Understanding & Presenting Research in Social Science

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about understanding and expressing social science research. We will identify what social science research looks like, how it should be interpreted, and how it can be presented.

The Moment of Truth

So for two years you've been researching your topic. You've been to the National Archives where you've spent hours and hours poring over newspaper clippings, letters, and other historical documents. After months of writing, your thesis is complete at 154 pages typed. You can't help but believe it is revolutionary. Your historical approach is original, and you're dealing with a topic no one has ever really addressed before. This is the moment of truth: you have to ''defend'' your research against questions and potential criticism from your professors.

This is not just a hypothetical scenario. For history graduate students, developing and successfully defending one's thesis is generally required to complete the program. It can be a nerve-racking, but also exhilarating, experience.

So how exactly does one interpret, and present social science research? In this lesson, we will seek to answer this question. Let's go!

Understanding and Interpreting Social Science Research

The social sciences consist of academic disciplines like history, economics, sociology, psychology, political science, and others. Think of the social sciences as the sciences of human interaction. For our purposes, let's look at the discipline of history. Historians are the ''scientists'' of the past, if you will. So historians conduct research in pretty much the same way as scientists.

To conduct research and arrive at conclusions, historians make use of a process called historical methodology, or the historical method. This is very similar to the scientific method. Historical methodology involves gathering evidence, formulating hypotheses, testing hypotheses, and arriving at conclusions. Historical methodology is the process by which historians research history. Social science research, particularly in the discipline of history, is often based on primary source material. Primary sources are sources that are created during the actual time being studied. They contain direct, firsthand information. A photograph from the Civil War, a hand-written letter from John Adams, or a 1940s propaganda poster would all be examples of a primary source.

Once the research is done and a conclusion is reached, an interpretation or approach is set forth. In the discipline of history, an interpretation is a specific view of the past. It often answers questions of how or why. If an interpretation/approach stands up to criticism, it often becomes entrenched as fact and becomes widely accepted. Historians and other social science experts play an important role in society by informing us about the past and the human interaction surrounding us.

Presenting Social Science Research

Social science research is released through a variety of means. Leading experts will often publish their research as a digestible article in an academic journal. Academic journals are highly valued by other researchers. Generally, journals have very stringent standards that one's research must meet in order to be published. Because of this, academic journals are a go-to for many social science experts. Other times research is presented in book form.

Academic journals are a popular means of presenting social science research.

Sometimes research is presented through lectures or seminars. In a lecture, an expert will typically explain to an audience how he arrived at his conclusion, and what the implications of his conclusion mean. Often a time of questions and answers follows at the end of lecture. It is essential that research presenters clearly explain the evidence that supports their interpretation/approach. Have you ever heard a lecture and come away unconvinced because the presenter did not adequately explain the evidence? In other cases, the evidence is simply not strong enough, leading audiences to be skeptical. Good researchers will provide strong evidence, and explain it clearly!

Lecturers should provide strong evidence to support their approach and explain it clearly.

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