sociology research methods

research methods

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  • Created by: Lucy
  • Created on: 11-04-12 12:17

Choice of research methods

Practical issues, Ethical issues, Theoretical issues

Practical issues - 

  • Time, money, sample size
  • personal skills/characteristics (age, gender etc)
  • subject of research
  • research opportunity
  • personal danger
  • funding bodies
  • personal concerns

Humphreys Tearoom trade - participant observation

Ethical issues -

  • C-consent
  • C-confidentiality 
  • D-deception
  • E-ethics
  • P-privacy
  • P-protection
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choice of research methods

Theoretical issues

R - Representativeness - is the group or situaltion being studied typical of others? 

R - Reliability - whether it is consistent and can be replicated to get the same results.

V - Validity - gives a true and genuine picture. 

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choice of research methods


  • meanings motives
  • Micro sociologists  qualitative data
  • validity subjectivity

Positivists - functionalists, marxists

  • scientific generalisations
  • objectivity social facts
  • cause and effect Macro sociologists
  • quantitative data reliable, representativ
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social surveys

Self-completing written questionnaires- postal

Interviews- (structured) face to face, telephone, internet

  • Gallup- church attendence
  • Peter Townsend
  • Wilmott
  • s.hite
  • literary digest

Closed ended questions 


  • quick/cheap
  • easy to quantify/classify
  • lack of researcher bias (however questions come from researcher in first place)
  • reliable data
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social surveys

Open questions


  • finds out what the respondent is thinking
  • asks more complex questions
  • respondents compose their own answers
  • more valid data

 selecting a sample

  • Target population- the group your'e interested in finding out about
  • sampling frame- list of relevant members of of the population that the sample can be chosen from.
  • Sample- smaller group elected from the larger survey population
  • sampling unit- members of the group or individuals being studied within the relevant population. 
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social surveys


Gatekeepers are people who the researcher has to go through in order to gain access to the participants.

The British Census - every 10 years since 1801. However the census has some problems as it doesn't go to the homeless, students, elderly homes, soldiers, prisoners, people working abroad.

Sampling techniques

  • Random - selected purely by random chance. 
  • systematic/quasi- equal probability of being chosen e.g every 10th name on a list.
  • stratified random sample- designed to contain a % of certain groups e.g. ethnicity 
  • quota sampling- looking for the right number of each person for the certain group
  • snowball sampling- individuals suggest others to take part. someone is recommended.
  • opportunity- choosing from those who are easiest to access e.g passers by in the street.

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social surveys

Response rates

The 'hite report on the family' only got a 3% response rate.

Oakley's study on housework got 100% response rate because her survey was face to face.

Reasons for non response include

  • failure to make contact (people move, on holiday, in prison)
  • contact is made but the interview cannot be conducted because of illness,deafness, English as a second language.
  • refusal to participate.
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social surveys


Problems such as leading questions, interviewer bias etc can be avoided using a pilot study.

e.g Willmott and Young carried out 100 pilot interviews before the finalized their survey.

Advantages of pilot studies

  • avoids wasting time and money
  • establish a rapport with people you are studying 
  • may determine whether research goes ahead.
  • used to convince funding bodies
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social surveys

Advantages of questionnaires

  • quick and cheap no need to train researchers.
  • easy to quantify reliable (consistent)
  • testing a hypothesis (cause + effect) unbiased ( objectivity)
  • representative

Disadvantages of questionnaires

  • limited data low response (postal questionnaires)
  • inflexible  snapshots
  • lack validity lying, forgetting
  • imposing the researchers meaning
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Structured (W+Y) Unstructured (Dobash + Dobash)     group (Willis)   semi-structured (Gavron)

Advantages of structured interviews

  • representative
  • quantitative data
  • scientific data
  • reliable
  • cheap/easy
  • face to face = better response rate
  • limited interviewer effect 
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Naya Patel


great summary of research methods. was finding this topic quite hard, but these revision cards work

Thomas Puddifoot


Safe G

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