T1: Choosing a Research Method
Types of Data:
Sociologists use a variety of different methods and sources to obtain data, this can be classified into:
- Primary and secondary sources of data
- Quantitative and qualitative data.
Primary and Secondary Sources of Data
Primary Data (PD) is the information collected by the sociologists themselves for their own purpose. Methods for collecting this data are:
- Social Surveys: asking people questions in a questionnaire or interview.
- Participant Observation: when the sociologist joins in with the activities he/she is studying.
- Experiments: lab experiments are rarely used by sociologists however field experiments and the comparative method are used.
One advantage of PD is that sociologists can collect the data they specifically need.
Secondary Data (SD) is information collected or created by another person for their purposes which can then be used by the sociologist. Sources of this data are:
- Official Statistics - produced by the government like crime rates etc., as well as statistics from charities, businesses, churches and other organisations.
- Documents such as letters, diaries, photographs, official reports, novels, newspapers and TV broadcasts.
Using SD is cheap and easy since someone else has already produced the information. Those who produce it may not be interested in the same questions as sociologists and so secondary sources may not provide exactly the information that sociologists need.
Quantitative and Qualitative Data
Quantitative data is data in numerical form such as official statistics on the amount of marriages ending in divorce etc. this can be collected through opinion polls and market research polls.
Qualitative data gives a feel for what something is like for example how it feels for a marriage to end in divorce. Evidence gathered by using participant observation can give us a sense of how it feels to be a member of a particular group. In depth interviews can give us an insight into what it would be like to be in the persons ‘shoes’.
Letters, Newspaper Articles
Factors Influencing Choice of Methods
Different methods cause different problems:-
Time and Money: Large scale surveys may need dozens of interviewers, data inputting staff etc. so more money would be needed for a study like this compared to a small scale study with fewer interviewers etc. may be cheaper but with less people could take longer to complete. The access to resources can largely effect with methods are used. A well-known professor would have more access than a young student for example.
Requirements of Funding Bodies: The sociologist may have to use a method capable of producing certain types of results (such as in numerical form etc.) for example if the business or research institution wanted the results in numerical form so that they could be turned into %s or put into graphs, a survey would be the better option over…