When social scientists speak of "good research" the guidelines refer to how the science is mentioned and understood.


It does not refer to how what the results are but how they are figured. Glenn Firebaugh summarizes the principles for good research in his book Seven Rules for Social Research. The first rule is that "There should be the possibility of surprise in social research." As Firebaugh elaborates: "Rule 1 is intended to warn that you don't want to be blinded by preconceived ideas so that you fail to look for contrary evidence, or you fail to recognize contrary evidence when you do encounter it, or you recognize contrary evidence but suppress it and refuse to accept your findings for what they appear to say."

In addition, good research will "look for differences that make a difference" (Rule 2) and "build in reality checks" (Rule 3). Rule 4 advises researchers to replicate, that is, "to see if identical analyses yield similar results for different samples of people" (p. 90). The next two rules urge researchers to "compare like with like" (Rule 5) and to "study change" (Rule 6); these two rules are especially important when researchers want to estimate the effect of one variable on another (e.g. how much does college education actually matter for wages?). The final rule, "Let method be the servant, not the master," reminds researchers that methods are the means, not the end, of social research; it is critical from the outset to fit the research design to the research issue, rather than the other way around.

Explanations in social theories can be idiographic or nomothetic. An idiographic approach to an explanation is one where the scientists seek to exhaust the idiosyncratic causes of a particular condition or event, i.e. by trying to provide all possible explanations of a particular case. Nomothetic explanations tend to be more general with scientists trying to identify a few causal factors that impact a wide class of conditions or events. For example, when dealing with the problem of how people choose a job, idiographic explanation would be to list all possible reasons why a given person (or group) chooses a given job, while nomothetic explanation would try to find factors that determine why job applicants in general choose a given job.

Research in science and in social science is a long, slow and difficult process that sometimes produces false results because of methodological weaknesses and in rare cases because of fraud, so that reliance on any one study is inadvisable.