1.2.1 Introduction Researching the Real World is about how to do social research. It draws heavily on sociological traditions but also addresses other disciplines, economics, education, business, psychology and health. These are referred to collectively as 'social sciences' for ease of presentation.
The Guide takes a practical approach, setting research processes in a context of real research. It shows you how to investigate the social world so as to develop your sociological understanding. The Guide is based on the view that practical, problem-solving is the best way to learn.
The Guide is organised around the main approaches to data collection: observation, in-depth interviews, documents and literature search, content analysis, semiology and discourse analysis, secondary statistical data, social surveys and experiments. Each of these is explored using examples of substantive real world research (from social science, business, health, education, psychology, economics).
The first part sets out some Basics, with which you ultimately need to be familiar. The second part, Orientations, outlines three distinct approaches to researching the social world, positivist, phenomenological and critical. It is useful, in reviewing the different approaches explained in the following chapters, if you are also familiar with these three approaches. However, the book can also be used as a guide to specific methods and techniques by dipping into the appropriate chapters. All references to the basics and the approaches are cross-referenced in the other chapters. Most of the remaining parts explore particular methods and sets them in a wider methodological context as well as explaining the mechanics of data collection and analysis.
All parts of the Guide have a numerical reference that begins with the main part number and then the sections and sub-subsections. So, section 3.2 would be the second section of part 3. Section 3.2.3 would be the third subsection of section 2 of part 3, and so on.
The Guide also links to a substantial Social Research Glossary that lists and explains all the sociological concepts and theories referred to in the book. This is provided so that users can easily cross-refer to the concepts (via hyperlinks in the electronic version) if they are unaware or unsure of the ideas being discussed.
Both the Guide and the Glossary are dynamic, with additional examples and methodological developments being added continuously.
1.2.2 Study skills In addition, the Guide also provides assistance in developing study skills to aid understanding; including literature researches and reviews, using the internet, critiquing an article, proposal writing/planning and report writing.
1.2.3 Practical activities Apart from providing some insights into study skills, the Guide suggests activities, providing both a clear indication of the likely time required to undertake them, and the attributes that are intended to be developed. In this respect, Researching the Real World is unique.
The activities are designed to help you explore different aspects of social research. In all, there are over one hundred suggested student activities throughout the Guide. It is unlikely that you will have the time to attempt them all but they provide indicators of what an action approach to learning sociology might involve.
1.2.4 Further reading Each Section links to the Social Research Glossary, which has comprehensive references. In addition, all texts referred to in the Guide have hyperlinks to the publication details in References and all references have links to where they are cited in the text. Again this is a unique feature of the Guide.
Recent texts are complemented by older texts that have stood the test of time as well as by some classic studies.
Where possible we also include material that is available on websites through hyperlinks, especially in the Social Research Glossary. The problem with website references, though, is that sites often change, material is relocated or access is limited. This means that, unlike a book, which has a constant reference, even if it goes out of print, internet-based material often disappears. The websites links in this Guide also include the date they were accessed by the authors.
The full set of references in alphabetical order can be found here.