Social Research

Fourth edition

by Sotirios Sarantakos

Chapter 6 - Initiating Social Research

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Educational objectives
After completing this chapter, you will:
  1. have knowledge of the process of choosing and refining the research topic, so that it is effectively addressed in the inquiry;
  2. be fully informed of the process of operationalisation and its significance for social research;
  3. be able to conduct an exploratory study and justify its place in social research;
  4. have a clear understanding of the structure and purpose of hypotheses, and be able to justify their place in quantitative and qualitative research;
  5. have a critical awareness of the purpose of the steps of research preparation for the research project and social research in general.


  1. Selection of the research question
  2. Selection of the research methodology
  3. Methodological construction of the research topic
  4. Definition of the topic
  5. Exploration
  6. Operationalisation
  7. Multiple operationalism: Triangulation
  8. Formulation of hypotheses

Points to remember

The following are the major points introduced in this chapter. Ensure that you are very confident with their meaning, content, context and significance.
  1. Research initiation entails the selection of methodology, the selection and definition of the research topic, the decision to conduct an exploratory study, operationalisation and formulation of hypotheses.
  2. The research topic is usually chosen by the researcher but it can also be determined by social circumstances or the sponsor.
  3. Most issues are researchable.
  4. The choice of methodology varies with a number of factors, of which the personal choice of the researcher and the nature of the topic are two.
  5. Defining the research topic before the research has begun is a common practice and also imperative for quantitative social researchers but not for qualitative researchers.
  6. Exploratory studies involve review of literature, expert surveys and analysis of case studies.
  7. The goals of exploratory studies are to establish feasibility of the study, to familiarise the researcher with the research topic and the respondents, to bring new ideas to the research, and to facilitate operationalisation and the formulation of hypotheses.
  8. Operationalisation is the process of quantifying variables for the purpose of measuring their occurrence, strength and frequency.
  9. The process of operationalisation entails selection and quantification of indicators, and quantification of the variable.
  10. The rules of operationalisation are the rule of empirical relevance, the rule of correspondence, the rule of empirical adequacy and the rule of quantification.
  11. Qualitative researchers do not use operationalisation; instead they use 'sensitising concepts'.
  12. A hypothesis is an assumption about the status of events or about relations between variables.
  13. Hypotheses are expected to adhere to certain rules, for example, to be clear, specific, precise and empirically testable; must describe one issue at a time; and must not contain statements that are contradictory.
  14. There are many types of hypotheses, for example, working hypotheses, statistical hypotheses, research hypotheses, null hypotheses, alternative hypotheses and scientific hypotheses.
  15. Qualitative researchers accept the use of hypotheses but employ them in a different context.

Short-answer questions

Answer each question carefully (there is no need to write down the answer). Consult your Social Research text when your memory fails you or when you are in doubt about the accuracy of your responses.
  1. What are factors that can limit the choice of topics in social research?
  2. How can social reality influence the choice of a research question?
  3. In what ways can contract research influence the choice of the research topic and the quality of social research in general?
  4. What are the implications of persons other than the researcher controlling the choice of research topics for social research in general and for academics in particular?
  5. What is the purpose of the step 'methodological construction of the topic'?
  6. What does a formal definition of the topic entail?
  7. What is meant by 'exploration' in social research?
  8. How important is the step 'defining variables' for quantitative and qualitative researchers?
  9. How relevant for qualitative research are exploratory studies as described in this chapter?
  10. What are the types of exploratory research?
  11. Discuss briefly the purpose and structure of the types of exploratory studies.
  12. Give a brief definition and description of operationalisation.
  13. What does the process of operationalisation entail?
  14. Define the essence and purpose of indicators in social research.
  15. What are the general rules that guide operationalisation?
  16. Explain the rule of empirical relevance.
  17. What is meant by the rule of empirical adequacy?
  18. What does the rule of quantification involve and what is its purpose?
  19. Explain how indicators are selected.
  20. Do qualitative researchers employ operationalisation?
  21. What are the main objections qualitative researchers have to operationalisation?
  22. Why is operationalisation considered by qualitative researchers as inadequate, incomplete and subjective?
  23. What is triangulation and what is its purpose?
  24. What are the major types of triangulation?
  25. Which types of research employ triangulation; the quantitative or the qualitative research?
  26. What are the strengths of triangulation and what its weaknesses?
  27. What is a hypothesis?
  28. What are the criteria of hypothesis construction?
  29. In what ways can hypotheses be generated?
  30. Are hypotheses required in social research? Are they useful? If yes, why?
  31. What are the major types of hypotheses?
  32. What are working hypotheses and where are they mainly used?
  33. What are the functions of hypotheses?
  34. In what ways can the use of hypotheses limit the process and effects of social research?
  35. If you were a qualitative researcher, how would you criticise the use of hypotheses?
  36. If you were a quantitative researcher how would you defend the use of hypotheses in social research?
  37. What is the nature and purpose of literature review?

Fill-in questions

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True/false questions

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Multiple choice questions

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Practical exercises

  1. Assume that you were to study 'feminism' in a country town. Explain briefly:
    a) how you would approach this issue conceptually;
    b) how you would 'measure' feminism, if you employed a quantitative methodology?
    c) how you would address feminism, if you employed a qualitative methodology?
  2. Formulate three hypotheses to be employed in a quantitative study of the relationship between television viewing and the incidence of rape.