Introduction to the three Basic Analytical Thinking Tools

The three basic analytical tools for the social scientists are: Concepts, statements and conceptual frameworks. For a basic introduction, the concepts are very basically presented. There is far more to these analytical tools, which leads to years of study.

Concepts: These are the basic building blocks for translating what we perceive of reality into symbols for classifying our observations and experiences. Our experiences, filtered through our empirical thinking, must be classified or put into some sort of order. We do this by forming concepts as symbols for what something means.

Concept building has two forms: connotation and denotation. Connotation is the subjective way in which we classify and judge what we observe. Denotation involves what we develop from our connotations, and is dependent upon having a connotation first.

We observe. We observe like characteristics and classify things based on their like characteristics. We decide if a characteristic is good, bad, ugly or beautiful. Once we have a theoretical framework or a connotation, we denote that flowers are beautiful, but that rocks are rocks.

Concepts can be qualitative, with broad areas of possible meaning, or quantitative, with tight restrictions that must be met before meaning is attached.

Statements: Statements make a specific claim, based on knowledge that the individual claims to have. There are definitions and hypothesis. A definition identifies the characteristics of something that has been observed and classified according to qualitative or quantitative methods, using connotative or denotive meaning.

A hypothesis: for research to happen, there has to be a framework. Some frameworks construct a problem to solve. Others make a prediction or state an expectation. In hypothesis, two variables are involved, and anything about those two variables is up for examination, whether its the relationship, the way that they get along, why they get along, or if they even get along at all.

Conceptual frameworks: These include Typologies, where classification is done.

Models are the least understood of all of the tools of any of the sciences. Generally, where there is a lot that is known, the unknown can be examined within the model that is established by what is known.

Theories allow for exploration along known pathways of knowledge and proof for establishing, then exploring and testing for more knowledge and proof.

Paradigms offer codified methods, theories and methods that are more helpful for the social sciences, where the reality is far more volatile than in the physical sciences.


Johan Mouton and J.C. Marais “Basic Concepts in the Methodology of the Social Sciences” 1988, HSRC Publishers, Pretoria, SA