The Good Research Guide for Small-Scale Social Research Projects

By Martyn Denscombe | Go to book overview

4

Experiments
The idea of an experiment tends to be linked with white-coated scientists working in a laboratory, possibly using highly sophisticated equipment to measure things with extreme precision. The point of conducting an experiment is to isolate individual factors and observe their effect in detail. The purpose is to discover new relationships or properties associated with the materials being investigated, or to test existing theories.Now, although this draws on a rather idealized image of the way experiments are conducted in the natural sciences, it is not entirely irrelevant for the social sciences. It largely succeeds in capturing the essence of the notion and provides something of a benchmark for social researchers wishing to use experiments. It incorporates the three things that lie at the heart of conducting an experiment:
Controls. Experiments involve the manipulation of circumstances. The researcher needs to identify factors which are significant and then introduce them to or exclude them from the situation so that their effect can be observed.
The identification of causal factors. The introduction or exclusion of factors to or from the situation enables the researcher to pinpoint which factor actually causes the observed outcome to occur.
Observation and measurement. Experiments rely on precise and detailed observation of outcomes and changes that occur following the introduction or exclusion of potentially relevant factors. They also involve close attention to the measurement of what is observed.

These essential features of 'the experiment', it is worth noting, are concerned with the aims of the investigation and its design. They do not say anything about how exactly the data are to be collected. This is why experiments are

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The Good Research Guide for Small-Scale Social Research Projects
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Figures vi
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Strategies for Social Research 3
  • 1: Surveys 6
  • 2: Case Studies 30
  • 3: Internet Research 41
  • 4: Experiments 61
  • 5: Action Research 73
  • 6: Ethnography 84
  • 7: Phenomenology 96
  • 8: Grounded Theory 109
  • Part II - Methods of Social Research 131
  • 9: Questionnaires 144
  • 10: Interviews 163
  • 11: Observation 192
  • 12: Documents 212
  • Part III - Analysis 231
  • 13: Quantitative Data 236
  • 14: Qualitative Data 267
  • 15: Writing Up the Research 284
  • Frequently Asked Questions 299
  • References 302
  • Index 307
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