There are three main reasons for using "formal" methods in representing social network data:
- Matrices and graphs are compact and systematic: They summarize and present a lot of information quickly and easily; and they force us to be systematic and complete in describing patterns of social relations.
- Matrices and graphs allow us to apply computers to analyzing data: This is helpful because doing systematic analysis of social network data can be extremely tedious if the number of actors or number of types of relationships among the actors is large. Most of the work is dull, repetitive, and uninteresting, but requires accuracy; exactly the sort of thing that computers do well, and we don't.
- Matrices and graphs have rules and conventions: Sometimes these are just rules and conventions that help us communicate clearly. But sometimes the rules and conventions of the language of graphs and mathematics themselves lead us to see things in our data that might not have occurred to us to look for if we had described our data only with words.
So, we need to learn the basics of representing social network data using matrices and graphs. The next several chapters (3, 4, 5, and 6) introduce these basic tools.