Methods of sociological research

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Methods of sociological
research
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The scientific method
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Sociological research
1. Identify a problem /
ask yourself a question
2. Review the literature
3. Formulate a hypothesis
/ operationalize the
variables
4. Choose research
design / method
5. Collect data / record
information
6. Interpret your results
7. Disseminate
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Sociological Methods
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Society and sociology
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Survey
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Statistical surveys are undertaken with a view towards making
statistical inferences about the population being studied.
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Survey methodology is a field of applied statistics and studies the
sampling of individual units from a population and the associated
survey data collection techniques, such as questionnaire
construction and methods for improving the number and accuracy
of responses to surveys.

Surveys provide important information for all kinds of public
information and research fields, e.g., marketing research,
psychology, health professionals and sociology.
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Survey research is especially appropriate for making descriptive
studies of large populations; survey data may be used for
explanatory purposes as well.
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The most important methodological challenges of a survey
methodologist include making decisions on how to:
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Identify and select potential sample members.
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Contact sampled individuals and collect data from those who are
hard to reach (or reluctant to respond).
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Evaluate and test questions.
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Select the mode for posing questions and collecting responses.
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Train and supervise interviewers (if they are involved).
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Check data files for accuracy and internal consistency.
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Adjust survey estimates to correct for identified errors.
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Determining Your Survey Audience
Survey audiences are diverse, and you need to plan appropriately.
Who am I going to interview?
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Ask yourself a question about a group of people that can provide you
with information on your topic. This group is called your target
population. More than likely, you can not interview every person in
your target population, so you will need to interview a smaller subgroup of respondents, known as a sample.
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Your sample size, survey methodology, and survey goals will also
impact budget, time and available resources, so plan carefully.
How many people am I going to survey?
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The larger the sample, the more closely it will represent attitudes in
your overall target population.
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But before you start
CONCEPTUALIZE:
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describe the social problem / situation / goal of your research,
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explain important concepts for your study (i.e. poverty, social hygiene,
inequality, gender, public trust, deviance, corruption, public health and so
on) using preferred theoretical approach of your study
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explore and use existing literature, research results, statistics and other
sources to define the blank areas of your topic of interest.
OPERATIONALIZE:
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Explain how you will measure defined concepts of your study,
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Break large concepts into smaller, more “tangible” aspects or indicators
(i.e. religiosity – church attendance, membership, religious behaviour (i.e.
praying), divorce rate, beliefs – in other words experiential, ritualistic,
devotional, belief, knowledge, consequential (or ethical), communal, and
particularistic dimensions).
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Think of questions and measurement scales.
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Questionnaire
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Make sure your survey questions match your research objectives
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You must always determine why you intend to conduct your survey research before
you are able to properly write survey questions. For example, if you plan to conduct an
exploratory research survey, your survey will usually not need to be as detailed as
when you plan to conduct a confirmatory research survey. (See related article).
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Understand your research participants
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Remember that your target population, not you, are the ones completing the survey.
Try to develop an ability to think like your potential respondents. If you can effectively
consider how your research participants will interpret and react to each question on
your survey, then your resulting data is likely to provide useful information (see related
article).
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Use natural and familiar language
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Use language that is understandable to the type of respondents whom you are
targeting. Consider the age of your respondents, their educational level, and any other
relevant cultural characteristics of your respondents when deciding how to phrase
your questions.
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Types of Survey Questions
Survey questions vary according to what type of information they are trying to collect
from the respondents, and how this information will apply to the goals of the survey.
Open-ended
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This type of question allows participants to respond in any way they choose. Open-ended
questions provide primarily qualitative data, and are frequently used in exploratory
research.
Example: What is your current marital status? A: [Participants provide answers in their own
words]
Closed-ended
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In contrast to open-ended questions, closed-ended questions require participants to
choose from a limited number of responses predetermined by the researcher.
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There are 5 basic types of closed-ended questions: Multiple-choice; Categorical; Likertscale; Numerical; and Ordinal.
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Closed-ended questions provide primarily quantitative data, and are frequently used in
confirmatory research.
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Multiple-choice questions
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Use a multiple-choice question when you want your respondents to
choose the best possible answer among all options presented.
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Example
What is your current marital status? (Select one.)
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Single
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Married
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Divorced
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Separated
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Widowed
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Categorical questions
Use a categorical question when the possible answers are
categories, and the respondent must belong to one category.
Example
What is your gender?
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Male
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Female
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Likert-Scale
Use a Likert-scale question when you are trying to determine
respondents’ attitudes or feelings about something.
Example
How important do you think SAT scores are to a college
student’s success? (select one):
Not very important
1
2
3
4
5
Extremely important
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Ordinal questions
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Sometimes you may want your respondents to rank order their responses. A
ranking indicates the importance assigned by a participant to an attitudinal
object.
Example
Please rank the importance of the following qualities in a team leader. (Please
fill in your rank order in the spaces provided using the numbers 1 through 5)
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A team leader that is sincere
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A team leader that gets resources for the team
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A team leader that is an advocate for the team
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A team leader that is a strong disciplinarian
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A team leader that is a good motivator
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Numerical questions
When the answer must be a number, ask a numerical question.
Example
What is your current age? (select one)
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Less than 18
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18 to 29
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30 to 39
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40 to 49
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50 or older
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Modes of surveys
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Web
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Mail
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Telephone
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Personal interview survey
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Advantages and weaknesses of
survey
Survey research in general offers advantages in terms of
economy, the amount of data that can be collected, and the
chance to sample a large population. The standardization of
the data collected represents another special strength of
survey research.
Survey research has the weaknesses of being somewhat
artificial, potentially superficial and relatively inflexible. It‘s
difficult to use surveys to gain a full sense of social processes in
their natural settings. In general, survey research is
comparatively weak on validity and strong on reliability.
Secondary analysis provides social researchers with an
important option for collecting data cheaply and easily but at a
potential cost in validity.
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Validity and reliability
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Triangulation
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