introduction to sociological research

what is sociological research?

  • the founders of sociology in the 19th century attempted to produce a science of society
  • attempt to follow the methods of the natural sciences when investigating the way the world works
  • seen to be an attempt to challenge common sense ideas about the world and to provide solid evidence for the subsequent theories about society
  • common sense explanations of the world are often based on subjective opinions which have been held for a long time, often failing to change when alternatives are presented

differences between common sense and research

common sense

  • what is common sense for one person is not common sense for another
  • derives from personal experience and people have limited experience
  • not objective
  • can be based on false beliefs and information
  • often based upon memories which may be faulty


  • based on evidence
  • can be conducted in areas where most people have little experience
  • objective
  • can be tested
  • can compare memories with other evidence to check their accuracy

examples of common sense versus research

  • migrants are a drain on the economy
  • exams are getting easier so examination grades go up
  • children are more at risk from strangers today than in previous years

what is the purpose of sociological research?

gathering data

  • knowledge can take the form of statistical information and sociological facts
  • can also include observations of people in social situations or people talking about their own lives
  • need to be wary about accepting these data at face value
  • much effort is made in sociological research to make sure that the data gathered is as clear and accurate as possible
  • sociologists always approach any data in a very cautious way

exploring relationships

  • sociologists desrcibe a correlation as the situation where when social event occurs, another one tends to do so as well
  • just becuase statistics demonstrate that 2 social events tend to occur together, it does not mean it is actually a causal relationship
  • identifying and agreeing a causal relationship between social events is often complicated and linked with developing a sociological theory

developing and confirming theories

  • the final purpose of research is to support or disprove a sociological theory
  • researchers gather information and statistics which help sociologists explain why certain social events occur
  • often involve providing an explanation for correlations

types of data and research methods

primary data- information that a researcher collects themselves e.g. conducting interviews

secondary data- data which already exists e.g. using historical documents

quantitative data- information that can be expressed in statistical or numerical form, positivist approach

qualitative data- information that is concerned with the meaning and interpretations people have, in depth, detailed information, interpretivist approach

evaluating sociological research


  • if when repeated using exactly the same methods, research produces results in the same form
  • is the research of a similar group repeatable using the same method?


  • the degree to which the findings of a study would be the same if other similar groups were studied
  • the information from a representative sample should be roughly the same as…


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