Social Sciences: Testing Research Hypotheses

There are four major areas for you to consider as you test your research hypothesis in Social Sciences: Experimentation, Simulation, Field Research and Analysis

Please examine these closely, as the elements will vary significantly based on the nature of your proposal.

Social Science Experimentation

  • The researcher constructs a controlled scenario in which the key elements and variables of his or her hypothesis can be empirically tested
  • One tries to minimize all other elements in a social science experiment to focus on the influences of the variables being tested
  • For all experiments involving human subjects, researchers must comply with Harvard’s Institutional Review Board policies as outlined here: Committee on the Use of Human Subjects
  • Empirical test results from social science experiments may disprove one’s hypothesis, but these experiments can never prove a hypothesis

Social Science Simulation

  • A variant on empirical experimentation, simulation offers a tool to analyze concepts that are not amenable to empirical testing
  • Simulations are sometimes conducted as games in which the parameters are tested to identify optimal strategies to test a game’s dynamics or to realize a desired outcome
  • Researchers must comply with Harvard’s Institutional Review Board policies when human subjects are involved in simulations

Social Science Field Research

  • Field research may be undertaken to explore and test social science hypotheses with a range of methods and subject sample sizes from individual cases to large populations
  • Field research methods may include ethnographic research, interviews, participant observations, questionnaires and surveys
  • Researchers must comply with Harvard’s Institutional Review Board policies when human subjects are involved in field research
  • Evaluation of operational programs are often conducted through field research, though not exclusively so as these programs may also be assessed via their documentation

Analysis of Primary and Secondary Data and Information

  • Researchers can often test their hypotheses with data and information already collected by others for studies with similar objectives
  • Sources for these data may be primary or secondary, aggregated or discrete and may be accessed from libraries, other repositories or directly from other researchers
  • One can also evaluate data collected by others in an effort to replicate and/or test their hypotheses or conclusions