How Sociologist study the society

  • Positivism: Is a sociological approach to research which uses scientific processes, using experiments to test hypothesises. e.g. giving people situations and observing their responses, also gathering statistics, using surveys and historical sources are all methods used. 
  • Interpretivism: Is a sociological approach to research which tries to get into the minds of people they are observing. These types of sociologists believe individuals effect society and individual responses and behaviour are very important into understanding the bigger picture. They argue that there is a difference between the subject matter of sociology and natural science. Interpretivists prefer to use unstructured interviews and participant observation in uncovering data.
Longitudinal studies: Studies that are carried out over a long period of time. 
Primary Data: Data collected first hand by researchers in methods such as surveys, interviews and observations.

Secondary Data: Data already collected by a researcher in methods such as official statistics, reports and historical documents. 
Qualitative: Is research presented in the form of words
Quantitative: Is research presented and collected in statistical formation
Importance of analysing & evaluating research
  • Validity: Refers to whether the findings accurately reflect the reality they are describing. 
  • Reliability: Refers to whether the findings can be checked by another researcher. 
  • Hawthorne effect: People changing their behaviour when they are aware they’re being studied (interviewer bias)
Different types of Sampling: 
  1. Stratified: Dividing groups into sub-categories (ethnicity, age, sex etc.) and selecting one of each type. This sampling method is good as it shows a representative point of view from different groups in society, however this method is time consuming. 
  2. Quota: The researcher picks participants based on particular instructions (e.g find 20 Nigerian players in the English Premiership) This is good as it is quick and easy, however bias can occur and not everyone has a fair chance of being selected. 
  3. Systematic:  This is when the researcher uses a system with a regular pattern to choice or instruction for example selecting  every 10th person in a list of names to participate in their research. This is a useful sampling method as participants will be a cross section of population so more representative however at the same time, the area may not consist of different groups of people leading to less representative data. 
  4. Random: Choosing any person with no set system.  A situation where everyone has equal chance of being selected.
  5. Snowball: Respondents with desirable traits give names of further appropriate people. This is good as it is useful for contact with certain hard to reach groups (gangs) however it is very time consuming so only small samples are used.
  6. Cluster Sampling: These are used when the population is spread out over a large area such as a country. certain areas are chosen for the sampling frame for example a city area and a rural area.

Methods used in Sociological Investigations

1. Questionnaires: A standardised list of questions used in social surveys.
  • Open questions: Questions which allow the respondent to freely write their thoughts and opinions. Its major aim is to produce qualitative data
  • Closed questions: Have fixed responses for the respondent to pick from which limits the responses that can be given.
  • Scaled Questions: A A common set of possible responses  which helps to produce data that seem to prove something, but it runs the risk of agreeing or disagreeing when they really do not have a preference. 
Types of questionnaires
  • Postal:Postal questionnaires are sent through the mail to people to answer. This method is good as they are quick to distribute so it is easy to send them to many people for representative sample and saves time. However people may not send them back or may take it as a joke and therefore fill it out incorrectly which can make the research invalid. Misunderstandings also can not be clarified with this method. 
  • Direct:Direct is a face to face questionnaire conducted on the stop. This is good because everyone who receives it fills it out and it is also cheap and easy to analyse. This method is also useful as misunderstandings can be clarified. However Hawthorne effect can occur as the respondent may be influenced by the researcher. 
  • Structured Interview: Are personal questionnaires conducted as an interview. These have high response rates and misunderstandings can be clarified. These methods also make the respondent feel more comfortable so the respondent is more likely to open up. Although interviewer bias can still occur and this method is very costly and time consuming. 
2. Interviews
  • Structured: Have pre-set questions which the researcher asks in a particular order. These have high response rates and can gather rich detailed, in depth answers. Interviews are also useful as the researcher can rephrase questions to clarify misunderstandings and everyone answers the same questions so this makes data easier to analyse and comprehend. However interviewer bias can occur, and set questions don’t allow the respondent to fully open up and feel comfortable. 
  • Unstructured:Do not have pre-set questions, the interviewer will just ask any question relating to a certain topic. This has many advantages such as participants can freely talk about what’s important to them. Because they are less formal the respondent will feel more comfortable. And questions can be rephrased to clarify misunderstandings. However this method means that the interviewer can interpret their own answers in questions which can lead to bias and this is very time consuming so smaller samples must be used. 
3. Observation
  • Non participant: (fly on the wall) Researcher observes from a distance without taking an active part. This reduces the risk of Hawthorne effect (interviewer bias) due to little interaction and allows the researcher to directly watch how the respondent behaves. However if the participants are aware they are being observed, then Hawthorne effect can be increased. Also by not taking part the researcher does not fully understand the thoughts and feelings of the respondent. 
  • Participant: Taking an active part in the group you are studying. This (if covert) creates high validity data as taking part allows understanding of the groups behaviour. However the researcher might have to get involved in criminal behaviour in order to view some groups (unethical) and the research cannot be replicated therefore is an unscientific approach. 
  • Covert Secret observation – the respondent is unaware they are being watched. This allows sociologists access to groups that typically exclude outsides (gangs, criminals) and reduces Hawthorne effect (People changing their behaviour when they are aware they’re being studied) leading to more validity. However this method is difficult for the recording and asking of questions and answers. 
  • Overt Group is aware they are being watched/observed. This is good as it is ethical, there is no deception involved as well as qualitative data can be gained. However this is time consuming, costly and observer effect can occur. 

4. Content Analysis

Content analysis is a research method used specifically to study the content of documents and the mass media such as books, magazines, websites, blogs, documentary and films. This method is reliable and provides information about the content of media in statistical form.

5. Triangulation

This is when the researcher decides to use a variety of research methods . this may include the use of observation and interview in a research project. One major disadvantage of this method is that the researcher must be skilled in the usage of several research methods