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Types of data
Primary and Secondary data
Researchers often use both these types of data.
Primary data refers to information which was not present before the research began. It is
generated by the researcher during the actual process of research. It includes data produced
by questionnaires, interviews and observations.
Secondary data refers to data which already exists. It includes data from historical records,
official statistics, government reports, diaries, autobiographies, novels, newspapers, films
and recorded music.
Quantitative and Qualitative data
Again researchers tend to use both forms.
Quantitative data. Data in the form of numbers. Eg, from the year 2000 26% of 1618
year olds in England and Wales had taken cannabis in the past year. In Britain 9% of people
with managerial/professional occupations went to the opera I the past year compared to one
percent of people with unskilled manual jobs. It is particularly useful for measuring the
strength of relationships between various factors. The above examples would be useful data
for measuring relationships between 1) age and illegal drug use and 2) social class and
Qualitative data. This refers to all the types of data that are not in the form of numbers. It
includes: Descriptive data from observations eg. Description of behaviour in a pub. Quotes
from interviews eg. A woman discussing her marriage. Written sources eg. Diaries, novels
and autobiographies. Pictures eg. Photos, paintings and posters. Films and music.
Qualitative data can often provide a richer and more in depth picture of social life than the
numbers provided by quantitative data. Many sociologists combine the two.
Validity and reliability
Validity Data is valid if it presents a true and accurate description or measurement. Eg.
Official statistics on crime are valid if they provide an accurate measurement of the extent of
Reliability Data is reliable when different researchers using the same methods obtain the
same results. Eg, if a number of researchers observed the same crowd at the same football
game and produced the same description of crowd behaviour, then their account would be
reliable. This method(observation)produces reliable results.
However reliable data may not be valid. Say the crowd was at a baseball match in the
USA, and the sociologists were English and knew nothing about baseball. They may well fail
to understand the crowd's responses to the game. As a result, their descriptions of the
crowd's behaviour may be reliable they all produce the same descriptions but invalid
their descriptions are inaccurate.