Social science research methodology: Pioneer scholars use a variety of methods to create new knowledge

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Pioneer research program social science research methodology

When conducting research in the social sciences, Pioneer scholars employ a broad array of research methodologies. Research looks a bit different for each Pioneer scholar, depending on their research area, concentration, and their own choices. For some scholars, social science research means analyzing scholarly writings or combing through archives; for others, it involves collecting information from surveys or firsthand observation. The social sciences are somewhat unique in the wide variety of data used in research; for most Pioneer scholars in this field, information comes from a combination of primary and secondary sources, and qualitative and quantitative data. More often than not, Pioneer scholars are given a chance to be creative, searching for data in unlikely places and drawing information from a combination of sources. Often Pioneer scholars ask how high school students can add their own voice to an existing scholarly conversation. This is made possible through Pioneer’s academic system and high standards, which require Pioneer scholars to conduct original research. In this article, several Pioneer scholars who did research in the social sciences share their methodologies, which can be broken into three main categories: synthesizing existing research in order to answer a new question; creating new data through experimentation or observation, and using media as a primary source. While these categories are by no means exhaustive, they provide a representative sample of the creative research methodologies employed by Pioneer scholars. 

Synthesizing existing research and asking novel questions 

Some scholars build on existing qualitative or quantitative research by synthesizing it in a new way, providing a new perspective or asking new questions. Fredrick (international relations, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from Kenya, used case studies to examine the role of restorative justice in ethnic conflicts. “When I decided I wanted to focus on restorative justice systems, I started to look at how restorative justice has been applied all over the world,” he explains. In his search for a country whose traditional restorative justice systems were still intact, Fredrick ultimately honed in on Ethiopia. From there, he sought out scholarly writings to construct a case study of how restorative justice in Ethiopia may address or prevent ethnic conflict. “Literature by Ethiopian scholars actually made up the bulk of my sources,” he says.  Fredrick contributed original research to the scholarly community by asking a new question: focusing on pre-conflict restorative justice as opposed to post-conflict restorative justice, which had already been well-researched. Baris (international relations, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from Turkey, conducted research on the Turkey-UK relationship. What makes his research unique is that he combined existing data sets in a new way to ask a new question. This data came from three main sources: economic and political data from sources like the World Trade Organization; primary texts such as news articles or speeches by politicians, and scholarly articles that had already been written on the relationship between the UK and Turkey. This gave him a combination of quantitative and qualitative data as well as primary and secondary sources, and his analysis allowed him to add something new to the scholarly discussion. 

Creating new data 

In addition to building on existing research, some Pioneer scholars create their own data through observations, surveys, or interviews. Janae-Rose (anthropology, 2019), a Pioneer scholar from the United States, conducted research on male violence in professional and casual environments based on observations she recorded in her own community. “I used to think you had to travel to a separate country to do research,” she says, “In reality, you can just look at everyday life in your city or local community and observe it in a new way.” Janae-Rose recorded her observations, searched for patterns, and then compared them to academic articles. In this way, she combined an analysis of scholarly works with data she gathered through first-hand observation. Caroline (cognitive science, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from China, designed a survey to explore how images influence our understanding of COVID-19. “I wanted to do something more empirical rather than literature based,” Caroline says. She constructed three versions of a survey: one containing only text about COVID 19, one with text and infographics, and one with text and uninformative images. She then asked questions to measure the understanding of participants. She used the data collected from her survey to answer her research question.  P.T. (political science 2019), a Pioneer scholar from the United States, gathered qualitative data through interviews with his peers in order to understand the motivations of young political activists. “When I started my research, it didn’t really make sense to me why American teenagers are going out into the street when politicians don’t have to listen to them and they don’t really have any voting power. What is the motivation for them to go out and protest?” P.T. explains. With this research question in mind, he says, “I took what I had read [about youth activism] and then I interviewed a bunch of my peers who were in different activist circles and cared about different social justice issues and asked them about their motivations.” These interviews served as primary sources in his research paper. 

Media as a primary source

Yet another way of gathering data is to seek out primary sources that have not yet been explored, such as social media posts or blogs. Hannah (political science, 2019), a Pioneer scholar from the United States, used a combination of research methodologies to explore how certain social movements––namely, the LGBT rights movement and the feminist movement––changed their approach to religion over time in response to the intersection of religion and politics and the separation of church and state.  In order to answer these questions, she used both traditional primary and secondary sources—archives and scholarly articles—but also creatively using online media as a primary source text. “Once I had chosen those topics, I tried to figure out what I could do with them. I talked to my professor, and he helped me figure out I had to focus on specific organizations, because they are both grassroots movements without one leader. I picked specific organizations, and then I researched how they interacted with politics in America,” she explains. Hannah says she had to be creative in how she sought out sources; she used not only scholarly articles and archives on the topic, as well as collecting data from online chat forums. “I went to the archives of those specific organizations, some of which were available from the Oberlin database, and some of which had their own private archives. I also gathered information from the modern day, and pieced together a timeline and wrote about different eras. I also read academic articles about church-state interactions in the United States. I also did a case study of the Trevor Project and how they provide support to religious LGBT youth. I went on various forums for queer youth by the Trevor Project and took data from there,” she says. Angel (history/STS, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from China, took a similar approach to gather qualitative data about how patients and their families felt about the use of medical technologies in schizophrenia diagnosis. “I searched for primary sources like blogs and some newspaper articles, and some posts on activist websites,” she says. After gathering these sources, Angel had access to firsthand accounts of schizophrenia patients who had experienced the use of MRI/FMRI technology. She was able to evaluate their subjective experiences and whether they felt the technology was helpful or harmful to their treatment. 

While the requirements of each research area vary, there are as many ways to conduct research as there are researchers. Pioneer scholars contribute original research and participate in a worldwide scholarly conversation. This is true whether Pioneer scholars gather data firsthand or analyze already existing data in a new way. These examples are by no means exhaustive, and those wishing to learn more should consult the Pioneer Research Journal for examples of exemplary research by Pioneer scholars. 

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