This is “Revisiting an Earlier Question: Why Should We Care?”, section 15.4 from the book Sociological Inquiry Principles: Qualitative and Quantitative Methods (v. 1.0).
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I hope that by now I’ve managed to convince you that developing an understanding of how sociologists conduct research has many benefits. On the chance that I haven’t done so, or in case you simply want a refresher, let’s spend this final section of the final chapter reviewing some of the reasons you might care about research methods.
In Chapter 1 "Introduction", I suggested that one reason to care about research methods is that knowing how to conduct social science research could lead to a variety of job opportunities. The skills and knowledge you’ve gained from this text will situate you well for a number of research-oriented positions. Moreover, your background in social science research methodology provides you with a number of transferable skillsThe conglomeration of tasks that a person develops proficiency in from one realm that can be applied in another realm. that will serve you well in any profession you choose. Transferable skills are the conglomeration of tasks that a person develops proficiency in from one realm that can be applied in another realm. Whether you realize it or not, you have gained a host of transferable skills from taking a course in social scientific research methods. Those skills can assist you in your search for employment in a variety of arenas.
Perhaps the primary transferable skill you’ve developed by learning how to conduct social scientific research is an ability to solve problems. Not only that, you are now also better equipped to identify problems. What do social researchers do if not identify social problems and then seek to gain knowledge aimed at understanding and eradicating those problems? Having the ability to seek out problems and the requisite knowledge and tools to begin to solve those problems is crucial in many areas of employment. The investigative skills you’ve developed as a result of learning how to conduct social scientific research can be put to use in just about any job where taken-for-granted assumptions are called into question. These might include jobs such as journalism, but work in criminal justice requires investigative skills as does just about any position that requires one to solve problems, ask questions, and learn new ways of doing things.
Related to the problem-identification and problem-solving skills that you’ve developed by learning how to conduct social scientific research is another important ability: a talent for asking good questions. Not only is the ability to ask good questions essential in many areas of employment (and in most areas life as well), but also this skill is linked to another key area that comes up in research methods courses and is appreciated in many realms: critical thinkingThe careful evaluation of assumptions, actions, values, and other factors that influence a particular decision or way of being or doing.. Thinking critically does not mean that someone sits backs and criticizes every idea or person that comes her way. Critical thinking is a skill that takes practice to develop. It involves the careful evaluation of assumptions, actions, values, and other factors that influence a particular way of being or doing. It requires an ability to identify both weaknesses and strengths in taken-for-granted ways of doing things. A person who thinks critically should be able to demonstrate some level of understanding of the varying positions one might take on any given issue, even if he or she does not agree with those positions.
Understanding sociological research methods also means having some understanding of how to analyze, synthesize, and interpret information. And having a well-developed ability to carefully take in, think about, and understand the meaning of new information that you are confronted with will serve you well in all varieties of life circumstance and employment. In addition, the ability to communicate and clearly express oneself, both in writing and orally, is crucial in all professions. As you practice the tasks described throughout this text, you will attain and improve the oral and written communication skills that so many employers value. Finally, related to the ability to communicate effectively is the ability to effectively frame an argument or presentation. Successfully framing an argument requires not only good communication skills but also strength in the area of listening to others.
In sum, the transferable skills you’ve gained as a result of learning how to conduct social scientific research include the following:
Table 15.1 "Transferable Skills Featured in This Text" links each of the identified transferable skills to specific chapters in the text.
Table 15.1 Transferable Skills Featured in This Text
|Transferable skill||Chapters featuring skill (relevant focus within chapter)|
|Identifying problems||Chapter 2 "Linking Methods With Theory" (inductive and deductive approaches)|
|Chapter 4 "Beginning a Research Project" (starting where you are)|
|Identifying solutions to problems||Chapter 2 "Linking Methods With Theory" (how theories and paradigms shape approach)|
|Chapter 5 "Research Design" (research design)|
|Chapter 7 "Sampling" (sampling)|
|Investigative skills and techniques||Chapter 5 "Research Design" (searching for and reviewing the literature)|
|Chapter 6 "Defining and Measuring Concepts" and Chapter 7 "Sampling" (measurement and sampling)|
|Chapter 8 "Survey Research: A Quantitative Technique" through Chapter 12 "Other Methods of Data Collection and Analysis" (data collection)|
|Chapter 14 "Reading and Understanding Social Research" (reading reports of research)|
|Asking good questions||Chapter 3 "Research Ethics" (ethics)|
|Chapter 4 "Beginning a Research Project" (making questions empirical and sociological)|
|Framing an argument||Chapter 1 "Introduction" (ontology and epistemology)|
|Chapter 2 "Linking Methods With Theory" (theories)|
|Chapter 5 "Research Design" (hypotheses)|
|Listening||Chapter 9 "Interviews: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches" (conducting interviews)|
|Chapter 10 "Field Research: A Qualitative Technique" (getting into and establishing rapport in field)|
|Chapter 12 "Other Methods of Data Collection and Analysis" (focus groups, ethnomethodology)|
|Chapter 14 "Reading and Understanding Social Research" (being responsible consumers of research)|
|Critical thinking||Chapter 1 "Introduction" (sources of knowledge)|
|Chapter 2 "Linking Methods With Theory" (theories)|
|Chapter 3 "Research Ethics" (ethics)|
|Chapter 14 "Reading and Understanding Social Research" (understanding social research)|
|Analyzing, synthesizing, and interpreting information||Chapter 5 "Research Design" (reviewing the literature)|
|Chapter 8 "Survey Research: A Quantitative Technique" through Chapter 12 "Other Methods of Data Collection and Analysis" (data analysis)|
|Chapter 14 "Reading and Understanding Social Research" (reading and understanding social research)|
|Oral and written communication skills||Chapter 13 "Sharing Your Work" (sharing your work)|
|Chapter 1 "Introduction" through Chapter 15 "Research Methods in the Real World" (written and oral exercises throughout)|
Perhaps the most rewarding consequence of understanding social scientific research methods is the ability to gain a better understanding of yourself, your circumstances, and your world. Through the application of social scientific research methods, sociologists have asked—and answered—many of the world’s most pressing questions. Certainly those answers are not always complete, nor are they infallible, but the quest for knowledge and understanding is an ongoing process. As social scientists continue the process of asking questions and seeking answers, perhaps you will choose to participate in that quest now that you have gained some knowledge and skill in how to conduct research.
Having thought about what you know and how you know it, as well as what others claim to know and how they know it, I hope will provide you with some clarity in an often-murky world. Whether you choose to adopt the particular ways of knowing described in this text as your preferred ways of knowing is totally up to you. I hope that you will find that the knowledge you’ve gained here is of use, perhaps in terms of your personal life and interests, in your relationships with others, or in your longer-range school or career goals.