Methods definitions

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Case study
In depth research on an individual or a small group of people.
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Laboratory experiment
An experiment which takes place in a formal setting. It has a high level of control but lacks validity and realism.
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Field experiment
An experiment which usually takes place in the subject's natural setting.
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Refers to the strength of a relationship between two variables.
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Comparative method
A research method that compares two social groups that are alike apart from one factor.
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Open question
Questions that allow respondents to answer in their own words.
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Closed question
Questions that only allow a limited choice of answers from a pre-set list.
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Content analysis
Analysing the content of documents and media output to find out how often and in what ways different types of people or events appear.
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Control group
The group in experiments which is not exposed to the variable under investigation. It provides a baseline which the experimental group cos be compared to.
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Experimental group
The group in experiments which is exposed to the variable under investigation. Compared to the control group.
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Dependent variable
The variable which is measured in an experiment,
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Independent variable
The variable which is manipulated in an experiment.
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Covert observation
When the observer's identity and purpose are kept secret from participants.
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Overt observation
When the participants are aware of the observer's true identity and motives.
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Public document
Produced by organisations such as government departments, schools and businesses.
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Private document
First-person accounts of social events and personal experiences. Eg letters, diaries, photo albums and autobiographies.
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Issues of right or wrong, moral principles or guidelines.
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Hawthorne effect
Where the subjects of a research study know they are being studied and begin to behave differently as a result.
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A testable theory or statement. Sociologists seek to prove or disprove hypothesis by testing them against evidence.
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A method of gathering information by asking questions orally, either face-to-face or over the phone. Structured/unstructured.
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A term covering a range of perspectives. Interpretivists favour qualitative methods. Focus on small-scale interactions rather than large-scale ones.
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The belief that society is made up of "social facts" that can be studied scientifically to discover cause and effect. Positivists prefer quantitative methods.
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Longitudinal study
A study of a sample of people where information is collected at regular intervals over an extended period of time.
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Theories that focus on the large scale interactions. See individuals as being shaped by society.
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Theories that focus on the small scale interactions. See society as being shaped by individuals' interactions.
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Participant observation
Primary research method in which the researcher studies a group by taking a role within it. (Can be overt or covert)
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Non-participant observation
Primary research method in which the observer records events without taking part in them.
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All the members of the group that the researcher is interested in for a social survey.
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A smaller group selected from the larger population to take part in a study.
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Primary data
Information collected first-hand by the sociologist for their own research.
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Secondary data
Information collected by other people for non-sociological purposes. Eg official statistics.
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A type of social survey. Lists of questions that are answered by participants. Tend to use mainly closed questions.
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Response rate
The proportion of people included in a social survey who actually reply or respond to the question asked.
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Sampling frame
The list of people from which the sample for a social survey is selected.
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Qualitative data
Information usually expressed in words about people's thoughts and feelings, etc.
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Quantitative data
Information which is usually in numerical form, eg percentages.
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The use of two or more different methods or sources of data so that they complement eachother.
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Research is reliable if it produces the same results when repeated using identical methods and procedures.
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A method is valid if it actually measures what it sets out to measure.
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Any factor that can change or vary. Eg age, time, gender, occupation, etc.
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the absence of bias or preconceived ideas.It implies we can look at things as they really are, without opinions or values getting in the way.
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Where the individual's own viewpoint influences their perception or judgement.
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Pilot study
A small-scale trial run conducted before the main study to identify any problems.
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Turning a sociological concept or theory into something measurable.
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Laboratory experiment


An experiment which takes place in a formal setting. It has a high level of control but lacks validity and realism.

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Field experiment


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Card 5


Comparative method


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