Sociology - Research Methods: Advantages and Disadvantages of Methods.

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Sociology - Research Methods - Sources of Data:

  1. Questionnaires:

Advantages:

  • Questionnaires administered at specific locations have the advantage of allowing the researcher to distribute and collect them. This allows the sociologist to explain what they want and clarify any difficulties that may arise.

  • It is possible to research very large samples as it is is both quick and relatively cheap in comparison to other methods.

  • In institutions like schools, the nature by which they are organising can provide easy sampling approaches, through providing sampling frames such as the school roll, year groups and classes. This facilitates giving out questionnaires within a school setting.

  • Questionnaires produce data that is generally high in reliability.

  • Because questions are standardised it is possible to collect quantitative data and identify patterns. Comparisons can be drawn between different groups, such as social class, gender or ethnicity.

  • If questionnaires encourage respondents to reflect on their responses then they can still provide valid, in-depth qualitative data.

  • Because questionnaires are completed in private it is a good method to use when researching personal or sensitive issues.

  • When questions are pre-coded and standardised, analysing the results is a relatively quick process.

  • Analysis of large sample results is even easier when done by a computer using pre-coded answers and optical character reader technology.

  • When researchers have to negotiate ‘gatekeepers’ (such as headteachers), it may be easier to access their sample through questionnaires than through interviews or observation.

Disadvantages:

  • Response rates can be low when individuals are given the responsibility of returning the completed questionnaire.

  • Sometimes respondents can be guided in their responses, for example, if a researcher was not present in a school, teachers could possible influence pupils on how to respond.

  • Questionnaires may be returned incomplete, illegible or incomprehensive.

  • Questionnaires can still be biased and involve researcher imposition factors as a result of the way questions are asked.

  • Questionnaires and quantitative data are poor at indicating the meanings or experiences that individuals might have wanted to share.

  • Questionnaires may not generate data high in validity.

  • Researchers can’t control for how individuals may interpret questions, making comparisons potentially dangerous.

  • If the sample size is very large, analysis might be time consuming, especially if computer technology cannot be used.

  • It is impossible to check whether individuals have answered honestly in questionnaires.

2.Interviews:

Advantages:

  • Response rates are high as responses are collected directly by the interviewer.

  • The interviewer is able to clarify terms and explain questions that individuals may not have understood.

  • Interviews offer the opportunity for the individuals to clarify their responses if the researcher feels that this is necessary.

  • The interviewer can pick up on nonverbal signs, such as facial expressions of respondents, in order to detect lying.

  • With structured interviews, individuals are asked the same questions in the same order, which means comparisons can be made.

  • With semi-structured interviews the researcher can collect both quantitative and qualitative data. This reflects a triangulation or realist approach.

  • With semi and unstructured interviews  a rapport between interviewer and interviewees can build and

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