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Reading evidence


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Social scientists collect evidence to support their claims and theories in different ways. Such evidence is crucial to the practice of social science and to the production of social scientific knowledge.

You may be aware of the idea of active reading, which is about reading with the aim of understanding and grasping something: a definition, an argument, a piece of evidence. What that suggests is that active reading is about reading and thinking at the same time. In this unit we will concentrate on reading and thinking at the same time about evidence in the form of numbers and in the form of text.

The summary 'Evidence in the social sciences: finding it, using it', is a useful place to start:


Handling evidence

  • The evidence social scientists gather is shaped by the questions they ask, the claims they make and the theories they use.

  • Evidence can be described in two main ways, as quantitative and qualitative.

  • There are a variety of methods for obtaining evidence, there are important choices to be made about who and where you collect evidence from.

  • There are a variety of methods for presenting and organising evidence.

  • Once presented, evidence does not speak for itself. It needs to be interpreted and is open to many interpretations.

  • The quality, reliability and authenticity of evidence always needs to be probed for potential bias, limits and blind spots.

In this unit we will be focusing mostly on the variety of methods for presenting and organising qualitative and quantitative evidence. So, we will focus on how to understand the ways in which evidence is presented, how to read it actively and with purpose.

This material is from our archive and is an adapted extract from An introduction to the social sciences: understanding social change (DD100) which is no longer taught by The Open University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in this subject area [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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