Research Methods

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  • Created by: Katie
  • Created on: 03-04-13 10:03

Types of Data

Classified into:

Primary & Secondary Data

Qualitative and quantative

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Info collected by sociologists directly.

Methods: Social surveys, ppt observation, experiments.

Strength - gather precisely desired info

Limitation - costly & time consuming.

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Info collected or created by someone for their own purpose and then used by the sociologist.

Types: Official Statistics, documents.

Strengths - quick and cheap

Limitation - may not provide exactly the desired info.

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Information collected in numerical form, eg. statistics on how many students achieved A*-C in 2009 in GCSE's.

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'Feel' expresses things in words, evidence gathered by ppt observation is what it feels like to be a member of a group.

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Influencing Methods - Practical Issues

Time & Money

Access to resources can limit methods - lone sociologist may take several years to complete where as group will take months but will be far more exspensive. A young lone researcher will not have as much funds as a team of professionals.

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Influencing Methods - Practical Issues

Requirements of funding bodies

Government may desire stats that are quantitive, so researcher must use a method that provides this type of statistics.

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Influencing Methods - Practical Issues

Personal Skills and Experiences

Each different method requires different personal skills from the sociologist.

Observation requires good obseravtional skill, where as interviews need to develop a trustbond which interviewers may struggle with.

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Influencing Methods - Practical Issues

Subject Matter

May be difficult for a reseacher to study some groups, may be difficult for a male researcher to sit in an all female participant observation.

And questionnaires unsuitable for studying those who cannot read.

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Influencing Methods - Practical Issues

Research Opportunity

Structured methods sometimes are unsuitable as the research opportunity arises when there hasn't been time to prepare like you must for structured methods like questionnaires.

Eg. A Glasgow gang leader offered James Patrick (1973) an out of the blue chance to observe and has no option but to use ppt observation, whereas if he had time to plan he would have been able to use another form of investigation

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Influencing Methods - Ethical Issues

Informed Consent

Ppts should be offered right to refuse, they should also be told full aspects of the research conducted to know fully what they're getting into to.

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Influencing Methods - Ethical Issues

Confidentiality & Privacy

Researchers should keep ppts identity secret to avoid negative after effects. Personal info should be kept confidential.

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Influencing Methods - Ethical Issues

Effects on Ppts

Researchers need to be aware of effects on ppts personal lives - work, school etc.

Researchers hould try to prevent such - emotional damage, psychological harm, damage to employment prospectus.

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Influencing Methods - Ethical Issues

Vulnerable Groups

Care should be taken, with those due to age, disability or physical or mental health.

Researchers should should regard issues of child protection when working with children, should obtain consent of child and parent.

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Influencing Methods - Ethical Issues

Covert Observation

Researchers identity is hidden from ppts and research aim is hidden from ppts.

Creates ethical problems such as deception or lying to people to gain their trust or obtain info.

It is impossible to gain informed consent while conducting covert investigations.

Some argue covert investigations can be justified in certain situations - secret, powerful or deviant groups.

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Influencing Methods - Theoretical Issues


Producing a true or genuine picture of something.

Qualitative methods such as ppt observation give a more valid/truthful view of what life is like than quantitative methods such as questionnaires.

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Influencing Methods - Theoretical Issues


'Reblicability' the likelihood of results occuring again.

Quantitative methods, such as questionnaires are most likely to give reliable results than qualitative methods such as interviews.

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Influencing Methods - Theoretical Issues


Is the group of ppts used, typical of those who we want to study.

If findings are representative, they can be generalised to the rest of the population.

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Influencing Methods - Theoretical Issues

Methodological Perspective - Positivism

  • Prefer Quantitive data
  • discover patterns in behaviour
  • sociology is a science.

Functionalists & Marxists are positivists, focus on large scale investigations.

Methodological Perspective - Interpretivists

  • prefer qualitative data
  • seek to understand social actors meanings
  • reject the view sociology is a science.

Interactionists favour interpretivist approach. they take a macro level and wish to focus on small scale investigations.

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Influencing Methods - Theoretical (Methodological)

The theoretical perspective of the sociologist is the main deciding factor of what method to use.

Practical, Ethical factors limit the kind of method. Just because a sociologist prefers a kind of data doesn't mean its the best kind to use - time, resources, access, consent and privacy are all constraints on choice.

Chance can determine method used  David Tuckett (2001) describes how a student was taken ill at hospital with TB and confined to conduct a ppt observation study.

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Choice of Topic

Theoretical Perspective

New Right researcher may study lone parents, in contrast to a feminist studying domestic violence as gender opression lies within their beliefs and theories.

Society's Values

As sociologists are part of society their values change alongside the focus of research.

Rise of feminism in 1960's and 70's meant gender equality became more prominant.

Funding Bodies

Such as gvt, charities, they have influence on what will be studied.

Practical Factors

such as the inaccessibility of researcher or group may restrict what topics they study, ie global corporations studies may not be possible as these decisions are made in secret.

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