Some people consider that social sciences provide bookish knowledge; hence it is pedantry and insignificant to practice (day-to day or work) life. This misconception may be correct because those Pakistani authors’ who work within the social sciences less more or relies on intuition than empirical research. Regrettably, research in the social sciences is still considered analogous to writing a poetry, drama or fiction. This writer could not swallow information when a quite young MBA, teacher-cum-drama producer, told that a book was being under process on “Marketing in Pakistan” by him. The information was inconceivable how a person who had never conducted research or published anything on the topic could write a book on such a broad topic.

In the modern world, research has become a very structured and methodical activity since the movement of positivism, which stresses objectivism. This movement has made research in social sciences a cumbersome and tiring activity that researchers go through during their research. The theories that we read in the books or research papers, mostly written by the Western researchers and scholars, are not developed in a vacuum but a scientific research approach is followed to unravel the truth related to social phenomena. The students and common people, who naively think that research in social sciences can be conducted while sitting in cozy drawing rooms or inference and deduction can be drawn from intuition, are simply wrong. An eye bird view how research is conducted is given below for those who still think that a social science is a ‘science of hunch.’

In social science research, literature review is a starting point, which means reading relevant research work of others to the issue in hand. Reviewing literature is not a casual activity rather it is an activity of studying others’ research systematically and carefully. It not only improves researchers’ insight about the phenomena but provides opportunities with to pin point the issues and variables that were either inadequately addressed or ignored in the research. A new research project cannot be taken until it promises that it, one way or the other, enhances existing knowledge. Even in the case of replication, a researcher must inform why it is deemed necessary to emulate the existing research. It is literature review that provides grounds for the hypothesis (a statement or a theory, which is yet to be tested) and generally takes between 6-12 months to complete depending upon the topic. For example, a statement, “all students from affluent background are more confident’ carries not weight unless it is substantiated with data, which is collected following principles of the research.

Once hypothesis is raised, the next step is to design methodology. Methodology means the way data will be collected and analyzed. There are different ways to collect data including close or open-ended questionnaire, standard test, interviews, study of achieves, experiment, a case study and so on. Which of the methods is more appropriate depends upon the hypothesis. Similarly, Qualitative or quantitative methods are typically used to analyze the data. It is not so much matter whether the collected data supports or rejects the hypothesis; what is more important is the methodology that a researcher employs to reach the results. It is highly stressed that a faulty methodology can blemish the objectivity of the research or/and distort the reality; if it happens, in any way, it will lose its importance and credibility. Another important point that social scientists must avoid is ‘researcher bias’, which means that a research should not be influenced by researcher’s own values, morals and thoughts.

Mind it that research in social sciences might be more difficult in some ways than research in natural and rational sciences because social scientists are dealing with human beings. In social sciences research, it is not an easy task to find volunteers to participate in research as a respondent or subject. It is against the research ethics that people would be offered heavy inducements to get them interested in research. Another crucial point in research is to control contingency factors that influence honest opinions and natural reactions of the participants. If contingency factors are not controlled, results can be objected on the grounds of validity and reliability. Since social scientists are dealing with human beings, directly or indirectly, they have to strictly follow the guidelines of research ethics, which further makes social sciences research difficult.

Last but not least, the research in the social sciences is not only a hectic activity but also consume a lot of financial resources including expenses of stationary, postage, copying, travelling, unlimited access to computing facilities and reading material and other miscellaneous expenses. So when so much human energy and financial resources are involved, it is naïve to argue that academic books or articles provide bookish knowledge, which is not pertinent to day-to-day life. Reading social sciences articles and books only for passing examination, decorating them in shelves or throwing in a dustbin will never bring the required change in a society.

Nadeem Yousaf

Published in Indus, Karachi.

Uploaded on: 31 May 2011

A Note on Social Sciences Research