Methods of Research – AS and A Level Sociology Notes

Synopsis: This article covers associated sub-topics with respect to sociological research and its types. This includes the stages involved during the research process, various methods and tools related to the research topic and numerous ethical issues that the researcher might encounter. It also explores the difference between the sources of data collection that may suit the researcher as per his needs. Through varied examples from different sociological setups, the information elaborates the same elements.

Research and its Meaning

Research involves the thoughtful analysis of data using scientific methods to tackle a particular topic or research subject. According to American sociologist Earl Robert Babbie, research is a systematic investigation aimed at describing, explaining, predicting, and managing observed phenomena. Both inductive and deductive techniques are employed in research. Ultimately, the primary objective of all research endeavors is to discover novel information, establish fresh connections, and unveil new laws that govern research dynamics. Nevertheless, it is equally important to continuously validate existing theories, particularly in an ever-evolving environment.

Stages of Research Design-

Research in social sciences depends on the factors that the researcher is trying to analyse, for example an in-depth study will demand a more qualitative and interview-based approach as compared to a problem that requires on to study the correlation between two factors. Before carrying out research, a researcher constructs a research design that determines the entire process. This includes the procedures and actions needed to conduct the study, such as analyzing, figuring out, finding, and evaluating. Various steps that are followed generally while conducting research are:

 Formulating the research problem

Collecting literature to be reviewed and surveyed.

Developing a hypothesis and preparing a research design

Determining the sample and collecting data

Analysis of the data

Hypothesis testing

Generalisation and interpretation of the data

Report writing and presentation of results.

Types of research methods in social science along with strengths and limitations-

Qualitative Research

            It offers a non-quantitative analysis. By seeing what individuals say and do, it analyzes, interprets, and gathers data. It is experimental, open ended, and subjective. A small number of persons are interviewed thoroughly, and/or only a few focus groups are used to perform the study. It consists of variables that cannot be expressed numerically or in any other units. Social scientists utilise qualitative research to examine how people behave. In market research surveys, qualitative research is performed to better understand customer preferences. It helps a corporation understand the current trends in product demand.

Example: Conducting in depth interviews is the most common qualitative research method. It is a personal interview carried out with one respondent at a time like interview with college students on the online vs offline method of teaching.

Quantitative Research

            This study is supported by numerical data or numbers. To anticipate future results, it measures the quantity or amount and compares it to previous data. It is employed to create and use mathematical models, theories, or hypotheses relevant to a process and is objective. It is a normative perspective that sits between empirical evidence and mathematical expression.

Example: The clinical surveys like keeping the check of equipments brought and used for various purposes emphasizes numbers. Similarly, observing well-defined events such as the number of visits patients make to a doctor’s office each year deals with digits. Hence, quantifying the data.

Also Read: What is the difference between Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Pure (Fundamental) Research

            It is also referred to as theoretical research, which is fundamental and unique. It can result in the development or improvement of an existing theory as well as the discovery of new theories. It aids in obtaining information without considering its formal implementation in practice, relying on the researcher’s honesty and integrity for the pursuit of the truth.

Example: The relationship between stress levels and academic cheating can be a basic example of fundamental research. Research concerning some natural phenomena or relating to pure mathematics are examples of pure research. Similarly, researches aimed at human behaviour also fall under the same category.

Applied Research

            Applied research focuses on practical applications or solutions. A corporate organisation’s current problem must be immediately, precisely, and practically solved. This is the core objective of applied research. It offers right-now remedies to genuine problems. Although scientific inquiries are conducted, the procedures used are not as exacting as in fundamental research. It comes up with solutions that can be used locally, even though they might not be favoured by everyone. Applied research does not guarantee that it will advance the field’s body of knowledge.

Also Read: Applied Sociology

Example: The effect of a new classroom management plan on student behaviour or OPEC conducting research on how to control the prices of petrol around the globe.

Descriptive and Analytical Research

            In essence, descriptive research explains what is. It mostly entails gathering, noting, characterizing, and analysing the study-related facts. It looks for a phenomenon’s status, trend, and situation. Surveys are involved, but they go beyond just gathering data because they also require measurement, classification, analysis, comparison, and interpretation. The research’s study variables are uncontrollable. Only observation and reporting of what is occurring in a scenario is possible. Analytical study, on the other hand, focuses on the future. The factors in this study have been precisely and thoroughly controlled and modified. Control, manipulation, observation, and replication are the four key features on which this type of study is founded.

Example: Examining the fluctuations of Indian international trade balance during covid 19 times is an example of descriptive research while explaining how and why certain fluctuations happen or how trade balance moves in a particular way over time is an example of analytical research.

Different sources of data for sociological research-

            The tools/sources help us in collection of the data for our research and the method used provides an outline of the type of research to be conducted.

