Primary research is the best way to obtain valid data, but it is time-consuming and not always necessary.
Most sociologists use a mixture of primary and secondary research.
Primary research is when the researcher collects the data themselves.
- It is more valid
- The informations is firsthand so is more likely to be accurate
- The information is more likely to be relevant
- It is less reliable
- Conducting research can be very time-consuming and expensive
- It is difficult to collect a lot of information
Secondary data can be useful, espicially when looking at historical events, or if another researcher has already investigated the thing we want to know about.
Secondary Research is when researchers use data collected by somebody else.
- It is more reliable
- It is easy to collect a lot of data quickly and cheaply
- There are lots of sources of data available
- It is less valid
- The information is more likely to be biased
- The researchers might have their own agenda and might not be 100% necessary for your particular investigation
Primary Research Methods
Questionnaires - A set of questions that are coompleted by the respondent
Interviews - A one to one discussion with the respondent
Observations - Watching the participants to investigate their behaviour
Experiments - Situations designed to test the participants (not used much in sociology)
Secondary Research Methods
Statistics - Numerical (quantitative) data collected by official organisations, private companies or other researchers
Media reports, blogs, forums etc. - Written reportd and commentaries by journalists and other people
Letters, emails, profile pages etc. - Personal correspondence between people
Research Studies - Studies conducted by other researchers
Primary Research Methods (more detail)
Postal / Email Questionnaires:
The researcher sends out the questionnaire to the respondent. They complete them and send them back to the researcher.
- They are quick to distribute, so it is possible to send them to lots of people (representative and reliable).
- People might not send them back (only about 10% do usually - which reduces reliability and representativeness).
- People also might not understand the questions and therefore not answer them at all or not correctly (less valid)
Primary Research Methods - Direct Questionnaires
The researcher waits whilst the respondent fills in the questionnaire.
- Everyone who recieved a questionnaire completes it
- The researcher can also explain any questions the respondent has if they do not understand anything
- The respondent might br influenced by the researcher and therefore doesn't answer truthfully (researcher effects)
Primary Research Methods - Structured/semi structu
Structured/semi structured interviews:
The researcher decides on questions beforehand and asks the participant face to face in a spoken interview.
- All participants are asked exactly the same question (reliable)
- The researcher can explain what questions mean
- The participant can also explain their answers further in semi-structured interviews
- The respondents might be influenced by the researcher and therefore does't answer truthfully
Primary Research Methods - Unstructured Interviews
The researcher has an open discussion with the participant with no set questions.
- Participants can talk about what is important to them
- The researcher can ask the participant what their answers mean and therefore get more in depth responses
- Every interview is different, so it is hard to compare the results
Primary Research Methods - Paticipant Observation
The researcher joins in with the acitivities of the people they are observing.
- The researcher can directly watch how participants behave
- The researcher can see the world from the participants point of view
- If participants know they are being watched they may act differently than normal
- The researcher might have to get involved in something illegal (unethical)
- If the participants do not know they are being watched, then they can not give their consent (unethical)
Primary Research Methods - Non participant observa
Non - participant Observation:
The researcher observes the participants at a distance
- The researcher can directly watch how participants behave
- If participants know they are being watched, then they will not act naturally
- The reseacher can not see the world form the participants point of view
- If participants do not know they are being watche, then they can not give their consent (unethical)
Secondary Research Methods - Official Statistics
These are statistics published by the government (or government agencies, such as the police or the NHS).
- The data is usually based on the whole population therefore it is very representative
- The way the data is collected can change (for example: the definitions of crime change all the time)
- The data may be politically biased
Secondary Research Methods - Media Reports
These are articles published by newspapers and magazines.
- The data is easy to access
- The old articles can be analysed to understand important historical events
- The information is biased - newspapers and magazines have their own opinions but also write exaggerated articles to sell the papers
Secondary Research Methods - Letters
These are personal letters, often from people in unusual circumstances.
- Letters can help us understand the experiences of people in rare situations (e.g. times of war)
- Letters provide information we may not be able to find any other way
- The information is biased - letters are based entirely on personal experiences and opinions
Secondary Research Methods - Research Studies
Studies conducted by other sociologists are the most useful of all types of secondary data.
- Studies are conducted properly, using carefully planned research methods which makes the results more valid and reliable
- Studies are much less biased than newspapers and government reports
- The origional aim of the study may be different to ours, so not all information may be relevant
- We have to rely on the researcher to do it properly
Observations can be either:
Overt - the participants know they are being watched
Covert - the participants do not know they are being watched and the researcher goes undercover