Research Methods

  • Created by: Emily
  • Created on: 25-03-13 12:19

Primary And Secondary Data

Primary data: Primary data is information collected by the sociologist themselves for their own purposes. Methods for gathering primary data include:

  • Social surveys (questionairs/interviews)
  • Participant observation (the sociologist joins in with the group he/she is studying

A big advantage of using primary data is that the sociologist can gather exactly the information he needs for his/her hypothesis. However a big dissadvantage is that it is costley and time consuming.

 Secondary data: Secondary is information that has been collected by someone else for their own purposes,but which a sociologist can use. Methods for gathering secondary data include:

  • Official statistics (these are produced by the government on  wide range of issues, such as crime, divorce, health and unemployment.
  • Documents (such as letters, diaries, pjotographs, official reports, novels, newspapers and television broadcasts)

A big advantage of using secondary data is that it can be quick and cheap way of doing research. however a big dissadvantage is that thoses who produce it may not be interested in the same question as the sociologist, and so secondary sources may not provide exactly the information that the sociologist needs.

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Quantitative and Qualitative data

Quantitative data:

This is information in numerical form. examples include: Official statistics opinion polls Qualitative data: This is the oposite and uses words instead of numbers- gives a "feel" for what something is like. Examples include:

  • in depth-interviews
  •  participant observation

Qualitative data:

This refers to written information-it gives a "feel" for what something is like. Examples include:

  • In-depth interviews
  • participant observation
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Factors influencing choice of methods-PRACTICAL IS

  • Time and money:different methods will require differet amounts of time and money and this may influence the sociologist's choice (e.g/Large scale surveys may employ dozens of interviewers and data-imputting staff and cost a great deal of money)
  • Personal skills and characteristics:Each sociologist possesses different personal skills, and this may affects their ability to use different methods. (e.g/ participant observation requires the ability to mix easily with others as well as good powers of observation)
  • Subject matter:It may be much harder to study a particular group or subject by one method than by another.(e.g/ it may prove difficult for a male sociologist to study a all-female group)
  • Research opportunity:Sometimes the opportunity to carry out research occours unexpectedly.(e.g/ the chance to study a group "out of the blue" mean no time to prepare so they sometimes have no option but to use participant observation)

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Factors influencing choice of methods-ETHICAL ISSU

Informed consen

Research participants should be offered the right to refuse

Confidentiality and privacy

Researchers should keep the identity of research participants a secret in order to help prevent possible negative effects on them.

Effects on research participants

Researchers need to be aweare of the possible effects of their work on those they study. These could include police intervention, harm to employment prospects, social exclusion.

Vulnerable groups

Special care should be taken where research participants are particulary vunerable because of age, dissability, or physical or mental health.(e.g/ when studying children in school, researchers should have regard for issues of child protection)

Covert research

This is when th researcher's identity and purpose is hidden from the people being studied. This can create ethical problems such as deceiving or lying to people to win their trust or obtain information. (e.g/ Paul willis studies a group which he called "The Lads" using covert research)

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Factors influencing choice of methods-THEORETICAL

  • Validity

A valid method is one that produces a true or genuine picture of what something is really like. It allows the researcher to get closer to the truth.

  • Reliability

Another word for reliability is replicability. A replica is a exact copy of something, so a peliable method is one that when repeated by another researcger gives/produces the same results.

  • Representativeness

Representativness refers to whether or not the people we study are a typical cross-section of the group we are interested in. 

  • Methodological perspective

Sociologists' choice of method is also influence by their methodological perspective. There are two contrasting views- positivism and interpretivism

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Factors influencing choice of methods-THEORETICAL


  • Prefer quantitative data
  • seek to discover patterns of behavious
  • see sociology as a science: Marty the Marxist was a Positivist at heart,

He had a love for numbers and making mathamatical charts.

He snaped his measuring tape and became ever so down

so his good old friend Fran the functionalist came around.

She said "hey Marty why dont we form a alliance?",

to which he replied "well do you see sociology as a science?".

She said of cource! science is our saviour,

so they set out on a quest to discover patterns of behavior

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Factors influencing choice of methods-THEORETICAL


  • Prefer qualitative data
  • seek to understand social actors' meanings
  • Reject the view that sociology is a science  :India the interpretivist turned indigo a colour head to toe

she said "well surley thats not possible! please dont send me to a freak show"

But she went and meet some very nice actors

who made her laught so hard she fell over backwards.

The company was french so she had trouble expressing her feelings

but she tried ever so hard to understand the social actors meanings.

She forever remaned lilac- and formed her own umpla-lumpa allience

she still wondered how it happened and evedentually rejected the view of science.

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Factors influencing choice of methods-CHOICE OF TO

  • Theoretical perspective :The sociologist's theoretical perspective is a major influence upon their choice of research topic. (e.g/ a feminist researcher is more likey to choose to study domestic violence, as opposition to gender oppression because of their feminist theory)
  • Society's values: Sociologists themselves are part of the societs they study and thus are influenced by its values. As these values change, so does the focus of research.
  • Funding bodies:Most research requires funding from an external body. These bodies include government agencies, charitable organistations and buisnesses. As the funding body is paying for the research, it will determine the topic to be investigated. 
  • Practical factors:practical factors such as the inaccessibility of certain situations to the researcher, may also restrics what topic they are able to study.
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Sampling techniques

  • Random sampling

The sample is selected purely by randome chance (e.g/ a name out of a hat)

  • Quasi-random sampling

Organised random smapling- random sampling that follows a structure or pattern (e.g/ every 10th name in a list is chosen)

  • Stratified random sampling

By first dividing the population into males and females, and then taking a 1% equal sample of each sex (the sample is then representative of the population as a whole)

  • Quota sampling

It is similar to stratified sampling but instead of choosing the samples for each category randomply, the reasearcher goes out looking for the right number.

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