From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Social research refers to research conducted by social scientists (primarily within sociology and social psychology), but also within other disciplines such as social policy, human geography, political science, social anthropology and education. Sociologists and other social scientists study diverse things: from census data on hundreds of thousands of human beings, through the in-depth analysis of the life of a single important person to monitoring what is happening on a street today - or what was happening a few hundred years ago.
Social scientists use many different methods in order to describe, explore and understand social life. Social methods can generally be subdivided into two broad categories. Quantitative methods are concerned with attempts to quantify social phenomena and collect and analyse numerical data, and focus on the links among a smaller number of attributes across many cases. Qualitative methods, on the other hand, emphasise personal experiences and interpretation over quantification, are more concerned with understanding the meaning of social phenomena and focus on links among a larger number of attributes across relatively few cases. While very different in many aspects, both qualitative and quantitative approaches involve a systematic interaction between theories and data.
Common tools of quantitative researchers include surveys, questionnaires, and secondary analysis of statistical data that has been gathered for other purposes (for example, censuses or the results of social attitudes surveys). Commonly used qualitative methods include focus groups, participant observation, and other techniques.