Major Research Designs How Sociologists Gather their Data Doing Research in the Social Sciences 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 understandings. 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 laboratory. 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 data 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 influence: ◦ the cost of the project ◦ the amount of time needed to collect the results of the research Research Designs Research designs regularly used by sociologists: 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 sociologists Ideal for large groups The Interview Interview = Researcher obtains information through face-to-face or telephone questioning 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 desired 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 manner. 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 Company Researchers trying to determine how to improve the productivity of workers at the plant. 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 productivity. 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. Challenges: ◦ 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 study 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 institutions Feminists – no single research method employed; guided by the common desire to bring about action and change through their research.