Social Impact Guide

The Biggest 15 Social Issues We Are Facing Today

No matter where we live, what communities we belong to or what we care about, we are affected by social issues. It’s the price of living in a society, and while challenges like poverty, climate change and discrimination can feel overwhelming, we have the power to take action. The first step is understanding what issues we’re up against. In this article, we’ll explore 15 of the biggest social issues facing the world today.

#1. The global housing crisis

Shelter is a human right, but hundreds of millions of people lack adequate, affordable housing. According to the World Bank, the housing crisis is global, and it could impact as many as 1.6 billion people by 2025. That number will only grow with time. By 2030, the world needs to build 96,000 new affordable homes per day to meet the needs of 3 billion people. What’s driving the global housing crisis? According to Albert Saiz in a paper for the MIT Center for Real Estate, economic factors like rising costs and income inequality are prevalent. Addressing these issues now is critical to protecting people in the future.

#2. Gender inequality

Societies have been working to improve gender inequality for centuries, but we still have a long way to go. Globally, women still make less money than men, have poorer health outcomes, have fewer opportunities and endure more gender–based violence. According to 2023 data, the global gender gap won’t close until 2154 . Even the most gender-equal country, which is Iceland , still has social issues to address. Some of the issues are recognized – women are still being subjected to physical and sexual violence – while there are gaps in data related to things like unpaid care, domestic work, gender and the environment, and so on.

#3. Climate crisis

The climate crisis is one of today’s most urgent social issues. Earth.org outlines a list of major climate events in 2023 , including severe droughts, wildfires, higher ocean surface temperatures and storms. That same year, the IPCC released a summary of its previous five reports, showing how human activity is causing severe damage to the planet, and, if trends continue, parts of the earth will become unlivable in just a few decades. The world can fight the climate crisis, but we have to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and turn to renewable energy sources.

#4. Overconsumption

Greenhouse gas emissions are a primary driver of climate change, but overconsumption is hurting the planet, too. Unfathomable amounts of food, clothing, plastic and other things are thrown into landfills and the ocean every day. However, it’s not a problem for everyone. According to research, just 20% of the world’s population is responsible for consuming 80% of the globe’s natural resources. The richest 500 million people release half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. To break it down even further, if every person in the world consumed resources at the rate as people in Canada and the United States did, we would need at least five earths .

#5. Global hunger

Global food insecurity is a serious problem. According to data, about 735 million people endured chronic hunger in 2022, and with issues like climate change, the lingering effects of the pandemic and conflict, it will be very challenging to end hunger by 2030. Children typically suffer the most. When kids don’t get enough to eat, they become more vulnerable to diseases like measles, malaria and diarrhea. According to the World Food Programme, “hotspots” for hunger include Burkina Faso, Mali, South Sudan and Palestine.

#6. Threats to LGBTQ+ rights

At the same time as LGBTQ+ rights have expanded, certain countries have pushed back. In the summer of 2023, the first Ugandan was charged with “aggravated homosexuality,” a crime punishable by death. In its 2023 review, the Electronic Frontier Foundation also found an increase in anti-LGBTQ sentiment , including more laws that restrict privacy and freedom of expression, and censorship of LGBTQ+ websites. Even in places like the United States, which is seen by many as a haven for the LGBTQ+ community, legislative threats are on the rise .

#7. Reproductive justice

Reproductive justice, which includes things like abortion access and maternal health, is a social issue affecting every corner of the world. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, most countries are expanding abortion rights, while just four – the United States, Poland, Nicaragua, and El Salvador – rolled back abortion rights . Globally, about 40% of women live in places with “restrictive” abortion laws. Related social issues include menstrual health, prenatal and maternal health, access to contraception and so on.

#8. Educational disparities

When people get a good education, they’re more likely to have higher incomes, better health, healthier children and other benefits. On a larger scale, education also helps countries achieve overall wealth and health. There’s been significant progress on closing the gender gap in education. According to a blog on the World Bank, boys and girls complete primary school at almost an equal rate . However, around 130 million girls are still being denied an education. Wealth also plays a role in educational disparities. In the United States, one study found that wealth affects a student’s chances of finishing college. On a global scale, wealth also impacts where a family lives and what school options are available, as well as tutoring opportunities, whether a student needs a job and much more.

#9. Health and healthcare

Health and the ability (or inability) to access good healthcare are major social issues. Unfortunately, healthcare systems around the world are struggling. COVID-19 continues to be a problem, but hospitals are also facing staff shortages and competition . Not everyone is affected equally. According to the World Health Organization, refugees and migrants experience worse health outcomes due to language barriers, cultural differences, discrimination and legal restrictions on what services they can access.

#10. Income inequality

Global income inequality fluctuates, but according to a 2023 Oxfam study , the world’s richest 1% took almost ⅔ of all the new wealth created since 2020. That gave them almost twice the amount of money held by the bottom 99%. Income inequality can cause serious problems , such as lower economic growth, worse social cohesion and political polarization. There are also ethical consequences to income inequality, which human rights and social justice advocates often discuss. Can society ever be truly good or free when only a handful of people hold all the wealth?

#11. Global unemployment (and underemployment)

High unemployment rates – and low-paying jobs – drive income inequality and poverty. In a 2023 report, the International Labour Organization found that the world is still experiencing slow employment growth . There was a slight recovery in 2021, but as the economy slows again, people are forced to take jobs that pay less, provide fewer hours and/or offer poor working conditions. South Africa, which is the most industrialized economy in Africa, also has one of the highest unemployment rates. According to Reuters, reasons include structural issues related to the shadows of colonialism and apartheid. To fight issues like poverty and gender inequality, countries need to address unemployment and low-paying jobs.

#12. Increased migration

People move all the time, but issues like war and climate change force people to leave their homes. Sometimes, they move within the borders of one country, but other times, they’re forced to take long, dangerous journeys to countries they’ve never visited. According to the Migration Policy Institute, “humanitarian migration” increased in 2023, while policies could impact elections in 2024. The social issues related to migration, such as the rights of migrants, affordable housing, health services and more, will all be relevant for the foreseeable future.

#13. Artificial intelligence

The presence of artificial intelligence has exploded in recent years, but the technology has several issues. Ethics is just one of them. According to a guide on UMA Libraries, AI has problems with gender and racial bias, plagiarism, generating fake news and supporting scams. It also takes a lot of energy to train and run AI programs, so as the use of AI increases, so will its carbon footprint . As the technology continues to develop, new regulations, legislation and guidelines will need to be created, as well.

#14. Debt bondage

Rates of labor trafficking have been increasing over the years. According to research, about ⅕ of those in forced labor trafficking are in debt bondage . Debt bondage is a very common type of trafficking where a person is forced to work off a loan. However, because the debt is often so high and they are paid so little, it’s impossible to escape the situation. Perpetrators also often have no intention of freeing the people they’re exploiting; debt bondage can even pass on to children. While bonded labor is technically illegal in some places, like India, it persists , especially in rural areas. Because trafficking is an illicit practice, it’s very difficult to get accurate numbers, but it’s most likely worse than what’s reported.

#15. Threats to journalism

By providing vital information to the public, journalists are essential to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, democracy and the protection of other human rights. In recent years, journalism has been under threat. According to the 2023 World Press Freedom Index , the environment for journalism was “bad” in seven out of 10 countries, while it was “satisfactory” in just three out of 10 countries. The reasons include a surge in fake news and propaganda. Journalists also face threats to their lives. UNESCO found that in 2023, there was a near doubling of deaths of journalists working in conflict zones. As conflicts in Ukraine, Palestine and other countries continue, the safety of journalism will remain a social issue.

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Social Sci LibreTexts

2.1: The Research Process

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Defining the Problem

Defining a sociological problem helps frame a question to be addressed in the research process.

Learning Objectives

Explain how the definition of the problem relates to the research process

  • The first step of the scientific method is to ask a question, describe a problem, and identify the specific area of interest. The topic should be narrow enough to study within the context of a particular test but also broad enough to have a more general practical or theoretical merit.
  • For many sociologists, the goal is to conduct research which may be applied directly to social policy and welfare, while others focus primarily on refining the theoretical understanding of social processes. Subject matter ranges from the micro level to the macro level.
  • Like other sciences, sociology relies on the systematic, careful collection of measurements or counts of relevant quantities to be considered valid. Given that sociology deals with topics that are often difficult to measure, this generally involves operationalizing relevant terms.
  • operational definition : A showing of something — such as a variable, term, or object — in terms of the specific process or set of validation tests used to determine its presence and quantity.
  • operationalization : In humanities, operationalization is the process of defining a fuzzy concept so as to make the concept clearly distinguishable or measurable and to understand it in terms of empirical observations.

Defining the problem is necessarily the first step of the research process. After the problem and research question is defined, scientists generally gather information and other observations, form hypotheses, test hypotheses by collecting data in a reproducible manner, analyze and interpret that data, and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypotheses.

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The first step of the scientific method is to ask a question, describe a problem, and identify the specific area of interest. The topic should be narrow enough to study within the context of a particular test but also broad enough to have a more general practical or theoretical merit. For many sociologists, the goal is to conduct research which may be applied directly to social policy and welfare, while others focus primarily on refining the theoretical understanding of social processes. Subject matter ranges from the micro level of individual agency and interaction to the macro level of systems and the social structure.

Like other sciences, sociology relies on the systematic, careful collection of measurements or counts of relevant quantities to be considered valid. Given that sociology deals with topics that are often difficult to measure, this generally involves operationalizing relevant terms. Operationalization is a process that describes or defines a concept in terms of the physical or concrete steps it takes to objectively measure it, as opposed to some more vague, inexact, or idealized definition. The operational definition thus identifies an observable condition of the concept. By operationalizing a variable of the concept, all researchers can collect data in a systematic or replicable manner.

For example, intelligence cannot be directly quantified. We cannot say, simply by observing, exactly how much more intelligent one person is than another. But we can operationalize intelligence in various ways. For instance, we might administer an IQ test, which uses specific types of questions and scoring processes to give a quantitative measure of intelligence. Or we might use years of education as a way to operationalize intelligence, assuming that a person with more years of education is also more intelligent. Of course, others might dispute the validity of these operational definitions of intelligence by arguing that IQ or years of education are not good measures of intelligence. After all, a very intelligent person may not have the means or inclination to pursue higher education, or a less intelligent person may stay in school longer because they have trouble completing graduation requirements. In most cases, the way we choose to operationalize variables can be contested; few operational definitions are perfect. But we must use the best approximation we can in order to have some sort of measurable quantity for otherwise unmeasurable variables.

