Sociologists are typically focused on a few key issues. For instance, some sociologists are interested in social welfare, low income housing and poverty. Other sociologists are akin to environmental issues, and therefore keep up with politics and activist organizations in relation to the environment. Some sociologists teach the subject to college students, and therefore, they are more specialized in a particular sociological subject. No matter what subject a sociologist is passionate about, all research studies start with a hypothesis and end with written documentation supporting said hypothesis.
Dealing with Social Subjects
Since sociology is by definition a study of social life, sociologists are constantly dealing with groups of people or objects created by them. A sociologist might study people directly or indirectly, and they might be participants in a social group or simply observers of the group’s behavior. Most research projects also involve literature research, which pulls data from published research of other sociologists. This is used to create new research studies and to support or defend a sociologist’s current study. Field work in dealing with social subjects might include going to a meeting at a city hall or watching how employees interact with each other on the job site.
Sociologists are constantly observing subjects for their research. They might choose to be part of a group in order to get a more realistic analysis of their behavior. However, a sociologist has to maintain their own identity as an outsider in order to maintain cultural relativity in their reports. Conflicts often arise regarding the affects of social observation in terms of privacy and influence on the subjects being studied. As a result, sociologists must follow multiple methods for gathering data in order to make up for any skewed or biased information.
A sociologist must next compile their data, which is gathered using various methods including:
- One-on-one interviews
- Focus Groups
- Literature including journal articles
This data can be analyzed using qualitative and quantitative methods, which involve emotions and numbers respectively. For example, a sociologist would use qualitative methods to measure focus group responses, while quantitative methodology is commonly used to measure survey answers.
Once all of the data is compiled and formatted for analysis, social statistics are applied. Sociologists use computer programs, such as SPSS (Statistical Product and Service Solutions), to compile data in a measurable form. One such organization that uses computer programs to analyze social data is the U.S. Census. Using statistical measures ranging from mean to the measure of association, a sociologist can measure the relation of social issues on a larger scale.
Writing Journal Articles
Sociologists do a great deal of writing. Once they have compiled their data, they use these figures to support or negate their hypothesis. If the hypothesis is not supported, the sociologist must start again with their research, or scrap their original hypothesis altogether. However, if it is supported, they are ready to write out their findings. This report is typically sent to a sociological journal for publication. Published data is used by other sociologists in their literature reviews, as well as for data in subsequent research projects.