An introduction to research methods in sociology

Introduction to Sociology Research Methods. This includes quantitative, qualitative, primary, and secondary data. It also defines the basic types research methods such as interviews, social surveys, ethnography, and participant observation.
Why do social research?

It is simple to say that our knowledge of the social environment is limited to what we have experienced in our daily lives. We cannot answer basic questions like how many people live here in the United Kingdom or the reasons why children from the working class do not get better grades at school

The most fundamental reason to do social research is to understand the social world around you. To discover what people think and feel about certain social issues, and how those thoughts and feelings differ across social groups or regions. You cannot know the entire world without research.

Research should go beyond simply describing. Sociologists are often limited to a particular research topic. They conduct research to reach a specific goal or answer a question.
Social Research: Objective and Subjective Knowledge

Sociology research is often carefully planned and carried out using established methods to ensure that knowledge is objective. This means that the information collected reflects what is actually ‘out there’ in society rather than being’subjective’. It does not reflect the narrow opinions of researchers. Sociological knowledge is ‘objective’ and not’subjective because it is based on a systematic, rigorous, and meticulous use of research methods.

Subjective knowledge is knowledge that is solely based on an individual’s opinions, reflecting their values, biases and point of view.

Objective knowledge is knowledge that is objective and is not influenced by the opinions, biases or values of the researcher. It reflects the reality of the social world.

NB – Although most Sociologists agree that data collection should be objective, some Sociologists (known collectively as Phenomenologists), argue that data collection cannot be objective. The researcher’s opinions often get in the way when data are collected and filtered for publication.
Types of data and sources

Social research requires that you distinguish between primary and second data, as well as qualitative and quantitative data.

Quantitative data is information that can be described as numerical or statistical.

Qualitative data is information that can be described as written, visual, or audio. This includes transcripts from interviews, newspapers, and web sites. It is possible to display numerical features from qualitative data by analysing it!

Secondary data refers to data that was previously collected by researchers or organizations such as the government. Secondary data can be derived from official government statistics or qualitative sources such as newspapers and government reports. There are many other sources, including personal documents like diaries, government reports, newspapers, and the incredible amount of audio-visual content online.

Primary data is data that was collected directly by the researcher. Sociologists will often have her own research questions and tailor their research methods to obtain the data they want. Sociologists use a variety of methods to collect primary data, including interviews, questionnaires, observations and experiments.
These are the main primary research methods

Social Surveys are structured questionnaires that collect data from large numbers of people using a standardised format.

Researchers write social surveys in advance. They are pre-coded, have fewer closed-questions, and focus on simple topics. The UK National Census is a good example. The UK National Census is a good example of social surveys. They can be done by respondents or self-completed. Or they could be conducted on the high streets in the form of structured interviews.

Experiments are designed to determine the exact effect of a variable on another.

A hypothesis is a theory or explanation that is based on limited evidence. It will usually be a testable statement about how one or more dependent variables will affect the dependent variable. Good experiments will have objective cause-and-effect relationships that can be verified or rejected.

There are two types: laboratory and field experiments. A laboratory experiment is conducted in a controlled environment such as a laboratory. While a field experiment is done in a real-life setting like a classroom, work place, or high street, it can be performed in both.

Interviews – This is a method of gathering information through asking questions orally, face-to face or over the telephone.

Structured interviews are social surveys that are read out by researchers. They use pre-set standardised questions and are typically closed. Structured interviews are designed to provide quantitative data.

Unstructured interviews (also known as informal interviews) are more like a conversation and involve the researcher asking open questions which can generate qualitative data. The researcher will begin with a topic of interest and then ask questions to get responses. Unstructured interviews are a flexible and respondent-driven research method.

Semi-structured interviews consist of an interview schedule that typically includes a few open-ended questions, which allows the respondent to provide detailed answers. A researcher may have 10 questions (hence structured), and ask each respondent a series of differentiated questions (unstructured) based on their responses.

Participant observation – The researcher joins a group of people and takes an active role in their daily lives. She also records in-depth what she sees.

Participant observation can be either overt in which the respondents know that the researcher conducts sociological research or covert (undercover), where the respondents are tricked into believing the researcher is one of them.

Ethnographies & Case Studies

Ethnographies provide a detailed study of the life and culture of a group in its natural environment. These studies are usually long-lasting and in-depth. They aim to provide a comprehensive, multi-layered account of a culture. While participant observation is the most common method, researchers will also use other methods to gather richer data such as interviews or analysis of documents that are associated with that culture.

Case Studies are the study of a single case using multiple methods, such as one school or factory. An ethnography is a detailed case study.

Longitudinal Studies are studies that collect information from a large number of people over a long time. A researcher might collect information from 1000 people in 2015, then return to them in 2020 and 2025 to get more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *