Research Methods

Summary

Sociological research is a fairly complex process. As you can see, a lot goes into even a simple research design. There are many steps and much to consider when collecting data on human behavior, as well as in interpreting and analyzing data in order to form conclusive results. Sociologists use scientific methods for good reason. The scientific method provides a system of organization that helps researchers plan and conduct the study while ensuring that data and results are reliable, valid, and objective.

The many methods available to researchers—including experiments, surveys, field studies, and secondary data analysis—all come with advantages and disadvantages. The strength of a study can depend on the choice and implementation of the appropriate method of gathering research. Depending on the topic, a study might use a single method or a combination of methods. It is important to plan a research design before undertaking a study. The information gathered may in itself be surprising, and the study design should provide a solid framework in which to analyze predicted and unpredicted data.

Main Sociological Research Methods Sociological research methods have advantages and disadvantages.
MethodImplementationAdvantagesChallenges
Survey
  • Questionnaires
  • Interviews
  • Yields many responses
  • Can survey a large sample
  • Quantitative data are easy to chart
  • Can be time consuming
  • Can be difficult to encourage participant response
  • Captures what people think and believe but not necessarily how they behave in real life
Field Work
  • Observation
  • Participant observation
  • Ethnography
  • Case study
  • Yields detailed, accurate real-life information
  • Time consuming
  • Data captures how people behave but not what they think and believe
  • Qualitative data is difficult to organize
Experiment
  • Deliberate manipulation of social customs and mores
  • Tests cause and effect relationships
  • Hawthorne Effect
  • Ethical concerns about people’s wellbeing
Secondary Data Analysis
  • Analysis of government data (census, health, crime statistics)
  • Research of historic documents
  • Makes good use of previous sociological information
  • Data could be focused on a purpose other than yours
  • Data can be hard to find