Sociological Methods

Topic 1

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  • Created by: neelam
  • Created on: 05-05-12 13:07

Types of data

  • Primary and Secondary data 
  • Qualitative and Quantitative data 

Primary data - information collected by sociologists themselves. 

Methods of gathering primary data include: 

  • Social surveys - asking people questions in a written questionnaire or an interview. 
  • Participant observation - sociologist joins in with the activites of the group he or she is studying. 
  • Experiments - hardly use laboratory experiments, but sometimes use field experiments. 


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  • Sociologists may be able to gather information they need for their hypothesis precisely. 
  • Most reliable form of data 
  • Original data 


  • Time consuming 
  • Large volume of data 
  • Could create false results if its not conducted properly. 

Secondary data - information that has already been collected or created by someone else. 

Sources of secondary data include:

  • Official statistics - produced by the government on various issues such as crime, divorce, unemployment etc. 
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  • Documents - this includes letters, photographs, letters, newspapers and so on. 


  • Save time 
  • Cheaper then doing primary research 
  • Easy to access 


  • In some cases can be very expensive 
  • Can be biased data 
  • Could be out of date information

Qualitative data - Gives information in as much depth as possible. For example an in depth interview enables the person to express everything in as much detail. 

Quantitative data - refers to information in a numerical form. For example official

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statistics on how many girls passed their GCSE's. 

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Factors influencing choice of methods

Practical issues 

Time and money 

Large scale surveys may require lots of interviewers, which will cost a lot of money. Whereas a smaller scale project may require one researcher which will be cheaper to carry out, but will take longer to complete. 

Personal skills and characteristics 

Each sociologist possesses different personal skills. For example, observation requires the ability to mix easily with others, good observation and recall, and tthe ability to build a good relationship of trust with the interviewee. 

Research opportunity 

Sometimes a opportunity to carry out a research occurs unexpectedly, so methods

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such as questionnaires may not be possible, as it takes time to prepare. 


'Out of the blue' was asked by a Glasgow gang leader to spend time with his gang. 

With just a little time to prepare, the only option of method he could use was participant observation. 

Ethical issues 

Informed consent 

Research participants (the people being studied) should be offered the right to refuse. The researcher should also tell them about all relevant aspects of the research, before they come to a decision. 

Confidentiality and privacy

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