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A link to the YouTube element can be found in Contributors & Attributions section.

Operationalizing Variables : This video discusses what it means to operationalize a variable using the example of “good health. ”

Reviewing the Literature

Sociological researchers review past work in their area of interest and include this “literature review” in the presentation of their research.

Explain the purpose of literature reviews in sociological research

  • Literature reviews showcase researchers’ knowledge and understanding of the existing body of scholarship that relates to their research questions.
  • A thorough literature review demonstrates the ability to research and synthesize. Furthermore, it provides a comprehensive overview of what is and is not known, and why the research in question is important to begin with.
  • Literature reviews offer an explanation of how the researcher can contribute toward the existing body of scholarship by pursuing their own thesis or research question.
  • essay : A written composition of moderate length exploring a particular issue or subject.
  • Theses : A dissertation or thesis is a document submitted in support of candidature for an academic degree or professional qualification presenting the author’s research and findings. The term thesis is also used to refer to the general claim of an essay or similar work.
  • disciplinary : Of or relating to an academic field of study.

A literature review is a logical and methodical way of organizing what has been written about a topic by scholars and researchers. Literature reviews can normally be found at the beginning of many essays, research reports, or theses. In writing the literature review, the purpose is to convey what a researcher has learned through a careful reading of a set of articles, books, and other relevant forms of scholarship related to the research question. Furthermore, creating a literature review allows researchers to demonstrate the ability to find significant articles, valid studies, or seminal books that are related to their topic as well as the analytic skill to synthesize and summarize different views on a topic or issue.

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A strong literature review has the following properties:

  • It is organized around issues, themes, factors, or variables that are related directly to the thesis or research question.
  • It demonstrates the researcher’s familiarity with the body of knowledge by providing a good synthesis of what is and is not known about the subject in question, while also identifying areas of controversy and debate, or limitations in the literature sharing different perspectives.
  • It indicates the theoretical framework that the researcher is working with.
  • It places the formation of research questions in their historical and disciplinary context.
  • It identifies the most important authors engaged in similar work.
  • It offers an explanation of how the researcher can contribute toward the existing body of scholarship by pursuing their own thesis or research question.

Formulating the Hypothesis

A hypothesis is a potential answer to your research question; the research process helps you determine if your hypothesis is true.

Explain how hypotheses are used in sociological research and the difference between dependent and independent variables

  • Hypotheses are testable explanations of a problem, phenomenon, or observation.
  • Both quantitative and qualitative research involve formulating a hypothesis to address the research problem.
  • Hypotheses that suggest a causal relationship involve at least one independent variable and at least one dependent variable; in other words, one variable which is presumed to affect the other.
  • An independent variable is one whose value is manipulated by the researcher or experimenter.
  • A dependent variable is a variable whose values are presumed to change as a result of changes in the independent variable.
  • dependent variable : In an equation, the variable whose value depends on one or more variables in the equation.
  • independent variable : In an equation, any variable whose value is not dependent on any other in the equation.
  • hypothesis : Used loosely, a tentative conjecture explaining an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can be tested by further observation, investigation, or experimentation.

A hypothesis is an assumption or suggested explanation about how two or more variables are related. It is a crucial step in the scientific method and, therefore, a vital aspect of all scientific research. There are no definitive guidelines for the production of new hypotheses. The history of science is filled with stories of scientists claiming a flash of inspiration, or a hunch, which then motivated them to look for evidence to support or refute the idea.

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While there is no single way to develop a hypothesis, a useful hypothesis will use deductive reasoning to make predictions that can be experimentally assessed. If results contradict the predictions, then the hypothesis under examination is incorrect or incomplete and must be revised or abandoned. If results confirm the predictions, then the hypothesis might be correct but is still subject to further testing.

Both quantitative and qualitative research involve formulating a hypothesis to address the research problem. A hypothesis will generally provide a causal explanation or propose some association between two variables. Variables are measurable phenomena whose values can change under different conditions. For example, if the hypothesis is a causal explanation, it will involve at least one dependent variable and one independent variable. In research, independent variables are the cause of the change. The dependent variable is the effect, or thing that is changed. In other words, the value of a dependent variable depends on the value of the independent variable. Of course, this assumes that there is an actual relationship between the two variables. If there is no relationship, then the value of the dependent variable does not depend on the value of the independent variable.

Determining the Research Design

The research design is the methodology and procedure a researcher follows to answer their sociological question.

Compare and contrast quantitive methods and qualitative methods

  • Research design defines the study type, research question, hypotheses, variables, and data collection methods. Some examples of research designs include descriptive, correlational, and experimental. Another distinction can be made between quantitative and qualitative methods.
  • Sociological research can be conducted via quantitative or qualitative methods. Quantitative methods are useful when a researcher seeks to study large-scale patterns of behavior, while qualitative methods are more effective when dealing with interactions and relationships in detail.
  • Quantitative methods include experiments, surveys, and statistical analysis, among others. Qualitative methods include participant observation, interviews, and content analysis.
  • An interpretive framework is one that seeks to understand the social world from the perspective of participants.

Although sociologists often specialize in one approach, many sociologists use a complementary combination of design types and research methods in their research. Even in the same study a researcher may employ multiple methods.

  • quantitative methods : Quantitative research refers to the systematic empirical investigation of social phenomena via statistical, mathematical, or computational techniques.
  • qualitative methods : Qualitative research is a method of inquiry employed in many different academic disciplines, traditionally in the social sciences, but also in market research and further contexts. Qualitative researchers aim to gather an in-depth understanding of human behavior and the reasons that govern such behavior. The qualitative method investigates the why and how of decision making, not just what, where, and when. Hence, smaller but focused samples are more often needed than large samples.
  • scientific method : A method of discovering knowledge about the natural world based in making falsifiable predictions (hypotheses), testing them empirically, and developing peer-reviewed theories that best explain the known data.

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A research design encompasses the methodology and procedure employed to conduct scientific research. Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, identifiable features distinguish scientific inquiry from other methods of obtaining knowledge. In general, scientific researchers propose hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design research to test these hypotheses via predictions which can be derived from them.

The design of a study defines the study type, research question and hypotheses, independent and dependent variables, and data collection methods. There are many ways to classify research designs, but some examples include descriptive (case studies, surveys), correlational (observational study), semi-experimental (field experiment), experimental (with random assignment), review, and meta-analytic, among others. Another distinction can be made between quantitative methods and qualitative methods.

Quantitative Methods

Quantitative methods are generally useful when a researcher seeks to study large-scale patterns of behavior, while qualitative methods are often more effective when dealing with interactions and relationships in detail. Quantitative methods of sociological research approach social phenomena from the perspective that they can be measured and quantified. For instance, socio-economic status (often referred to by sociologists as SES) can be divided into different groups such as working-class, middle-class, and wealthy, and can be measured using any of a number of variables, such as income and educational attainment.

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Qualitative versus Quantitative Methods : These two researchers are debating the relative merits of using qualitative or quantitative methods to study social phenomena such as the learning processes of children.

Qualitative Methods

Qualitative methods are often used to develop a deeper understanding of a particular phenomenon. They also often deliberately give up on quantity, which is necessary for statistical analysis, in order to reach a greater depth in analysis of the phenomenon being studied. While quantitative methods involve experiments, surveys, secondary data analysis, and statistical analysis, qualitatively oriented sociologists tend to employ different methods of data collection and hypothesis testing, including participant observation, interviews, focus groups, content analysis, and historical comparison.

Qualitative sociological research is often associated with an interpretive framework, which is more descriptive or narrative in its findings. In contrast to the scientific method, which follows the hypothesis-testing model in order to find generalizable results, the interpretive framework seeks to understand social worlds from the point of view of participants.

Defining the Sample and Collecting Data

Defining the sample and collecting data are key parts of all empirical research, both qualitative and quantitative.

Describe different types of research samples

  • It is important to determine the scope of a research project when developing the question. The choice of method often depends largely on what the researcher intends to investigate. Quantitative and qualitative research projects require different subject selection techniques.
  • It is important to determine the scope of a research project when developing the question. While quantitative research requires at least 30 subjects to be considered statistically significant, qualitative research generally takes a more in-depth approach to fewer subjects.
  • For both qualitative and quantitative research, sampling can be used. The stages of the sampling process are defining the population of interest, specifying the sampling frame, determining the sampling method and sample size, and sampling and data collecting.
  • There are various types of samples, including probability and nonprobability samples. Examples of types of samples include simple random samples, stratified samples, cluster samples, and convenience samples.
  • Good data collection involves following the defined sampling process, keeping the data in order, and noting comments and non-responses. Errors and biases can result in the data. Sampling errors and biases are induced by the sample design. Non-sampling errors can also affect results.
  • data collection : Data collection is a term used to describe a process of preparing and collecting data.
  • sample : A subset of a population selected for measurement, observation or questioning, to provide statistical information about the population.
  • bias : The difference between the expectation of the sample estimator and the true population value, which reduces the representativeness of the estimator by systematically distorting it.

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Social scientists employ a range of methods in order to analyze a vast breadth of social phenomena. Many empirical forms of sociological research follow the scientific method. Scientific inquiry is generally intended to be as objective as possible in order to reduce the biased interpretations of results. Sampling and data collection are a key component of this process.

It is important to determine the scope of a research project when developing the question. The choice of method often depends largely on what the researcher intends to investigate. For example, a researcher concerned with drawing a statistical generalization across an entire population may administer a survey questionnaire to a representative sample population. By contrast, a researcher who seeks full contextual understanding of the social actions of individuals may choose ethnographic participant observation or open-ended interviews. These two types of studies will yield different types of data. While quantitative research requires at least 30 subjects to be considered statistically significant, qualitative research generally takes a more in-depth approach to fewer subjects.

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In both cases, it behooves the researcher to create a concrete list of goals for collecting data. For instance, a researcher might identify what characteristics should be represented in the subjects. Sampling can be used in both quantitative and qualitative research. In statistics and survey methodology, sampling is concerned with the selection of a subset of individuals from within a statistical population to estimate characteristics of the whole population. The stages of the sampling process are defining the population of interest, specifying the sampling frame, determining the sampling method and sample size, and sampling and data collecting.

There are various types of samples. A probability sampling is one in which every unit in the population has a chance (greater than zero) of being selected in the sample, and this probability can be accurately determined. Nonprobability sampling is any sampling method where some elements of the population have no chance of selection or where the probability of selection can’t be accurately determined. Examples of types of samples include simple random samples, stratified samples, cluster samples, and convenience samples.

