A2 Sociology Methods

Revision cards with a summary of the advantages and disadvantages of the different methods used in sociology (observation, statistics etc...) For use in the methods in context essay question Hope it's helpful(:

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Overt non-participant observation: participants are aware they are being observed and observer isn't involved in participant activities

Advantages: ethical (no deception), easier to record information, less worry due to no pretense, can ask questions

Disadvantages: demand characteristics 'hawthorn effect', bias findings (as it down to the interpretation of the researcher)

Covert participant observation: Observer gets involved with the activities of the participant and they are unaware of being observed

Advantages: More in-depth information (qualitative), higher validity(act more naturally), first-hand experience (give insight), can find reasons and opinions

Disadvantages: unethical (deception), time and money (expensive), training needed, unrepresentative- unreliable, loss of objectivity (too involved= risk of going 'native'), difficult to record data, issues of getting in- staying in-getting out without suspicion/ harm to observer (dangerous in some cases).

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Structured Interviews: set questions, framework 

Advantages: quantitative, reliable data, easily quantified, suitable for hypothesis testing, can see comparisons/trends and patterns, easy, fairly quick, respondents who can't read/write can be included

Disadvantages: not valid, restrict interviewees giving detailed answers (limited and little scope), interviewer bias, costs for training interviwer 

Unstructured interviews: no set questions, topic area to base discussion around and questions would flow throughout

Advantages: sensitive issues can be researched, rapport built up (higher validity), no restriction on answers, clarification of meanings, qualitative data (gives insight)

Disadvantages: time consuming (no stopping point), sample size (unrepresentative), lack quantitative data, not reliable, interviewer bias, social desirability, difficult to code-> quantify and see correlations

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Official Statistics

Official statistics: secondary data already in existence collected by government in a standardised way. e.g. census 

Advantages: free, large quantitative data (representative), allow comparisons between groups, collected at regular intervals= show trends/patterns over time (see effects of legislation/ policy changes), reliable (standardised way= set procedures), easily analysed for relationships, saves time/money/effort

Disadvantages: government collect for own purposes (may not entirely relate to interested topic area), definitions state uses may be different to sociologists= different views on how large a problem is, categories change over time= harder to compare different years, validity issues= hard stats are valid (births/deaths/divorce),  soft stats aren't valid (recording all crimes/ racist incidences in society) - could be elements of social construction involved, political bias, not whole picture = unreported crimes, no qualitative data= can't find opinions/ explanations 

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Questionnaires: list of questions given out to participants to complete- can be open questions (freedom and space to write own answer) or closed questions (answers are set and respondent chooses one (or more) options) 

Advantages: quick, cheap, gather large amounts of data, can be geographically spread out, no recruitment or training needed, data easily quantifiable= processed quickly to reveal relationships, closed questions give reliable data and quantitative data, no researcher present may influence answers, few ethical issues= under no obligations to answer and can be anonymous

Disadvantages: limited and superficial = there's need to be brief for response, cheap however need for incentives e.g. prize draw (costly), have low response rates (not representative), inflexible method= finalized questions offer no scope to explore new areas of interest, respondents may not answer the question (give wrong answer), answers may be illegible or incomprehensible, lack validity due to social desirability

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Documents: Letters, government reports, historical treaties, diaries.

Advantages:  high validity= authentic statement of authors views, qualitative data= insight and meaning, can study the past 

Disadvantages: unreliable= unstandardised (diary= unique), unrepresentative (only literate groups write diaries), bias (when researcher interprets findings) 

Historical documents: assessing them 

> authenticity (claims to be? missing pages? who wrote it?) 

> credibility (believable? author sincere? accurate? representative? generalise? survival document typical or lost/destroyed ones?)

>meaning (translated? interpret document to find authors meaning?) 

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Case studies/ Longitudinal studies

Case studies: in-depth research into a particular individual, following them and their experiences

Advantages: detailed insight, qualitative data

Disadvantages: not representative, can't generalise findings

Longitudinal studies: in-depth research into a particular individual/group, following them and their experiences through a long period of time (several years)

Advantages: trace developments over period of time, creates a more detailed picture of events, can compare groups over time

Disadvantages: sample attition (loss of sample)= less representative, large data is difficult to analyse= can't obtain results quickly, costly, hawthorn effect.

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Content analysis

Content analysis: method of dealing systematically with the contents of documents. A tally chart is created with categories and certain answers are tallied in the category it falls into 

Advantages: cheap, easy to find sources of material, useful source of quantitative objective scientific data

Disadvantages: simply just counting number of time something appears in documents doesn't tell us anything about it's meaning/ give any explanations

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Lab experiment

Lab experiment: artificial environment, with controlled variables

Advantages: reliable, can replicated precisely with every detail and similar results can be produced, high control over variables and no involvement of researchers personal feelings/opinions (objectivity), identifies cause and effect relationships in the natural sciences by measuring patterns quantitatively 

Disadvantages: impossible to identify and control ALL variables, can't be used to study the past, usually small sample so reduced representativness, ethics: consent/misleading participants, harm etc.., hawthorn effect: artificial environment causes change in behaviour of participants due to awareness, freewill= behaviour can't be explained by cause and effect it is in fact the choices made by people

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Field experiment/ Comparative Method

Field experiment: Natural setting, fewer variables controlled

Advantages: less artificial= more valid results as more natural behaviour is shown

Disadvantages: less control so can't be certain the causes identified are the correct one, unethical= no informed consent and deception

Comparative method: (thought experiment) carried out in researches mind to discover cause and effect relationships 1.) 2 similar groups found with one variable difference between them 2.) compare to see if the variable difference has any effect e.g. Durkheim suicide study

Advantages: avoids artificiality, can be used to study past events, no ethical problems

Disadvantages: even less control over variables, researcher bias

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omg this is so helpful thank you for posting this :)

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