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Research Methods

The 'nutshells' provide concentrated summaries. Use the arrows or swipe across to explore topics in more detail, including key perspectives and sociologists.

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Topic 1 - Choosing a research method

In a nutshell

Positivists and interpretivists differ on their choice of research methods, depending on the type of data they produce, as well as their theoretical issues. Positivists prefer scientific, quantifiable data that is quick and easy to obtain, and is rich in reliability and validity. Interpretivists, on the other hand, value qualitative data that provides in-depth meaning of a small-scale research group, and is therefore rich in validity. The choice of research method is also determined by the practical, ethical and theoretical issues associated with it.


In a nutshell

An experiment is characterised by its high degree of control that the researcher has over the situation. In an experiment, the researcher identifies and controls all variables that might affect the outcome. By manipulating the variables and observing what happens, the researcher can discover cause and effect relationships. There are two main types of experiments: laboratory experiments and field experiments.

Topic 3 - Questionnaires

In a nutshell

Favoured by positivists, written or self-completed questionnaires are a form of social survey and can be distributed in a range of ways - notably, via post, email or handed out in person. Questionnaires are typically a list of pre-set questions that are closed-end questions with pre-coded answers.

Topic 4 - Interviews

In a nutshell

In sociological research, there are different types of interviews: structured interviews and unstructured interviews (including group interviews). Sociologists sometimes use semi-structured interviews to combine the elements of both. Structured interviews are favoured by positivists because they are rich in reliability and representativity, whereas unstructured interviews are favoured by interpretivists because they are rich in validity.

topic 5 - Observations

In a nutshell

Observations in sociological research take several different forms; they can either be participant or non-participant, meaning that the researcher is directly involved in one but not the other. Although participating in observations gives a direct insight into social behaviour, this is likely to produce the Hawthorne effect due to how participants are aware they are being studied and will change their behaviour accordingly. Additionally, observations can be either covert or overt; the former means the research group are aware the observation is taking place, whereas the latter means the research group do not know they are being researched.

topic 6 - official statistics

In a nutshell

Official statistics are quantitative data collected by government bodies. This method is favoured by positivists because data is quick, cheap and easy to access, and it covers a wide range of social issues.

topic 7 - Documents

In a nutshell

Documents are secondary data, favoured by interpretivists, which are created by individuals, groups and organisations. They mainly contain qualitative data that expresses beliefs and meanings held by an individual and/or organisation. Different types of documents include personal private documents and historical documents.

topic 8 - Methods in Context

In a nutshell

Education is a unique setting for research and includes specific elements that may change the way in which research is conducted. This will all depend on the theme, the method and the topic involved.

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