Good data collection involves following the defined sampling process, keeping the data in time order, noting comments and other contextual events, and recording non-responses. Errors and biases can result in the data. Sampling errors and biases, such as selection bias and random sampling error, are induced by the sample design. Non-sampling errors are other errors which can impact the results, caused by problems in data collection, processing, or sample design.

Analyzing Data and Drawing Conclusions

Data analysis in sociological research aims to identify meaningful sociological patterns.

Compare and contrast the analysis of quantitative vs. qualitative data

  • Analysis of data is a process of inspecting, cleaning, transforming, and modeling data with the goal of highlighting useful information, suggesting conclusions, and supporting decision making. Data analysis is a process, within which several phases can be distinguished.
  • One way in which analysis can vary is by the nature of the data. Quantitative data is often analyzed using regressions. Regression analyses measure relationships between dependent and independent variables, taking the existence of unknown parameters into account.
  • Qualitative data can be coded–that is, key concepts and variables are assigned a shorthand, and the data gathered are broken down into those concepts or variables. Coding allows sociologists to perform a more rigorous scientific analysis of the data.

Sociological data analysis is designed to produce patterns. It is important to remember, however, that correlation does not imply causation; in other words, just because variables change at a proportional rate, it does not follow that one variable influences the other.

  • Without a valid design, valid scientific conclusions cannot be drawn. Internal validity concerns the degree to which conclusions about causality can be made. External validity concerns the extent to which the results of a study are generalizable.
  • correlation : A reciprocal, parallel or complementary relationship between two or more comparable objects.
  • causation : The act of causing; also the act or agency by which an effect is produced.
  • Regression analysis : In statistics, regression analysis includes many techniques for modeling and analyzing several variables, when the focus is on the relationship between a dependent variable and one or more independent variables. More specifically, regression analysis helps one understand how the typical value of the dependent variable changes when any one of the independent variables is varied, while the other independent variables are held fixed.

The Process of Data Analysis

Analysis of data is a process of inspecting, cleaning, transforming, and modeling data with the goal of highlighting useful information, suggesting conclusions, and supporting decision making. In statistical applications, some people divide data analysis into descriptive statistics, exploratory data analysis (EDA), and confirmatory data analysis (CDA). EDA focuses on discovering new features in the data and CDA focuses on confirming or falsifying existing hypotheses. Predictive analytics focuses on the application of statistical or structural models for predictive forecasting or classification. Text analytics applies statistical, linguistic, and structural techniques to extract and classify information from textual sources, a species of unstructured data.

Data analysis is a process, within which several phases can be distinguished. The initial data analysis phase is guided by examining, among other things, the quality of the data (for example, the presence of missing or extreme observations), the quality of measurements, and if the implementation of the study was in line with the research design. In the main analysis phase, either an exploratory or confirmatory approach can be adopted. Usually the approach is decided before data is collected. In an exploratory analysis, no clear hypothesis is stated before analyzing the data, and the data is searched for models that describe the data well. In a confirmatory analysis, clear hypotheses about the data are tested.

Regression Analysis

The type of data analysis employed can vary. One way in which analysis often varies is by the quantitative or qualitative nature of the data.

Quantitative data can be analyzed in a variety of ways, regression analysis being among the most popular. Regression analyses measure relationships between dependent and independent variables, taking the existence of unknown parameters into account. More specifically, regression analysis helps one understand how the typical value of the dependent variable changes when any one of the independent variables is varied, while the other independent variables are held fixed.

A large body of techniques for carrying out regression analysis has been developed. In practice, the performance of regression analysis methods depends on the form of the data generating process and how it relates to the regression approach being used. Since the true form of the data-generating process is generally not known, regression analysis often depends to some extent on making assumptions about this process. These assumptions are sometimes testable if a large amount of data is available. Regression models for prediction are often useful even when the assumptions are moderately violated, although they may not perform optimally. However, in many applications, especially with small effects or questions of causality based on observational data, regression methods give misleading results.

Qualitative data can involve coding–that is, key concepts and variables are assigned a shorthand, and the data gathered is broken down into those concepts or variables. Coding allows sociologists to perform a more rigorous scientific analysis of the data. Coding is the process of categorizing qualitative data so that the data becomes quantifiable and thus measurable. Of course, before researchers can code raw data such as taped interviews, they need to have a clear research question. How data is coded depends entirely on what the researcher hopes to discover in the data; the same qualitative data can be coded in many different ways, calling attention to different aspects of the data.

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Sociological Data Analysis

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Correlation, Causation, and Spurious Relationships : This mock newscast gives three competing interpretations of the same survey findings and demonstrates the dangers of assuming that correlation implies causation.

Conclusions

In terms of the kinds of conclusions that can be drawn, a study and its results can be assessed in multiple ways. Without a valid design, valid scientific conclusions cannot be drawn. Internal validity is an inductive estimate of the degree to which conclusions about causal relationships can be made (e.g., cause and effect), based on the measures used, the research setting, and the whole research design. External validity concerns the extent to which the (internally valid) results of a study can be held to be true for other cases, such as to different people, places, or times. In other words, it is about whether findings can be validly generalized. Learning about and applying statistics (as well as knowing their limitations) can help you better understand sociological research and studies. Knowledge of statistics helps you makes sense of the numbers in terms of relationships, and it allows you to ask relevant questions about sociological phenomena.

Preparing the Research Report

Sociological research publications generally include a literature review, an overview of the methodology followed, the results and an analysis of those results, and conclusions.

Describe the main components of a sociological research paper

  • Like any research paper, a sociological research report typically consists of a literature review, an overview of the methods used in data collection, and analysis, findings, and conclusions.
  • A literature review is a creative way of organizing what has been written about a topic by scholars and researchers.
  • The methods section is necessary to demonstrate how the study was conducted, including the population, sample frame, sample method, sample size, data collection method, and data processing and analysis.
  • In the findings and conclusion sections, the researcher reviews all significant findings, notes and discusses all shortcomings, and suggests future research.
  • methodology : A collection of methods, practices, procedures, and rules used by those who work in some field.
  • quantitative : Of a measurement based on some quantity or number rather than on some quality.
  • literature review : A literature review is a body of text that aims to review the critical points of current knowledge including substantive findings as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic.

Like any research paper, sociological research is presented with a literature review, an overview of the methods used in data collection, and analysis, findings, and conclusions. Quantitative research papers are usually highly formulaic, with a clear introduction (including presentation of the problem and literature review); sampling and methods; results; discussion and conclusion. In striving to be as objective as possible in order to reduce biased interpretations of results, sociological esearch papers follow the scientific method. Research reports may be published as books or journal articles, given directly to a client, or presented at professional meetings.

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A literature review is a creative way of organizing what has been written about a topic by scholars and researchers. You will find literature reviews at the beginning of many essays, research reports, or theses. In writing the literature review, your purpose is to convey to your reader what you have learned through a careful reading of a set of articles related to your research question.

  • It is organized around issues, themes, factors, or variables that are related directly to your thesis or research question.
  • It shows the path of prior research and how the current project is linked.
  • It provides a good synthesis of what is, and is not, known.
  • It indicates the theoretical framework with which you are working.
  • It identifies areas of controversy and debate, or limitations in the literature sharing different perspectives.
  • It places the formation of research questions in their historical context.
  • It identifies the list of the authors that are engaged in similar work.

The methodssection is necessary to demonstrate how the study was conducted, and that the data is valid for study. Without assurance that the research is based on sound methods, readers cannot countenance any conclusions the researcher proposes. In the methodology section, be sure to include: the population, sample frame, sample method, sample size, data collection method, and data processing and analysis. This is also a section in which to clearly present information in table and graph form.

In the findings and conclusion sections, the researcher reviews all significant findings, notes and discusses all shortcomings, and suggests future research. The conclusion section is the only section where opinions can be expressed and persuasive writing is tolerated.

Contributors and Attributions

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2.4 Research Methods for Social Problems

Theories discuss the why of particular social problems. They begin to systematically explain, for example, why socioeconomic class is prevalent in industrialized societies, or why implicit bias is so common. But how do sociologists develop the theories in the first place or figure out if the theories are useful? For that, they must observe people interacting, and collect data. The ways in which social scientists collect, analyze, and understand research information are called research methods.

However, science isn’t the only way to understand the world. You may experience many more ways of knowing. When you consider why you know something, this knowledge may be based on different sources or experiences. You may know when the movie starts because a friend told you, or because you looked it up on Google. You may know that rain is currently falling because you feel it on your head. You may know that it is wrong to kill another person because it is a belief in your religious tradition or part of your own ethical understanding. You may know because you have a gut feeling that a situation is dangerous, or a choice is the right one. You may know that your friend will be late to class because past experience predicts it. Or, instead of the past, you can imagine the future, knowing that eating a hamburger will satisfy your hunger, just by seeing the picture on the menu. Finally, you may know something because the language you use supports you in noticing particular details. For example, how many ways can you describe the water that falls from the sky? People who live in Oregon, for instance, use several distinct words for rainy weather: drizzle, downpour, showers. Partly cloudy doesn’t change their plans, but they may throw a jacket in the car. In other regions, it may be more useful to describe snow or heat in great detail. The formation of language itself structures how you know something. The table in figure 2.23 organizes these ways of knowing.

Figure 2.23 Ways of Knowing and Examples

Each of these ways of knowing is useful, depending on the circumstances. For example, when my wife and I bought our house, we did research on home prices, home loans, and market value—reason. We talked about what home felt like to us—emotion. We walked through houses and pictured what life would look like in a particular house—imagination. Ultimately, when we drove down the cedar and fir-lined driveway, welcomed by the warm light through the window—sense perception—we turned to each other and said, “I hope this house is still for sale,” because we both knew we had found our home—intuition.

Of all of these ways of knowing, though, reason allows us to use logic and evidence to draw conclusions about what is true. Reason, as used in science, is unique among all of the ways of knowing because it allows us to propose an idea about how a social situation might work, observe the situation, and find out whether our idea is correct. Sociology is a unique scientific approach to understanding people. Let’s explore this more deeply.

As you saw in Chapter 1, sociology is the systematic study of society and social interactions to understand our social world. Although sages, leaders, philosophers, and other wisdom holders have asked what makes a good life throughout human history, sociology applies scientific principles to understanding human behavior.

Like anthropologists, psychologists, and other social scientists, sociologists collect and analyze data in order to draw conclusions about human behavior. Although these fields often overlap and complement each other, sociologists focus most on the interaction of people in groups, communities, institutions, and interrelated systems.

