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Research Methods for the Social Sciences

Starting Your Research

Getting Started

Before launching a search for the perfect tool or instrument for your research, ask yourself a few questions.

  • What kind of study do you need to design for your assignment?
    • (Learn about different types of Research Design with included sample studies in this guide)
  • What are your objectives? (Do you know what you want to measure?)
  • Do you have a firm understanding of the necessary research vocabulary? (reliability, validity, etc...)
  • Are you comfortable with using RSU Library databases and conducting effective web searches?
Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Research Instrument?

A research instrument is a tool that a researcher uses to gather data from research subjects on a specific topic so that it can be measured and analyzed. These tools can take a variety of forms; checklists, surveys, tests, scales, or questionnaires. There are two main types, quantitative and qualitative. 

What is the process for finding a research instrument?

  1. Identify a possible research instrument based on time, budget, and accessibility.
  2. Assess the instrument for reliability and validity. This can be affected by whether or not the instrument is "published" or "unpublished" (Where you find it.)
    • Published usually means the full-text version is available for sale
    • Unpublished usually means it is not
  3. Acquire the full-text instrument by getting permission (contact the publisher for "published" or contact the author directly for "unpublished") This last step is very important if you plan to publish your results.

How do I develop my own Instrument for Measurement?

*Starting from scratch is generally not advisable as developing a measurement instrument is a very time-consuming process (It will likely require multiple versions/pilot tests and a great deal of additional documentation.) and it is normally unnecessary for your needs as a student.

What is an Independent Variable?

"The variable that is stable and unaffected by the other variables you are trying to measure. It refers to the condition of an experiment that is systematically manipulated by the investigator. It is the presumed cause."

What is a Dependent Variable?

"The variable that depends on other factors that are measured. These variables are expected to change as a result of an experimental manipulation of the independent variable or variables. It is the presumed effect."

Cramer, Duncan and Dennis Howitt. The SAGE Dictionary of Statistics. London: SAGE, 2004; Penslar, Robin Levin and Joan P. Porter. Institutional Review Board Guidebook: Introduction. Washington, DC: United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2010; "What are Dependent and Independent Variables?"

Glossary of Research Terms by University of Southern California Libraries

"This glossary is intended to assist you in understanding commonly used terms and concepts when reading, interpreting, and evaluating scholarly research in the social sciences. Also included are general words and phrases defined within the context of how they apply to research in the social and behavioral sciences."

Ethics in Research

Responsible Conduct of Research published by the American Psychological Association - The office is charged with promoting shared knowledge, beliefs and attitudes for ethical and responsible conduct of research among investigators and students in the psychological sciences with the goal of maximizing scientific rigor and productivity within the research community.

Examples of Breaches in Research Ethics:

Milgram's Experiment on Obedience to Authority UC Berkeley's synopsis of Stanley Milgram's findings on obedience to authority.

The Stanford Prison Experiment website provides a slide tour of Dr. Philip Zimbardo findings on conformity and the human capacity for evil.

Institutional Review Board (IRB)

An Institutional Review Board is a committee within an organization or university that independently analyzes research proposals to ensure they qualify as an ethical research project that sufficiently protects any human subjects. The IRB can decline a research proposal or suggest modifications to ensure they meet ethics regulations. To learn more about IRBs click here.

For students conducting research as part of their academic requirements, Faculty will provide a research application template that student researchers are required to complete before beginning their study and submitting their research proposal. Please see the template provided by Associate Professor of Psychology & Sociology, Dr. Brian Andrews for quantitative and qualitative research methods students.

Understanding Different Methodologies

Check out this quick explanation video from Research Methodologies: Quantitative, Qualitative & Mixed Method

Introductions to Quantitative & Qualitative Methodologies

Ebook Recommendations

 Research Methods for Environmental Studies: A Social Science Approach - 2017

 The methodological needs of environmental studies are unique in the breadth of research questions that can be posed, calling for a textbook that covers a broad swath of approaches to conducting research with potentially many different kinds of evidence.


 Qualitative Research in Practice: Examples for Discussion and Analysis - 2019 

 A practical introduction to qualitative research across fields and disciplines Qualitative Research in Practice offers a hands-on introduction to qualitative research design, methods, data, and analysis.


 How to Write Qualitative Research - 2019

 Qualitative research has exploded in popularity in nearly every discipline from the social sciences to health fields to business. While many qualitative textbooks explain how to conduct an interview or analyze fieldnotes, rarely do they give more than a few scant pages to the skill many find most difficult: writing. That's where 'How to Write Qualitative Research' comes in.

 A Tale of Two Cultures: Qualitative and Quantitative Research in the Social Sciences - 2012

 Some in the social sciences argue that the same logic applies to both qualitative and quantitative methods. In A Tale of Two Cultures, Gary Goertz and James Mahoney demonstrate that these two paradigms constitute different cultures, each internally coherent yet marked by contrasting norms, practices, and toolkits. 


 Big Data and Social Science: A Practical Guide to Methods and Tools - 2017

The book provides practical guidance on combining methods and tools from computer science, statistics, and social science. This concrete approach is illustrated throughout using an important national problem, the quantitative study of innovation. 

