Research Method

Methods of sociological inquiry

Sociologists use many types of social research methods, including:

Archival research – Facts or factual evidences from a variety of records are compiled.
Content Analysis – The contents of books and mass media are analyzed to study how people communicate and the messages people talk or write about.
Historical Method – This involves a continuous and systematic search for the information and knowledge about past events related to the life of a person, a group, society, or the world.
Interviews – The researcher obtains data by interviewing people. If the interview is non-structured, the researcher leaves it to the interviewee (also referred to as the respondent or the informant) to guide the conversation.
Life History – This is the study of the personal life of a person. Through a series of interviews, the researcher can probe into the decisive moments in their life or the various influences on their life.
Longitudinal study – This is an extensive examination of a specific group over a long period of time.
Observation – Using data from the senses, one records information about social phenomenon or behavior. Qualitative research relies heavily on observation, although it is in a highly disciplined form.
Participant Observation – As the name implies, the researcher goes to the field (usually a community), lives with the people for some time, and participates in their activities in order to know and feel their culture.

The choice of a method in part often depends on the researcher’s epistemological approach to research.

For example, those researchers who are concerned with statistical generalizability to a population will most likely administer structured interviews with a survey questionnaire to a carefully selected probability sample. By contrast, those sociologists, especially ethnographers, who are more interested in having a full contextual understanding of group members’lives will choose participant observation, observation, and open-ended interviews. Many studies combine several of these methodologies.

The relative merits of these research methodologies is a topic of much professional debate among practicing sociologists.

Combining research methods

In practice, some sociologists combine different research methods and approaches, since different methods produce different types of findings that correspond to different aspects of societies. For example, quantitative methods may help describe social patterns, while qualitative approaches could help to understand how individuals understand those patterns.

An example of using multiple types of research methods is in the study of the Internet. The Internet is of interest for sociologists in various ways: as a tool for research, for example, in using online questionnaires instead of paper ones, as a discussion platform, and as a research topic. Sociology of the Internet in the last sense includes analysis of online communities (e.g. as found in newsgroups), virtual communities and virtual worlds, organisational change catalysed through new media like the Internet, and societal change at-large in the transformation from industrial to informational society (or to information society).

Online communities can be studied statistically through network analysis and at the same time interpreted qualitatively, such as though virtual ethnography. Social change can be studied through statistical demographics or through the interpretation of changing messages and symbols in online media studies.

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