Sociologists – Sociological Research Methods

The main purpose of sociologists is to study human behaviours and to detect the meanings and motives behind these behaviours. However, to carry out their study of social lives, sociologists must choose their research methods.

Let’s become a sociologist for a day and learn more about the research methodology!

Quantitative Research Tradition:

Researchers who choose the quantitative research tradition are called positivists. This research method is a scientific approach similar to a laboratory experiment and involves the natural principles of science. Researchers also employ the ‘hypothetico deductive model’, where they start by creating a hypothesis and after considerable research and testing are done, they end their research by either accepting or rejecting the hypothesis. They also like to take into consideration correlation factors. They emphasize a lot on the link between 2 social phenomena.

According to this methodology, research must be:

  • Reliable: research that can be replicated later to obtain the same results and open to verification by others.
  • Objective: research that is purely factual and does not involve bias, personal emotions and opinions.
  • Cumulative: research that is based on others’ previous works and hypotheses.
  • Systematic: research done in the same order, following specific steps.

Quantitative Data

It refers to data which is in a numerical and statistical form where the information does not include any personal emotions or opinions. Quantitative data, which mostly consists of facts and statistics, can be computerized and represented on charts and graphs.

Methods Chosen by Positivists:

  • Questionnaire
  • Structure Interviews

#1. Questionnaire

A questionnaire refers simply to a technique used to collect information based on a document containing a list of preset and standardized questions relating to a specific research topic. The questionnaire includes two categories of questions, open-ended and closed questions.

Closed questions are multiple-choice questions that highly motivate respondents as they are easier and quicker to answer. These types of questions are easy to analyze, quantify and computerize, however, they do not allow people to express their views and develop their answers.

On the other hand, open-ended questions are more like structured questions and are considered highly valid as respondants are free to express themselves. As these questions are in descriptive form, the researcher can unlock the subjects’ subjective state of mind and better understand their point of view. However, unlike the closed questions, it is difficult to quantify and computerize open-ended questions.

Generally, there are two ways to administer the questionnaire:

  • Self-administered Questionnaire
  • Mail or Postal Questionnaire

Mail or Postal Questionnaire

This is when the researcher sends the questionnaire to people through the post or mail. Some benefits of this method are:

  • It is less time-consuming as there is no need for travelling and is the easiest and quickest way.
  • It is cheap as there are no travelling costs.
  • People can answer the questionnaire at their desired pace.
  • People can verify the accuracy of the information given.
  • There is no interviewer bias, which means that the researcher’s presence does not affect the responses of the individuals.

Its downsides are:

  • It usually consists of a low response rate as people do not send back the questionnaire at all or send it partly filled.
  • There is always a risk that a third party may answer the document instead of the targeted person and as a result, this would affect the validity and reliability of the research.
  • As the researcher is not physically present, difficulties and misunderstandings about the questions cannot be cleared.

Self-Administered Questionnaire

This method refers to when the researcher personally delivers the questionnaire to people and the advantages of this method are:

  • Compared to the mail/postal questionnaire, here as the researcher is physically present, ambiguities encountered by respondents can be cleared on the spot.
  • Unlike the mail/postal method, there is no risk of a third part answering the document as it is a face-to-face interaction between the researcher and the selected individual.
  • It is more appropriate for less educated people, as the researcher is there to help and assist people.

The drawbacks of the self-administered method:

  • The presence of the researcher highly affects the answers of people. They may feel embarrassed and consequently give information that will only please the researchers.
  • Time-consuming and costly as travelling is involved.

#2. Structured Interviews

Structured interviews are based on a pre-coded document. It is a face-to-face interaction and oral conversation between the interviewer and interviewee. The questions asked are already planned and prepared beforehand. Overall, this method of data collection is noted to have a high response rate.

#3. Cross-Sectional Surveys

It is a type of observational method that analyzes data from a population at a specific point in time. This study is also known as cross-sectional analysis or transverse study. They are descriptive in nature and are mainly based on observations at one certain time. This scientific method aims to analyze changes over a period of time.

Do these methods seem genuine and objective to you? Please share your comments!