More simply, sociologists study society, a group of people who live in a defined geographic area, who interact with one another, and who share a common culture. Sociologists study human interactions at the smallest micro unit of how parents and children bond, to the widest macro lens of what causes war throughout recorded history. They explore microaggressions, those small moments of interaction that reinforce prejudice in small but powerful ways. They also study the generationally persistent systems of systemic inequality. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage and the climate crisis worsens, sociologists turn even greater attention to global and planetary systems to understand and explain our interdependence.

2.4.1 The Scientific Method

Scientists use shared approaches for figuring out how the social world works. The most common method is known as the scientific method , an established scholarly research process that involves asking a question, researching existing sources, forming a hypothesis, designing a data collection method, gathering data, and drawing conclusions. Often this method is shown as a straight line. Scientists proceed in an orderly fashion, executing one step after the next.

In reality, the scientific method is a circular process rather than a straight line, as shown in figure 2.24. The circle helps us to see that science is driven by curiosity and that learnings at each step move us to the next step, in ongoing loops. This model allows for the creativity and collaboration that is essential in how we actually create new scientific understandings. Let’s dive deeper!

research report about social issues brainly

Figure 2.24 The Scientific method as an ongoing process Figure 2.24 Image Description

2.4.1.1 Step 1: Identify a Social Issue/Find a Research Topic and Ask a Question

The first step of the scientific method is to ask a question, select a problem, and identify the specific area of interest. The topic should be narrow enough to study within a geographic location and time frame. “Are societies capable of sustained happiness?” would be too vague. The question should also be broad enough to be of significance. “What do personal hygiene habits reveal about the values of students at XYZ High School?” would be too narrow. Sociologists strive to frame questions that examine well-defined patterns and relationships.

2.4.1.2 Step 2: Review the Literature/Research Existing Sources

The next step researchers undertake is to conduct background research through a literature review, which is a review of any existing similar or related studies. A visit to the library, a thorough online search, and a survey of academic journals will uncover existing research about the topic of study. This step helps researchers gain a broad understanding of work previously conducted, identify gaps in understanding of the topic, and position their own research to build on prior knowledge. Researchers—including student researchers—are responsible for correctly citing existing sources they use in a study or that inform their work. While it is fine to borrow previously published material (as long as it enhances a unique viewpoint), it must be referenced properly.

To study crime, for example, a researcher might also sort through existing data from the court system, police database, and prison information. It’s important to examine this information in addition to existing research to determine how these resources might be used to fill holes in existing knowledge. Reviewing existing sources educates researchers and helps refine and improve a research study design.

2.4.1.3 Step 3: Formulate a Hypothesis

A hypothesis is a testable educated guess about predicted outcomes between two or more variables. In sociology, the hypothesis will often predict how one form of human behavior influences another. For example, a hypothesis might be in the form of an “if, then statement.” Let’s relate this to our topic of crime: If unemployment increases, then the crime rate will increase.

In scientific research, we formulate hypotheses to include an independent variable (IV) , which is the cause of the change, and a dependent variable (DV) , which is the effect , or thing that is changed. In the example above, unemployment is the independent variable and the crime rate is the dependent variable.

In a sociological study, the researcher would establish one form of human behavior as the independent variable and observe the influence it has on a dependent variable. How does gender (the independent variable) affect the rate of income (the dependent variable)? How does one’s religion (the independent variable) affect family size (the dependent variable)? How is social class (the dependent variable) affected by level of education (the independent variable)?

Figure 2.25 Examples of dependent and independent variables. Typically, the independent variable causes the dependent variable to change in some way.

Taking an example from figure 2.25, a researcher might hypothesize that teaching children proper hygiene (the independent variable) will boost their sense of self-esteem (the dependent variable). Note, however, this hypothesis can also work the other way around. A sociologist might predict that increasing a child’s sense of self-esteem (the independent variable) will increase or improve habits of hygiene (now the dependent variable). Identifying the independent and dependent variables is very important. As the hygiene example shows, simply identifying two related topics or variables is not enough. Their prospective relationship must be part of the hypothesis.

2.4.1.4 Step 4: Select a Research Method and Design a Study

Researchers select a research method that is appropriate to answer their research question in this step. Surveys, experiments, interviews, ethnography, and content analysis are just a few examples that researchers may use. You will learn more about these and other research methods later in this chapter. Typically your research question influences the type of methods that will be used.

2.4.1.5 Step 5: Collect Data

Next the researcher collects data. Depending on the research design (step 4), the researcher will begin the process of collecting information on their research topic. After all the data is gathered, the researcher will be able to systematically organize and analyze the data.

2.4.1.6 Step 6: Analyze the Data

After constructing the research design, sociologists collect, tabulate or categorize, and analyze data to formulate conclusions. If the analysis supports the hypothesis, researchers can discuss what this might mean. If the analysis does not support the hypothesis, researchers may consider repeating the study or think of ways to improve their procedure.

Even when results contradict a sociologist’s prediction of a study’s outcome, the results still contribute to sociological understanding. Sociologists analyze general patterns in response to a study, but they are equally interested in exceptions to patterns. In a study of education, for example, a researcher might predict that high school dropouts have a hard time finding rewarding careers. While many assume that the higher the education, the higher the salary and degree of career happiness, there are certainly exceptions. People with little education have had stunning careers, and people with advanced degrees have had trouble finding work. A sociologist prepares a hypothesis knowing that results may substantiate or contradict it.

2.4.1.7 Step 7: Report Findings

Researchers report their results at conferences and in academic journals. These results are then subjected to the scrutiny of other sociologists in the field. Before the conclusions of a study become widely accepted, the studies are often repeated in the same or different environments. In this way, sociological theories and knowledge develop as the relationships between social phenomena are established in broader contexts and different circumstances.

If you still aren’t quite sure about how sociologists use the scientific method, you might enjoy “ The Scientific Method: Steps, Examples, Tips, and Exercise [YouTube Video] ,” which explores why people smile. It also reminds us that people have been using logic and evidence to explore the world for centuries. The video credits Ibn al-Haytham , an eleventh-century Arab Muslim scholar with pioneering the modern scientific method in his study of light and vision (figure 2.26). If the video makes you curious about the science behind why people smile, you might want to check out this current research related to gender and smiling in this article, “ Women smile more than men, but differences disappear when they are in the same role, Yale researcher finds .”

Ibn al-Hayatham

Figure 2.26 Drawing of Ibn al-Hayatham

You might remember that in Chapter 1 , we talked about human society like a forest. We said that individual trees did not exist in isolation. Instead, they were interdependent. They formed a living community. The video in figure 2.27 describes the science behind this knowledge. Please watch at least the first 10 minutes to see if you can discover all the steps of the scientific method that Canadian female scientist Suzanne Simard used in her revolutionary science.

Figure 2.27 Suzanne Simard: How Trees Talk To Each Other [YouTube Video]

2.4.2 Interpretive Framework

You may have noticed that most of the early recognized sociologists in this chapter were White wealthy men. Often, they looked at economics, poverty, and industrialization as their topics. They were committed to using the scientific method. Although women like Harriet Martineau and Jane Addams examined a wide range of social problems and acted on their research, science, even social science, was considered a domain of men. Even in 2020, women are only less than 30% of the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) workforce in the United States (American Association of University Women 2020).

Feminist scientists challenge this exclusion, and the kinds of science it creates. Feminist scientists argue that women and non-binary people belong everywhere in science.They belong in the laboratories and scientific offices. They belong in deciding what topics to study, so that social problems of gendered violence or maternal health are studied also. They belong as participants in research, so that findings apply to people of all gender identities. They belong in applying the results to doing something about social problems. In other words:

Feminists have detailed the historically gendered participation in the practice of science—the marginalization or exclusion of women from the profession and how their contributions have disappeared when they have participated. Feminists have also noted how the sciences have been slow to study women’s lives, bodies, and experiences. Thus from both the perspectives of the agents—the creators of scientific knowledge—and from the perspectives of the subjects of knowledge—the topics and interests focused on—the sciences often have not served women satisfactorily. (Crasnow 2020)

See figure description

Figure 2.28 NASA “human computer” Katherine Johnson watches the premiere of Hidden Figures after a reception where she was honored along with other members of the segregated West Area Computers division of Langley Research Center.

You may have seen the movie Hidden Figures or read the book. In figure 2.28, Katherine Johnson, an African American mathematician, physicist, and space scientist, watches the premiere of the movie. In it, women, particularly Black women, were the computers for NASA, manually calculating all the math needed to launch and orbit rockets. However, politicians and leaders did not recognize their work. Even when they were creating equations and writing reports, women’s names didn’t go on the title pages.

The practice of science often excludes women and nonbinary people from leadership in research, research topics, and as research subjects. The feminist critque of the traditional scientific method, and other critiques around the process of doing traditional science created space for other frameworks to emerge.

One such framework is the interpretive framework. The interpretive framework is an approach that involves detailed understanding of a particular subject through observation or listening to people’s stories, not through hypothesis testing. Researchers try to understand social experiences from the point of view of the people who are experiencing them. They interview people or look at blogs, newspapers, or videos to discover what people say is happening, and how the people make sense of things. This in-depth understanding allows the researcher to create a new theory about human activity. The steps are similar to the scientific method, but not the same, as you see in figure 2.29.

See image description

Figure 2.29. Interpretive framework, Figure 2.29 I mage Description

White American researcher Brene Brown, who you will learn more about in Chapter 3 , describes the approach this way:

In grounded theory we don’t start with a problem or a hypothesis or a literature review, we start with a topic. We let the participants define the problem or their main concern about the topic, we develop a theory, and then we see how and where it fits in the literature. (Brown 2022)

In her own research she interviewed people who she considered resilient to understand how shame works. By listening to resilient people, she was able to develop a theory about how people recover from difficult situations in life. If you are interested in seeing her writing for yourself, check out this blog post on addressing social problems with the power of love: “ Doubling Down on Love .”

Even though both the traditional scientific method and the interpretive framework start with curiosity and questions, the people who practice science using the interpretive framework allow the data to tell its story. Using this method can lead to insightful and transformative results. You can find things you didn’t even know to expect, because you are listening to what the stories say.

2.4.3 Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods

In the video you saw in figure 2.20, Suzanne Simard describes the amazing science she does when she researches how trees talk to each other. The methods she uses, with the possible exception of bringing bear spray, don’t work very well when you study people. Instead social scientists use a variety of methods that allow them to explain and predict the social world. These research methods define how we do social science.

In this section, we examine some of the most common research methods. Research methods are often grouped into two categories: quantitative research , data collected in numerical form that can be counted and analyzed using statistics and qualitative research , non-numerical, descriptive data that is often subjective and based on what is experienced in a natural setting. These methods seem to contradict each other, but some of the strongest scientific studies combine both approaches. New research methods go beyond the two categories, exploring international and Indigenous knowledge, or doing research for the purpose of taking action.

2.4.3.1 Surveys

Do you strongly agree? Agree? Neither agree or disagree? Disagree? Strongly disagree? You’ve probably completed your fair share of surveys, if you’ve heard this before. At some point, most people in the United States respond to some type of survey. The 2020 U.S. Census is an excellent example of a large-scale survey intended to gather sociological data. Since 1790, the United States has conducted a survey consisting of six questions to receive demographic data of the residents who live in the United States.

As a research method, a survey collects data from subjects who respond to a series of questions about behaviors and opinions, often in the form of a questionnaire or an interview. Surveys are one of the most widely used scientific research methods. The standard survey format allows individuals a level of anonymity in which they can express personal ideas.

Not all surveys are considered sociological research. Many surveys people commonly encounter focus on identifying marketing needs and strategies rather than testing a hypothesis or contributing to social science knowledge. Questions such as, “How many hot dogs do you eat in a month?” or “Were the staff helpful?” are not usually designed as scientific research. Surveys gather different types of information from people. While surveys are not great at capturing the ways people really behave in social situations, they are a great method for discovering how people feel, think, and act—or at least how they say they feel, think, and act. Surveys can track preferences for presidential candidates or reported individual behaviors (such as sleeping, driving, or texting habits) or information such as employment status, income, and education levels.

2.4.3.2 Experiments

One way researchers test social theories is by conducting an experiment, meaning the researcher investigates relationships to test a hypothesis. This approach closely resembles the scientific method. There are two main types of experiments: lab-based experiments and natural or field experiments. In a lab setting, the research can be controlled so that data can be recorded in a limited amount of time. In a natural or field-based experiment, the time it takes to gather the data cannot be controlled but the information might be considered more accurate since it was collected without interference or intervention by the researcher. Field-based experiments are often used to evaluate interventions in educational settings and health (Baldassarri and Abascal 2017).

Typically, the sociologist selects a set of people with similar characteristics, such as age, class, race, or education. Those people are divided into two groups. One is the experimental group and the other is the control group. The experimental group is exposed to the independent variable(s) and the control group is not. To test the benefits of tutoring, for example, the sociologist might provide tutoring to the experimental group of students but not to the control group. Then both groups would be tested for differences in performance to see if tutoring had an effect on the experimental group of students. As you can imagine, in a case like this, the researcher would not want to jeopardize the accomplishments of either group of students, so the setting would be somewhat artificial. The test would not be for a grade reflected on their permanent record as a student, for example.

2.4.3.3 Secondary Data Analysis

While sociologists often engage in original research studies, they also contribute knowledge to the discipline through secondary data analysis. Secondary data does not result from firsthand research collected from primary sources. Instead secondary data uses data collected by other researchers or data collected by an agency or organization. Sociologists might study works written by historians, economists, teachers, or early sociologists. They might search through periodicals, newspapers, or magazines, or organizational data from any period in history.

2.4.3.4 Participant Observation

Participant observation refers to a style of research where researchers join people and participate in a group’s routine activities for the purpose of observing them within that context. This method lets researchers experience a specific aspect of social life. A researcher might go to great lengths to get a firsthand look into a trend, institution, or behavior. For instance, a researcher might work as a waitress in a diner, experience homelessness for several weeks, or ride along with police officers as they patrol their regular beat. Often, these researchers try to blend in seamlessly with the population they study, and they may not disclose their true identity or purpose if they feel it would compromise the results of their research.

At the beginning of a field study, researchers might have a question: “What really goes on in the kitchen of the most popular diner on campus?” or “What is it like to be homeless?” Participant observation is a useful method if the researcher wants to explore a certain environment from the inside. The ethnographer will be alert and open minded to whatever happens, recording all observations accurately. Soon, as patterns emerge, questions will become more specific, and the researcher will be able either make connections to existing theories or develop new theories based on their observations. This approach will guide the researcher in analyzing data and generating results.

2.4.3.5 In-depth interviews

Interviews, sometimes referred to as in-depth interviews, are one-on-one conversations with participants designed to gather information about a particular topic. Interviews can take a long time to complete, but they can produce very rich data. In fact, in an interview, a respondent might say something that the researcher had not previously considered, which can help focus the research project. Researchers have to be careful not to use leading questions. You want to avoid leading the respondent into certain kinds of answers by asking questions like, “You really like eating vegetables, don’t you?” Instead researchers should allow the respondent to answer freely by asking questions like, “How do you feel about eating vegetables?”

2.4.4 International Research

International research is conducted outside of the researcher’s own immediate geography and society. This work carries additional challenges considering that researchers often work in regions and cultures different from their own. Researchers need to make special considerations in order to counter their own biases, navigate linguistic challenges and ensure the best cross cultural understanding possible. This webpage shows a map and descriptions of field projects around the world by students at Oxford University’s Masters in Development Studies. What are some interesting projects that stand out to you?

For example, in 2021 Jörg Friedrichs at Oxford published his research on Muslim hate crimes in areas of North England where Islam is the majority religion. He studied police data of racial and religious hate crimes in two districts to look for patterns related to the crimes. He related those patterns to the wider context of community relations between Muslims and other groups, and presented his research to hate crime practitioners in police, local government and civil society (Friedrichs 2021).

2.4.5 Indigenous Knowledge

Indigenous scientists also critique traditional ways of doing science. Often, Western science will break things down into parts to understand what each part does. While that may help understand details, it doesn’t give the whole picture of a process or help understand the interdependence in the social and physical world. Also, Western science values intellectual ways of knowing. Intuition, empathy, and connection are not valued. Robin Wall Kimmer, an Indigenous biologist from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, writes this:

Native scholar Greg Cajete has written that in indigenous ways of knowing, we understand a thing only when we understand it with all four aspects of our being: mind, body, emotion, and spirit. I came to understand quite sharply when I began my training as a scientist that science privileges only one, possibly two, of those ways of knowing: mind and body. As a young person wanting to know everything about plants, I did not question this. But it is a whole human being who finds the beautiful path. (Kimmerer 2013)

When we can do science using all of our ways of knowing, our answers become richer. As the world becomes more aware of increases in the environmental crisis, researchers are more often acknowledging the ways that Indigenous peoples care for their ecological surroundings. As Indigenous communities conduct their own fieldwork to identify and document their own knowledge they are able to engage with research as agents of ecological conservation.

Figure 2.30 Consider This with Robin Wall Kimmerer [YouTube Video]

In the video in Figure 2.30, Kimmerer has a longer conversation about what it means to be American. Starting around minute 55:25 she shares the importance of naming, and how naming can sometimes shut down learning. Please listen to her words for yourself, and reflect on how the practices she introduces might change your own approach to science.

2.4.6 Community-Based Research and Participatory Action Research

Social problems sociologists and other social scientists often conduct their research so that they can take action. Action research is a family of research methodologies that pursue action (or change) and research (or understanding) at the same time. We see this when the government changes a policy based on data or when a community organization tries a new evidence-based approach for providing services. One of the most visible applications of social problems research is through humanitarian or social action efforts.

2.4.6.1 Humanitarian Efforts

One effective example of social action efforts is in the work of Paul Farmer. Farmer was a public health physician, anthropologist, and founder of partners in health. Until his death in 2022, he focused on epidemiological crises in low and middle income countries.

One trend that Farmer championed was the importance of good health and health care as human rights. He contributed to a broader understanding that poor health is a symptom of poverty, violence and inequality (Partners in Health 2009). If you want to learn more, please watch the NPR video essay, “ Paul Farmer: I believe in health care as a human right ” [YouTube Video] where he describes this view. What field experiences of Farmer’s do you see allowed him to develop this view?

Farmer applied this human rights perspective to pandemics. His book, Fevers, Feuds and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of History , looks at the 2014 Ebola crisis, and what we can learn from it to apply to the COVID-19 epidemic. In a PBS Newshour interview he spoke of his work during the Ebola outbreak:

>Early in the Ebola outbreak, almost all of our attention was turned towards clinical services. But we kept on bumping into things we didn’t understand and sometimes even our colleagues from Sierra Leone and Liberia didn’t understand. And that just triggered an interest in a deeper understanding of the place, the culture, the history. (Public Broadcasting Service 2021).

Farmer shares his experiences both as a medical doctor and a researcher, asking the questions: “Who is most impacted by disease? How might things have been done differently? What can be done now?” His research on Ebola focused on circumstances in West Africa where lack of medical resources and decades of war played a role in the epidemic, and how the epidemic itself, as we experience in the United States with Covid, revealed underlying problems and inequities in society (Public Broadcasting Service 2021). We’ll explore topics of health, inequality and interdependence more deeply in Chapter 7 .

2.4.6.2 Community-Based Action Research

Community-based research takes place in community settings. It involves community members in the design and implementation of research projects. It demonstrates respect for the contributions of success that are made by community partners. Research projects involve collaboration between researchers and community partners, whether the community partners are formally structured community-based organizations or informal groups of individual community members. The aim of this type of research is to benefit the community by achieving social justice through social action and change.

2.4.6.3 Participatory Action Research

Community-based research is sometimes called participatory action research (Stringer 2021). In partnership with community organizations, researchers apply their social science research skills to help assess needs, outcomes, and provide data that can be used to improve living conditions. The research is rigorous and often published in professional reports and presented to the board of directors for the organization you are working with. As it sounds, action research suggests that we make a plan to implement changes. Often with academic research, we aim to learn more about a population and leave the next steps up to others. This is an important part of the puzzle, as we need to start with knowledge but action research often has the goal of fixing something or at least quickly translating the newly acquired findings into a solution for a social problem.

To learn more about participatory action research, check out this short 4 minute clip for an introduction with Shirah Hassan of Just Practice (figure 2.31):

Figure 2.31 Participatory Action Research with Shirah Hassan  [YouTube Video]

Community-based action research looks for evidence. As new insights emerge, the researchers adjust the question or the approach. This type of research engages people who have traditionally been referred to as subjects as active participants in the research process. The researcher is working with the organization during the whole process and will likely bring in different project design elements based on the needs of the organization. Social scientists can bring more formalized training, but they draw both on existing research/literature and goals of the organization they are working with. Community-based research or participatory research can be thought of as an orientation for research rather than strictly a method. Often a number of different methods are used to collect data. Change can often be one of the main aims of the project, as we will see in the box below.

