Research & Documentation Online 5th Edition

Researching in the social sciences

Social scientists interpret and analyze human behavior, generally using empirical methods of research. Though original data gathering and analysis are central to social sciences research, researchers also use library and Internet resources to

  • obtain raw data for model building or analysis
  • locate information about a particular model, theory, or methodology to be used in a research project
  • review the literature to place new research in context

Subjects of study in the social sciences sometimes cross disciplines and may be difficult to locate through typical subject headings in indexes and abstracts. In addition, new theories may take some time to circulate in the literature, especially in print sources. Consequently, the researcher should be prepared to

  • identify potential search terms by scanning indexes and abstracts in relevant works
  • use the references in published articles and books to trace connections among theories and ideas
  • work from the most recent to older sources

A review of the literature for a social sciences research project not only should identify what research has been done but should also compare and contrast the available information and evaluate its significance.

Each of the social sciences has a well-developed set of research tools to help you find relevant material. The tools listed here will give you ideas for beginning your research. Consult a librarian for help in refining your search.

Use the menu at the top left for help with Finding Sources or Documenting Sources in the humanities.