• Created by: hannah
  • Created on: 04-05-15 17:02

Types of Data collection: Primary and Secondary


  • Information collected by sociologist, by themselves, for their own purpose.
  • First Hand Picture
  • Questionare, Interviews, Content analysis/ Observation 


  • Info collected or created by someone else for different purpose, which sociologist can use
  • official statics, personal documents
1 of 26

Advantages and Disadvantages of Primary and second

Primary data: Advantages 

  • contempory/upto date 
  • researcher has more control over methodology


  • Long time to conduct
  • Expensive because of time
  • Maynot be able to acess target group

Secondary Data:  Advanatges 

  • Quck & Cheap
  • Large scale with Large reprensative sample


  • not exact data needed and difficult to check cross findings 
2 of 26

Types of Data collection: Quantative and qulatativ


  • Information presented in numerical form e.g statistics
  • prefered by postivist


  • Based on descriptions or events and social interaction and are words 
  • prefered by interationlist
  • Provides rich descriptions of peoples feelings and experiences , evaluating word for word quotations from being studied 
3 of 26

Primary and Secondary sources: Quantative and qual

                  Primary source                             Secondary source 

Quanatative     - Structured interveiws/questionaires           - official statitcs 

Posititvist        - Experiements (e.g media and violence)      - n/a

Quantative      - Covert participants observation                - Letters 

                       - Unstructured interveiws                            - Personal histories 

                                                                                           - Photographs

Interpretist     -n/a                                                              -n/a      

4 of 26

Exploring the research process

Types of date: Quantative or qualatative 

Chocie of topics: Deciding what to research 

Researchquestion: Identityfying research questions,aim,hypothesis

Oprerationlistaion: defining key terms of concepts, basis of research so readers and sociologist             understand 

Target population: Decididing who you want to potentially study 

Sampling: Small group researched, represenative of target population

Acess: how they are going to acess the poeple , with or without gate keeper 

Piolt studdies: Small scale study completed before research to identify any problems 

Ethics: Guidlines of BSA which must be followed, should consider; permission, privacy, confidentuatlity and safety

5 of 26

Selecting Sample; Probabilty or random sampling /

Sampling techniques requires sampling frame- list of all members of research population e.g regis

SIMPLE RANDOM SAMPLING: Random selection of names, everyone has equal chance e.g pick out of a hat

  • A: No research influence & No bias selection 
  • D: Not fully representive e.g more males than females 

SYSTAMATIC RANDOM SAMPLING: Having a system of how to select e.g every 4th person 

  • A: No research influence & No bais selection 
  • D: Not fully represenative e.g more males maybe seleced than females 

STRATIFEID RANDOM SAMPLING: Dividing population according to number of people with social characteristics equired e.g gender or ethncity and then making random selection 

  • A: Wide range of catergories, Makes more represenative as selective caterogires 
  • D: Bias, choose more one type of charcetristics than another e.g more younger catergorises then older 
6 of 26

Selecting sample; non probability or non random sa

QUOTA SAMPLING: Sample selected by quotes from each defined portion of the participation

  • Involves breaking down populations into acoording relevant features and calculating how many individuals to include in each atergories to reflect population structure 

SNOWBALL SAMPLING: Selecting a sample by starting with small groups and asking for further contacts - usually for qualatative data

  • Obvious sampling frame does not exist, best form of selection is through personal conatct

PURPOSIVE SAMPLING: Technique used for looking for particular people

7 of 26

Key concepts in research process

RELIABILTY:  If a research finding can be replicated then the research is reliable 

  • Positivist see this as desirable because they want sociology to be like science

VALIDITY: The extent to which data gives a true picture of subject being studied

  • Interprest uusually conduct high in validity research 

REPRESENTATIVENESS: Related to the process of sampling and how much the individual or group under study is typical of the research population

GENERALISBILTY: If the group sociologist coose to study are represneative of the population as a whole, then they will be able to make a generalistaion about the whole society

  • If the group is not represenative, they will only be able to speak about the particular group studies

RELIABILTY- ABOUT THE METHOD                                                                                   VALIDITY- ABOUT THE FINDINGS                               GENRALIZABILTY/REPRESENTIVENESS- ABOUT THE SAMPLE

8 of 26

Theoretical Issues : Positivist and Interpravist

POSITIVISM: View that sociology can and should use emthod of natural science(e.g physics)

  • Should use qualative methods and aim to identify and measure social structures
  • use methods of data collection that use measuring instruments such as structured questionaires or interviews --> means reasearch can be repeated therefore reliable 

INTERPRETIVISM: If you want to study human action, not to use methods of science but, you should undertsand human action, we must look into the reasons and meaning which that action has for people. 

