Shaping Society: How to Become a Social Researcher

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You’re having dinner at a new restaurant in a rapidly changing part of town. Several hip, reasonably priced apartment complexes have opened in the past few years, bringing an influx of recent college graduates and young families to the area. This shift has resulted in the opening of a new strip mall, several new eateries, a couple of bars, and other new businesses.

As you look around the restaurant, you begin to wonder why this happened. Why here? What sort of impact is it having on the surrounding region? Is this happening in other towns in this state or around the country? Those sorts of questions inspired the first social researchers and continue to drive the ones of today. You may then consider how to become a social researcher.

Social researchers are curious about why society is the way it is. They base their research on understanding society and figuring out what governments and agencies can do to improve certain problems. A social researcher conducts ethical research, with oversight, in an area that relates to a social science, such as anthropology, economics, political science, public health, or sociology. Social researchers need to have a background in the field they’re researching to ask the right questions and draw conclusions that have academic merit.

Social researcher analyzes data

What Does a Social Researcher Do?

Though social research typically entails interacting with research subjects, whether through focus groups or one-on-one surveying, most of the job involves research and analysis. This means social researchers must be skilled in communication and collecting and interpreting data.

Before social researchers conduct a study, they must first have an important question they need to answer. These questions often come from observations about the world around them. For example:

  • Why is a specific segment of the population struggling with a certain illness?
  • What kind of impact does a new law allowing alcoholic beverages have on a town’s population? On its police force?
  • Why is a specific candidate leading the polls in every state except two? What is different about those states?

In addition, social researchers must find out whether other researchers have asked the same question, and determine whether the question is even possible to answer. As these questions start to formulate in a social researcher’s mind, investigation becomes critical. Researchers review books, academic documents, and past research. At this early stage, the goal is to uncover what other researchers have discovered, what sorts of studies they’ve done, and what is missing from the data. A social researcher might see an error in someone else’s conclusion, devise a different way to ask similar questions, or draw from a different population.

What a social researcher does then shifts from investigating existing data to collecting new information. Social researchers typically refine their questions as needed, develop a survey based on their findings, and then seek approval from an ethics board, such as the institutional review board (IRB) at a research university.

Once they’ve conducted a survey, they collaborate with subject matter experts or other researchers to analyze the data and look at it from as many angles as possible, working to understand what it is telling them and if that data is statistically significant –– if the results of the study are applicable to society at large or if they’re more likely an anomaly of that particular research methodology. They can then present their findings at a conference or in a paper before moving on to the next pressing question.

Every step of the process exists to ensure that what a social researcher does helps develop a deeper understanding of society. That information can then help inform new policies, determine where funding is sent, and more.

Steps to Become a Social Researcher

How to become a social researcher isn’t very complex, but it does take years of education and job training to be able to conduct logical, ethical research that makes a true impact.

Pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science

Earning a degree in one of the social sciences is a great way to start down the path toward becoming a social researcher. Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Sociology offers tracks in criminology, social work, and social justice. Students receive an in-depth education on a topic that matters to them, taking courses on race, ethnicity, and crime; mental illness and society; and social aspects of the aged, among others.

A bachelor’s degree program also helps students learn skills fundamental to the research process. Through coursework, they learn how to formulate a question, investigate existing studies, conduct new research, interpret and evaluate data, and communicate findings.

Further Develop Research Skills

To work as a social researcher, ample experience in research is critical. Candidates with a background in a social science may consider an advanced degree in data science, for example, to gain a deeper understanding of how to run programs that can analyze their findings and drive the research forward. Alternatively, they may consider spending several years as a research assistant or as a volunteer at a research facility. This real-world experience allows aspiring social researchers to discover where their strengths lie and even provides them with an opportunity to begin developing questions of their own to explore.

Social Researcher Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for a social researcher was $57,700 in May 2018. Social researchers who worked for scientific research and development services, which made up 18% of the workforce in 2018, had the highest annual median salary ($73,460) by a wide margin. Those in “other professional, scientific, and technical services” (39% of the market), educational services (9%) and “religious, grant-making, civic, professional, and similar organizations” (8%) each had a median annual salary between $50,390 and $54,690.

Employment Outlook for Social Researchers

The social research field is small but growing. As of 2016, 14,600 jobs existed in the market, and the BLS expects the field to add about 400 new jobs between 2016 and 2026. However, this number could grow based on federal administration. An administration that values research and learning about society could invest more in the social sciences and create more positions.

Make a Positive Impact on Society

If you find yourself asking questions about humanity, or you’re intrigued by the shifts and changes in society, a career as a social researcher might be worth pursuing. Not only does the field provide a fascinating look into our world, but it also allows you to have a profound impact on society. Check out Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Sociology to learn more about how to become a social researcher and put yourself in a position to succeed.


American Sociological Association, “Doing Social Research”

Eido Research, “Why I Became a Social Researcher”

Houston Chronicle, “The Salary of a Research Analyst in the Social Sciences”

Maryville University, Bachelor of Arts in Sociology

Oxford University Press, “Social Research Methods”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Survey Researchers