(1) Formulation of the Problem: A ‘problem’ is a gap in knowledge, something not understood. It may be simple or complex. But this problem is to be defined properly. Otherwise, we may miss the direction and efforts may be wasted. A casual observation and an idea regarding the existing amount of knowledge on that particular issue may help one to define the problem properly.
(2) Formulation of Hypothesis: When the problem to be tackled is known we must have some idea to the new aspects that are likely to be discovered. These primary ideas which may guide us in our study may be termed as hypothesis. It is a tentative explanation of a phenomenon. It is a provisional supposition which is not yet proved but is anticipated to be correct. (3) Observation and Collection of Data: The formulated hypothesis will have to be tested.
This requires observation and collection of facts. In social investigations we collect data by interview, schedules, questionnaires, field observations, etc. The methods of collecting data depend upon the nature of the research and the resources at our disposal. (4) Analysis and Synthesis: After the data have been collected they must be processed and analysed in order to draw proper inferences.
This requires the classification of the data. Classification means arranging the data in different groups or classes according to their similarities or dissimilarities. (5) Generalisation: After the data have been collected, processed, and analysed, we have to draw broad inferences or conclusions or generalisations. (6) Formulation of Theory and Law: When a scientist has succeeded in describing and explaining the relation between various facts, he has formulated a theory. When these facts have been tested and accepted by the scientist as invariably true the theory may be properly regarded as a law. Hypothesis—Theory—and Law. At this point it is necessary to distinguish between hypothesis, theory and law.
A hypothesis is generally formulated before the facts are observed properly. It deals with comparatively narrower range of facts. A theory is a tested hypothesis and deals with wide range of facts. Theory is sometimes regarded as an elaborate hypothesis. When a theory is well established and found to be correct invariably, it is regarded as a law. We should note that we encounter some difficulties in applying scientific method to the study of social phenomena. Scientific method has a few limitations in sociology.
Still, with some modifications the scientific method is being followed even in social investigations.