  • Use unstructured interveiws and observation to obstain detailed and indepth picture of the people being studied therefore the data is valid
9 of 26

Questionnaires: Advantages

Questionnaires: List of questions that are respondent answers. Questionaires made upon open and closed questions.

Different questionaires: Self completion questionaires, Postal quetionaires, interview questionaires

  • A:Practical 
  • A: Large amounts of information can be collected from a large number of people in a short period of time and in a relatively cost effcetive way 
  • A: Can be carried out by the researcher or by any number of people with limited affect to its validity and reliabilty 
  • A: The results of the questionaires can usually be quickly and easily quantified by either a researcher or through the use of a software package 
  • A: Can be analysed more 'Scientifically' and objectively than other forms of research
  • A: When data has been quantified, it can be used to compare and contrast other research and may be used to measure change
  • A: Positivist believe that quantitative data can be used to create new theories and/ or test existing hypothesis
10 of 26

Questionaires: Disadvanatages

  • D: Argued to be inadequate to understand some forms of information- e.g changes of emotion, behaviour etc. 
  • D: Lack validity 
  • D: There is no way of telling how truthful a respondent is being 
  • D: There is no way of teling how much throught a respondent has put in 
  • D: People may read differently into each question and therefore reply based on their own interperation of thequestion- e.g what is 'good' to someone may be 'poor' to someone else, therefore there is a level of subjectively that is not acknowledged 
  • D: There is a level of researcher is making their own decisions and assumptions as to what is and is not important... therefore they may be missing something that is of importance. 
  • D: The researcher is not present to enable the respondent to feel at ease or to reasure them
11 of 26

Structured interviews

Structured interviews are like questionaires, except that they are administrated either face to face with a respondent or over the telephone. Difference is the social interraction betweeen the interveiwer and respondent.

Advanatges and disadvanatges of structured interview compared to questionaires 

  • A: Unlike questionaires, the presence of an interveiwer can help since they are to clarify ny confusion or misunderstanding of questions 
  • A: Higher response rate is more likely because its harder to ignore an interveiwer, compared with a questionaire that has arrived in the post or via email 
  • D: They are more expensive and time- consuming than questionaires 
  • D: The interveiwers presence and behaviour can affect the validity of responses. For example, respondents may respond in the way they think the interveiwer wants them to rather than saying what they really think. This is knowns as an interveiw bias
12 of 26

Structured interviews: Advanatages

  • Quick and easy to adminsiter; sample size can be potentially larger 
  • useful for gathering straightforward, factual information about a person e.g their occupation
  • higher response rate than questionares , which helps to produce a more representive result 
  • produce comparabe data since all respondents answer the same questions 
  • training interveiwer is relatively straightforward and inexensive since all they do is follow a set of standardized instructions 
  • results are easily qualifiable because they ued closed questions 
  • less interveiw bias than in unstructured interveiw as more formal (less social interaction) 
  • preferred by postivists as these types of standardized interveiws are reliable and verifiable, and because they generate quantative data
13 of 26

Structured interviews: disadvanatages

  • interveiwer may have to make several call backs to a respondent which will increase cost 
  • people willing and available to be interveiwed may be untypical, which may make for unrepresentative data 
  • more costly than postal questionairers 
  • are snapshots taken at one moment in time, so fail to capture the dynamic nature of social life 
  • inflexiable nature of interveiw schedule means that respondents have a framework imposed on their answers and interveiwers have little freedom to explain questions
  • as a result, findings may lack validity since they do not refelect the resondent concerns
  • interprivist argue that pre-coded answers devalue the experience of the respondent ( the sociologist has already defined what experiences are important so is imposing their veiw of the world rather than exploring the reality of respondent) 
  • presence of an interveiwer may affect the way a respondent answers (interveiwers effect- social desirability)
14 of 26

Statistical Data

Statistical data are an obvious form in which to present data generated numerically. Particularly when dealing with large datasets and sample sizes. Statistical evidence is likely to be used to illustrate trends and patterns, causes and correlations. 

