Are social science researchers writing articles that fulfill the bare minimum needs of a journal article?


Are social science researchers writing articles that fulfill the bare minimum needs of a journal article?

An independent researcher investigated how often essential details of the research process are present in the journal article.

A minimum general expectation from a social science article is that it should contain an introduction, literature review, methodology, result, and discussion, but not all writers go by the book and deviate by using personal pronouns, express subjective opinions, and representing data using narratives, poems, even art pieces. Thus, the prototypical model for social science research writing is ever-expanding and dynamic. No matter how creative one gets, the bare minimum requirement (e.g.; sampling method, data analysis methods,etc.) remains essential and has to be fulfilled. The scrutiny of past papers highlighted problems like replication crisis (results of many studies fail to replicate), need for additional transparency, clarity in research writing, and data sharing. The reporting framework for essential details in Journal articles is unclear and missing. This problem is addressed by an Independent Education Researcher in South Korea, Adam Coates, published in Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers.

Primary question is to identify essential details for a social science article. Essential details by definition are the information about the research process that is necessary for understanding and evaluating the research. According to Coates, the most basic essential details fall into 3 categories; central, peripheral, and other essential details. The essential activities in the research process (central essential details) include; research question, hypothesis, purpose, sampling details, data collection, and analysis procedure.

Apart from these basic elements of the research process, the peripheral essential details include; foundational philosophy, ethical considerations, and reporting limitations, although they are not the primary elements but still are important parts, without which there could be no research, even being less visible, they have a wider context of research and should be properly reported. The last category of other essential details for reporting standards of both qualitative and quantitative research consists of; literature review, results, sampling details, participants characteristics/selection criteria, validity, and reliability.

To investigate the prevalence of essential details across the whole social sciences, Adam Coates selected 500 random sample articles using a two-stage cluster sample from Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) and the selected articles were thoroughly read to identify the required details. For analysis, the coding guidelines were generated and all the articles were analyzed accordingly.

He found that the sampling strategy was described in more than half (52.2%) of papers, the sample size was mentioned in most (91.8%) of the studies, whereas, data collection procedure was present in almost all of the articles (98.2%), with exception of only 9 papers that failed to mention collection methods. Only 80.4% of the papers mentioned the data analysis techniques while others only claimed that ‘analysis’ had taken place without any specifications. The low prevalence of some essential details is due to the use of secondary data, with only 57% of studies collecting primary data and 14% of studies using secondary data mentioned the details.

The author concluded that less than 45% of the social science papers are complete for central basic details. With variable needs for reporting all essential details, an initiative should be taken to improve research writing quality by designing ‘discipline-specific guidelines. It was obvious that writers did not present a complete record of basic details, putting their, journal’s and publisher’s position in jeopardy by producing low-quality work. So the Journal publishers should enforce the standards and make guidelines to efficiently check compliance with those standards.


Social sciences article, research writing guidelines.


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