 A Quantitative Tour of the Social Sciences - 2007

To foster a deeper understanding of the interconnection of the social sciences, economists should know where historical data come from, sociologists should know how to think like economists, political scientists would benefit from understanding how models are tested in psychology, historians should learn how political processes are studied, psychologists should understand sociological theories, and so forth.


Finding Research Instruments

If you are conducting more advanced research, possibly in preparation for your capstone project, you are also going to be collecting data by using a Research Instrument. There are a variety of ways to do this, but make sure you give yourself plenty of time to complete this task. 

Before you get started you'll want to establish which path you'd like to take

Do you already have a specific test in mind? If so, you can search by the instrument name or acronym and limit your results by content/publication type. Make sure you have the full title and author.

  • Start your search with RSU Libraries
  • -  global science gateway comprised of national and international scientific databases and portals. accelerates scientific discovery and progress by providing one-stop searching of databases from around the world. On behalf of the WorldWideScience Alliance, was developed and is maintained by the Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI), an element of the Office of Science within the U.S. Department of Energy.  
  • Test Collection at ETS - The Test Collection at ETS is a database of more than 25,000 tests and other measurement devices, most of which were created by authors outside ETS. It makes information on standardized tests and research instruments available to researchers, graduate students and teachers. 
  • ERIC Institute of Education Sciences Largest database of education literature in the world; includes a variety of document types including journal articles, research reports, curriculum and teaching guides, conference papers, and books
  • Tests and Measures in the Social Sciences - The "Tests and Measures in the Social Sciences" (TMSS) is an index to tests and measurement tools used in psychology, sociology, health, marketing, management, and so on, that may be found in one or more reference resources. This index was originally created to help students who are writing academic papers. Please request books via Inter-Library Loan.

Do you already know which variable you'd like to test for? If so, you can search by keyword and then limit your results by content/publication type.

  • Start your search with RSU Libraries
  • ERIC Institute of Education SciencesLargest database of education literature in the world; includes a variety of document types including journal articles, research reports, curriculum and teaching guides, conference papers, and books
  • Social-Personality Psychology Questionnaire Instrument Compendium (QIC) - Website maintained by Alan Reifman, Professor Human Development and Family Studies, Texas Tech University. Instruments are topic-specific and in alphabetical order. There is also a list of websites that contain multiple instruments. 

  • International Personality Item Pool - This is the official website for the International Personality Item Pool (IPIP). The site includes over 3,000 items and over 250 scales that have been constructed from the items. New items and scales are developed on an irregular basis. The items and scales are in the public domain, which means that one can copy, edit, translate, or use them for any purpose without asking permission and without paying a fee.

Suggested Keywords


















Resources for Gathering and Analyzing Data for Social Science Research.

Social Science Data Resources: General - Yale University Library Guide "The resources provided here are often a good place to start research. They include some general-purpose, multiple topic collections and portals of statistical and data resources as well as some country/region-specific resources- as many of those are maintained by national statistical agencies." (Some links may be specific to Yale and therefore be inaccessible.)

Social Science Data Resources: Frequently Used Data - Northwestern University Library Guide "Statistics and data resources by subject." (Some links may be specific to Northwestern and therefore be inaccessible.)

Social Science Data and Statistics Resources:

RegressIt A powerful Excel add-in that performs multivariate descriptive data analysis and regression analysis with high-quality table and chart output in native Excel format.  The linear regression version of the program runs on both Macs and PC's, and there is also a separate logistic regression version for the PC with highly interactive table and chart output. 

Analysis ToolPak from Microsoft If you need to develop complex statistical or engineering analyses, you can save steps and time by using the Analysis ToolPak. You provide the data and parameters for each analysis, and the tool uses the appropriate statistical or engineering macro functions to calculate and display the results in an output table. Some tools generate charts in addition to output tables.

The R Project for Statistical Computing R is a free software environment for statistical computing and graphics. It compiles and runs on a wide variety of UNIX platforms, Windows and MacOS.

Analyze Survey Data Using R

A resource providing survey data analysis methodologies in R edited by Anthony Damico, a Statistical Analyst at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Creating Surveys, Polls, & Assessments


Google Forms - "Choose from a bunch of question options, from multiple choice to dropdowns to a linear scale. Add images and YouTube videos, or get fancy with page branching and question skip logic."

Survey Monkey - "Our survey platform makes it easy to measure and understand feedback so you can drive growth and innovation."

Typeform - "Who wants to get bogged down with confusing graphs and charts? Typeform’s reports are clear and concise. Gain quick insights, revise ambiguous questions, and make better-informed decisions."

SurveyPlanet - "SurveyPlanet offers a tremendous set of free tools for designing your survey, sharing your survey online, and reviewing your survey results. We've got a fantastic user experience and tons of great features."


Survey Monkey - "Our survey platform makes it easy to measure and understand feedback so you can drive growth and innovation." (Pro sign up)

Qualtrics - "Our survey platform makes it easy to measure and understand feedback so you can drive growth and innovation." 

SoGoSurvey - "Use the SoGoSurvey feedback management platform to quickly create intuitive surveys that drive growth, improve response rates, and enable you to make better data-driven decisions."

Pioneers in Social Science Research