Research Methods used in Sociology

Research design encompasses an entire realm of direction for gaining “a detailed plan or method for obtaining data scientifically” (Schaefer, 2005). Surveys are used in a manner of “interview or questionnaire” (Schaefer, 2005). “The survey is an example of quantitative research, which collects and reports data primarily in numerical form” (Schaefer, 2005). “Interview surveys” (Schaefer, 2005) are important to maintaining a fair and balanced work environment, for example, are your employees happy with a new technological change, benefits, team interaction, and the hierarchy of management.

One downfall to this type of research design is you may not get accurate answers depending on the person. For example, what if the person being interviewed felt intimidated by the questioner? He or she may not be forthright and feel threatened in this situation therefore leading to inaccurate information. “Questionnaire surveys” (Schaefer, 2005) are biased and not necessarily true, for example, a news station may want viewers to go to their website and answer questions regarding presidential candidates but it is only relevant to those specific viewers, you may have just returned home from an hospital and they send you a questionnaire to rate their service towards you while you stayed in their facility. You may have an elderly gentleman who no matter what kind of care he received is just angry/irritable in general and does not like hospitals. So in essence, he would give biased information that was untrue or exaggerated.

The observation research design is “investigators who collect information through direct participation and/or by closely watching a group or community” (Schaefer, 2005). The observation research design is closely linked to qualitative research which “relies on what is seen in field and naturalistic setting, and focusing on small groups and communities rather than large groups or whole nations” (Schaefer, 2005). Examples of observation are Jane Goodall studying the chimpanzees in the wild, watching the American eagle in their natural habitat and how they nest, procreate, and communicate. The downfall to the observation method is that it is relied heavily on visual observation, sometimes the observer need “to fully understand what they are observing” (Schaefer, 2005).

“Researchers must learn to see the world as the group sees it in order to fully comprehend the events taking place around them” (Schaefer, 2005). The observer must not let any outside influences in because that can affect the end result of the study. “Experiment is an artificially created situation that allows a researcher to manipulate variables” (Schaefer, 2005). How are experiments correlated? There is an experimental group “exposed to an independent variable”, and the control group is “given the placebo or nothing” (Schaefer, 2005) Good areas to use such research design are pharmaceutical companies introducing a new drug, sleep studies, taking two groups of children and giving one group the new cabbage patch doll and the other group gets dolls with no faces. Then the researcher analyzes the reactions of both groups. The only downfall to the experimental research design is that you never know when you are getting the placebo. When dealing with experiments a phenomenon can occur called the “Hawthorne effect” (Schaefer, 2005) and this term is used to explain how just being in a study can affect or “influence” (Schaefer, 2005) the experimental subjects.

Using existing sources for sociological research is popular with sociologists because all they need to do is “use the old data in order to conduct research and test hypothesis” (Schaefer, 2005). The most frequently used sources are “census data, crime statistics, birth, death, marriage, divorce, and health statistics” (Schaefer, 2005). Another term, “secondary analysis uses a variety of research techniques that make use of previously collected and publicly accessible information and data” (Schaefer, 2005). This data can be used to look at historical practices and the preservation of those practices, it can be used to predict when the next baby boom will arrive, medical information can be used to show progression in disease fighting remedies, and a general look at the populous with diverse and varied information.

Ways sociologists use secondary information is “content analysis which is the systematic coding and objective recording of data, guided by some rationale” (Schaefer, 2005). The downfall to using secondary information is it is partial and incomplete, and the data is inadequate. All of these methods are reputable, one needs to be careful in the area of principles, time constraints, limitations.


Schaefer: Sociology: A Brief Introduction, Sixth Edition. Sociological Research. The McGrawHill Companies, 2005. SOC 100. Retrieved February 13, 2007 from