Choosing how to research

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Deciding what kind of data to use

Primary data - Data collected by the researcher. The most common methods are: by survery (involving questionnaires/interviews which generates quantitative data) and by observation (participant - researcher joins the group being studied, or non participant - researcher remains detatched, which generates qualitative data).

Secondary data - Data that is already available to sociologists.

  • Official statistics collected by government (quantitative)
  • Reports in newspapers, TV and radio (mostly qualitative)
  • Historical documents (quantitative and qualitative)
  • Personal letters and diaries (qualitative)
  • Research done by private or business organisations
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Preparing the research design

Research design - sets out how the researcher will collect evidence, and what methods and techniques will be used.

Some research designs may use only one method of data collection - a questionnaire for example.

Most designs use more than one method, perhaps combining observation with interviews with a study of documents or history so the subject matter can be looked at from several angles and gain a better picture.

Triangulation = the use of multiple methods in research as a means of producing more reliable data than a single method would produce.

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Operationalising concepts

All researchers have to do this.

It means defining the phenomenin being studied so that it can be identified and counted or measured in a way that is clearly understood and that can be used consistently.

This may be straight forward.

E.g. Studying 'health' - we have to decide what we mean by healthy. The way we define and operationalise 'health' will affect how many healthy people we find, and to make comparisons over time, we must always use the same definition.

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Postmodernist criticism of sociological research

Postmodernist sociologists - questions the whole basis on which all types of research are carried out, including the natural sciences.

They argue that the 'truth' cannot be found because it does not exist as an objective reality. This means that what was true for a middle-class white man in England in 1995 might not be true for a black upper-class American woman in 2008.

Neither is wrong. The 'truth' is relative to social position, time and place and we each have our own interpretations which are equally valid. All knowledge is selective and relative, none is better than any other.

Problem of this argument - leaves us with no way of judging whether the findings of any piece of social research are more valid or more reliable than any other. The postmodernist view is just another version of reality.

Gomm (2004) - dismisses the post modernist position by stating that as a theory that denies the existence of truth, it cannot make a helpful contribution to research methods.

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