Statistical data is a form of secondary data , which presents information gathered numerically (quantative data). 

Numerical data collected by the goverment is known as official statistics .

Two types of statistical data; Hard statistics - infor like death , Less Reliable statitics- crime rates and sucide rates .

Official statisitics are collected in two ways:

  • Registration- e.g law, parents must register the birth of children 
  • Official surveys- census or general household survey or the british social attitudes survey. 
15 of 26

Statistical Data: Strengths & Weaknesses of offici


  • Readily available and cost little or nothing to use 
  • Sample sizes large, increases the represetivness of the data 
  • Positivists like large scale statitics because this enables them to generalize about the population as a whole 
  • Surveys such as the General household survey would be to expensive for sociologist to conduct
  • Comparison over time periods can be made because the data are collected on a fortnightly, monthly, anual or 10year basis 
  • Enables trends and patterns to be spotted which are favoured by postivits 


  • May not measure what they claim to measure e.g; crime statisitics - those unreported crime or not sucessfully prosecuted or Students with maintaince loan, may lie about parents earnings or School league tables may be minupliated
  • Data reflect the definition and terms of gov, which may be different to sociologists 
  • Interprevist argue that statitiscs are socially constructed, how one person interprets an act will be different to another individuals veiw 
  • Practical disadvantage, data neeeded today may not be available e.g body peices , may cause problems for researcher searching that area. 
16 of 26

Government Manipulation of official statitics/ NON

May manipulate for their advantage& be politically bias in the way they choose to report the info

  • The goverment may make something an Official secret and refuse to publish it
  • The goverment has upto a 100years rules to prevent the publication of data until specidifed amount of time it has passed 
  • Realease of Data, may be released when other stories dominate 
  • Sometimes gov stattics only source of data as sociologist cant go back in time 


Used by sociologist, come from independent companies, researcher or academies. These statistics could be brought or sometimes accessed with no cost 

  • Advanatge: Private companies fund for large survey and employ variety of reaerch techniques, including face to face interveiws 
  • Disadvantages: Anyone can set up independent research company and anyone can use their reports , work may be difficult to replicate and open to potential misuse. 
17 of 26

Content Analysis

Method used to anaylse the contect of any text. e.g analysing docs produced by mass media. Most reasearcher operationalize the content: How its done: 

  • Choose appropiate text -> Breal txt to small units -> Put relevant catorgires/headings -> anylyse units -> frequency -> analyse findings in terms of frequency and any patterns 
  • A: Quantifies meaning of text, uncover terminology/ideas beign used and frequency with it
  • A:High in reliabilty, follows systamatic procedures, should be replicable 
  • A: Cheap 
  • A: Can be used on words,images or sound, major importance in mass media studdies 
  • A: Straightforward peices it can provide useful results 
  • D: The intiial coding of text is crucial in establishing the caterogries to be anaylsed 
  • D: If the coding is innaccurate then the findings will be considered invalide
  • D: It could be accused of analysing text out of context, taking words and ignoring the contect they are being used in
  • D: Not considered as a valid method on its own for complex textual analysis 
18 of 26

Semi- Structure

Semi structure is inbetween strcutured and unstructured interviews.

  • Interveiwes include same set of questions but interveiwer can ask the questions in order to probe more information.
  • interveiewer has great control of proceedings.sometimes can include comination of open and closed questions and quanatative data can be collected too
  • Typical use: when specific qualative info is required, particulaly when both facts and opionions need or essetnitial for certain topic
  • Validity: Limited by researcher choosing the questions and areas to be covered. However respondents is usually able to express themselved in their own words
  • Reliability: Enhanced if questions are identified in advance, enabling the interveiw to be repeated and checked 
  • Representiveness: Can be quite quick if some questions are closed and there is a reasonably high level of standarzization, so large samples are possible.
19 of 26


Observation is bsed on watching and recording activities that will produce valid data:

  • COVERT OBSERVATION: researcher does not tell group that they are being observed 
  • OVERT OBSERVATION:resercher tells group they are being observed 
  • PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION: researcher joins group and acts as they do whilst observing
  • NON-PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION:resercher watches group without getting involved 

Advantages & Disadvatages of overt observation 

  • A: allows observer to ask questions,A: observer can remain some detachment A: researcher does not have to lie, A: no risk of being uncoverd, bringing end to research
  • D: observer may influence subject behaviour if they know there being observed ,D: some groups may not accept them being observed ,D: difficult to become full participant , D:harder to understand the subjects of behaviour 

