Ethics and practical issues in sociological research

  • Created by: chlopayne
  • Created on: 15-04-19 22:51


The British Sociological Association outline the principles sociologists should consider. Principles should consider; responsibilities towards those being studied, legal issues and relationship between those funding research and those taking part in reserach. 

Key issues: 

  • Safeguard of those involved
  • Research should be worthwhile 
  • Techniques should be appropriate 


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Subjects know that the research is taking place and they agree to take part. 

Consent should be 'informed'. 

Consent can be withdrawn at any time. 

Parents give consent for young or vulnerable people. 

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If participants are unaware or misled about the aims, they have been decevied. 

Covert research is in breach of the general rules of consent. 

BSA guidelines say covert research should only be undertaken when essential infromation cannot be collected in another way. 

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Privacy / Anonymity

The names of people, organisations and places aren't provided. 

This should encourage participants to be open and honest. 

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Protecting information that is collected. 

Prevent unauthorised and unneccesary access is important. 

Avoid collecting information that can used to link data to individuals. 

There can be legal implications - Data Protection Act. 

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Issus that sociologists are internested in are often sensitive. 

Family life, criminal behaviour, effects of discrimination are examples of sensitive topics which require careful handling. 

This includes how the subject matter is handled. 

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Avoiding harm

Those who take part in research shouldn't be disadvantaged as a result. 

Protecting the identity of participants and data from them remain confidential is essential.

Protecting the researcher from harm is also important. 

Protecting the physcial and emotional well-being of the research team is part of the planning and management of a research project.

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Practical issues

How the research is conducted and may affect the findings of the research.

Key practical issues:

  • choosing a research topic
  • funding the research
  • operationalising concepts
  • identifying the target population
  • timescales

FAMOUS NAMES: John Williams used participant observations to investigate football hooligans. The topic reflected his own interest and concern with behaviour at matches. Money was available to fund the research into this social problem.

Factors that affect topic choice: 

  • Personal influencess
  • Events and trends in society 
  • Theory 
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Finance and funding

Money for research comes from a variety of research: 

  • Government departments, issues they regard as important 
  • Businesses, interested to know more about society 
  • Sociologists, seek funding to conduct their work 
  • The Economic and Social Research Council, support research which contributed to the economic competitiveness of the UK, effectiveness of public service and policy. 
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Operationalising concepts

Social inequality, power and gender are examples of concepts sociologists what to know. 

First, they must be defined, no clear idea of the research without this. 

Moving from a concept to something defined is known as operationalising concepts. 

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Identifying the target population

From the target population that the sample of the study is drawn from. 

Conclusions drawn from the data collected about the sample group can only be generalised to the population that the sample came from. 

If conclusions are to be generalised to this population, then the sample should be representative. 

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Negotiating access

The researcher has to make contact with potentional research participants. 

May involve access to an organisation. 

Access is in the hands of the organisational managements, which are gatekeepers. 

Ethical issues of consent, those takig part should agree to it and be able to withdraw. 

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Time and money

This will be limited. This may affect the size of the research team, the research methods used and the size of the sample studied. 

With more money, a larger sample can be used. A bigger sample is more likely to be representative and data will be generalisable. 

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