SY2 Research Methods.
What you need to know
Definitions of all the following terms and methods.
How to evaluate each method in terms of GROVER (generalisability,
representativeness, operationalisation, validity, ethics and reliability).
You should know which methods are qualitative and which are
You should also be able to give examples of research you know about.
(see summaries of research on education).
You also need to know the different sampling methods and why they are
selected for certain types of research.
 Primary data: first hand original research (e.g. participant observation,
focus group, social surveys)
 Secondary data : data already collected; used for different reasons such
as reanalysis (e.g. official statistics)
 Quantitative: data that is largely numerical in form(e.g. large
scale social survey)
 Qualitative: data consisting of words/meaning/interpretations
(e.g. participant observation)
 Positivist: objectivity, causes, reliability, sociology should be
 Interpretivist : sociology and research should report on how people
understand the world (meanings)
 Validity: does the data provide a true picture of what is being
studied or measured? Are the findings an accurate account of
social reality?
 Reliability: the extent to which repeated measurements, under
the same conditions, produce the same results. If other
researchers using the same methods, under the same
conditions, produced the same results then the data is reliable.
How constant are the findings? Quantitative methods often lack validity
but are often reliable. Qualitative methods are criticised for being
 Representativeness: Is the group of people being studied
typical of others? Sampling techniques are important in gaining a
representative group of participants. Random techniques are used to
quantitative research and non-random for qualitative.
 Target population: The group of people being studied e.g young
 Sampling frame: A representative list of people from the target
population from which the sample will be drawn e.g young offenders
 Random sample: participants are selected randomly by computer or by
hand e.g from a hat, this ensures every person in the frame has an equal
chance of being selected
 Stratified random sample: the sample frame is separated into strata e.g
gender, age, ethnicity and then random samples are drawn separately
from the stata to ensure a representative sample
 Systematic sampling: the first participant is drawn at random and then
every nth (5th or 10th etc) is drawn after that.
 Quota sampling: Non-random as it involves the researcher selecting a
quota of groups e.g gender from the sampling frame.
 Snowball sampling: used when participants are difficult to access e.g
gang members. One contact asks friends if they will take part and the
friends ask more friends and so on. This is non-random.
 Purposive sampling: non-random, selecting a groups of people for a
specific purpose e.g Car workers in Luton.
 Gatekeepers : These are the people who work in institutions like
education or a care home that can facilitate access to a group of
participants e.g school children or disabled people.
 Generalisability: can the findings from one setting be applied
to similar settings? Are the findings from a study of student drug
users in London similar to findings if we studied drug users in
 Bias: distortion of results; difference from true value
 Hawthorne effect: When participants behave differently because they
know they are being observed.
 Objective: to what extent is the research value free and a reflection of
 Operationalisation : Expressing a concept in a way that can be
measured. For example; it is pointless to talk about social class if no
indicator of what social class means is provided. The basic point is
sound; if you cannot define something then you cannot measure it.
 Ethical issues: involve informed consent, deception,confidentiality,
protection from harm, right to withdraw.
 Practical issues: Time, cost, practicality of method, availability of
sample, funding, going native.
 Social Survey: a quantitative study on a large scale to find information
regarding issues like crime, attitudes, habits etc- uses questionnaires or face
to face structured interviews.
 Questionnaire: requires respondents to answer in writing – can be large
scale or small, open or closed questions but are usually quantitative.
 Interviews: Face to face interaction between researcher and interviewee.
Can be structured and quantitative or semi-structured or unstructured which
are qualitative.
 Observations: observing groups or individuals either from afar (covert) or
with their consent (overt). Can be structured and quantitative or qualitative
as in participant observation where the researcher becomes part of the
 Experiments: Not usually done in Sociology although there are some
examples. Can be laboratory (in a closed environment) or field (in a natural
setting) Involves manipulating and controlling variables such as gender to
see the effect on behaviour. I.e do people behave differently towards baby
boys or girls.
 Statistical data: form of secondary, quantitative data used to gather
numerical data on phenomena e.g GCSE results.
 Content Analysis: usually quantitative data collecting by analysing the
content of media publications, tv shows etc e.g How many minutes do
women appear in Eastenders compared to men.
 Focus Groups: uses qualitative methods to explore issues relating to a group
e.g community wellbeing.