2.4.7 Research Ethics

How we do science and how we apply our results is more challenging than it might first appear. The American Sociological Association (ASA) is the major professional organization of sociologists in North America. ASA is a great resource for students of sociology as well. The ASA maintains a code of ethics —formal guidelines for conducting sociological research—consisting of principles and ethical standards to be used in the discipline. These formal guidelines were established by practitioners in 1905 at John Hopkins University, and revised in 1997. When working with human subjects, these codes of ethics require researchers’ to do the following:

  • Maintain objectivity and integrity in research
  • Respect subjects’ rights to privacy and dignity
  • Protect subject from personal harm
  • Preserve confidentiality
  • Seek informed consent
  • Acknowledge collaboration and assistance
  • Disclose sources of financial support

2.4.8 Unethical Studies

Unfortunately, when these codes of ethics are ignored, it creates an unethical environment for humans being involved in a sociological study. Throughout history, there have been numerous unethical studies, as we’ll explore in the following sections.

2.4.8.1 The Tuskegee Experiment

This study was conducted 1932 in Macon County, Alabama, and included 600 African American men, including 399 diagnosed with syphilis. The participants were told they were diagnosed with a disease of “bad blood.” Penicillin was distributed in the 1940s as the cure for the disease, but unfortunately, the African American men were not given the treatment because the objective of the study was to see “how untreated syphilis would affect the African American male” (Caplan 2007). This study was shut down in 1972, because a reporter wrote that at least 128 people had died from syphillis or related complications (Nix 2020).

2.4.8.2 Milgram Experiment

In 1961, psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment at Yale University. Its purpose was to measure the willingness of study subjects to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. People in the role of teacher believed they were administering electric shocks to students who gave incorrect answers to word-pair questions. No matter how concerned they were about administering the progressively more intense shocks, the teachers were told to keep going. The ethical concerns involve the extreme emotional distress faced by the teachers, who believed they were hurting other people. (Vogel 2014). Today this experiment would not be allowed because it would violate the ethical principal of protecting subjects from personal harm.

2.4.8.3 Philip Zimbardo and the Stanford prison experiment

In 1971, psychologist Phillip Zimbardo conducted a study involving students from Stanford University. The students were put in the roles of prisoners and guards, and were required to play their assigned role accordingly. The experiment was intended to last two weeks, but it only lasted six days due to the negative outcome and treatment of the “prisoners.” Beyond the ethical concerns, the study’s validity has been questioned after participants revealed they had been coached to behave in specific ways. Today, this experiment would not be allowed because it would violate a participants right to dignity, and protection from harm.

2.4.8.4 Laud Humphreys

In the 1960s, Laud Humphreys conducted an experiment at a restroom in a park known for same-sex sexual encounters. His objective was to understand the diversity of backgrounds and motivations of people seeking same-sex relationships. His ethics were questioned because he misrepresented his identity and intent while observing and questioning the men he interviewed (Nardi 1995). Today this experiment would not be allowed because participants did not provide informed consent, among other issues.

2.4.9 Licenses and Attributions for Research Methods for Social Problems

2.4 Research methods for social problems.

Puentes and Gougherty https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BOCrIQ5xDJD1RbVdmS1glMeaKurj4fHgF5hkn2P77-U/edit#heading=h.lc1f68rgruem Slightly summarized

Figure 2.23 – Ways of Knowing and Examples by Kimberly Puttman. License: CC-BY-ND

Figure 2.24 The Scientific Method as an Ongoing Process by Michaela Willi Hooper and Jennifer Puentes. License: CC-BY-4.0.

Figure 2.25 Examples of dependent and independent variables. Typically, the independent variable causes the dependent variable to change in some way. [c] [d]

Figure 2.26 Drawing of Ibn al-Hayatham by Unknown Artist, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons public domain.

Figure 2.27 “ How Trees Talk To Each Other ” by Suzanne Simard. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

2.4.2 Interpretive Frameworks by Kimberly Puttman. License: CC-BY-4.0

Figure 2.28 “ Hidden Figures Premiere ” by NASA/Aubrey Gemignani, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons public domain.

Figure 2.29. Interpretive Framework Source – Kim Puttman [e]

Figure 2.30 “ Consider This with Robin Wall Kimmerer ” by Oregon Humanities . License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

Figure 2.31 “ Participatory Action Research ” with Shirah Haasan by Vera Instit ute of Justice . License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

Social Problems Copyright © by Kim Puttman. All Rights Reserved.

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1.4 Doing Research on Social Problems

Learning objectives.

  • List the major advantages and disadvantages of surveys, observational studies, and experiments.
  • Explain why scholars who study social problems often rely on existing data.

Sound research is an essential tool for understanding the sources, dynamics, and consequences of social problems and possible solutions to them. This section briefly describes the major ways in which sociologists gather information about social problems. Table 1.2 “Major Sociological Research Methods” summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of each method.

Table 1.2 Major Sociological Research Methods

The survey is the most common method by which sociologists gather their data. The Gallup poll is perhaps the most well-known example of a survey and, like all surveys, gathers its data with the help of a questionnaire that is given to a group of respondents . The Gallup poll is an example of a survey conducted by a private organization, but sociologists do their own surveys, as does the government and many organizations in addition to Gallup. Many surveys are administered to respondents who are randomly chosen and thus constitute a random sample . In a random sample, everyone in the population (whether it be the whole US population or just the population of a state or city, all the college students in a state or city or all the students at just one college, etc.) has the same chance of being included in the survey. The beauty of a random sample is that it allows us to generalize the results of the sample to the population from which the sample comes. This means that we can be fairly sure of the behavior and attitudes of the whole US population by knowing the behavior and attitudes of just four hundred people randomly chosen from that population.

Some surveys are face-to-face surveys, in which interviewers meet with respondents to ask them questions. This type of survey can yield much information, because interviewers typically will spend at least an hour asking their questions, and a high response rate (the percentage of all people in the sample who agree to be interviewed), which is important to be able to generalize the survey’s results to the entire population. On the downside, this type of survey can be very expensive and time consuming to conduct.

A call center with employees taking surveys over the phone

Surveys are very useful for gathering various kinds of information relevant to social problems. Advances in technology have made telephone surveys involving random-digit dialing perhaps the most popular way of conducting a survey.

plantronicsgermany – Encore520 call center man standing – CC BY-ND 2.0.

Because of these drawbacks, sociologists and other researchers have turned to telephone surveys. Most Gallup polls are conducted over the telephone. Computers do random-digit dialing, which results in a random sample of all telephone numbers being selected. Although the response rate and the number of questions asked are both lower than in face-to-face surveys (people can just hang up the phone at the outset or let their answering machine take the call), the ease and low expense of telephone surveys are making them increasingly popular. Surveys done over the Internet are also becoming more popular, as they can reach many people at very low expense. A major problem with web surveys is that their results cannot necessarily be generalized to the entire population because not everyone has access to the Internet.

Surveys are used in the study of social problems to gather information about the behavior and attitudes of people regarding one or more problems. For example, many surveys ask people about their use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs or about their experiences of being unemployed or in poor health. Many of the chapters in this book will present evidence gathered by surveys carried out by sociologists and other social scientists, various governmental agencies, and private research and public interest firms.

Experiments

Experiments are the primary form of research in the natural and physical sciences, but in the social sciences they are for the most part found only in psychology. Some sociologists still use experiments, however, and they remain a powerful tool of social research.

The major advantage of experiments, whether they are done in the natural and physical sciences or in the social sciences, is that the researcher can be fairly sure of a cause-and-effect relationship because of the way the experiment is set up. Although many different experimental designs exist, the typical experiment consists of an experimental group and a control group , with subjects randomly assigned to either group. The researcher does something to the experimental group that is not done to the control group. If the two groups differ later in some variable, then it is safe to say that the condition to which the experimental group was subjected was responsible for the difference that resulted.

Most experiments take place in the laboratory, which for psychologists may be a room with a one-way mirror, but some experiments occur in the field, or in a natural setting ( field experiments ). In Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the early 1980s, sociologists were involved in a much-discussed field experiment sponsored by the federal government. The researchers wanted to see whether arresting men for domestic violence made it less likely that they would commit such violence again. To test this hypothesis, the researchers had police do one of the following after arriving at the scene of a domestic dispute: They either arrested the suspect, separated him from his wife or partner for several hours, or warned him to stop but did not arrest or separate him. The researchers then determined the percentage of men in each group who committed repeated domestic violence during the next six months and found that those who were arrested had the lowest rate of recidivism, or repeat offending (Sherman & Berk, 1984). This finding led many jurisdictions across the United States to adopt a policy of mandatory arrest for domestic violence suspects. However, replications of the Minneapolis experiment in other cities found that arrest sometimes reduced recidivism for domestic violence but also sometimes increased it, depending on which city was being studied and on certain characteristics of the suspects, including whether they were employed at the time of their arrest (Sherman, 1992).

As the Minneapolis study suggests, perhaps the most important problem with experiments is that their results are not generalizable beyond the specific subjects studied. The subjects in most psychology experiments, for example, are college students, who obviously are not typical of average Americans: They are younger, more educated, and more likely to be middle class. Despite this problem, experiments in psychology and other social sciences have given us very valuable insights into the sources of attitudes and behavior. Scholars of social problems are increasingly using field experiments to study the effectiveness of various policies and programs aimed at addressing social problems. We will examine the results of several such experiments in the chapters ahead.

Observational Studies

Observational research, also called field research , is a staple of sociology. Sociologists have long gone into the field to observe people and social settings, and the result has been many rich descriptions and analyses of behavior in juvenile gangs, bars, urban street corners, and even whole communities.

Observational studies consist of both participant observation and nonparticipant observation . Their names describe how they differ. In participant observation, the researcher is part of the group that she or he is studying, spends time with the group, and might even live with people in the group. Several classical social problems studies of this type exist, many of them involving people in urban neighborhoods (Liebow, 1967; Liebow, 1993; Whyte, 1943). In nonparticipant observation, the researcher observes a group of people but does not otherwise interact with them. If you went to your local shopping mall to observe, say, whether people walking with children looked happier than people without children, you would be engaging in nonparticipant observation.

Similar to experiments, observational studies cannot automatically be generalized to other settings or members of the population. But in many ways they provide a richer account of people’s lives than surveys do, and they remain an important method of research on social problems.

Existing Data

Sometimes sociologists do not gather their own data but instead analyze existing data that someone else has gathered. The US Census Bureau, for example, gathers data on all kinds of areas relevant to the lives of Americans, and many sociologists analyze census data on such social problems as poverty, unemployment, and illness. Sociologists interested in crime and the criminal justice system may analyze data from court records, while medical sociologists often analyze data from patient records at hospitals. Analysis of existing data such as these is called secondary data analysis . Its advantage to sociologists is that someone else has already spent the time and money to gather the data. A disadvantage is that the data set being analyzed may not contain data on all the topics in which a sociologist may be interested or may contain data on topics that are not measured in ways the sociologist might prefer.

