AQA AS Sociology- Research Methods

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  • Created by: EmK123
  • Created on: 23-05-16 12:29

Structured Interviews- Disadvantages

Participants can't elaborate their answers and they are restricted by the answers provided, if no answers fit their feelings then their answer will be invalid.

It only produces a snapshot of the participant's thoughts when answering the questions.

The interaction between the researcher and partipant could lead to the researcher's bias affecting the findings.

Response rate: you have to rely on the participants willingness to answer the questions = not representative or valid.

Inflexible: the researcher can't change the questions so can't explore new avenues of interest.

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Unstructured Interviews-Disadvantages


  • People don't act like they say they do- Piere- found discrepancies between what people say their attitude towards Chinese people and thier actual behaviour.
  • Hawthorne effect- they know it's an interview for research so will alter their behaviour.
  • Artificial conditions- both parties know it's an interview = unlikely to get truthful answers.
  • Its time consuming and costly as researchers need training.


  • Small samples = unrepresentative and the findings can't be generalised.
  • Doesn't produce reliable data as the questions aren't standardised = can't repeat the study or compare findings.
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Questionnaires- Disadvantages


  • Have to be brief so people are more likely to complete them =  limits the amount of data you will get. Incentives given to increase the response rate. Postal- unknown if the intended person is filling out the questionnaire.
  • Response rate = low (e.g. Hite's study had a 4.5% rate.) You are limited by the type of person who completes it (busy people won't, but unemployed will) this limits the representativeness of the data.
  • Snapshot: questionnaires just offer a snapshot of reality at the point they answer the questions = can't see attitudes/behaviour change over time. Unable to elaborate answers.
  • Inflexible: questions can't be changed so the researcher can't explore new areas of interest, unlike in unstructured interviews.
  • Right answerism: the participants may give the answer they think the researcher wants.


  • Objectivity: Cicourel- questionnaires lack validity as the reseacher is detached from the participant, they also can't be sure the participant has understood or interpreted the question in the same way as the researcher does.
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Personal Documents- Advantages and Disadvantages


  • They may be the only record of a particular group = the only way to study them, their ideas, motives and attitudes.
  • It gives great insight into events from the people on the inside.
  • They are high in validity especially if the author didn't know the document would be used for research.


  • They are all written with an audience in mind = biased.
  • May not be representative- some groups (working class) may not write personal documents due to lack of literacy skill or social importance.
  • Its hard to evaluate their accuracy and validity.
  • Some may be written after the event in question = unreliable.
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Structured Interviews- Advantages


  • They produce a lot of quantifiable data that can be used to create connections between variables.
  • They are cheap to conduct but more expensive than questionnaires.


  • Positivists like them because they are high in reliablitiy as the questions are the same and in the same order for all the participants.
  • The interviews are quick so they can have a large sample size making it representative.
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Questionnaires- Advantages


  • Quick and cheap to produce a large quantity of data that can be quantified and it allows comparison between societies or between insitutions.
  • Funding bodies (e.g. Government) would like this method as it produces quantitative data that conclusions can be quickly drawn from.
  • Ethical- Little issues, participant are under no obligation to answer any question (e.g. if its intrusive or on a sensitive topic.) The researcher gains consent before the study and anonymity must be ensured if the results are being published.


  • Objective: there is no reseacher bias as there is no researhcer present to interact with the participant.
  • Representativeness: questionnaires include a wide range of people and can include a large sample size, so the results can be generalised.
  • Reliability: the same questions are asked in the same order so the study can be easily repeated to get the same results.
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Comparative Method- Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Helps identify casual links- Weber's study found a link between the values of Protestantism and Capitalism.
  • Allows sociologists to find the cause of events or situations- Durkiem's suicide study compared suicide rates of different European countries and found that religious beliefs partly explained the difference in rates.
  • Helps explain work place behaviour- Gallie found that in France the refineries were more likely to strike than the ones in the UK by comparing the worker's behaviour.


  • Cross cultural studies have limitations- a western researcher may have limited knowledge of non-western cultures.
  • Durkhiem's use of stats- the religious beliefs of the suicide victim wasn't stated in their personal information so he assumed that a suicide in a Catholic area must have been committed by a Catholic.
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Social Surveys- Disadvantages


  • They are expensive (Parker's study cost £300,000) and time-consuming
  • The questions can never be standardised as each person would attach their own meaning to them.
  • There is bias as the reseacher has determined what is important by creating the questions.


  • Intrerpretivists would say that quantitative data like stats don't reveal people's feelings and opinions of a topic = not valid.
  • Sample won't be representative as many people will fail to fill and return the survey.
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Unstructured Interviews- Advantages

It's used to study sensitive or inaccessable issues as the researcher can build a rapport up with the participant to gain their trust.

It allows the participant to develop their answers which allows the reseacher to dig deeper into the meaning and motives behind their actions.

Its unlikely the participant will misunderstand the question or the researcher misinterpreting the answer as they be clarified with follow-up questions.

Highly flexible- the researcher goes in with an open mind and can change the direction the interview takes as they can change the questions if the participant brings up a topic the researcher didn't think of before.

The researcher doesn't need prior knowledge of the topic they are studying unlike in structured interviews.

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Participant Observation- Advantages


  • It may be the only method to study certain groups as they may be suspisious of people asking questions.
  • It allows the researcher to build a rapport- gives detailed answers to sensitive questions.
  • Flexible- the researcher doesn't have a pre-set hypothesis but goes in with an open mind.


  • Its high in validity- produces qualitative data which give a true picture of social reality.
  • It gives the researcher insight into the groups way of life, meanings, viewpoint and attitudes.
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Participant Observation- Disadvantages


  • Time comsuming- Whyte's study took 4 years.
  • It may cost a lot as the reseacher needs to be highly trained.
  • Characteritics- researcher must deal with demanding situations and have oservational and personal skills. 
  • Access- some groups may be hard to access (gangs) or gatekeepers may block access (children)
  • Ethics- covert = no concent and deception and  researcher may have to partake in illegal/ immoral acts.


  • Representative- the groups are usually small making it harder to generalise the findings.
  • Reliability- the study can't be replicated-  postivists reject this method.
  • Objectivity- building a rapport may lead to the findings being biased or the researcher may conceal certain information.
  • Validity- the findings are the researcher's interpretation of events. The Hawthorne effect effects validity.
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Social Surveys- Advantages


  • They are cheap and not time-consuming.
  • Little chance of researcher bias because they aren't present.


  • They produce quantitative data which can aid positivists make casual links between variables.
  • Reliable- they use standardised questions so it can be repeated and get the same results.
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Non-Participant Observation- Advantages and Disadv


  • Can ask questions to clarify understanding.
  • There are no ethicial issues as there is concent before the study starts, and the reseacher doesn't have to take part in illegal/immoral acts.
  • Observer has more freedom as they don't have to act as part of the group.


  • Hawthorne effect- the participants know they are being researched so they may alter their behaviour, which creates a artifical environment.
  • Its difficult to gain meanings, attitudes or opinons of the topic.
  • Objectivity- the researcher is more likely to impose his own meaning or interpretation on the findings.
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