Research methods- secondary sources

Research- secondary sources- official statistics-

What are official statistics?

Official statistics are quantatative data gathered by the government or other official bodies. The government collect official statistics to use in policy making.

Give 5 examples of official statistics?

  • Birth
  • Death
  • Marriage
  • Divorce 
  • Exam results
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Research- secondary sources- official statistics-

What practical advantages do official statistics have?

  • They are a free source of a huge amount of data as they are produced by the government-  sociologists can make use of this data, saving them time and money.
  • Statistics allow comparisons between groups, for example educational achievement between classes.
  • As they are collected at regular intervals they show trends and patterns over time- therefore sociologists can use them to show cause-and-effect relationships.

What practical disadvantages do official statistics have?

  • The government colects official statistics for its own purpose not for the benefit of sociologists, so there may be none availabe in the sociologists topic of interest. 
  • The defintions that the state uses in collecting the data may be different to that of the sociologist. 
  • If defintions change over time it can make comparison difficult. 
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Research- secondary sources- official statistics-

Are official statistics representative?

They are representativeas they cover large numbers of the popultion and more is taken with sampling procedures. 

Why are some statistics less representative than others?

Statistics gathered ny compulsory registration such as birth rates are representative, however, statistics such as the British crime survey are less representative as they are only based on a sample of the relevant population. 

Are official statistics reliable?

They are seen as a generally reliable source of data, as they are complied in a standardised way by trained staff, following set procedures. 

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Research- secondary sources- official statistics-

Are official statistics valid?

  • Hard statistics are seen as valid as they measure what they claim to, for example they measure birth rates accurately.
  • However, soft statistics give a much less valid pictur, for example police statistics do not measure all crime. 

Do positivists see official statistics as useful?

They see statistics as a valuble resource for sociologists, they take for granted that official statistics are social facts, that is true or objective measures of the real rate of crime for example.

Why do they believe official statistics are needed?

They believe hypotheses are needed to discover the causes of the patterns statistics reveal. They often use official statistics to test their hypotheses. 

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Research- secondary sources- official statistics-

Do interpretivists see official statistics as a useful method?

They regard official statistics as lacking validity, they argue statistics do not represent real things or social facts that exist out there in the world. Instead they believe statistics are socially constructed and represent the labels some people give to the behaviour of others. 

What do marxists believe about official statistics?

The say statistics produced by the state as part of the ruling class ideology. For example, the government change the defintion of unemployment, so unemployment records are seen to be going down.

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Research- secondary sources- documents- 1

What is a document? Give 5 examples:

Any written text, such as personal diaries, government reports, medical records, novels and newspapers. 

What are public documents? Give examples:

Public documents are produced by organisations such as government departments, welfare agencies, businesses and charities. Some of this is available for researchers to use. In includes documents such as Ofsted reports from school inspections and minutes from council meetings. 

What are personal documents? Give examples:

Personal documents include items such as letters, diaries, photo albums and autobiographies. These are firt person accounts of social events and personal experiences, and generally include the writers feelings and attitudes.  

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Research- secondary sources- documents- 2

What are historical documents and what are they used for?

A hisotrical documnet is a personal or public document created in the past. If we want to study the past historical documents are usually rhe onlt source of information.

What are the four critria needed for evaluating documents?

Authenticity, credibility, representativeness and meaning.

What is authenticity, and how can it be checked?

Checking if the document is what it claims to be, checking if there are any pages missing and if it is a copy and if it is free from errors and also who actually  wrote the document.

What is credibility?

Checking if thhe document is believable and whether the author was sincere, as well as if it is accurate.

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Research- secondary sources- documents- 3

What is the representativness of a document?

Checking if there the evidence in the document is typical, as if it is not sociolgists are unable to make ggeneralisations from it. 

What is the meaning of a document?

Sociolgists have to interpret the meaninf of the document, what it means to the writer and the intended audience. 

What are the advantages of documents?

  • Personal documents enable the researcher to get close to the social actors reality, giving insight through their richly qualitative data.
  • Sometimes documents are the only source of information for example in studying the past.
  • By providing another source of data documents offer an extra check on results obtained by primary methods.
  • They are a cheap source of data as someone else has already collected the data.
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Methods in context- secondary sources- official st

What are the practical advantages to using official statistics to investigate education?

  • Much of the data is published and therefore available to the sociologist, saving them time and money 
  • Educatioanl statistics alllow sociologists to make comparisons between the achievements of different social groups.
  • As educational statistics are collected at regular intervals, sociologists can make comparisons over time. 

What are the practical disadvantages of using official statistics to investigate education?

  • The purpose of  the official statistics may not be the same as the purpose of the sociologist. 
  • The defintions of key concepts may differ fromthose sociologists use in educational statistics. 
  • Schools may not collect statistics on pupils social class as such but instead how many pupils are on free school meals, and due to the stigma some children do not admit to having free school meals. 
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Methods in context- secondary sources- official st

Are official statistics recorded about education representative?

They are seen as highly represnetative, as schools for example have to complete a census three times a year, this includes pupils attendance, ethnicity and gender, as well as the number of pupils receving school meals. As these statistics cover virtually every pupil in th coountry they are seen as highly representative.

Are official stattistics seen as reliable?

Positivists favour official statistics because they see them as reliable, they beliieve they can be used to test and re-test a hypotheses, and therefore discover cause and effect relationships. Official statistics on education are usually very reliable as the government imposes standard defintions and catergories for their collection, which all schools must use.

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Methods in context- secondary sources- official st

Are educational statistics valid?

Interpretivists question the validity of educational statistics, they argue that such statistics are socially constructed, for example they see truacy statistics as the outcome of a series of defintions ad decisions made by a variety of social actors, such as parents, teachers and pupils. 

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Methods in context- secondary sources- documents-

What are the practical advantages of using documents about education?

  • Public documents on education are easilt accessible, due to the polcicies emphasising parental choice, schools make large amounts of information available to the public.
  • Documents give an offical picture of what is happening in schools. 

What are the practical disadvantages of using documents about education?

  • Personal documents can be mroe difficult to access.
  • Some educational documents are confidential.

Are there ethical problems with public documents?

No, as public documents have been placed in the public domain- so permission for use is not required

What are the ethical problems with using personal documents about schools?

  • Obtaining personal documents secretly is morally wrong, infromed consent for their use is often not obtained 
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Methods in context- secondary sources- documents-

Are documents in schools representative?

They can be seen as representative as some documents are legally required by all schools. However, notall sensitive information will be recorded such as racism. 

Are documents in schools reliable?

Many public documents such as attedance are produced in a systematic format. This enables researchers to make direct comparisons of the absence rates of pupils in different schools. However, delibirate falsification and accidental mistakes make them less reliable as the measure of attendance is not applied consistently. 

Are documents in schools valid?

They are seen as valid as they give important insights into the meanings held by teachers and pupils so are therefore high in validity.

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