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Gathering information and constructing Explanations

The basic procedural steps involved in gathering information and construction of explanation are: Observation


Scientific knowledge is based on sensory observation of reality. Those aspects of reality that are definite certain self-evident and have independent existence are called "Facts". Since they have an independent existence of their own so they are amendable to sensory observation. However scientific investigation is not a search for isolated and random facts rather it is a guided enquiry to test the authenticity of definite propositions that form the starting point of gathering information. They are called "hypothesis".

A hypothesis states what we are looking for. It formulates the logical relationship between different aspects of reality expressed in terms of scientific concepts. A good hypothesis should be scientific, simple and presented in a testable form. Sociology also makes use of hypothesis in carrying our sociological research but this practice is not always strictly adhered to. Especially when a sociologist is trying to explore society, about which he knows very little, it would not be possible to begin the research with hypothesis. Some example of hypothesis which may be used in sociological enquiry can be.

(a) Crime rates are higher in urban areas than in rural areas.
(b) Pace of urbanization increases with that of industrialization.

Sometimes hypothesis may be tested under experimental conditions. Most of the established sciences do use experimental method quite successfully. However, in Sociology, experimental method is only rarely possible due to both practical and ethical reason: so observation is carried out mostly under non-experimental conditions. Sources of data include social survey, observational and interview methods etc.

Comparison and Classification

Next step in research is to process the information collected so as to make it intelligible. Comparison and classification are the steps involved in processing the data. Sometimes sociologists also try to build typologies by using comparative method. Typologies are models consisting of a set of traits which tend to occur in conjunction with each other. When the typology is rooted in empirical data and the traits included are such that they tend to be most commonly distributed, it is called the average type. Building an average type helps in categorizing the whole class of phenomenal under one category. Otherwise the researcher would be left to deal with such phenomena as isolated cases. Mechanical solidarity and Organic solidarity are examples of such average types. They are the mental creations of the social scientists and in their pure form they could not be found to be replicated anywhere in reality. Such typologies are called ideal types.


A generalization is a form of propositional knowledge that holds true for the whole class of phenomena. It postulates the existence of a determinate relationship between a set of variables (variable is an aspect of reality that can assume different values) in terms of which empirically ascertainable regularities can be explained. However in Sociology perfect casual relationship is not possible. At best we can establish statistical correlations. The generalizations can be arrived at if a hypothesis is repeatedly supported by empirical data. If generalization is found to be almost universally true, it may be called a law. Other terms for generalization having different degrees of generality are a theory a thesis or a tendency statement.

Generalisation serve two major functions:
1. They make knowledge manageable.
2. Generalizations also help in predicting the phenomena.

Prediction becomes possible .Nature behaves in an ordered manner and science aims at discovering this order that is expressed through generalization. Thus generalizations are possible only so long as reality itself displays a regular pattern. Sociology also approaches its subject matter on the premise that social reality is an ordered and patterned reality. However sociologists have not been able to discover laws similar to those in physical and natural sciences, the reason being that their assumption about the nature of social reality is only partly true and therefore only limited generalization indicating broad trends could be discovered. The social phenomena are extremely complex and changeable and do not conform to any definite pattern.

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