Start working with big data

Computational social science (CSS) has historically been associated with agent based models of complex social systems but during the last decade this field has been redefined, most notably by David Lazer et al in an article published in 2009—Life in the network: the coming age of computational social science. Fast forward a decade and we’re all very much aware of the data deluge and our own digital footprints, making the intersection of computational methods and social science crucial in the development of contemporary society.

This page is designed to help you get to grips with computational methods through short videos, definitions, research papers, books, guides and courses. Progress through the resources to build your knowledge and develop new skills.

Browse by content type

What is computational social science?


Learning how to work with big data comes with a lot of new terminology (and jargon!). In an effort to bring some clarity to what can be a confusing area, the SAGE Campus team have created a glossary of big data and data science terms.


We’ve selected some free to access content below from across our books collection for you to get stuck into. Discover the SAGE Ocean Books Hub featuring content from across the social sciences.

This book is the starting point in learning the process and skills of data visualization

This book is the starting point in learning the process and skills of data visualization

Integrating Theory and Practice

Integrating Theory and Practice

Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and Their Consequences

Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and Their Consequences

The book provides readers with the conceptual foundation to use applied statistical methods in everyday research

The book provides readers with the conceptual foundation to use applied statistical methods in everyday research


The SAGE Ocean YouTube channel has lots of helpful videos on getting started with computational research methods. We’ve created a playlist specifically for new learners. These short videos will give you an introduction into some key topics as well as gaining some great insights from leading academics on the importance of social scientists engaging with big data and computational methods. Check out the videos below or explore the full collection.

Learner stories

The SAGE Ocean Blog features tips, advice and experience from researchers working in academia and industry.

The SAGE Campus Blog focuses on practical, teaching based content to help social scientists develop their data science skills. If you conduct social science research and you are using Stata, SAS, or SPSS, you might be looking to learn how to use some new techniques.

Where should I start - R or Python?


R and Python are the two popular programming languages used by data analysts and data scientists, that provide many more features than the aforementioned statistical software packages. Although you could learn both, that would require a significant time investment— especially if you have never coded before. So which should you start with? And which one is best for social scientists?


The best guidance in deciding which language to focus on is to look at what peers in your field are working with, and follow their lead. If your department is more familiar with one language, it could save you a lot of effort if you learn that one. You can always pick up the other one later.  A good idea is to ask any colleagues you have who already focus on data science and advanced analytics to see which language they predominantly use.

Why should social scientists learn to program?

Information of all kinds is now being produced, collected, and analyzed at unprecedented speed, breadth, depth, and scale. The capacity to collect and analyze massive data sets has already transformed fields such as biology, astronomy, and physics, but the social sciences have been comparatively slower to adapt, and the path forward is less certain. In this blog we look at the benefits of using data science methods in social science research. 


Learn new ways to examine the social world with SAGE Campus. Offering courses at a variety of skill levels, SAGE Campus are the only online data science courses specifically aimed at social scientists. Why not take our free course: Introduction to Big Data for Social Scientists. It’s only an hour and will help demystify big data and explore how it’s impacting social research. We offer lots of introductory courses on a variety of computational methods. Check out the featured courses below or browse the SAGE Campus site.


Dip your toes into data science with these short webinars. Whether your looking to improve the visualization of your data, learn more about quantitative text analysis and the role it plays when working with big data or master your next programming language, we've got you covered.


Now that you’ve developed some understanding of working with big data you might want to start working with digital text from the web or grasp the fundamentals of the R programming language. Enter the SAGE Campus beginner guides; sign up is free, you don’t need any prerequisites to start learning and you have unlimited access to the guides.


SAGE Stats Editor Extraordinaire Diana Aleman charts her tips and tricks with finding, analyzing, and visualizing data. Notable articles include how to cite data and the popular data in the news series.


Access the latest research from the SAGE Journals platform, including the big data microsite that’s packed full of the latest social science research.

More from SAGE Ocean