Many students find research methods difficult in sociology. In our first series of blogs, we are going to consider research methods.
A theory is a concept or idea that we can test. A sociologist has theories about society and group behaviour that they want to test.
He or she will develop research aims and one or more hypotheses to investigate a theory. To test a theory, the sociologist will ask a question – this is known as the hypothesis. A hypothesis is a testable statement. It is a prediction of what a sociologist expects to happen in their research.
As a sociologist, I might predict that boys will perform better in their GCSE Sociology exam than girls. I could carry out research to test that prediction.
My theory is that boys will perform better. However, in order to be testable, my hypothesis needs to be more precise. For example, I can test the hypothesis that:
Boys of 15 – 16 years of age will perform better than girls of 15 – 16 years of age in their GCSE Sociology exam.
I can then test this hypothesis through my research.
A pilot study is a small scale trial that is carried out. This is done prior to the main study. It is carried out in order to test that there are no flaws in the methodology of the main research. My first step then, is to carry out a pilot study to test my research method(s). This includes all the steps below with a small trial group. If flaws appear in the method, then it can be refined at this stage until the pilot study is robust and produces reliable results.
It is not possible to study all human beings, so sociologists select a sample group to perform their research on. For example, using the hypothesis above, we may not be able to test all students taking their GCSE Sociology exam, so we may select a smaller group. We select this smaller group by sampling methods, such as stratified random sampling or snowball sampling to ensure that our sample is not biased and will not produce flawed results. We will talk about these sampling methods in a later blog.
A sociologist uses different methods to collect data. We will discuss these more in later blogs. A sociologist mainly collects:
Data collected can be quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative data looks at the quantity of data, so may look at figures such as 50% of boys gained a grade A in their sociology GCSE exam. Qualitative data looks at things in more detail. For example, we may find out that boys and girls did equally well in their GCSE sociology exams, so we may want to find out how the students study. So we may give them a questionnaire on how they study, when they study, what they find works well. They would then give detailed answers. This would give us quality information rather than figures.
When a sociologist has gathered the data, he or she will look at it to find patterns and trends in that information that may prove or disprove their hypothesis.
The sociologist will then present their research in journals, papers at conferences, and so on. Other sociologists will read and review the research. This is known as peer review.
Others may then decide to test the same theory themselves and carry out their own research. They may obtain different results, so this will lead to further research. This is why sociology is an ongoing and dynamic subject to study.
If you might be interested in studying Sociology with Oxford Open Learning, please contact one of our student advisers who will be pleased to help you.