Primary Method

            Primary method applies primary data, usually referred to as raw data. It is the information that the researcher independently obtains, and he is the first to interpret it. The information was obtained directly from the source. This might take the form of in-person interviews, audience surveys, or even courses. Primary data can be more challenging for the researcher to comprehend, but they are often collected with a specific goal in mind. This is because the data is unstructured and needs to be set up so you can organise it and make judgements with confidence.

Secondary Method

            Information one utilises that has been gathered, examined, and organised by another individual or organisation is referred to as secondary data. Research papers, books and other websites are examples of primary sources of information that become secondary sources when used by a different individual for their research. Although it may not be as appropriate to every scenario, this form of data is considerably simpler to gather and use. For instance, each year HubSpot surveys marketers and publishes the results in a report titled The State of Inbound. Even if one works with marketers, the data may not be as valuable for the situation despite its excellent quality.

The different tools used in these two methods are:

Surveys: Although the word “survey” literally means “something taken from a high place,” it has come to be used to refer to something else entirely. As a result, the term “survey” does not just refer to indirect contact but also to various ways of data or information collecting. Surveys are used on large group of people. They can consist of open and close ended questions. Closed-ended survey questions are a key source of quantitative data. It involves asking structured questions. Both the forms of questions can coexist in the same survey.

As a result, the examiner can get both quantitative and qualitative data from a single respondent. A survey that asks about how much a consumer enjoys certain products on a scale of 1 to 5 and then ask them to list the qualities of the product they enjoy the most is a nice illustration of this. The second question is open-ended and aims to understand the reasoning behind the answer, whereas the first question has a grading scale.

Interviews: Interviews are a practical method for gathering data from single subjects or small groups of persons. Interviews are a useful tool for researchers who want to gain expert advice on a certain topic. They are mostly used in qualitative research. An interview can be conducted in person, over the phone or via a video call. The in-person approach is the best since you can interpret facial emotions and body language to match responses being made. The three primary types of interviews are as follows.

A structured interview can be thought of as an oral questionnaire. There is very little to no departure from the initial set of questions. Although there are general guidelines in a semi-structured interview, the interviewer might delve into other topics based on the responses they receive. Unstructured interviews have a clear objective, but the interviewer is free to choose the questions they want to ask, what they want to investigate, and what they don’t want to. The most flexibility is provided by this.

Other forms of primary data collection can take place through observation, focus groups. The secondary data is the vital part of maximum researches in the field of social sciences, it helps explore wider topics and gather better evidences.

Academic peer reviewed journal or published books and articles: These frequently incorporate the original study that writers or researchers have conducted themselves. A scholarly publication is another term that may be used to describe a peer-reviewed article. To maintain academic scientific excellence, the peer-review process involves having other specialists in the same field (peers) examine an author’s scholarly work, study, or ideas. Numerous publications include references to primary sources together with the author’s interpretation.

Educational institutions and government archives: The literature and data regarding a particular topic can be accessed through the archives that are administered by the government or from a particular educational centre. Educational institutions usually also have access to articles or books that otherwise require payment. Various faculty members also publish their work under institution’s name for easy accessibility.

Approaches specific to sociological research-

The most popular type of sociological research methodology is the social survey. It involves the meticulous collection of social data from a representative sample of the target population using standardised questionnaires or interviews. The gathered information is then compiled and subjected to quantitative analysis. It offers descriptions of the variables under study, correlations between the variables, and causal analysis.

Example: Study of social issues like poverty and lack of educational funding in developing nations like India.

In the social and behavioural sciences, ethnography is a qualitative data collection technique that is frequently employed.  In order to make inferences about how societies and individuals operate, data are gathered through observations and interviews. Instead of attempting to control it in a lab, ethnographers watch life as it is.  Because life is unpredictable, ethnographers frequently find it difficult to summarise their work in a protocol that the Board can easily understand.  However, for the authority to accept a study, it must provide a thorough justification.

Advantages: Having the opportunity to observe first-hand how users interact with technology in their surroundings. Find unanticipated problems that you might not have seen in a usability test. Possibility to gauge demand for potential new product concepts before they are offered to the market.

The disadvantages include a deeper understanding of the user and a potential for longer generation and analysis times for all the results. Users may not behave normally in brief experiments since they are aware of the researchers’ presence. Conducting ethnographic research generally costs substantially more than using other techniques.

Another important method of studying varied data is the mixed methods approach. One of the principal sub techniques to this approach is triangulation. Triangulationin social science is the blending of data or methodologies to allow several points of view to shed light on a subject. The idea of data triangulation is to support the statements that may come from the initial pilot study. the blending of techniques, for instance, the use of interview data along with survey data.

