Social Research Methods and Research Practices > Social Research Methods

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Good background research enables researchers to clarify their thinking regarding their research question and its context in the work of others. It can support the importance, necessity, or relevance of research and enables researchers to find and develop their own standpoint. After a brief introduction, this chapter describes the similarities and differences between document reviews for workplace research and literature reviews for academic research. The importance of good record-keeping is discussed and advice on when and how to read critically or strategically is provided. Ways to find useful academic journal articles are outlined and information is given about how to conduct document reviews and literature reviews. This is followed by information on finding open access materials, using libraries, making notes and knowing when to stop! The chapter concludes with an update of the case studies followed by exercises, discussion questions and a debate topic.

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Doing, and using, research is on the increase in public services. Researchers and practitioners need to learn about research techniques and processes so they can understand and make effective use of research in their work, whether or not they are actually conducting research. It is the author’s hope that this book will benefit anybody involved in research in the public services, whether that is part of their paid employment, volunteer work or study. This chapter provides a conclusion to the book and summarises the key points made in the earlier chapters of the book including a list of best practice actions that researchers should take in order to produce good quality, useful research.

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The point of disseminating the results of research or evaluation is to share the knowledge gained through the process. Dissemination is not easy but there is no point in doing research if no-one finds out what was discovered. This chapter begins with guidance on how to produce a summary followed by an outline of the barriers to disseminating research, advice on presenting in person and some key points about sharing findings online. There is a brief overview of data visualisation methods then the advantages and disadvantages of different methods of dissemination are discussed. The similarities and differences of workplace and academic research are presented, followed by a discussion of the ethics of dissemination. The chapter concludes with an update of the case studies followed by exercises, discussion questions and a debate topic.

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Most people do – or commission, or fund – research because they want to create positive change in the world. This is, ultimately, what research is for. The chapter starts with an overview of the potential impacts of research and the ways in which research evidence can be used to guide policy. Implementation is covered next and includes a discussion of potential barriers and how to create an effective implementation strategy. A section on knowledge exchange explores the ways that research and practice can influence each other to produce progressively better results. The recent move towards a more holistic way of undertaking research is then discussed introducing the terms ‘knowledge translation’ and ‘knowledge mobilisation’. The chapter concludes with an update of the case studies followed by exercises, discussion questions and a debate topic.

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This chapter introduces the book by looking at the role of the researcher and examining the skills and characteristics that make a good one. It discusses the various reasons for doing research and includes a comparison of insider and outsider research. Some of the issues that can arise in managing or commissioning research are explored, such as establishing research aims, identifying suitable methods and methodology, allocating resources and project communication. There is a short discussion of the terminology used in the book and more generally in the field of social research. An overview of the changes introduced in this third edition is provided and the chapter concludes with an outline of the book, an introduction to the two case studies that run through the book, plus exercises, discussion questions and a debate topic.

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Building a research project on a solid foundation is vital for success. This chapter discusses ways to manage the research process in the context of everything else going on in a researcher’s life and is presented alongside a lot of advice from practitioners who are experienced in research. Firstly, the essential steps of planning and organisation are discussed in detail. This is followed by an overview of time management principles. The pros and cons of receiving support for research from employers are outlined, which includes a discussion of the types of support that may be available. The need for researchers to reward and look after themselves, as they undertake their research, is emphasised. This is followed by a summary of what works – and what doesn’t work – when managing research. The chapter concludes with an update of the case studies followed by exercises, discussion questions and a debate topic.

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Methodology, methods, approaches, theory and research questions form the building blocks of social research, but confusion exists around exactly what they are and how they are used in research. The chapter begins by clarifying the distinctions between methods, methodologies and approaches, then describes positivist, realist, constructionist, interpretivist and transformative methodologies. The terms ‘ontology’ and ‘epistemology’ are explained after which a table maps the ontological and epistemological views and suitable methods for each of the methodologies described earlier. Action, evaluation, mixed methods, arts-based and digitally mediated research approaches are outlined followed by a discussion of the role of theory and the links between research, theory and practice. The chapter concludes with an update of the case studies followed by exercises, discussion questions and a debate topic.

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Everyone involved in or using research needs a grasp of the overall process and the different kinds of research available. This chapter commences by describing the differences and similarities between quantitative and qualitative research and discusses how these approaches may be used exclusively or, more likely, combined to help researchers to address their research question. This is followed by a discussion of the pros and cons of doing research alone or with others. An overview of participatory research and participatory action research is provided which highlights the roles and different types of service users. This is complemented by a set of questions that can be used by researchers to determine whether and/or how to involve participants in research. Next, the chapter outlines some highly time-consuming methods and concludes with an update of the case studies followed by exercises, discussion questions and a debate topic.

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The collection of data is an essential step of research and has implications for the whole project. Too much data can become unwieldy and difficult to analyse while too little can lead to poor research. This chapter guides the researcher in deciding how much data is needed and describes some of the most common conventional methods for primary data collection. It begins by examining the collection of quantitative data using counting, measuring and questionnaires. The pros and cons of questionnaires are listed along with tips for using questionnaires as a research method. Next, qualitative data collection methods are covered including an examination of the use of interviews, focus groups, documents and observation to gather data. Pros and cons, best practice and tips are provided for each method. The chapter closes with an update of the case studies followed by exercises, discussion questions and a debate topic.

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Creative methods of collecting data draw on the imagination of participants and researchers. There are myriad options available and as this chapter can only cover a few it tries to demonstrate the diversity on offer by presenting a range of examples. The chapter points out that all methods were once considered ‘creative’ and warns against the use of creative methods for their own sake. The creative data collection methods described are: online; smartphones; enhanced interviews and focus groups; diaries, field notes, journals and logs; visual data; mapping; mobile methods; case studies and collaborative methods. Each method is described in detail, and a list of pros and cons provided, to help guide and inspire researchers in the use of creative methods to address their specific research question. The chapter closes with an update of the case studies followed by exercises, discussion questions and a debate topic.

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