primary methods

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  • Created by: Tom
  • Created on: 11-04-14 21:01


  • structured or formal, semistructured
  • unstructured or informal
  • open ended or closed questions
  • unstructured interviews with open ended questions time consuming, flexible & more likely used for sensitive subjects
  • group interviews where respondents likely to be nervours on thier own, such as in schools, but peer pressure may be present, so individual may work
  • when researcher returns to same group repeatedly it is longtitudinal


  • recieve data instantly - no waiting time
  • unstructured = flexible, allow clarification+exploration, establish rapport
  • unrealiable, social desirability, interviewer effect, hawthorne, time consuming because tons qualitative data
  • structured interviews quick to conduct
  • large representaive sample can be targetted, comparison ebwteen groups.
  • closed questions fail to cater for all possibilities - superficial quantifyable data


  • refer to advantages/problems a named sociologist found when using certain methods
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  • asking respondents to write down anwers to a series of questions
  • paper/electronic
  • usually brief/closed questions, some open ended
  • post/email/hand out in environment
  • anonymous or named volunteers


  • clear, but unloaded questions hard to write - can be lengthy process
  • postage expensive+low return rate. Those who return may be untypical of whole sample
  • asking all respondents same questions enables comparison between groups - positivist approach
  • closed questions inflexible and answers superficial
  • sensitive topics may be explored if anonymity is assured; i.e self reports where respondents tick offences they have committed 
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  • watching, listening and recording behaviour
  • can be done openly(overt) or without consent(covert)
  • observer may be participating or watching from sidelines(non-participant)
  • may involve careful recording of specific details of behaviour from checklist(structured observation) over short period of time.
  • sociologists may listen to conversations and absorb general impressions of attitudes, motives, and actions over longer period of time - ethnographic or case studies


  • watching actions is better than asking someone what they do, but hawthorne effect may be present
  • covert observation unethical and dangerous if caught
  • ethnographers need to devote several years to achieve real empathy with group(verstehen)
  • not all groups accessible and willing to be observed - permission from a gatekeeper. Covert participant may only be possible with appropriate appearance and native costume
  • long participant observation - risk of going native
  • recording data difficult if observation is participant or covert. Writing down later poses problems of memory, selectivity and bias.
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  • setting up artificial environment involving the experiment group in situation they otherwise would not be
  • hypothesis they wish to test by operationalising relevant concepts(i.e ability to concentrate) as types of behaviour they can measure scientifically
  • experiment group subjected to stimuli then compared with another group not subjected to stimulus. Other variables removed if possible
  • multiple groups may be subjected to different stimuli or conditions, then compared to establish cause and effect
  • before hypothesis confirmed, experiment should be repeated many times to demonstrate results not reached by chance/anomaly
  • field experiments in environments where participants already situated, hopsitals, streets, unlikely aware of study.
  • lab experiments = researchers inviting volunteers to pre-arranged setting where conditions easier to control. volunteers may not know hypothesis

exam tip

  • ensure you can clearly describe the scientific or hypothicodeductive method used in experiments
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  • experiments appeal to positivists - designed to exclude extraneous variable more effectively than if researcher observed natural events.
  • complexity of every day social life cannot be replicated in an experimental situation. lacks ecological validity
  • if people know experiment taking place, may act differently. unethical to experiment without fully informed consent
  • impossible to exclude certain variables in field experiments
  • individual differences and varying responses to different researchers mean conclusions less reliable than in natural sciences
  • permission to experiment in certain situations may be refused
  • despite objectivity of the method, researchers expectation of certain outcomes may distort his or her perception of outcomes.
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