“Good research,” Thomas Dewey observed, “scratches where it itches.”
Sociological research begins with the formulation of a question or questions to
be answered. Society offers an endless spectrum of compelling issues to study:
Does exposure to violent video games affect the incidence of aggressive
behavior in adolescents? Does religious faith affect voting behavior? Is family
income a good predictor of performance on standardized college entrance tests
like the ACT or SAT? Beyond the descriptive aspects of social phenomena,
sociologists are also interested in how relationships between the variables
they examine can be explained.
Formulating a research question precisely and carefully is
one of the most important steps toward ensuring a successful research project.
Research questions come from many sources. Some arise from problems that form
the foundation of sociology, including an interest in socioeconomic
inequalities and their causes and effects, or the desire to understand how
power is exercised in social relationships. Sociologists are also mindful that
solid empirical data are important to public policies on issues of concern such
as poverty, occupational mobility, and domestic violence.
Keep in mind that you also need to define your terms. Recall
our discussion of operationalizing concepts. For example, if you are studying
middle school bullying, you need to make explicit your definition of bullying
and how that will be measured. The same holds true if you are studying a topic
such as illiteracy or aggressive behavior.