Selecting a topic
Intents & values of the researcher - they will want to study topics they find interesting, but 'values' are important. If a topic is important enough to research, because it raises moral or political questions, or have strong feelings about it there will be a risk that these feelings will affect how they perceive the situation and how they carry out their research.
Current debates in the academic world - sociologists wil be drawn to study topics that are creating interest and controversy among their colleagues.
Topics that are of general interest at the time - these are often to do with what the media, powerful people or everyday public opinion regard as 'social problems'.
Areas in which sociological research can be useful
Sociological problems - any aspect of social life that sociology can help to explain. Sociologists are just as interested in 'normal' behaviour as they are with abnormal.
Social problems - any aspect of social life that causes private unhappiness or public friction or disorder and what politicians/media think something should be done about. Not all sociological problems are social problems.
Social policy - If the government takes an interest in a social problem, then some form of social polocy will be put in place. It is any action taken by the government that has a direct effect on the welfare of citizens of a country usually providing some kind of service - education or a health service. They are not neutral. They are linked to the political beliefs of the government. Sociological research provides government with information & data they need to produce such policies.
Considering the practical issues
Time and resources needed - 1st time researchers often underestimate how long it takes to collect data, analyse it and then write a report. A lone researcher would only be able to do a small-scale study (case study). Large-scale studies would need a team of professional researchers and can take years to complete.
Access to the subject matter - It is harder to get permission to study what happens in a doctor's surgery than to study what happens in a classroom. Rich & powerful people can deny access to a researcher easier than a poor person could.
Whether funding is available - Large scale researches are expensive : salaries, equipment, living expenses, travel, computer resources, secretarial help etc. Individuals & organisations can bid for funds from sources such as councils or charitable trusts - there is stiff competition for this money. Many researchers have limited resources.
Researchers choice of topic and research methods is affected by practical, ethical and theoretical issues.
Formulating a hypotheses or research question
Hypotheses - Research must be focused on a specific issue. If the researcher already has an idea, they can formulate a hypotheses. It is a statement that can be tested - a prediction of what the research will find.
Research questions - Researchers doing descriptive research do not usually start with a hypotheses. They will have a general question that has promoted the research but they do not make predictions.