The Scientific Method and Objectivity

This section began by stressing the need for sound research in the study of social problems. But what are the elements of sound research? At a minimum, such research should follow the rules of the scientific method . As you probably learned in high school and/or college science classes, these rules—formulating hypotheses, gathering and testing data, drawing conclusions, and so forth—help guarantee that research yields the most accurate and reliable conclusions possible.

An overriding principle of the scientific method is that research should be conducted as objectively as possible. Researchers are often passionate about their work, but they must take care not to let the findings they expect and even hope to uncover affect how they do their research. This in turn means that they must not conduct their research in a manner that helps achieve the results they expect to find. Such bias can happen unconsciously, and the scientific method helps reduce the potential for this bias as much as possible.

This potential is arguably greater in the social sciences than in the natural and physical sciences. The political views of chemists and physicists typically do not affect how an experiment is performed and how the outcome of the experiment is interpreted. In contrast, researchers in the social sciences, and perhaps particularly in sociology, often have strong feelings about the topics they are studying. Their social and political beliefs may thus influence how they perform their research on these topics and how they interpret the results of this research. Following the scientific method helps reduce this possible influence.

Key Takeaways

  • The major types of research on social problems include surveys, experiments, observational studies, and the use of existing data.
  • Surveys are the most common method, and the results of surveys of random samples may be generalized to the populations from which the samples come.
  • Observation studies and existing data are also common methods in social problems research. Observation studies enable the gathering of rich, detailed information, but their results cannot necessarily be generalized beyond the people studied.
  • Research on social problems should follow the scientific method to yield the most accurate and objective conclusions possible.

For Your Review

  • Have you ever been a respondent or subject in any type of sociological or psychological research project? If so, how did it feel to be studied?
  • Which type of social problems research method sounds most interesting to you? Why?

Liebow, E. (1967). Tally’s corner . Boston, MA: Little, Brown.

Liebow, E. (1993). Tell them who I am: The lives of homeless women . New York, NY: Free Press.

Sherman, L. W., & Berk, R. A. (1984). The specific deterrent effects of arrest for domestic assault. American Sociological Review, 49 , 261–272.

Sherman, L. W. (1992). Policing domestic violence: Experiments and dilemmas . New York, NY: Free Press.

Whyte, W. F. (1943). Street corner society: The social structure of an Italian slum . Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Social Problems Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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100+ Social Issues Research Paper Topics

Group of people discussing social issues

There are many issues in society to write about, making social issue essay topics some of the most fun. However, choosing a social topic for an essay isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when there are several social essay topics. The secret to choosing the best among the many social topics is knowing what makes the best social topics for an essay, the best.

This article will give you workable tips for choosing a great topic on specific social issues, argumentative essay topics , and social topics. We will also throw in 100 topics on social issues; they can serve as your social topic or inspiration for choosing.

What Are Top Tips for Choosing Social Topics to Write About?

What characterizes the best social issue topics, social issue topics list, fascinating research topics on social issues, interesting social commentary topics, interesting social issues on social media, ideas of social issues essay topics on health, socially significant topics to write on, social issues research topics for a professional paper on the environment, top-rated socially relevant topics, cool social issues to research on criminal justice, social problem topics for college students, issues in america to write about, argumentative essay topics on social issues, unique social issues to write a research paper on.

When it comes to social problems essay topics, the list is endless; there are so many social issues to talk about. However, not all social problem topics will make a great paper, and the wrong social issue topic can reduce your grade. Below are the top practical tips for choosing social issues topics for presentation.

  • Choose easy social issues to write about – avoid trying to impress your professor by choosing complex social problems topics you can’t do justice to.
  • Choose social problem topics or social media research topics that your audience can relate to and find interesting.
  • When choosing from the myriads of social problems to write about, choose those with sufficient information. Also, you don’t want social problem essay topics you’ll have to walk miles to gather information on.
  • Pick as many good social issues to write about as possible; chances are you will change issues essay topics midway. You don’t have to return to searching for current issues to write about.
  • Source for articles that address problems in society to write about for an idea on how to write yours.

The “best” social topics, like social commentary essay topics, are those you’re passionate about. It would help if you cared about the social issue ideas you’ve decided to write on to do real justice to the paper. Writing an essay on them will be torture if you don’t care or know anything about social commentary ideas. Also, if your audience is clueless about a particular topic, consider omitting technical and social significance topics.

Interesting social topics are not hard to find if you know where to look. We will give you a social issues topics list here, but you can still find social issues ideas all over the internet. Find our social topics list below containing interesting and uncommon social issues for a distinction-worthy paper.

  • Political polarization
  • Racism in modern society’s healthcare
  • Ageism: the new racism?
  • The fairness of labor laws
  • Fat-shaming in the corporate world
  • Recovering addicts and social injustice
  • Child pornography
  • Prisoner rights violations: the types
  • Making vaccinations mandatory
  • Online education impact on obesity
  • Increasing employment: the solution to poverty?
  • Accessibility of healthcare in mobile clinics
  • Women empowerment
  • Social development in developing countries
  • Overpopulation: a threat?
  • How social networks impact friendship
  • Age restriction on Instagram
  • Social media effect on dependency
  • Business Facebook accounts and digital ethics
  • Cancel culture and mental health
  • Restricting children from social media
  • How to stay safe on the internet
  • Freedom of speech on Twitter
  • High cost of medical procedures
  • Obesity in developed countries
  • Abortion: legal or illegal?
  • Drug addiction
  • Hospices: should they be free?
  • Why HIV in seniors remains unrecognized
  • Dying with dignity
  • Pro-life movement origins
  • The social acceptance of autism
  • Effect of malnourishment on children’s psyche
  • Impact of fad diets
  • Discrimination against older adults
  • Acceptability of homeopathic treatment for children
  • The scarcity of and state of available healthcare facilities in rural areas
  • Poverty and health problems
  • Ensuring global access to drinking water
  • Implementing sustainable technology in agriculture
  • Benefits of studying the environment
  • Urban gardening and food security
  • Deteriorating environment effect on labor conditions
  • Religion and nature
  • Global warming impact on South America
  • Effect of racial profiling
  • Prevalence of hate speech
  • Discrimination against the LGBT community
  • Modern feminism: the negative impact on society
  • Pregnancy termination: morality vs. legality
  • Food culture
  • Emotional intelligence: impact on family life
  • Harmful effects of financial illiteracy
  • The perception of “Defund the police.”
  • Evidence of structural racism
  • The internet’s influence on human trafficking
  • Legalizing prostitution
  • Civil disobedience goals
  • The consequences of restoring prisoners to society
  • Influence of prejudices on criminal justice mechanics
  • Prominent civil rights violations in developing countries
  • Gender blindness
  • Gender dysphoria
  • The Khmer Rouge
  • Social media and racist bias
  • Justification of human rights limitations during a crisis
  • How governments can secure freedom of speech
  • Can satire be harmful?
  • Protection of stateless persons
  • Can illegal immigrants be pardoned?
  • War on drugs: the negative side effects
  • The importance of bipartisan cooperation
  • College loans: are they worth it?
  • Fake news: a severe problem?
  • Charter schools vs. public schools
  • The Great New Deal: pros and cons
  • Gentrification in America
  • Ableism effects in the US
  • Death penalty: a just punishment?
  • Healthcare: a fundamental human right?
  • The right to own a gun
  • Does history repeat itself?
  • Commercials in kids’ programs
  • Fiction vs. nonfiction: which is the better read?
  • Video games should be a sport
  • Hot dogs: have they caused more harm than good?
  • Eating dessert before dinner
  • Homework: is it too much?
  • Should gym classes be required?
  • The essentiality of feminism
  • Free healthcare for everyone
  • Exploring space: is it worth it?
  • Parents’ role in childhood obesity
  • Woman vs. man: who is more emotional?
  • The effects of campaign finance reform
  • Should illegal immigrants be granted residency?

With this list of social topics and others you’ll find on the internet, you can’t be short of social issues to talk about. Choosing the best social issues topics is essential for writing a great research paper,or write dissertation for me ranging from social change topics to social awareness topics. Considering the vast amount of community issues to write about, our tips on choosing from the best social relevance topics will come in handy. If you need professional writing services, you can contact our experts.

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List of 20 Good Research Paper Topics Social Issues

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How to Pick Up Proper Social Issue Research Paper Topics

In the modern world, there are a lot of social issues. Poverty, unemployment, crime, corruption, drug addiction, the spread of HIV infection, the threat of technological disasters – all this is not a complete list of those phenomena that cause anxiety and concern in our society. Social problems can be global, affecting the interests of a significant part of humanity, or they may concern the interests of the individual person.

In different historical periods, the list of social problems was different, and these issues were solved in different ways. Your topic for an excellent research paper should, first of all, be relevant and urgent. Think about what issues really matter to today's society and what you personally consider important.

Try to choose something controversial that instantly hooks the audience. Also, don’t forget that you’ll have to bring substantial evidence and arguments for your point of view, so the topic should not be too complicated for you.

Below you’ll find successful examples of social issues to write a research paper on.

The Most Interesting Research Paper Social Issues Topics

Social problems include a huge number of aspects of society. Therefore, you can simply choose what is important to you. Make sure that the chosen topic is of interest to you, and the problem is easy and suitable for research, and then you’ll get an excellent paper.

Here are some ideas of research-worth topics divided into groups:

Social categorization

  • Is racism still real in the 21st century? Why haven’t we overcome it yet?
  • Sexual objectification in online ads.
  • Gender identity: how gender roles have changed and how they will change in the future.
  • Religious discrimination in the workplace in different countries.
  • Pay inequality is still a problem. How to solve it?

Cybersecurity

  • Phishing, scam, blackmailing: how to feel safe in the unsafe Internet.
  • Cyberbullying: the new face of an old problem. History of cyberbullying.
  • Identity theft: the problem of the 21st century. How to reduce the risks?
  • Government control in the digital era: what we must do today in order not to wake up in a cyber-totalitarian state tomorrow.
  • Prevention of cyberstalking: how to protect yourself.

Top Ideas of Social Issues Research Paper

A variety of social problems allows a research paper writer to pick up those that have not been researched before or take new approaches to those that have already been researched.

In other words, even if it seems to you that everything has been said about this issue, you can still find a blind spot and uncover this question from the other side.

