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Project Planning for the Beginner: Home

This Sage Research Methods tool is designed for the first time researcher to guide you through your research project.

Overview and Philosophy of Research

Research is used to find things out, reaffirm the results of previous work, solve new or existing problems, support existing theories, or develop new theories. A research project may also be an expansion on previous work in the field. In order to test the validity of instruments, procedures, or experiments, research may replicate elements of prior projects, or the project as a whole. The primary purposes of research are documentation, discovery and interpretation, or the research and development of methods and systems for the advancement of knowledge.

Research has one fundamental characteristic: It uses scientific methods to produce evidence and results. It does this by following rules, so that findings do not depend upon the personal views of the researchers.

The purpose of research is to:  Review or synthesize existing knowledge, Investigate existing situations or problems, Provide solutions to problems, Explore and analize general issues, Construct or create new procedures or systems, Explain new phenomena, Generate new knowledge or a combination of any of the above.

Are There Disciplinary Traditions I Should Know About?

You are doing research in the social sciences, but, as you know, there are a number of different social sciences which have different traditions and ways of working. It’s important that you are aware of the research traditions in your discipline and understand the implications for your research. Different disciplines may approach the investigation of the social world with:

• Distinctive theoretical foundations

• Specific programs or topics for research

• Particular research methods

Disciplines include, for example, Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, and Political Science.

Of course, much research is also inter-disciplinary in its approach. For example Business, Education, Social Policy, or Urban Studies may draw on theories and methods from a range of disciplines.

While you will need to familiarize yourself with the research method currently used in your discipline, it’s also good to know about some of the methods used in related disciplines. Here are some of the traditional approaches used in a selection of social science disciplines.

• Psychology: experimental work which generates quantitative data

• Anthropology: fieldwork based on ethnography

• Political Science/Politics: survey research

Many of these approaches have been challenged in recent years. When you come to write up your research, you may wish to do the same. You should also be aware that different research styles are favored in different countries. It is also common to deploy different methods in one piece of research—this is called the mixedmethods approach.

Things to Think About Before You Start Your Research

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you start your research, as you will have theoretical and practical things to work out.

  • Have you clearly worked out the general area you want to investigate?
  • Are you interested enough in your area of research? You will need the motivation to get started, keep going, and finish the job!
  • How have other social scientists addressed your topic?  You will need to use this knowledge to develop a set of researchable questions which will interest you and your future readers.
  • Can you get access to the field? You’ll need to work out how easy it will be to get access to the people, the materials, and the social context you’ll need to carry out your research.
  • Do you have enough time to carry out your research? You’ll need time to carry out your project, probably more than you think. You may find it helpful to look at times in the year when work or family commitments need to take priority.
  • Can you work out a timetable for your research?  At this stage it will be a rough plan, but you’ll find it helpful to break your work into blocks.
  • Do you have all the equipment you will need?  Think forward to data collection and analysis and think about what equipment and software you’ll need and whether you have access to it.
  •  Do you require any money or funding to complete your research? Find out if you will need to pay for resources, including the time of other people.
  • Do you have access to the resources? You should check that the library has access to the journal articles and other sources you are likely to need or are able to organize inter-library loans for you.  
  • Will you have adequate support throughout your research project?  You’ll need professional support and guidance from your supervisor and colleagues. Remember to keep friends and family in the picture, too, for practical help and support at home.                                                                     

What Research Traditions Exist in My Discipline

You may choose to work entirely within the methods and traditions of your chosen discipline or you may wish to challenge them. However, you should take time to decide which is the right approach for you.

1. Familiarize yourself with the traditions and methods of your own discipline/field. You can do this by talking to your supervisor or reading published research in your field.

2. Question whether the traditions or methods are appropriate for your research.

3. If you are comfortable with the tradition, work within it.

4. If not, decide how you wish to challenge the traditional approach. Think about how you will defend your decision when you present your research to others

Find out more