Sociology Primary Research Methods

  • Created by: chlopayne
  • Created on: 15-04-19 23:14


Refers to a large scale quantitative study. 

Collected by questionnaires or interviews. 

Examples are British Social Attitudes Survey and Crime Survey for England and Wales.

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List of questions, either on paper or online. The respondent reads and answers questions on their own, no interference of researcher


Quick, cheap, closed questions can be quantified quickly, large sample in a small time, reliable, anonymous so more honest, not limited to small geographic areas (internet), revisit same sample allows for identification of change over time. 


May not be valid, respondents might not understand the question, doesn't allow explanation, postal questionnaires have poor response rates, unable to generalise, not everyone interprets questions the same way, creating good quality is difficult, respondents may not tell the truth. 


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Structured interviews

Questions read out and answers recorded by the interviewer. All repondents have the same questions. 


Interviewer can explain things, standardised approach makes the data reliable, data can be collected quickly, presence of researcher can improve response rates. 


Time consuming, interviewer bias - respondents may want to please the interviewer, limit opportunity for respondents to explain. 

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Unstructured interviews

Very little structure. Allows qualitative data.


Discussion can develop - explore issues in great detail, 'natural' setting more open and honest, valid data, respondents can answer in tehir own words, body language can be recorded.


Time consuming - smaller samples, interview has to be highly skilled, analysing information is complicated and subjective, less reliable, interviewer bias, relationship of interview and resondent (age, sex, ethnicity).

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Focus groups

A group of people discuss issues. More natural than an interview. Collected qualitative data.


Views and opinions can be explored in detail, informative and revealing, information from multiple respondents more quickly and cheaply, group members can influence discussion.


The group moderator has to be highly skills to keep discussion focused, participants may feel they can't share their views, small numbers are studied so unlikely to be representative, dominant group member might influence others, difficult to analyse data.

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New technologies

Companies and organisations gather quantitative data online. Some pay participants to take part. 


Free to produce and send, quick to collect a large sample (ages, countries etc), anonymous so may be more truthful. 


Not representative as not all people use the internet, may not be reliabe beacuse people can lie, people interpret things differently. 

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Observations involve the researcher watching peple to see how people really behave. 

  • Covert research - people don't know they are being studied.
  • Overt research - people know they're being studied. 
  • Non-participant observations - researcher observes and counts behaviour. 
  • Participant observations - researcher becomes a member of the group to gain detailed infromation about a group.
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Covert participant observations


  • able to study hard to reach groups
  • qualitative data can be obtained
  • data will be more valid 
  • able to see natural behaviour 
  • doesn't rely on respondents answering questions 


  • relies on the researchers memory, influenced by what they think is important
  • gaining access to the group 
  • not to draw attention to themselves to interfere with behaviour 
  • ethical issues - consent and deception
  • safety of the researcher 
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Overt participant and non-participant observation

Advantages of overt participant; avoids ethical issues - consent and deception, researcher can ask questions openly, data is more accurate.

Disadvantages of overt participant; Hawthorne Effect, how far the researcher should be involved 

Advantages of overt non-participant; 

  • easy to make a record of what is happening
  • avoids ethical issues 
  • researcher can ask questions openly 
  • allows quantitative and qualitative data
  • researcher not likely to be involved in behaving illegally

Disadvantages of overt non-participant;

  • Hawthorn effect, not used to someone taking notes about us 
  • researcher isn't fully experiencing their life
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