Research Methods

Research Methods
Learning Objectives

You will be able:

You can distinguish between four types of research methods: field research, surveys, experiments and secondary data analysis
Understanding why certain topics are more suited for different research methods

Sociologists look at the world and identify a problem or pattern that they want to investigate. Sociologists use research methods to plan a study. This could be a scientific, detailed, and systematic method of collecting data or an ethnographic study that uses an interpretive framework. The planning of the research design is an important step in any sociological investigation.

Researchers must exercise caution when entering certain social environments. There are times when you can remain anonymous and others when you should be openly visible. There are times when you need to conduct interviews, and others when you can simply observe. Participants should be fully informed. Others shouldn’t know they’re being watched. Researchers wouldn’t walk into crime-ridden neighborhoods at night and shout, “Any gang members?”. And if they entered a coffee shop and informed the workers that they were being observed for work efficiency research, some of the more self-conscious, anxious baristas might not behave normally. This is known as the Hawthorne Effect, where people alter their behavior when they realize they are being monitored. In some cases, the Hawthorne Effect is inevitable. Sociologists must make it clear what the study is about in many cases. The subject must know that they are being watched and that artificiality can occur (Sonnenfeld 1985).

It is difficult to make sociologists invisible for many reasons. Researchers studying early education, prison behavior, and the Ku Klux Klan do not have this option. Researchers cannot simply walk into prisons, kindergarten classrooms or Klan meetings to observe behavior. These situations require other methods. Research design shapes all studies, and research designs shape all studies. Researchers select the best methods to suit their research topics and fit their overall approach to research.

Sociologists can choose from four methods of social investigation when planning the study’s design: field research, experiment and survey. Secondary data analysis or use of existing resources are also options. Each research method has its pros and cons. The topic of the study will influence which method is chosen.

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