 34 (4): 468–496. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0044118X03034004004
    Diaz-Laplante, J. (2007) ‘Humanistic psychology and social transformation: building the path toward a livable today and a Just tomorrow’, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 47 (1): 54–72. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0022167806293002
    Dobles, I. (1999) ‘Marxism, ideology and psychology’, Theory and Psychology, 9 (3): 407–410. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0959354399093010
    Duckett, P., Sixsmith, J. and Kagan, C. (2008) ‘Researching pupil well-being in UK secondary schools’, Childhood, 15 (1): 89–106. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0907568207086838
    Enslin, P. (2003) ‘Liberal feminism, diversity and education’, Theory and Research in Education, 1 (1): 73–87. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1477878503001001005
    Eskelinen, L. and Caswell, D. (2006) ‘Comparison of social work practice in teams using a video vignette technique in a multi-method design’, Qualitative Social Work, 5 (4): 489–503. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1473325006070291
    Ezeh, P-J., (2003) ‘Participant observation’, Qualitative Research, 3 (2): 191–205. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/14687941030032003
    Farrington, D.P. (2003) ‘A short history of randomized experiments in criminology’, Evaluation Review, 27 (3): 218–227. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0193841X03027003002
    Fjellstrom, M. (2008) ‘A learner-focused evaluation strategy: developing medical education through a deliberative dialogue with stakeholders’, Evaluation, 14 (1): 91–106. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1356389007084678
    Furman, R., Langer, C.L., Davis, C.S., Gallardo, H.P. and Kulkarni, S. (2007) ‘Expressive, research and reflective poetry as qualitative inquiry: a study of adolescent identity’, Qualitative Research, 7 (3): 301–315. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1468794107078511
    Fook, J. (2002) ‘Theorizing from practice: towards an inclusive approach for social work research’, Qualitative Social Work, 1 (1): 79–95.
    Galvin, K. and Carr, E. (2003) ‘The emergence of professional doctorates in nursing in the UK: where are we now?’, Journal of Research in Nursing, 8 (4): 293–307. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/136140960300800407
    Gambaudo, S.A. (2007) ‘French Feminism vs Anglo-American Feminism: a reconstruction’, European Journal of Women's Studies, 14 (2): 93–108. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1350506807075816
    Garland, D. (2006) ‘Concepts of culture in the sociology of punishment’, Theoretical Criminology, 10 (4): 419–447. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1362480606068873
    Gerber, A.S. (2004) ‘Does campaign spending work? Field experiments provide evidence and suggest new theory’, American Behavioral Scientist, 47 (5): 541–574. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0002764203260415
    Giorgi, A. (2005) ‘Remaining challenges for humanistic psychology’, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 45 (2): 204–216. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0022167804274361
    Green, D.P. and Gerber, A.S. (2003) ‘The underprovision of experiments in political science’, The Annals, 589 (1): 94–112.
    Harnois, C.E. (2005) ‘Different paths to different feminisms? Bridging multiracial feminist theory and quantitative sociological gender research’, Gender and Society, 19 (6): 809–828. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0891243205280026
    Hayes, B.C. et al. (2000) ‘Gender, postmaterialism, and feminism in comparative perspective’, International Political Science Review, 21 (4): 425–439. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0192512100214006
    Hill, D.B. (2006) ‘Theory in applied social psychology’, Theory and Psychology, 16 (5): 613–640. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0959354306067440
    Joy, M. (2005) ‘Humanistic psychology and animal rights: reconsidering the boundaries of the humanistic ethic’, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 45 (1): 106–130. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0022167804272628
    Kuhn, T.S. (1996) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (
    3rd edn
    ). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
    Leskelä-Kärki, M. (2008) ‘Narrating life stories in between the fictional and the autobiographical’, Qualitative Research, 8 (3): 325–332.
    Lillis, T. (2008) ‘Ethnography as method, methodology, and ‘deep theorizing’: closing the gap between text and context in academic writing research’, Written Communication, 25 (3): 353–388. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0741088308319229
    Lugosi, P. (2006) ‘Between overt and covert research’, Qualitative Inquiry, 12 (3): 541–561. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1077800405282801
    Mahtani, M. (2002) ‘What's in a name? Exploring the employment of ‘mixed race’ as an identification’, Ethnicities, 2 (4): 469–490. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/14687968020020040201
    Maner, J.K. et al. (2007) ‘Power, risk and the status quo: does power promote riskier or more conservative decision making?’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33 (4): 451–462. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0146167206297405
    Manning, P.K. (2001) ‘Theorizing policing: the drama and myth of crime control in the NYPD’, Theoretical Criminology, 5 (3): 315–344. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1362480601005003002
    Markowitz, F. (2004) ‘Talking about culture: globalization, human rights and anthropology’, Anthropological Theory, 4 (3): 329–352. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1463499604045568
    Mason, J. (2002) Qualitative Researching. London: SAGE.
