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Finding the Focus Topic

The learning units in this topic are all intended to help you to decide upon the focus of your research. In many ways this can be the most difficult part of the research process, as we often start with a vague idea of the issues in which we are interested. This is perfectly normal and very common, and actually forms a positive opportunity to be creative. When you are studying the learning units in this topic, you need to consider several questions, including: How long have I got to do this work? What skills do I possess? What do I really want to find out? What kind of support will I need? What really interests me?

Finding the focus > Defining aims > Natural science and social science research - a different perspective on aims

Natural science and social science research - a different perspective on aims

There is a significant difference in view between researchers and academics in the natural sciences (e.g. physics, mathematics and chemistry), and those in the social sciences (e.g. sociology). Both have quite different approaches to research that are understandable when you consider the different areas in which they work. However, there has been a tendency for natural science research to be seen as more rigorous and meaningful as it uses mathematical and scientific techniques of measurement and deduction. The strength of the scientific paradigm, particularly in western culture, has led to an almost unquestioning reliance upon this kind of method. However, the social scientists are biting back as this quote from Sir Peter Medawar (1969) shows.

... it is no use looking to scientific "papers" for they not only merely conceal but actively misrepresent the reasoning that goes into the work they describe.

In other words, science is not free of the "messiness" of life, and it is increasingly becoming clear that researchers in the natural sciences cannot hold claim to a unique position of objectivity - after all, they are as human as the rest of us. The differences between research techniques in the natural sciences and the social sciences can be broadly split into "positivist" and "phenomenological" approaches, both of which are entirely legitimate approaches to research. Each has its own set of assumptions and beliefs, and these are looked at in more detail next.


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