 Personal Documents: Include letters, diaries, photographs and are useful for
qualitative research particularly for Historical comparisons.
 Longitudinal studies: conducted over a long period of time comparing data
from participants to see changes. Can be quantitative or qualitative.
 Pilot Studies: Only carried out on quantitative studies to test quality of
questions for questionnaires or interviews- checks validity and reliability
before a large scale study is done.
 Case Studies: carried out on individuals or small groups – in depth account
of their stories so is qualitative.
 Mixed methods:Triangulation - several different methods are used to
conduct the same kind of research so that the reliability and validity can be
 Methodological Plurism - the use of mixed methods to conduct one single
Famous studiesTASK – Select a study in bold and research it. Leave a
comment on the blog identifying the Aim, Method, Findings and evaluations of
the study.
Official Statistics
 The Census – every household every 10 years. Full picture of population of
 Crime statistics from police/courts, and British Crime survey
 ‘Suicide’ Emile Durkheim (& J Maxwell Atkinson as criticism)
Comparative method
 ‘Suicide’ Emile Durkheim
 The Census – closed questions
 ‘Hite Report’ – Shere Hite – open questions, feminist
 ‘The Making of a Moonie’ – Eileen Barker
 British Crime Survey
 ‘From here to Maternity’- Anne Oakley – in depth interviews
 ‘Sociology of Housework’/’Housewife’ – Anne Oakley – structured and in
depth interviews
 ‘Interviewing women – a contradiction in terms’ - Anne Oakley (journal article
on feminist views on interviews as a research method)
 ‘The Making of a Moonie’ Eileen Barker – in depth, interpretivist
 Counselling experiment – Harold Garfinkel – field experiment –
 ‘Pygmalion in the Classroom’ – Rosenthal and Jacobsen – field experiment interpretivist
 ‘On being sane in insane places’ – Rosenhan – field experiment –
 Bobo doll experiments – Bandura etc – lab experiments – social
 Zimbardo Stanford Prison Study
 ‘Analysing Teaching Behaviour’ – N Flanders – overt, structured, non
 ‘A Glasgow Gang Observed’ – James Patrick – largely covert, participant
 ‘The Tearoom Trade’ – Laud Humphreys – covert and overt, semi
 ‘Learning to Labour’ – Paul Willis – largely overt, mostly participant
 ‘The Making of a Moonie’ – Eileen Barker – overt, participant
Research Methods in the exam
Question a) 10 marks – 10 minutes
This will basically be a ‘what’ question. Asking you to define what
something is. You will be given an example of some research on a
topic and could be asked to give a definition of the method used or
perhaps another term e.g qualitative, quota sampling etc, using the
source material and your own knowledge. You should make 3 points
and to get AO2 marks you need to develop them by giving examples
from the source material or elsewhere and by stating the advantages
or disadvantages of the method/term you have defined e.g
Question b) 20 marks – 20 minutes
This is basically more of a ‘why’ question. Asking you to say why a
researcher might make certain decisions e.g why use interviews or
questionnaires, or secondary sources, why select their sample the
way they have. To get 20 marks you need to make 5 points which
are developed using GROVER (see above) and advantages and
disadvantages of methods/sampling etc. Your answers also need to
be in the context of the source material and you will be asked to refer
to other studies from your own knowledge.
Some possible exam questions
a) - Using material from the item and elsewhere identify the strengths
of questionnaires (replace with any method to practice)
- Using material from the item and elsewhere identify the advantages
of random sampling.
b) - Using material from the item and you own knowledge of studies and
research identify and explain the advantages and disadvantages of
surveys in sociological research
- Using material from the item and your own knowledge of studies
and research discuss the benefits of using triangulation
-Using material from the item and your own knowledge of studies
and research discuss the use of different sampling methods in
sociological research.
Use this table for your revision of the terms.
Primary data:
Secondary data :
Interpretivist :
Target population:
Sampling frame:
Random sample:
Stratified random
Quota sampling:
Snowball sampling:
Purposive sampling:
Gatekeepers :
Hawthorne effect:
Operationalisation :
Ethical issues:
Practical issues:
Social Survey:
Semi or
Statistical data:
Content Analysis:
Focus Groups:
Pilot Studies:
Case Studies:
Triangulation and
mixed methods: