What Is Social Research? (Common Types and Methods)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 21, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Social research is a humanities method that relates to interpersonal interactions, including relationships, social dynamics, and human resources. Studying people and their behavioural patterns in different social settings allows companies to relate better to consumers and employees. Learning how to conduct and interpret this type of research can help you gain a more thorough understanding of your profession by observing it from various perspectives. In this article, we define what social research is, explore the main types of these studies, and detail the main methods researchers typically use.

What is social research?

Social research is the study of interactions between people in different situations. It studies the behavioural patterns and organizational structures that emerge from various social settings. Research in this field is ongoing, due to the dynamic nature of society. This powerful topic relates to research in many fields, including anthropology, psychology, and marketing.

When people interact, their social setting provides context for that interaction. For instance, a workplace interaction at the copy machine differs from seeing a colleague outside the office. This research investigates the ways that these structures impact behaviour, self-perception, and decision-making. Businesses and governments use this data to inform policies, sell products, and optimize the way they relate to society.

Read more: Leading a Team Through a Social Justice Crisis

Types of social and interactive research

There are many ways to approach research, depending on the source of the data and the objective of the study. The type of research you choose determines the information you can obtain during the study. Before you prepare an interactive research study, the first goal is to establish the type of investigation you plan to perform. Among the most common methods are:

Quantitative research

Quantitative research relies on numerical data to perform analyses. In social studies, you can gather this information using surveys, polls, and raw data purchased from third parties. A study falls into this category when it measures any numerical quantity; for example, if it measures foot or web traffic, revenue, or inventory. This type of research is popular because it's insightful while also providing evidence for secondary and tertiary research projects. Numbers provide substance to observations, meaning that quantitative research is important in social studies because it mitigates opportunities for subjective bias.

Read more: Types of Variables in Statistics and Research (With FAQs)

Qualitative research

Qualitative research is popular when researching social patterns because it relies on perception, observation, and other types of non-numerical data. Because social behaviour is inherently subjective, gathering qualitative data is important for many studies. Examples of this type of information include emotional reactions, written responses to open-ended questions, personal interviews, and any other non-quantifiable data. Most studies combine this type of information with empirical data to enable the subjective, qualitative evidence to give context to the quantifiable observations.

Primary research

Primary research refers to any initiating study where you gather new data. By creating a new experiment or research study, you can obtain primary data from new sources. For instance, primary studies include polls, surveys, interviews, and observations. The differentiating feature of this research type is that it relies only on new data. Researchers can use it in conjunction with other information later, but for the purposes of the study, all data is original and current. For example, when a new technology emerges, companies can use focus groups to assess the market's initial reaction to the new products.

Secondary research

Secondary research is the process of taking primary data and performing analyses on it to reach new conclusions. For this type of study, you gather existing raw data from multiple sources and combine the information using different analytical models. The secondary social research process involves taking initial responses from social studies and using these to inform further investigations.

For example, if a baking company plans to introduce one of five new cookie recipes, it performs primary social studies to select a group of respondents that prefers cookies over other baked goods. The bakery then performs secondary studies on this group to determine which cookie they prefer. The bakery already knows that participants choose cookies over other baked goods, so this removes opinion bias due to baked good preference. This means the research participants are more likely to assess the cookies fairly, increasing the value of the study's results.

Triangulation research

This approach combines data of all types and seeks answers to questions asked in previous studies. The approach can substantiate an initial study or call attention to errors in data interpretation. It allows researchers to mitigate bias by cross-referencing multiple studies to prove that the results of a study are reproducible.

For example, consider a book publisher with current research indicating that toddlers have better reading skills when they have a set time for reading each day. Triangulation considers the different aspects of that analysis and assesses whether factors like the duration of reading time, type of book, or the number of participants impact the study. It uses this evidence to identify potential biases and inform possible ways to correct them.

Common social research methods

When performing research to gain insight into a social scenario, choosing the research method is paramount. Research methods describe how you gather information for the study. The optimal approach depends on the goal of the study. For instance, if you want to determine web traffic over time, analyzing numerical data is an efficient approach. Conversely, if the goal is to identify how a potential rebranding effort impacts consumer perception, qualitative data is ideal. Some popular methods include:

Surveys and questionnaires

This method of research involves taking a fixed set of questions and asking different groups of people to answer them. It may provide large data sets from diverse groups of participants or focus on one specific social group. These studies can provide quantitative data using the number of responses or the answers themselves if they are quantifiable. They also supply qualitative data based on the demographics of the participants and any descriptive responses that are unquantifiable.

Longitudinal studies

Longitudinal research occurs over a long period of time, focusing on a specific set of individuals or a certain group of people. The purpose is to observe the impact of time on social scenarios. This type of study requires significant time and effort, but it can yield useful information for topics like urban development and medical science. The research may extend over decades, with participants checking in at set intervals. An example is studying the prevalence of diabetes over 20 years in populations that live close to fast-food restaurants versus those who reside further away.

Personal interviews and focus groups

Personal interviews and focus groups as social study mechanisms involve you asking the participants questions to assess how the social setting alters their reactions. This type of research provides only qualitative information because the data is non-numerical. It allows researchers to gain a more direct understanding of a topic, which can then inform the parameters of a follow-up study using quantitative methods.

Read more: 9 Common Analytical Questions in Interviews (With Sample Answers)

Case studies

The unique nature of case studies results from the in-depth analysis of a specific individual or situation to answer a question. Case studies can involve existing data, such as a 100-year analysis of graduation demographics from a certain institution. Other types of case studies gather primary information, for example, determining the cognitive abilities of someone who survived extreme oxygen deprivation. Case studies provide focused insights that facilitate inductive reasoning by providing a specific set of data that allows the researcher to extrapolate further, based on these results.

Correlation studies

Correlation requires you to make connections between two variables using statistical modelling. It compares two apparently independent variables to answer research questions about whether they could impact or affect each other in some way. An example is a research project that studies 3,000 equally educated participants and aims to draw conclusions about whether resume format relates to job offers. Because correlation relies on statistical interpretation of data, all the results are quantitative.

Read more: Example of Positive Correlation (And How to Calculate It)

Delphi method

This approach involves researchers posing open-ended questions to participants and giving them the opportunity to provide subjective yet quantifiable feedback. Delphi method research often occurs through a survey or questionnaire. For instance, if a business wants to understand consumer psychology, it can provide customers with a link to a personality test. The assessment can ask exploratory questions and provide five options, with one extreme being "strongly agree," the median being "neutral," and the other extreme being "strongly disagree."

The Delphi method allows researchers to perform qualitative and quantitative research simultaneously. During the study, researchers consider the qualitative value of the information, like the strong emotional reactions displayed when using consistently negative or positive extremes. The median and mean calculations then provide numerical data that quantify the results of the study.

Explore more articles