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Factors influencing choice Research methods in Sociology
Ethical issues
of research method Theoretical considerations Ethics = moral principles ­ beliefs about what
·Interpretivism = some sociologists argue is right & wrong. Research terms ­ ethics the
Practical considerations understanding human behaviour involves moral principles which guide research.
·Some methods more seeing world through eyes of those being Should participants be informed about what
suitable than others for studied. People give meaning to their research involves + purpose? Should
conducting particular types behaviour + to behaviour of others. researchers make every effort to ensure they
of research. E.g. Studying ·To understand their behaviour, essential to don't come into physical harm?
teenage gang whose discover + interpret meanings + definitions
members commit legal which guide their actions. Informed consent
acts. ·View of human activity = interpretivism. Researchers argue those they are studying
·Asking gang members for Soc who support this view may favour should be given opportunity to agree or
interviews or methods such as participant observation, refuse to participate in research.
questionnaires unlikely to observing people being studied by joining
produce required data. their activities, suitable method for Deception
Joining in + gaining trust discovering meanings which guide actions. Information withheld from participants
allows researcher to obtain ·Interpretivists favour in-depth and/or provided with false info. May be
info by observing unstructured interviews, gives them chance unaware they are participating in research
behaviour. to talk about behaviour. study or misled about purpose + research.
·Researcher can only ·Positivism = models itself on `natural'
observe + record behaviour sciences such as biology and chemistry. Privacy
of small number of people. Favours `hard' quantitative data. Less Agree privacy should be respected but most
Sociologists claim working concerned with meanings people attach to research intrudes into people's lives.
class more likely to commit behaviour, more with behaviour itself.
crime ­ would take lifetime ·Positivist sociology = attempts to measure Confidentiality
of observation to assess behaviour by translating it to numbers. Agreed identity of participants should be
claim. Sociologists turn to Statistics to measure strengths between kept a secret unless told clearly otherwise.
official statistics of crime to various factors.
observe relationship ·More likely to produce data in numerical Protection from harm
between social class + form. Questionnaires ­ fairly easy to Includes any harmful effects of participating
crime. translate answers into numbers. in research + consequences of research.…read more

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Key words: Research methods in Sociology Field experiments:
Lab experiments: Conducted in normal social
Hypothesis: a statement that can be tested
about the relationship between two or Controlling variables: In order to situations such as classroom,
more variables. discover effect of hull shape on factory and street corner.
speed it is necessary to identify +
control all variables or factors Lack of control: field
Variables: factors which affect behaviour.
which may affect speed. experiments are always going
Variables can vary or change, e.g.
to be inexact and `messy'. It is
Temperature can increase or decrease.
impossible to identify and
Quantifying results: the results of
control all variables which
Replication: repeating an experiment or experiments usually presented in
might affect the results.
research study under the same conditions. numbers - using standard
objective system of measurement The Hawthorne effect:
Correlation: a measurement of the important ­ reduces reliance on People often aware they are
strength of the relationship between two judgement of investigator. Other participating in an
or more variables. researchers can repeat and experiment.
replicate experiments easier.
Lab experiment: an experiment conducted Experimenter bias: People
in specially built surroundings. Correlation and causation: If act in terms of how they
changes in one variable are perceive others. Tend to
Field experiment: an experiment matched by changes in another ­ respond differently if
conducted in everyday social settings. correlation between two variables. experimenter young/old,
male/female, black/white etc.
Experimental effect: any unintended effect Lab experiments + people:
of experiment on participants. Successful in sciences but serious Ethical questions: Is it right to
doubts about application to human experiment on human
Hawthorne effect: changes in behaviour of beings as people act in terms of beings? Depends on nature of
definitions + situations. As artificial experiment. Should people be
participants resulting from awareness they
environment, as result actions may told they are subject of
are taking part in experiment.
be different from real experiment? Yes, unless
absolutely necessary to
Experimenter bias: the unintended effect environment.
deceive them, then must be
of the experimenter on the participant. told afterwards.…read more

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Key words: Research methods in Sociology Key words:
Social surveys: Sampling
Quota sample:
systematic collection of Social Survey Selection of part of Stratified sample in
the same type of data population. Necessary which strata not
from a particular Involves systematic collection of
as researchers rarely random.
population. same type of data from fairly large
number of people. Designed to have time + money to
Sample: a selection from study everybody in Snowball sample:
the research population. gather info on same variables ­ e.g.
population. E.g. Members of the
Sampling unit: a Age and cinema attendance from
Sample based on sample select each
member of the research those participating in survey. Asking
women 16+ in UK other.
population. everyone same set of questions.
would be 23M people.
Sampling frame: a list of Must be Volunteer sample:
members of research Sampling design & composition representative of Members of sample
population. population. If studying are self-selected, e.g.
Random sample: a Sampling unit ­ Who should be included
British women should They choose to
sample which gives in a sample? Some cases easy to find
not just consist of respond to
every member sample e.g. Member of population ­ 1 or
1000 nuns, 1000 questionnaire printed
Systematic sample: a more A Level. Some hard e.g. People who
women over 80 or in magazine.
systematic selection of have committed crimes, do you limit
number of people or include nearly every 1000 divorced as not
people from the representative, with Response rate: The
sampling frame, e.g. adult in UK.
representative percentage of sample
Every 10th member sample, more likely to that participates in the
Stratified sample: Sampling frame ­ List of members of
be true + applicable to research.
Sample which attempts population to be studied. Some cases
appropriate sampling frame readily population as a
to reflect particular whole.
characteristics of the available, e.g. Electoral Register for study
research population. E.g. of voting behaviour. Listings have
Age, gender. Sample drawbacks ­ not everyone included, often
randomly drawn from out of date, certain groups
each stratum. over/underrepresented e.g. Poor less
likely to appear in telephone directories.…read more

