Social scientists study all aspects of human society, from the distribution of goods and services to the beliefs of newly formed religious groups to modern mass transportation systems. Their research provides insights that help us understand the different ways in which individuals and groups make decisions, exercise power or respond to change. Through their studies and analyses, social scientists and urban planners assist educators, government officials, business leaders and others in solving social, economic and environmental problems.
Research is a basic activity for many social scientists. They use established or newly discovered methods to assemble facts and theory that contribute to human knowledge. Applied research usually is designed to produce information that will enable people to make better decisions or manage their affairs more effectively. Interviews and surveys are widely used to collect facts, opinions or other information. Data collection takes many forms, such as living and working among the population being studied, including speaking their native language; field investigations, including the analysis of historical records and documents; experiments with human or animal subjects in a laboratory; the administration of standardized tests and questionnaires; and the preparation and interpretation of maps and computer graphics.
Social sciences are interdisciplinary in nature. Specialists in one field often find that their research overlaps work that is being conducted in another discipline.