Touchstone 1: Developing a Research Plan
SCENARIO: Imagine that you work for a nonprofit organization that is focused on increasing diversity in community groups in your area. Your supervisor asks you to develop a sociological study concerning topics of diversity and collaboration in a specific community group of your choice. Eventually you will prepare to share your research with colleagues.
ASSIGNMENT: For this Touchstone, you will begin by formulating a question about diversity in a community group that you have access to. Then you will use the steps of the scientific method to prepare a research plan, including a bibliography for a literature review. As you learned, sociologists follow the scientific method so that their results are both scientifically valid and useful to the greater sociological community. A literature review allows researchers to learn from completed studies and to build upon their conclusions.
Use the following Touchstone template to fill in your research plan as you develop it. When you have finished, submit this template to move on to the next unit.
Step 1: Pick a Topic
Select a community group to study. Some examples of community groups you might explore include:
- An activity-based group like a book club, a soccer team, or a community choir
- A religious or ideological community such as a church congregation or a local political party
- A community organization like a Parent Teacher Association (PTA), a neighborhood association, or the volunteer committee at a local soup kitchen
- An identity-based organization such as a social club for veterans or a fraternal type organization
It should be a group in which membership is voluntary and recreational. Avoid:
- Ethnic or racial categories
- Friend groups
You might wish to choose a group that you are a part of, or you might not. You can use your personal experience with the group to form the basis of your research question. Or you can ask members of the group about their experiences, which will help you develop your research question.
In the template, write a paragraph (approximately 6-8 sentences) describing the community group you have chosen. In particular, be sure to answer the following questions:
- What is the community group?
- What are the attributes or characteristics of this community group? (e.g. What activities does this group do together? What element of the members’ interests or identities brings them together? How is membership in the group defined, if at all?)
- What kind of experience with or access to this community group do you have?
Step 2: Ask a Question
Next, you will formulate a question related to this group, and to topics related to diversity and/or collaboration. You might think about diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, socioeconomic status, or along multiple intersecting identities. Be sure to use what you learned in Unit 1 about the ways sociologists ask questions.
- What are the challenges of a mom’s community organization in appealing to moms with children of different ages?
- How does a group of car enthusiasts reach out to the surrounding community to get support for their events?
- How has the Boy Scouts accepting girls impacted their mission and programs?
- Do gender segregated sports teams for kids help maintain traditional gender roles?
In the template, write the question you have formulated for your study. Be sure to identify the Independent and Dependent variables and identify them correctly. (HINT: Refer back to Lesson 1.3.3: Asking Questions and Lesson 1.3.5: Formulating a Hypothesis for help.)
Step 3: Prepare a Bibliography
Finally, you will begin developing a bibliography for a review of the existing literature that relates to your question. Before conducting a full literature review, a sociologist will build a bibliography, or a list of potential sources that they will read and study in greater depth in the review.
Collect 4-6 articles, books, or other resources that relate to your question and list them in your template. You don’t have to look into these materials in depth right now! You’ll review this literature more closely in a later Touchstone, and you will also be exposed to additional relevant research and frameworks in Unit 3. You’ll also be able to add to or amend your bibliography before your Touchstone in Unit 3.
Attributes of good readings for your literature review:
- They are academic, scholarly works about research findings or they are reliable journalistic reporting based on scientifically credible and reliable data.
- They should have been published in the last 10 years—unless they are a landmark work on the topic and provide important background or as a comparison.
- They look at different sides of the argument and a variety of perspectives.
Where to find readings: More than likely you will use a major search engine like Google. Start your search by asking the question you want to answer and identifying key search terms to generate relevant results. You can limit your Google search to works that have been published in the last 10 years. You can also use a search engine like Google Scholar that specifically searches scholarly literature. However, keep in mind that much of this literature may have limited or paid access. Another good place to search is in a public or university library catalog or database. Whichever way you choose to search, make sure that you are selecting credible sources.
What makes a source credible? Credible sources are written by authors who are well known in their field. They are based on scientific data—not opinions or with biased observations. Sources should be from reliable outlets, like major publishers, universities, think tanks, and credentialed current practitioners. (HINT: Refer back to Lesson 1.3.4: Researching Existing Sources for more guidance.)
How to format sources in your bibliography: Sociologists use American Psychological Association (APA) format for their research. However, you will use a more simplified method to format sources for your bibliography. You will include five key elements for each source, with each element separated by a period:
- Author’s name(s)
- Publication date
- Title of the source
- Page numbers (if applicable)
- Source’s location for web-based texts (URL)
The following requirements must be met for your submission:
- Use a readable 11- or 12-point font.
- All writing must be appropriate for an academic context.
- Composition must be original and written for this assignment.
- Plagiarism of any kind is strictly prohibited.
- Submission must include your name and the date.
- Include all of the assignment components in a single file.
- Acceptable file formats include .doc and .docx.