SCLY2 Research methods revision booklet

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Laura Critchley Sociology AS
Sociological Methods
Choosing a research method
Types of data:
Primary data is information collected by the sociologists themselves it is firsthand data e.g. interviews, social
surveys, participant observation and experiments.
Advantage ­ sociologists are able to gather precise information they need to test their hypothesis.
Disadvantage ­ costly and timeconsuming.
Secondary data is information that has been collected by someone else for their own purpose, but then is
available for other sociologists to use e.g. official statistics and documents.
Advantage ­ quick and cheap.
Disadvantage ­ may not provide the information the sociologists are looking for.
Quantative data is numbers and statistics you can easily put quantative data in a graph or a chart.
Qualitative data gives a detailed picture of what people do, think and feel. It is subjective and involves
opinions, meanings and interpretations.
Factors influencing choice of methods:
Practical issues that may influence the sociologist's choice.
Time and money large scale studies may employ interviewers and data input staff costing great amounts of
money. A smaller scale study involving just the researcher would be cheaper but could take several years.
Requirements of funding bodies research institutes, businesses and other organisations that may provide the
funding may require it in a particular form e.g. quantitative data.
Personal skills and characteristics each sociologist has different personal skills. Observation would require the
ability to mix with others and to observe and recall well. Indepth interviews would need the interviewer to
generate a rapport with the interview.
Subject matter may be difficult for a female to be involved in a participant observation of monks in a
monastery, or it may not be appropriate to give a group of illiterate P's a written questionnaire.
Research opportunity the opportunity to research a certain group of people sometimes is unexpected, e.g.
Patrick (1973) got an out of the blue chance to observe a gang and therefore had no other choice but to
conduct a participant observation.
Ethical issues that may influence the sociologist's choice.
Informed consent all P's must be given to opportunity to refuse, should be told all aspects of the research, and
be told they can withdraw at any time.

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Laura Critchley Sociology AS
Confidentiality and privacy identity of research kept secret to keep P's from harm, all findings confidential.
Effects on research participants harm to P's may sometimes be a result of research researchers must
anticipate this and prevent such issues.
Vulnerable groups special care should be taken with age, disability, physical/mental illness, e.g. when studying
children consent is needed from parents and child and information should be provided to the children in
language they will understand.…read more

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Laura Critchley Sociology AS
Researching education
Researching pupils:
In schools, pupils have less power and status than adults, this makes it more difficult for them to state their
views openly (especially if their views challenege adult opinions). Researchers have to find ways to overcome
this power difference by perhaps doing group interviews instead of oneonone.
Pupil's ability is likely to be limited in comparison to adults researchers will have to carefully word
questions to make sure they are understood correctly.…read more

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Laura Critchley Sociology AS
Due to education being compulsory the pupils are a `captive population' this poses advantages and
disadvantages for the researcher.
Researching parents:
Parents influence education by the way they educate their children and through involvement with teachers,
governors. Marketisation policies parents shop for their child's education.
Social class and ethnicity of parents is very important in schooling but they could cause barriers within
research. Some parents (middleclass) may be more willing to participate in research, potentially causing
unrepresentative results.…read more

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Laura Critchley Sociology AS
Field experiments are done in response to the criticisms of lab experiments. They take place outside of the lab
in real social settings and those involved are often unaware they are being observed. Used by interprevists.
Advantages they're done in natural social settings and are more like real life (high in ecological validity) they
can show hidden meanings of everyday social interactions.…read more

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Laura Critchley Sociology AS
Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) gave pupils an IQ test, the teachers we told that the test allowed for 20%
of the pupils to be identified as spurters. In reality, this was a lie the pupils were selected at random. The
pupils were retested after 8 month and then again a year later. The spurters gained more points than the other
pupils.…read more

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Laura Critchley Sociology AS
Some people may refuse to participate in the survey.
If representative samples aren't possible snowball sampling or opportunity sampling may be used in its place.
Interpretivists are less concerned about making generalisations and so have less of a need for a
representative sample.…read more

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Laura Critchley Sociology AS
No one can explain the questions if the respondent doesn't understand them.
Once the questions have been finalised, the researcher must stick to the set questions, therefore
cannot explore new areas of interest.
Do not portray a full picture as they do not capture the ways people's attitudes and behaviours change
over time therefore questionnaires lack validity.
Lying, forgetting and `right answerism' can lead to problems of validity, as respondents do not give
full or truthful answers.…read more

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Laura Critchley Sociology AS
Each time the interview is conducted the same standardised questions are asked, the questions are closed
questions with multiplechoice answers.
They give quantative data and they're reliable the data gathered is quantifiable.
They're used in largescale social surveys and can cover large numbers of people.
Structured interviews can ask the same questions as a questionnaire, but they get a much higher response
rate. People tend to agree to be interviewed representative sample.…read more

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Laura Critchley Sociology AS
Interpretivists favour unstructured interviews as they achieve validity. Positivists reject unstructured
interviews as each interview is unique and cannot be replicated.
The interview as a social interaction:
Social interactions can threaten the validity of interviews in several ways.
Interviewer bias: the interviewer may ask leading questions where the wording tells the
interviewee how to answer.
Artificiality: unstructured interviews are more natural than a structured interview, but still not normal.…read more


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