Chapter 2: Designing a Research Project

To help you to define your research problem, answer the following questions:

  • What do I want to know?
  • Why do I want to know it?
  • What data would best answer these questions?
  • How will I collect my data?
  • How much data will I need?
  • How am I thinking of analysing my data?

Discuss how you might study people who take the law into their own hands (‘vigilantes’). Is there any difference between your proposed study and a good YouTube feature on the same subject (i.e. differences in the questions you would ask and how you would test your conclusions)?

Now consider: (a) whether this matters and (b) what special contribution, if any, social science research can bring to such social problems.

Return to your interpretation of ‘vigilantes’ in the previous skill test. Now examine how you could generate different research problems using each of the three kinds of ‘sensitivity’ discussed above:

  1. Historical
  2. Political
  3. Contextual

Sacks (1992) offers a case where you observe a car coming drawing up near you. A door opens and a teenage woman emerges and runs a few paces. Two other people (one male, one female) get out of the car. They run after the young woman, take her arms and pull her back into the car which now drives off.

Now answer these questions:

  1. Without using your social science knowledge, prepare at least two different interpretations of what you have seen. Focus on whether this is something you should report to the police.
  2. Examine at least two different interpretations of your behaviour if: (a) you report this matter to the police or (b) you do not report it.
  3. Now use any ideas you know from your own discipline to describe and/or explain what you have seen.
  4. Consider (a) whether these ideas are likely to give a more ‘accurate’ picture than your description in 1 and (b) to what extent we need to choose between the descriptions in 1 and 3.

Once more focus on ‘vigilantes’. Now suggest what research questions can be addressed by any two of the four methods just discussed, namely:

  • observation
  • analysing texts, documents and visual images
  • interviews
  • recording and transcribing.

Now consider: (a) What are the relative merits of each method in addressing this topic? (b) What, if anything, could be gained by combining both methods (you might like to refer forward to my discussion of ‘triangulation’ in Chapter 13)?

Select what you regard as the two or three pieces of literature most relevant to your research project. Now:

  1. Make notes on each, attempting to use each one to answer the questions found in Table 2.3.
  2. Incorporate these notes in a short literature review section which only refers to these two or three works.