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Research methods in Sociology Snowball/volunteer sample
TYPES OF SAMPLES Sometimes researchers have difficulty in
Stratified sample obtaining people for samples. Research
Random sample Offer solution to the problem of population may be too small, sampling frame
Gives every member representativeness. Population divided may not be available + people in research
of sampling frame into separate strata in terms of population may not want to be identified due
equal chance of being one/more characteristics e.g. Age, to drugs, crime, sexuality, part of Masons etc.
selected. Every name gender, ethnicity, class. Sample drawn SNOWBALL ­ Researcher finds someone who
given number + list of which reflects characteristics. SS can only fits bill. Asked to find another person and so
random numbers used be selected if researchers have sufficient on. Network of members of research
to select sample. info, some may be easy to obtain e.g. population built up + forms basis for sample.
Reduces researcher Age, gender but some may be difficult e. Relies on personal recommendations so may
bias. g. Religion because sampling frames e.g. be unreliable.
Electoral registers do not have info about VOLUNTEER ­ Advertisements, leaflets, radio
Systematic sample religious belief/practice. or TV broadcasts etc to announce for people
to take part.
Chooses every 5th,
10th, 20th etc Quota sample Response rate
sampling unit. Used Market researcher stands on street corner Reasons for non-response:
by Young & Willmott looking for likely `victims'. E.g. Women aged 1. People have moved, holiday, prison,
­ selected every 10th 30-45 answer magazine readership working away from home or out when
name from borough's questionnaire. Fills quota with first 20 researcher calls.
electoral register. women passing by who meets 2. Contact made but interview cannot be
Electoral registers requirements + willing to answer. Not conducted as person ill, personal tragedy,
may be random selection, first available bodies. can't speak English or embarrassed.
unrepresentative as Used for opinion polls + market research. A 3. Person refuses to participate. No time,
do not include people ­ Simpler, cheaper than stratified sampling. interest, sees no point, suspicious,
too young to vote + D ­ Less likely to produce representative, embarrassed.
unemployed. researchers can choose who to include +
Representative may be biased. Time + day done has effect, · Non response may make sample
sample not daytime weekday means paid employment unrepresentative, may bias sample or
guaranteed. not included. produce systematic error.…read more

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PARTICIPANT Research methods in Sociology ·Positivists reject as sample
OBSERVATION size too small to generalise.
Key terms: ·GAINING ENTRY Advantages of PO
Participant observation: The researcher ·PO cannot work unless ·Chance to discover ·Interpretivists accept as
participates in activities of those he/she entry gained into group. what people gives inside view + more in
is observing. Many groups don't want actually do. depth info.
to be studied, especially ·Gain new insights.
NON- PARTICIPANT
Ethnography: The study of the way of those with deviant or ·Opportunity to
OBSERVATION
life of a group of people. Often involves criminal activities. take insiders view.
an attempt to see world from their point ·Practicality ­ may Advantages:
of view. ·CONDUCTING be only method ·Observer less likely to
RESEARCH with chance of influence group, especially if
Covert research: Identity of researcher + ·Looking + listening: `Go success. they're unaware of their
purpose of research hidden from those with the flow' rather presence.
being studied. than forcing pace +
influencing people's Disadvantages of PO ·Researchers have more
Overt research: Identity + purpose of behaviour. Must not ·Time, money, opportunities for using
researcher/research made clear to those disturb natural setting. personal costs. research aids such as
being studied. ·Possible loss of behaviour schedules +
·ASKING QUESTIONS objectivity. notebooks.
Key informant: A member of group ·Possibility of
being observed who develops close ·KEY INFORMANT changing behaviour Disadvantages:
relationship with researcher + helps of those observed. ·As non-participants,
answer questions etc. ·HANGING AROUND ·Difficulties in researchers have fewer
·`Unplanned, replicating research. opportunities for discovering
Non-participant observation: The unstructured'. ·Small samples, not meanings which direct actions
researcher observes, doesn't participate possible to of those they deserve.
in activities of those being studied. ·RECORDING generalise.
OBSERVATIONS ·Ethical problems, ·As result, researchers more
Behaviour schedule: checklist of ·May be hard + a especially with likely to impose their own
activities noted on schedule when occur. problem with covert covert. interpretations + meanings on
research. to behaviour they observe.…read more

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