Positivism is a combination philosophy and sociological viewpoint that relies on empirical facts to explain how society functions, such as that discovered through experiments and statistics. In order to do effective research, sociology should follow the same procedures as the natural disciplines. It must be neutral and sensible. Its basic principles involves-

The relationship between the dichotomy of facts and values and the idea of value autonomy: instrumental positivism was shown to be objective, leading to the conclusion that value judgements should not be included in knowledge claims (Gouldner, 1962).

Finally, instrumental positivists tended to put together research teams at centres that frequently conducted contract research (Bryant, 1985).

The focus on improving statistical methods and research tools: American sociologists like Giddings both developed new statistical methods like reliability and promoted innovations in statistics from other nations to American sociology (Bryant, 1985).

Support for a nominalist or individualistic understanding of society: According to Hinkle and Hinkle (Andrews, 1955), American sociology makes the assumption that all social groups’ structures result from the motivations of the people who make up those groups. This perspective holds that people are the primary “objects” of sociological study (Bryant, 1985).

Criticism: Positivism is said to foster an inaccurate emphasis on surface facts without any attention to underlying mechanisms that cannot be seen, hence it has had relatively little impact on modern sociology. Example- Comte, contemporary sociologists do not embrace the idea of a single, “true” image of society as the ultimate purpose of sociology.

Interpretive view of sociology: A study of society that focuses on learning the meanings that individuals attribute to their social environment is referred to as interpretive sociology. This is also sometimes referred to as “understanding,” and it is based on the German term Verstehen, which means “empathetic understanding of human behaviour.” An interpretivist approach to social research would be far more qualitative and employ techniques like participant observation and unstructured interviews. When examining social behaviour and interactions, it is a method that places a focus on the significance of meaning and action. Creating an “interpretive understanding of social action” was, according to Weber, the social sciences’ main goal.

Example: Paul Willis, a researcher, investigated why working-class students rebel against school and drop out more frequently than middle-class students using participant observation and unstructured interviews. In his studies, the interpretivist approach was essential.

Research issues-

Lack of moral standards may be a hindrance. The researcher could not have moral or ethical standards for conducting ethical research. As a result, they frequently deal with team members’ lack of cooperation. Duplication of research investigations frequently occurs because of improper information and interdepartmental interaction. Sometimes, the results of two or more research projects overlap, which causes misunderstanding.

The way published data is managed in libraries and other official sources is subpar. The researcher needs to waste a lot of time looking for books, journals, and reports that are pertinent to his research. Even the availability of official publications is irregular and out of date. Researchers now have some relief thanks to the Internet, where they may access a wealth of study materials. However, the reliability of data on the Internet is questionable.

The ethical question of consent is another. The research subjects often sign an informed permission form before the researcher can start collecting data. This form outlines the study’s objectives and any potential dangers to subjects. Minors (those under the age of 18) must often get a parent’s or legal guardian’s signature before researchers can examine them.

Some sociologists risked being imprisoned for refusing to violate confidentiality because they value subjects’ privacy and secrecy so highly. Another bias may take the form of topic selection. Without considering the need of the academic field, the researcher might select a topic that is overly researched or has no generalization principles to it. This can hinder the growth of the development dynamics of the subject.

There are numerous ways harm might manifest during a research study and hence, it is important to consider these risks. To obtain informed consent, make sure to fully communicate any potential risks of harm to participants before the study. Prepare to offer participants resources, counselling, or medical assistance if necessary if there is a danger of harm.

Research misconduct includes fabrication of data, falsification of data analysis, and inaccurate reporting of findings in study papers. It entails academic dishonesty. These behaviours are deliberate and can have major repercussions; research misconduct is not a straightforward error or a difference of opinion regarding data analysis. Because it can compromise academic integrity and institutional legitimacy, research misconduct is a severe ethical problem. Money and resources that may have been employed for different types of study are wasted as a result.

Hence, all these concepts on individual level add value while defining each step of the research. This implies that if one of the segments has an issue, it can hinder the development of entire project.


Monaghan, P. (1993). Sociologist is jailed for refusing to testify about research subject. Chronicle of Higher Education, 39, 10.

Garfinkel, Harold. (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Alasuutari, P. (2004). The globalization of qualitative research. In: Seale, C.C., Gobo, G., Gubrium, J.F., & Silverman, D. (Eds.). Qualitative research practice (595–608). London: Sage Publications.

Giddens. Anthony. (2006). Sociology (Fifth Edition). Cambridge: Polity Press.

Creswell, J.W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousands Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Aria, M., Misuraca, M., & Spano, M. (2020). Mapping the evolution of social research and data science on 30 years of Social Indicators Research. Social Indicators Research, 149, 803-831. Doi: 10.1007/s11205-020-02281-3

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