Take a look at social issues that will never lose their relevance:

  • Medical marijuana: to legalize or not to legalize? All the pros and cons.
  • Correlation between drug use and domestic violence: the problem is more serious than we all thought.
  • Modern students still take drugs in college. A feeling of rebellion or personality problems?
  • Countries that prohibit drugs and countries that decriminalized drugs: what can we learn from them? Can drug prohibition solve the problem in the USA?
  • Youth drug addiction: explaining the problem.

Poverty and unemployment

  • Is there a connection between low living standards and high crime rates?
  • Possible ways of poverty reduction.
  • The subculture of the poor is becoming a factor in destabilizing society. Explain why.
  • What is the impact of poverty and unemployment on the US economy?
  • Why does unemployment exist even in the most prosperous countries?

Writing a social issues research paper requires a very creative approach, great curiosity, the skills to think outside the box as well as the ability to process a large amount of information and find unusual sources.

But still, it is not as difficult as you might think. Just choose a suitable topic and make sure that you have an idea about the issue you’re going to study in your paper.

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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

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The conclusion is intended to help the reader understand why your research should matter to them after they have finished reading the paper. A conclusion is not merely a summary of the main topics covered or a re-statement of your research problem, but a synthesis of key points derived from the findings of your study and, if applicable, where you recommend new areas for future research. For most college-level research papers, two or three well-developed paragraphs is sufficient for a conclusion, although in some cases, more paragraphs may be required in describing the key findings and their significance.

Conclusions. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Conclusions. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University.

Importance of a Good Conclusion

A well-written conclusion provides you with important opportunities to demonstrate to the reader your understanding of the research problem. These include:

  • Presenting the last word on the issues you raised in your paper . Just as the introduction gives a first impression to your reader, the conclusion offers a chance to leave a lasting impression. Do this, for example, by highlighting key findings in your analysis that advance new understanding about the research problem, that are unusual or unexpected, or that have important implications applied to practice.
  • Summarizing your thoughts and conveying the larger significance of your study . The conclusion is an opportunity to succinctly re-emphasize  your answer to the "So What?" question by placing the study within the context of how your research advances past research about the topic.
  • Identifying how a gap in the literature has been addressed . The conclusion can be where you describe how a previously identified gap in the literature [first identified in your literature review section] has been addressed by your research and why this contribution is significant.
  • Demonstrating the importance of your ideas . Don't be shy. The conclusion offers an opportunity to elaborate on the impact and significance of your findings. This is particularly important if your study approached examining the research problem from an unusual or innovative perspective.
  • Introducing possible new or expanded ways of thinking about the research problem . This does not refer to introducing new information [which should be avoided], but to offer new insight and creative approaches for framing or contextualizing the research problem based on the results of your study.

Bunton, David. “The Structure of PhD Conclusion Chapters.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes 4 (July 2005): 207–224; Conclusions. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Kretchmer, Paul. Twelve Steps to Writing an Effective Conclusion. San Francisco Edit, 2003-2008; Conclusions. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Assan, Joseph. "Writing the Conclusion Chapter: The Good, the Bad and the Missing." Liverpool: Development Studies Association (2009): 1-8.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  General Rules

The general function of your paper's conclusion is to restate the main argument . It reminds the reader of the strengths of your main argument(s) and reiterates the most important evidence supporting those argument(s). Do this by clearly summarizing the context, background, and necessity of pursuing the research problem you investigated in relation to an issue, controversy, or a gap found in the literature. However, make sure that your conclusion is not simply a repetitive summary of the findings. This reduces the impact of the argument(s) you have developed in your paper.

When writing the conclusion to your paper, follow these general rules:

  • Present your conclusions in clear, concise language. Re-state the purpose of your study, then describe how your findings differ or support those of other studies and why [i.e., what were the unique, new, or crucial contributions your study made to the overall research about your topic?].
  • Do not simply reiterate your findings or the discussion of your results. Provide a synthesis of arguments presented in the paper to show how these converge to address the research problem and the overall objectives of your study.
  • Indicate opportunities for future research if you haven't already done so in the discussion section of your paper. Highlighting the need for further research provides the reader with evidence that you have an in-depth awareness of the research problem but that further investigations should take place beyond the scope of your investigation.

Consider the following points to help ensure your conclusion is presented well:

  • If the argument or purpose of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize the argument for your reader.
  • If, prior to your conclusion, you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the end of your paper to describe your main points and explain their significance.
  • Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction or within a new context that emerges from the data [this is opposite of the introduction, which begins with general discussion of the context and ends with a detailed description of the research problem]. 

The conclusion also provides a place for you to persuasively and succinctly restate the research problem, given that the reader has now been presented with all the information about the topic . Depending on the discipline you are writing in, the concluding paragraph may contain your reflections on the evidence presented. However, the nature of being introspective about the research you have conducted will depend on the topic and whether your professor wants you to express your observations in this way. If asked to think introspectively about the topics, do not delve into idle speculation. Being introspective means looking within yourself as an author to try and understand an issue more deeply, not to guess at possible outcomes or make up scenarios not supported by the evidence.

II.  Developing a Compelling Conclusion

Although an effective conclusion needs to be clear and succinct, it does not need to be written passively or lack a compelling narrative. Strategies to help you move beyond merely summarizing the key points of your research paper may include any of the following:

  • If your essay deals with a critical, contemporary problem, warn readers of the possible consequences of not attending to the problem proactively.
  • Recommend a specific course or courses of action that, if adopted, could address a specific problem in practice or in the development of new knowledge leading to positive change.
  • Cite a relevant quotation or expert opinion already noted in your paper in order to lend authority and support to the conclusion(s) you have reached [a good source would be from your literature review].
  • Explain the consequences of your research in a way that elicits action or demonstrates urgency in seeking change.
  • Restate a key statistic, fact, or visual image to emphasize the most important finding of your paper.
  • If your discipline encourages personal reflection, illustrate your concluding point by drawing from your own life experiences.
  • Return to an anecdote, an example, or a quotation that you presented in your introduction, but add further insight derived from the findings of your study; use your interpretation of results from your study to recast it in new or important ways.
  • Provide a "take-home" message in the form of a succinct, declarative statement that you want the reader to remember about your study.

III. Problems to Avoid

Failure to be concise Your conclusion section should be concise and to the point. Conclusions that are too lengthy often have unnecessary information in them. The conclusion is not the place for details about your methodology or results. Although you should give a summary of what was learned from your research, this summary should be relatively brief, since the emphasis in the conclusion is on the implications, evaluations, insights, and other forms of analysis that you make. Strategies for writing concisely can be found here .

Failure to comment on larger, more significant issues In the introduction, your task was to move from the general [the field of study] to the specific [the research problem]. However, in the conclusion, your task is to move from a specific discussion [your research problem] back to a general discussion framed around the implications and significance of your findings [i.e., how your research contributes new understanding or fills an important gap in the literature]. In short, the conclusion is where you should place your research within a larger context [visualize your paper as an hourglass--start with a broad introduction and review of the literature, move to the specific analysis and discussion, conclude with a broad summary of the study's implications and significance].

Failure to reveal problems and negative results Negative aspects of the research process should never be ignored. These are problems, deficiencies, or challenges encountered during your study. They should be summarized as a way of qualifying your overall conclusions. If you encountered negative or unintended results [i.e., findings that are validated outside the research context in which they were generated], you must report them in the results section and discuss their implications in the discussion section of your paper. In the conclusion, use negative results as an opportunity to explain their possible significance and/or how they may form the basis for future research.

Failure to provide a clear summary of what was learned In order to be able to discuss how your research fits within your field of study [and possibly the world at large], you need to summarize briefly and succinctly how it contributes to new knowledge or a new understanding about the research problem. This element of your conclusion may be only a few sentences long.

Failure to match the objectives of your research Often research objectives in the social and behavioral sciences change while the research is being carried out. This is not a problem unless you forget to go back and refine the original objectives in your introduction. As these changes emerge they must be documented so that they accurately reflect what you were trying to accomplish in your research [not what you thought you might accomplish when you began].

Resist the urge to apologize If you've immersed yourself in studying the research problem, you presumably should know a good deal about it [perhaps even more than your professor!]. Nevertheless, by the time you have finished writing, you may be having some doubts about what you have produced. Repress those doubts! Don't undermine your authority as a researcher by saying something like, "This is just one approach to examining this problem; there may be other, much better approaches that...." The overall tone of your conclusion should convey confidence to the reader about the study's validity and realiability.

Assan, Joseph. "Writing the Conclusion Chapter: The Good, the Bad and the Missing." Liverpool: Development Studies Association (2009): 1-8; Concluding Paragraphs. College Writing Center at Meramec. St. Louis Community College; Conclusions. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Conclusions. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Freedman, Leora  and Jerry Plotnick. Introductions and Conclusions. The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Leibensperger, Summer. Draft Your Conclusion. Academic Center, the University of Houston-Victoria, 2003; Make Your Last Words Count. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin Madison; Miquel, Fuster-Marquez and Carmen Gregori-Signes. “Chapter Six: ‘Last but Not Least:’ Writing the Conclusion of Your Paper.” In Writing an Applied Linguistics Thesis or Dissertation: A Guide to Presenting Empirical Research . John Bitchener, editor. (Basingstoke,UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp. 93-105; Tips for Writing a Good Conclusion. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Kretchmer, Paul. Twelve Steps to Writing an Effective Conclusion. San Francisco Edit, 2003-2008; Writing Conclusions. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Writing: Considering Structure and Organization. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.

Writing Tip

Don't Belabor the Obvious!

Avoid phrases like "in conclusion...," "in summary...," or "in closing...." These phrases can be useful, even welcome, in oral presentations. But readers can see by the tell-tale section heading and number of pages remaining that they are reaching the end of your paper. You'll irritate your readers if you belabor the obvious.

Assan, Joseph. "Writing the Conclusion Chapter: The Good, the Bad and the Missing." Liverpool: Development Studies Association (2009): 1-8.

Another Writing Tip

New Insight, Not New Information!

Don't surprise the reader with new information in your conclusion that was never referenced anywhere else in the paper. This why the conclusion rarely has citations to sources. If you have new information to present, add it to the discussion or other appropriate section of the paper. Note that, although no new information is introduced, the conclusion, along with the discussion section, is where you offer your most "original" contributions in the paper; the conclusion is where you describe the value of your research, demonstrate that you understand the material that you’ve presented, and position your findings within the larger context of scholarship on the topic, including describing how your research contributes new insights to that scholarship.

Assan, Joseph. "Writing the Conclusion Chapter: The Good, the Bad and the Missing." Liverpool: Development Studies Association (2009): 1-8; Conclusions. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina.

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