social surveys, questionnaires and sampling

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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  • reliability- too expensive to repeat, done every 10 years so could get outdated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…


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