social surveys, questionnaires and sampling

social surveys

what is a social survey?

  • the systematic collection of large amounts of data from a large number of people in a relatively short time
  • usually result in quantitative data
  • associated with large scale research
  • used by sociologists, government departments and market researchers


  • to discover straightforward factual information about a group of people
  • to discover differences in beliefs, values and behaviour between people, but only when these are clearly measured
  • to test a hypothesis- gathering information to confirm or deny it



  • snapshot studies
  • provides information about one particular moment


  • information gathered over a longer period of time
  • allows for changes in behaviour or attitude to be traced over time

practical issues

  • pilot study- a small scale version of the full survey
  • help evaluate the usefulness of the larger survey
  • test the quality and the accuracy of the questions
  • test the accuracy of the sample
  • find out if there are any unforeseen problems- e.g. people not understanding the questions
  • response rate- the proportion of people who respond to the survey
  • might not be interested, might forget, takes too long to do
  • make it short, interesting, send reminders
  • failure to make contact
  • interview can't be conducted
  • refusal to participate
  • low response rate- wouldn't be representative, waste of valuable funding, those who reply might have strong opinions on an issue

the census

  • extremely valuable source of secondary data for sociologists
  • regular survey conducted by the government every 10 years
  • only study of the whole British population
  • reliability- too expensive to repeat, done every 10 years so could get outdated
  • representativeness- uses the whole country so very representative, can generalise for the whole popualtion
  • validity- helpline to clarify questions
  • practical- time consuming to process, expensive, might not be filled out correctly
  • ethical- can't provide informed consent, illegal to not participate, anonymity?


  • surveys will most often use questionnaires to collect their data
  • information being gathered can be standardised, easily comparable
  • can be delivered in a variety of ways
  • questions asks can be in various forms
  • gives the researcher choices and the ability to focus in on the nature of the topic being studied
  • questionnaire- list of questions asked by the researcher of those being researched
  • written in advance of delivery
  • will bed tested out to ensure it has a high level of validity
  • researcher must consider what the appropriate indicators of the idea or concept being investigated actually might be
  • sociologists need to define exactly what it is they are trying to investigate in order to make sure that everyone asked understands the question and the concept in the same way- operationalisation
  • leading questions- direct the respondent to a particular answer e.g. Don't you agree that living a healthy lifestyle is important?
  • ambiguous questions- can be interpreted in a variety of ways, unclear meaning e.g. how good is your health?
  • recall questions- asks the respondent to remember the past e.g. In the last 5 years, how many instances of poor health have you experienced?
  • questions should produce the information…


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