    May, V. (2008) ‘On being a ‘good’ mother: the moral presentation of self in written life stories’, Sociology, 42 (3): 470–486. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0038038508088836
    McMurray, A.J. (2006) ‘Teaching action research: the role of demographics’, Active Learning in Higher Education, 7 (1): 37–50. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1469787406061146
    McNamara, P. (2009) ‘Feminist ethnography: storytelling that makes a difference’, Qualitative Social Work, 8 (2): 161–177. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1473325009103373
    McQuillan, P.J. (2005) ‘Possibilities and pitfalls: a comparative analysis of student empowerment’, American Educational Research Journal, 42 (4): 639–670. http://dx.doi.org/10.3102/00028312042004639
    Moore, K.S. (2008) ‘Class formations: Competing forms of black middle-class identity’, Ethnicities, 8(4): 492–517. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1468796808097075
    Nemeroff, T. (2008) ‘Generating the power for development through sustained dialogue: an experience from rural South Africa’, Action Research, 6 (2): 213–232. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1476750307087053
    Nickerson, D.W. (2006) ‘Volunteer phone calls can increase turnout: evidence from eight field experiments’, American Politics Research, 34 (3): 271–292. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1532673X05275923
    Pager, D. (2007) ‘The use of field experiments for studies of employment discrimination: contributions, critiques, and directions for the future’, The Annals, 609 (1): 104–133.
    Rae, A.M. and Cochrane, D.K. (2008) ‘Listening to students: how to make written assessment feedback useful’, Learning in Higher Education, 9 (3): 217–230. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1469787408095847
    Rigakos, G.S. and Law, A. (2009) ‘Risk, realism and the politics of resistance’, Critical Sociology, 35 (1): 79–103. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0896920508098658
    Rolfe, E. (2008) ‘Refugee, minority, citizen, threat: Tibetans and the Indian refugee script’, South Asia Research, 28 (3): 253–283. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/026272800802800302
    Sa'ar, A. (2005) ‘Postcolonial feminism, the politics of identification, and the Liberal bargain’, Gender and Society, 19 (5): 680–700. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0891243205278405
    Savage, J. (2006) ‘Ethnographic evidence: the value of applied ethnography in healthcare’, Journal of Research in Nursing, 11 (5): 383–393. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1744987106068297
    Schiele, J.H. (2005) ‘Cultural oppression and the high-risk status of African Americans’, Journal of Black Studies, 35 (6): 802–826. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0021934704265560
    Shah, H. and Nah, S. (2004) ‘Long ago and far away: how US newspapers construct racial oppression’, Journalism, 5 (3): 259–278. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1464884904041659
    Shulman, L.S., Golde, C.M., Bueschel, A.C. and Garabedian, K.J. (2006) ‘Reclaiming education's doctorates: a critique and a proposal’, Educational Researcher, 35 (3): 25–32. http://dx.doi.org/10.3102/0013189X035003025
    Smart, A. et al. (2008) ‘The standardization of race and ethnicity in biomedical science editorials and UK biobanks’, Social Studies of Science, 38 (3): 407–423. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0306312707083759
    Somech, A. (2005) ‘Teachers' personal and team empowerment and their relations to organizational outcomes: contradictory or compatible constructs?’, Educational Administration Quarterly, 41 (2): 237–266. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0013161X04269592
    Stam, H.J. (2006) ‘Introduction: reclaiming the social in social psychology’, Theory and Psychology, 16 (5): 587–595. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0959354306067445
    Sundstrom, R.R. (2002) ‘Race as a human kind’, Philosophy and Social Criticism, 28 (1): 91–115. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0191453702028001592
    Tate, W.F. (2008) ‘“Geography of opportunity”: poverty, place and educational outcomes’, Educational Researcher, 37 (7): 397–411. http://dx.doi.org/10.3102/0013189X08326409
    Tonnelat, S. (2008) ‘“Out of frame”: The (in)visible life of urban interstices - a case study in Charenton-le-Pont, Paris, France’, Ethnography, 9 (3): 291–324. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1466138108094973
    Van Dijke, M. and Poppe, M. (2007) ‘Motivations underlying power dynamics in hierarchically structured groups’, Small Group Research, 38 (6): 643–669. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1046496407304339
    Vaughan, D. (2004) ‘Theorizing disaster: analogy, historical ethnography, and the Challenger accident’, Ethnography, 5 (3): 315–347. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1466138104045659
    Veltri, B.T. (2008) ‘Teaching or service? The site-based realities of Teach for America teachers in poor, urban schools’, Education and Urban Society, 40 (5): 511–542. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0013124508319281
    Voils, C.I., Sandelowski, M., Barroso, J. and Hasselblad, V. (2008) ‘Making sense of qualitative and quantitative findings in mixed research synthesis studies’, Field Methods, 20 (1): 3–25. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1525822X07307463
    Vrasti, W. (2008) ‘The strange case of ethnography and international relations’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 37 (2): 279–301. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0305829808097641
    Walliman, N. (2006) Social Research Methods. London: SAGE.

    • Loading...
Back to Top

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website