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Sociological Methods

Steps in Social Research Process

Define a problem: Select a topic for research

Review the literature: Familiarise yourself with existing research on topic

Formulate a hypothesis: What do you intend to test? What is the relationship

between variables? Its a tentative assumption, an untested generalization. The
purpose of the research is to test the hypothesis to see if this statement of the
relationship is accurate.

Select a research design: Use one or more research methods (the tools of data

Carry out the research: Collect your data, record information

Interpret your results: Work out the implications of the data you collect

Report the research findings: What is their significance? How do they relate to
previous findings

Communicate your findings: your findings are registered and discussed in

academic community may lead to initiation of further research
Sociological Methods
Experimental Design
Excellent for controlled testing of causal processes

Cause-effect Relationship
Dependent/ Independent Variable
Effect of independent variable on dependent variable
D V subject to external stimuli
Example common cold and medicine
Example prejudice and exposure to African-American History
Control/Experimental Group
Experimental Group a group of subjects to whom an experimental
stimulus is administered
Control Group a group of subjects which remains constant and
should resemble the experimental group

Experimental Design
Double-blind experiment
An experiment design in which neither the subjects nor the experimenters
know which is the control group and which is the experimental group
To avoid experimenters bias and guard against pre-judging of results
Example- medical research
Importance of Control Group
It allows the researcher to detect any effects of the experiment itself
Merits of Experimental Design
Controlled testing of variables, Only means to establish cause-effect relation,
yield quantitative data
Artificiality, Inflexible, Limited group, inappropriate for complex social
Observation Method
Participant Observation
Researchers deliberately involves themselves in the activity, group or
Idea is to gain an insiders view
To obtain first-hand knowledge of a way of life
Important to gain access to group
Win trust and confidence and establishing a rapport
Exceptional self-discipline required, should not be governed by emotions
Must develop technique to record data systematically and faithfully
It is very flexible
Small sample, objectivity is an issue, may not accurately represent the
group as a whole
Example: Ethnographic studies, William Whytes study of Italian-
Americans, Verrier Elwin study of Indian tribes
Case Study Method
The in-depth examination of a single instance of some social phenomenon, such
as a village, a family, or a juvenile gang
Detailed study of a single unit
Intensive study backed by observation, interviews, study of related documents,
archival records, physical artifacts, data gathered from official records and any
other relevant information
Researcher attempts to learn everything there is to know about a particular
group, community or incident
Is also used for clinical and counseling purposes
Provides a holistic picture
Understanding from multiple perspectives
Helps in forming hypotheses, questions, interview method
investigator may develop deep acquaintance
Generalisation from limited case is difficult
Time and money consuming
Subjectivity is an issue 5




Probability Sampling: A probability sampling scheme is one in which every unit
in the population has a chance of being selected in the sample, and this
probability can be accurately determined.

Simple Random Sampling: A type of probability sampling in which the units

composing a population are assigned numbers. A set of random numbers is then
generated and the units having those numbers are included in the sample.
Systematic Sampling: It involves a random start and then proceeds with the
selection of every kth element from then onwards. For exm: every 25th student in
the college directory of students.
Stratified Sampling: The grouping of the units composing a population into
homogenous groups (or strata) before sampling. Each stratum is then sampled as
an independent sub-population, out of which individual elements can be
randomly selected with simple random, systematic or cluster sampling.
Cluster Sampling: It is an example of 'two-stage sampling. First stage a sample
of areas is chosen; Second stage a sample of respondents within those areas is
selected. For example: One may select a sample of IITs and get lists of the
students at all the selected IITs and then draw samples of students from each.
Non-Probability Samples: Any sampling method where some elements of population have
no chance of selection or where the probability of selection can't be accurately

Convenience Sample: A type of nonprobability sampling which involves the sample

being drawn from that part of the population which is close to hand. That is, readily
available, accessible and convenient.

Purposive Sample: The researcher chooses the sample based on who they think would
be appropriate for the study. This is used primarily when there is a limited number of
people that have expertise in the area being researched

Quota Sample: The population is first segmented into mutually exclusive sub-groups,
just as in stratified sampling. Then judgment used to select subjects or units from each
segment based on a specified proportion. In quota sampling the selection of the sample is

Snowball Sample: The existing study subjects are used to recruit more subjects into the
Questionnaire Method
They are generally used to measure the individuals viewpoint, particular
personality characteristics, perceptions, beliefs and motivations and future plans
They are standardized tools. Indirect method of inquiry
Types of Questions: Close-ended & Open-ended
Large amount of data can be collected
Sensitive, confidential issues tackled
Less time & money involved
Objectivity maintained
Anonymity ensured
Questionnaires exerts less pressure on the respondents to provide an immediate
Less reliable
Clarification of questions not possible
Not possible with illiterates, children
Less scope for completed answer 10
Interview Schedule
It is a face-to-face situation between the interviewer and the interviewee
A direct method of research
In interview schedule questions are asked and filled in by an interviewer
Types of Interview Schedule
Structured, Unstructured and Semi-structured Interview schedule
Researcher is personally present
Clarification of questions, lead questions, probe questions, contingency questions possible
More reliable
Body language can be observed
The interviewer gets the first hand understanding of the person and the situation ,
which is lacking in questionnaire method
Time consuming and cost ineffective
Small sample is covered
Sensitive issues can not be tackled easily
Anonymity not ensured
Life History Approach
Consists of biographical material assembled about
particular individuals
Usually method is based on recall by the individuals
Yields rich information on development of beliefs and
attitudes over time
The method relies on letters, contemporary reports,
newspaper descriptions
Sociologists differ on the merit of the method
Example of Life history method The Polish Peasant
(1966) in Europe and America by W. I. Thomas &
Florian Znaniecki on experience of migration
Comparative research
This method has a central importance in
Making comparisons allows us to clarify what is
going on in a particular area of research
Example: Rate of divorce in UK
1960s: 30000 per year
1980s: 160000 per year
Such increase in number does it reflect specific
features of British society?
Can be a comparison of UK and India to identify
social trends
Historical Analysis
An essential method in sociological research

Makes use of time perspective to study particular problem

Sociologists investigate past events directly through oral history

example: holocaust survivor research work can at best stretch 60-70 years

Historical study of earlier period: reliance on documents, written records

mostly kept in libraries or National archives

Example: Anthony Ashworths study of trench warfare during WWI (1980)

He made use of official histories of war including materials written on

different military divisions and battalions, official publications of the time,
notes and records kept informally by soldiers and personal accounts of war

Ashworth developed rich and detailed description of life in the trenches