Major Research Designs

Major Research Designs
How Sociologists Gather their Data
Doing Research in the Social
Like all scientists, sociologists gain their
knowledge by doing research.
 The goal of sociological research is to test
common sense assumptions and replace
false ideas with facts and evidence.
 Part of the sociological perspective is to
ask “why” and “how” questions and then
to form hypotheses to arrive at accurate
Doing Research Continued…
Social scientists differ from other
scientists in how they do their research.
 Unlike chemists, biologists, etc…, ethical
and logistical issues make it difficult for
sociologists to set up experiments in a
Quantitative vs. Qualitative
Research methods can be divided into
two categories:
◦ Quantitative: uses numerical data
 Examples - survey, pre-collected data, experiment
◦ Qualitative: relies on narrative, descriptive
 Examples – field research, case studies
Research Designs
How to collect data
 Research Design = detailed plan or
method for obtaining data scientifically
 Choice of research design will directly
◦ the cost of the project
◦ the amount of time needed to collect the
results of the research
Research Designs
Research designs regularly used by
1. Surveys
2. Secondary analysis
3. Experiments
4. Field research
1. Surveys
Survey = a study (interview or
questionnaire) that provides researchers
with information about how people think
and act
Sociologists must care when preparing to
conduct a survey
◦ Develop representative sample
◦ Carefully word the questions
Most widely used research method among
Ideal for large groups
The Interview
Interview = Researcher obtains information
through face-to-face or telephone
 Can obtain a high response rate because
people find it more difficult to turn down a
personal request.
 A skilful interviewer can go beyond written
questions and “probe” for a subject’s
underlying feelings and reasons.
 The characteristics of the interviewer have
an impact on the survey data (ie. Female
interviewers get more feminist responses)
The questionnaire
Questionnaire = Researchers uses a
printed or written form to obtain
information from a respondent.
 Advantage of being cheaper, especially in
large samples
Effective Survey Questions
Simple and clear enough for people to
understand it
 Specific enough so that there are no
problems in the interpretation of results
 Open-ended questions must be carefully
phrased to solicit the type of information
 Questions are worded accurately and
without bias
Examples of Questions
Sample Size
Ideally a researcher who survey all those
within a given population (group of people
with certain specified characteristics)
 Sociologists, therefore, survey a sample of
the population.
 Sociologists must take great care to choose
a representative sample, one that accurately
reflects the characteristics of the population
as a whole.
 Random selection usually ensures a more
representative sample.
2. Secondary Analysis
Secondary Analysis = Pre-collected data
or info someone else has gathered
 Examples:
Government reports
Company records
Voting lists
Prison records
Reports of other sociologists
Census data
3. Experiments
Used when sociologists want to study a causeand-effect relationship
 Experiment = an artificially created situation that
allows the researcher to manipulate the variables
 In the classical method of conducting an
experiment, two groups of people are selected
and matched for similar characteristics, such as
age or education.
 Sociologists don’t often rely on this classic form
of experiment because it generally involves
manipulating human behaviour in an inappropriate
Hawthorne Effect
In some experiments the presence of a
social scientist or other observer may affect
the behaviour of people being studied.
 Experiment in 1920’s and 1930’s at
Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric
 Researchers trying to determine how to
improve the productivity of workers at the
 Investigators manipulated such variables as
lighting and working hours to see what
impact changes in them had on productivity.
Hawthorne Effect continued…
Found every step they took seemed to
increase productivity.
 Even measures that seemed likely to have
the opposite effect led to higher
 Workers’ behaviour was influenced by the
greater attention being paid to them in the
course of the research and by the novelty of
being subjects of an experiment.
 Hawthorne effect = subjects who deviate
from their typical behaviour because they
realize that they are under observation
4. Field Research
Field Research = research that takes place
in a natural (non-laboratory) setting.
 Most popular approach to field research
is the case study (intensive study of a
single group, incident, or community).
 Assumes findings can be generalized from
one group to another.
Participant Observation
Participant observation = sociologist may
actually join a group for a time to get an
accurate sense of how it operates.
◦ Sociologists must be able to fully understand
what they are observing
◦ Must learn to see the world as the group sees it
in order to fully comprehend the events taking
place around them.
◦ Can’t allow the close associations or even
friendships that inevitably develop to influence
the subjects’ behaviour or the conclusions of the
Theoretical Perspectives and
Research Methods
The research methods that researchers choose to employ in their
study of social phenomena are informed and guided by the
theoretical perspectives they hold.
Functionalist – value neutrality and objectivity – prefer quantitative
methods (surveys, experiments, and secondary data analysis).
Conflict – might employ historical analysis or engage in field
research to uncover the hidden economic and political interests of
a society; view their research as a basis for action and change
Interactionist – field research/case studies/participant observation;
goal of the researcher is to describe the meanings and to
understand the definitions that people give to their own
Feminists – no single research method employed; guided by the
common desire to bring about action and change through their