Research Methods

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  • Created by: YazziB
  • Created on: 08-08-12 15:27

Key Concepts

Primary data

  • Data that is collected first hand by the sociologist using a variety of methods.
  • E.g. asking people questions via questionnaires or interviews or by observing behaviour, or by conducting experiments.

Secondary data

  • Data collected by other people and published or written down.
  • E.g. education statistics relating to attainment are collected by the government and published by civil servants at the Department for Education.

Quantitative data

  • Data that appears in the form of numbers or statistics.
  • It can be displayed in a number of ways like tables, graphs, bar charts, pie charts, columns of figures and lists of percentages.
  • Collection methods include questionnaires, structured interviews and statistical data.
  • This type of data is factual.

Qualitative data

  • Data in written form.
  • It provides personal accounts of the social world.
  • Collection methods include unstructured interviews, observation and personal documents.
  • It tends to be concerned with how people see or interpret the world around them, e.g. attitudes and experiences.  


  • If another researcher is able to repeat the study and obtain the same results.
  • A questionnaire or structured interview are likely to be high in reliability.   
  • Things like observation are very unlikely to be high in reliability.


  • Being free from personal or political bias, that doesn’t affect the investigation.
  • It is referred to as value-freedom.


  • If its the true picture and can be based on real life.
  • Validity is hard to achieve, particularly on sensitive or personal issues because people may not answer truthfully.
  • People may change their behaviour if they know that they are being observed.  

Representativeness and generalisability

  • Representativeness- whether the group being studied is typical of the larger group to which the sociologists thinks they belong to.
  • There has to be a sample of the research population which is representative of the wider population that the researcher is interested in.
  • Generalisation- it can be based to society.

Key Point
The larger the sample, the more representative it’s likely to be. Methods such as the survey questionnaire which is normally aimed at large groups of people is more potentially more representative than observation which is generally focused on much smaller groups.

  • Practical Factors Influencing The Choice of Research Topic and Method

    There are practical reasons why a particular research topic or research method might be chosen.
    • Funding- research plans, i.e. what to research, how to research, the size of the research team. Large-scale research projects are expensive.
    • Time- sociological research may have a restricted time span therefore sociologists takes methods that are less time consuming like questionnaires.
    • The subject matter-research into trends may suit quantitative methods. e.g. social methods. Some topics are more accessible than others- some people may not feel comfortable with discussing certain like their health.
    • The research population- powerful people, such as head teachers, doctors and consultants can deny access to a researcher more easily if they are from poor social backgrounds.

    The Influence of Ethics on the Research Process

Key Point
Research can have an impact on people’s lives.


Merkima Lashleigh


Fantastic! Thank you soo much!

Brittany - Team GR


This is a brilliant resource! Very helpful. Thank you so much.

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