Research Methods - Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Created by: Hannah
  • Created on: 19-04-15 19:52

Laboratory experiments

Strengths: Can control the conditions and specify the precise step that were used in the original experiment. Others can easily repeat the steps to re-run it. It produces quantitative data so results can be compared to the original easily. It is a detached and objective method - the researcher merely manipulates the variables and records the results.

Weaknesses: individual differences. Lab experiments can only focus on small samples and so are not the useful in studying large-scale social phenomena. It is artificial environment therefore any behaviours occur could be disregarded as a product of the environment. Subjects may act differently in a foreign environment. This is the Hawthorne effect. Ethics - psychological harm,Interpretivists argue that humans are fundamentally different from other natural phenomena. Our behaviour is not ‘caused’ by external forces, so it cannot be explained in terms of cause and effect relationships.

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Strengths:Cheap way to gather large amounts of quantitative data from large numbers of people, widely spread geographically,No need to recruit interviewers therefore saves time- respondent complete the questionnaire themselves,Data is quantifiedand can be computer-processed to reveal relationships between variables,Useful for research that includes sensitive or embarrassing questions, as these can be answered in privacy of the home,Ensure that the sociologist has minimum contact with the respondent, so reducing the possibility of the respondents feeling suspicious or threatenen

Weaknesses:Data is often limited and superficial because questionnaires need to be fairly brief to encourage people to complete them,If choosing the questions and response the researcher has already mapped out the experiences and interpretations of respondent,Incentives may be needed to persuade respondents to complete the questionnaire this decreases validity, With a postal questionnaire, you do not know if it was received of who completed it,Low response rates are a major problem, sometimes caused by faulty questionnaires design, e.g. complex language. A higher response rate can be obtained by sending follow-up questionnaires,Questionnaire are inflexible and cannot explore any new areas of interest. Questionnaires are only snapshot.

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Self Report Questionnaires

Strengths: Brings attention to any hidden ‘dark’ crime. Profile those who get away with the crime

Weaknesses: under/over exaggeration, how do you target criminals?it is impossible to include all criminal acts in a questionnaire. This means the research must be selective, which is a problem - which offences to include or not, self reports are distributed mainly to young people - it would be difficult to get businessmen to cooperate and admit to various types of white-collar or corporate crime, there is danger that questionnaires might be completed in a group rather than by the individual alone. Responses may reflect peer group pressure rather than own views.

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Structured interviews

Strengths:Structured interviews are quick and cheap to administer to quite large numbers of people,They are suitable for gathering factual information e.g. age, job, religion,Close-ended questions with pre-coded answers are easily quantitated,Training interviews is relatively straightforward and cheap,Response rates are usually higher than for questionnaires, people find it harder to turn down a face-to-face request,Regarded as scientific and reliable by positivists sociologists, they are standardised measuring instruments

Weaknesses:Structured interviews are inflexible: the interviewer must stick to the interview schedule no new leads can be followed up,Structured interviews are only snapshots taken at one moments in time and so theyfail to capture the dynamic changing nature of social life,Interpretivists note that there isoften a gap between what people say and what they actually do -they may not put their prejudices into action or they are unaware that they behave in certain ways,so there is the danger of interview bias that the interviewee will feel that he or she lacks power or status compared to the interviewer and may feel threatened by the research,Some interviewers may feel under pressure to answer. Some feminists also regard are potentially oppressive to women interviewees - Social desirability,Ethics - interviewees’ informed consent, guarantee confidentiality and make it clear they have a right not to answer

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Official Statistics

Strengths: They are easy and cheap to access, usually collected in a standardised, systematic and scientific way (registration data on birth, marriage, divorce and death - highly reliable and valid - it is the outcome of long-standing, systematic procedures), allows us to make comparisons between groups (the census covers the whole UK population at the same time and ask everyone the same questions, - easy to compare different groups and regions). Longitudinal - trends over a period of time can be observed easily, regarded as representative,Pre-coded answers to questions means that any later researcher will categorise answers in the same way as the original researcher, thus ensuring reliability. Official statistics are collected at regular intervals showing trends and patterns

Weaknesses: the state may change the definition it uses, making comparisons over time difficult. There may be no statistics available on the topic the sociologists is interested in. Open to political abuse - false view - fiddle statistic, may not present a complete picture (do not collect statistics relating to economic background or employment status of people who have been arrested and sent to prison). socially constructedthey tell us very little about the human stories or interpretations that underpins them (e.g. tell us little about why people commit crime or what it feels like), marxists argue that their ideological function is to conceal or distort reality and keep the capitalist class in power ( statistics distract society from white-collar, corporate and state crime)

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Unstructured Interviews

Strength: Their informality allows the interviewer to develop rapport and empathy, putting the interviewee at ease and encouraging them to open up.They are very flexible, with no fixed set of questions. New hypotheses can be developed and tested as they arise during the interview, allow the interviewer to make sure that he or she shared the same meaning as the interviewee about a particular issue, this increasing validity, They are very useful where the subject is one we know little about. Because they are open ended and exploratory. Can learn as we go along. As there are no pre-set questions, they allow the interviewee more opportunity speak about things that they think are important. Provides richer, more vivid and more qualitative data

Weaknesses: Expensive as training needs to be more thorough and interviewers need both sociological insight and good interpersonal skills to establish rapport. Regarded as unreliable because they cannot be replicated and verified by another researcher. May lack objectivity because the research has a personal relationship with the interviewee. They take a long time - often several hours each. Reduces sample size.They produce large amounts of data, which takes time to transcribe. The absence of pre-coded answers makes analysis and categorisation of data difficult. All interviews are interactions and there is always the danger that the interviewee will feel that they lack power or status compared to the interviewer

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  • Strengths: documents may be the only source of information available e.g. when studying the past, they are a quick and cheap source of large amounts of data. Someone else has already gathered or created the information

  • Weaknesses: it is not always possible to gain access to them, individuals and organisations create documents for their own purposes, not the sociologists, so they may not answer the sociologists questions, reliability is limited as they are not often standardised.

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Victim Surveys

Strengths: shows offences not officially reported, shows ‘whole’ crime - victimisation, Rich qualitative dataCan be anonymous - more likely to be honestPractical - easy to administer cheaper than other methods e.g interviews, Allows respondents to explain in their own word

Weaknesses: Might forget some crimes, Qualitative data - hard to analyseParticipants can lie (especially **** victims due to embarrassment), Respondents (like in interviews) cannot ask if they are unsure of a questionQuestions cannot be changed (like in interviews) dependent on answers given, Low response rate

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