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introduction Doing Empirical Social Science Research eszter hargittai Research Con‹dential is a comprehensive guide to doing empirical social science research. Bringing together vivid ‹rsthand accounts of recently completed research projects, it introduces readers to a wide range of methods: from surveys about individual behavior to ethnographies of communities, from cross-national comparisons to archival research. At the same time, the book ‹lls a notable gap in the existing literature. Although there is no shortage of books on research methods, few of them address the behindthe -scenes issues involved in collecting and analyzing empirical evidence. As a result, new researchers are rarely given a realistic idea of what to expect when they embark on a project. By focusing attention on the concrete details seldom discussed in ‹nal project write-ups or traditional research guides, Research Con‹dential aims to equip new researchers with essential information that is all too often left on the cutting room ›oor. The dozen chapters in this collection were specially commissioned from young scholars who recently completed successful research projects in social scienti‹c ‹elds including communication studies, psychology, and sociology. Each of their chapters offers a thorough account of hands-on empirical research that was conducted in the context of a speci‹c project, and each explicitly discusses hurdles that were encountered along the way and how they were negotiated. Some chapters focus on the behind-the- scenes challenges of familiar research methods (e.g., interviewing, ethnographic work, and secondary data analysis); others look at the challenges associated with cutting-edge genres of research associated with new media (e.g., collecting data from online populations, using text messaging to gather information about respondents). Whether covering traditional or new techniques, the chapters all make a unique contribution precisely by focusing on the nitty-gritty practical details and challenges that are usually omitted from ‹nal research reports. Together they provide a uniquely thorough, richly detailed, and accessible guide to the collection and analysis of empirical evidence such as large-scale data sets, interviews, observations , and experiments in a wide range of settings. Research Con‹dential was inspired by the underappreciated insight that it is valuable to learn about the behind-the-scenes details of research before embarking on a project. As obvious as this point may be, it is seldom re›ected in the existing literature: as noted earlier, project write-ups rarely include concrete details of how studies were conducted. This collection was designed to reverse this long-standing trend. Instead of relegating practical issues and concerns to a sidebar or an appendix—or ignoring them entirely—they are placed front and center, as the focus of each chapter . The motivation for this strategy is not to provide shortcuts or quick tips but rather to help prepare researchers who are committed to doing high quality work. Research Con‹dential aims to make the researcher’s life easier by pinpointing pitfalls routinely experienced by others and alerting the researcher to these issues before projects get derailed and write-ups postponed (possibly resulting in delayed dissertations, missed employment opportunities, delayed promotions, etc.). These chapters are all based on projects recently conducted by junior scholars either in the course of their dissertation research or during their junior faculty years. Our hope is that this focus will be especially valuable to younger scholars—graduate students working on independent studies and dissertations, junior faculty embarking on new studies, and advanced undergraduate students writing theses. The fact that each chapter draws on the work experience of younger researchers should reassure prospective or beginning scholars that engaging in successful empirical research does not require decades’ worth of experience. The essays should also be of interest to more advanced researchers, especially those who are grappling with an unfamiliar method or are interested in familiarizing themselves with emerging methods. Most books about research methods rely on hypothetical ideal-type 2 • research confidential scenarios. Readers are rarely informed about the myriad failed attempts, frustrations, lost data, and other issues that inevitably arise when doing empirical research. What this means is that each new cohort must begin afresh, duplicating previous efforts at data collection and analysis instead of being able to build upon and improve them. Conducting good research is suf‹ciently dif‹cult in its own right; this dif‹culty should not be increased by withholding or burying precious lessons that could save young scholars from making mistakes that previous generations have already encountered and learned how to avoid. In fact, if the research enterprise is...


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