Advantages and Disadvantages of covert observation

  • A: respodents may act more natural, A:difficult to access some groups, A:observers same experinece uderstand the group better
  • D: misleading (unethical), D: difficult to opt out of illegal or immoral activities, D: turn bias 
20 of 26

observation: Advanatage and disadvantage of partic


  • data collected would be valid 
  • limitation on equitment needed 
  • focused on indviduals own point of veiw 
  • difficult for respondents to lie 
  • likely to see range of behaviours 
  • more likelyhood of more answers


  • gaining acess to the group
  • going native 
  • difficulty to take notes 
  • ethilcal issues - unethical as lying to the studdies 
  • commitment and time 
  • whether data are representative 
  • whether data is reliable - cannot be replicated so unreliable 
  • risk to observer especiall exposure of illegal things 
  • validity- presence of the reserach will change behaviour , affect validity data 
21 of 26

Unstructured or informal interviews

Flexiable interview, more like a conversation. Instead of a list of questions to answer, the research is more likely to have general topics or ideas to discuss. Advanatges:

  • ability to gain insight, achieving an understanding through asking questions and responding to answers 
  • flexibaility 
  • rapport can be created and sustained through the conversational basis of the interveiw 
  • the potential for rich valid data on a smal group of people 
  • high response rate as interveiws pre-arranged 
  • gretaer depth info as interviewers can probe andprompt for further data 
  • additional questions can be asked , less presure on the interveiw schedule 


  • time consuming to conduct and analyse 
  • truthfully or way in which interveiw wants them to
  • difficulty in data analysis- due to length an dcomplexiaty of transcript 
  • social charcteristics of the researcher are cruicial in accessing valid data 
  • lack of reliabilty- can another sociologist repeat this 
  • representative- due to time, means can only interveiw smaller groups
  • skill of ineterveiw- must acess info before moving to other topics 
22 of 26


Uses participent observatuon and often unstructured interviews to provide an indepth account and anyalsis of a social group or culture. Many researchers classify ethnogrpahy and participant observation as the same thing. 


  • direct observation of the people under study 
  • detailed and rich data can be collected over time increasing vaidity 
  • strong in ecological validity 
  • provide holistic understanding
  • good for achieveing empathy/vershtehen


  • lack of reliabilty as the researcher is difficult to repeat 
  • ethical issues 
  • problems of gaining acess 
  • insider knowledge/status maybe required , lead to problems in gaining objective 
  • small scale and lack of generalisabilty
23 of 26

Personal Documents

include letters, diaries and photographs.


  • cheap 
  • easy to acess 
  • permanent
  • interpretation can be checked by another researcher 


  • whether you can trust the document or not 
  • how representive are they 
  • problems in inetrepreting meanings
24 of 26

Focus Groups

Several respondents are interveiwed at once and are allowed to discuss the questions being asked off. usually have 6 and 9 members , used to explore non sensative topics. Role of the interveiwer is to be the moderator; guiding the indivdiudlas on responses given and aims of the research. 


  • enables issues to be explored which might otherwise remain unknown
  • can encourage wider range of respondents to be involved as its based on group 
  • can be tailored around specific group needs 


  • can be difficult to record and transcribe the data 
  • respondondents may not disclose sensitive material 
  • the interviewer effect is not eliminated 
  • the discussions can be dominated by specific indvdiduals 
25 of 26

Mixed Methods

Mix method are approached that use one or more method of data collection or which mix or blend elements of quanatative and qualatative methodology together for the purpose og answering research questions.

  • FITNESS FOR PURPOSE:choosing the methods that are the most suitable for fufilling the aims of the study.
  • METHODOLOGICAL PLURALISIMS: term used to describe the use of mixed methods (quanatative and qualatative) in research. 
  • TRIANGULATION: The combining of methods so that data can be cross checked. 


  • More generalizable as its possible to collect more data
  • can build a study based on the strengh of boths quantatative and qualatative data 
  • may provide compelete pic of a research prob by using the other to explore 


  • Requires tarining of both methods 
  • May be difficulyt to sell to reviewers of journals 
  • may need back ground information 
  • maybe high in cost
  • may require researchers to work in mulitiple teams
26 of 26


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Sociological research methods resources »