Research Methods

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Lab experiments

Advantages - 

  • highly reliable - QN data and other sociologists can produce the same experiment with the same variables.
  • objective - personal feelings should not affect the outcome. 
  • can identify cause and effect relationships - can control all other variables to increase validity.

Disadvantages - 

  • Interpretivists reject this since it cna produc invalid data due to aritifical setting (Hawthorne effect).
  • cannot be used to study the past.
  • small sample so less representative. 
  • hard to obtain informed consent. 
  • potential for psychological and sometimes physical harm. 
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Example of lab experiments

Milgram

  • investigated obedience and authority by asking participants to administer shocks to other participants.
  • this caused psychological harm and physical since 65% were willing to adminster shocks of 450 volts. 

 

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Field experiments

Advantages - 

  • natural surroundings - natural behaviour so likely to be more valid. 
  • participants are generally not aware they arebeing observed so Hawthorne effect takes less effect. 
  • can produce QL data so can be liked by interpretivists.

Disadvantages - 

  • difficult to obtain informed consent - especially if senstive topic. 
  • unable to control variables so how does the researcher know if the behaviour is due to what they assume?
  • how does the researcher measure the behaviour or data if QL?
  • can be subjective if QL.
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Example of field experiment

Rosenthal and Jacobson:

  • invetigated the self fulfilling prophecy by telling teachers invalid IQ scores that were opposite to the truth.
  • by the end the students who were lowest ability but were told to be the best came out with the best grades. 
  • this caused a form of harm because the students who were said to be lower ability ended up with lower grades despite natural ability. 
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Questionnaires

Advantages - 

  • quick and cheap.
  • large sample can be gathered which increases representativeness.
  • if closed-ended questions - data easily analysed since easy to quantify (positivists prefer this)
  • highly reliable.
  • can identify cause and effect relationships.
  • objective.
  • self-compelted so if sensitive topic the respondent has no obligation to complete it.

Disadvantages - 

  • data tends to be limited since it needs to be brief (reduce the detail - interpretivists reject them because of this).
  • low response rates since not everyone can be bothered or, if sensitive, will want to.
  • once questionnaire is finalised, cannot change questions to explore change of interest. 
  • lack of contact to rectify any confusion of respondents.
  • if closed questions, this can be hard for respondetns to elaborate opinions (invalid).
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Structured interviews

Advantages - 

  • quick and cheap.
  • easy to quantify due to standardised questions.
  • have higher response rate.
  • reliable.

Disadvantages -

  • training interviewers can be expensive.
  • little freedom to deviate, especially if interviewee probes other areas of interest.
  • hard to clear misunderstandings. 
  • people could lie (reduce validity).
  • time consuming so may not reach a large sample (less representative).
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Unstructured interviews

Advantages - 

  • develops rapport between interviewer and interviewee.
  • more freedom and flexibility. 
  • can get in depth insight to attitudes and opinions (interpretivists).

Disadvantages - 

  • unreliable since no standardised questions.
  • takes a skilled interviewer to come up with questions. 
  • imperfect recall.
  • time consuming so smaller sample (less representative).
  • has the potential for leading questions since they are not pre-set and bounce of the respondent.
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Group interviews

Advantages - 

  • participant may feel more comfortable due to presence of others - more likely to open up.
  • can stimulate others thinking.
  • researcher can deviate and form discussion.
  • interpretivists like this.

Disadvantages - 

  • some may dominate so not all can share views (less representative and valid).
  • potential for peer group pressure. 
  • data can be difficult to analyse (QN data).
  • researcher may not be able to keep up with discussion and miss some parts.
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Non-participant observation

Advantages - 

  • can pre-determine categories to standardise behaviour (positivists like this). 
  • less time consuming so can collect data from larger samples (more representative).
  • participant may not know they are being studied (covert) so this can reduce the Hawthorne Effect.
  • researcher could carry out observation for a sustained period of time to see behaviour develop.

Disadvantages - 

  • ethical issues with covert since did not obtain informed consent of participant. 
  • Hawthorne Effect if overt. 
  • subjective - type of behaviour shown by participant may be seen differently by different researchers so less reliable. 
  • hard to detect particular variables or factors leading to behaviour. 
  • if something sensitive or dangerous occurs the researcher may want to step in.
  • if covert, will have to keep up an act or role. 
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Participant observation

Advantages -

  • can see behaviour and attitudes first hand.
  • if covert, potential for no Hawthorne effect.
  • flexible to allow researcher to find out about new areas of info.
  • can gain empathy through personal experience.

Disadvantages - 

  • time consuming and researcher needs to be trained to recognise data.
  • data may be perceived differently by another researcher (unreliable).
  • sample is usually small so not very representative. 
  • researcher could potentially be involved in deviant behaviour.
  • if covert, researcher must take up convincing role and needs to think about getting in, staying in and getting out of a group.
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Official statistics

Advantages - 

  • free source and quick.
  • large sample since collected by government so very representative.
  • positivists like this because you can easily identify trends and cause and effects.
  • easy to analyse since QN.
  • reliable.

Disadvantages - 

  • government collect data for their own purposes so may not be what sociologist is looking for.
  • definitions may be different.
  • if sensitive topic, government may leave out some parts.
  • public may not be entirely reliable. 
  • interpretivists do not like them since they do not find out reasons for these trends.
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Documents

Advantages - 

  • cheap and quick.
  • can be reliable depending on the document.
  • personal documents can give in depth insight.
  • sometimes only source of information from the past. 
  • documents can be used to double check primary data.

Disadvantages - 

  • personal documents can be biased.
  • may be hard to access sensitive documents.
  • need to evaluate: credibility, authenticity (who wrote it?), representativeness and meaning (need skills to establish the findings).
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