Studying Sociology GCSE and Sociology A Level 6

Studying Sociology GCSE and Sociology A Level: 6: Research Methods – Quantitative Methods, Qualitative Methods and Secondary Sources of Data – An Overview

Here is the 6th in our series of study blogs for those studying A level Sociology and GCSE Sociology.

Research methods – quantitative methods, qualitative methods and secondary sources of data – an overview

In this blog, we are going to briefly define the main methods of collecting data for sociological research. These are –

  • Qualitative Methods
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Secondary Sources of Data

In later blogs, we will consider how these are used in more detail. Here we will briefly define them.

Quantitative Methods

Quantitative methods of data collection record information in the form of figures and numbers, i.e. they record quantities.  For example, a sociologist might want to study the following question: –

‘Out of a group of 1000 18 year olds, how many play computer games more than once a week?’

He/she will then get a result to an investigation such as: 40% play on computer games once a week.

He/she might want also more complex information, and include more detailed questions, for example:

‘How much time do you spend playing on computer games a week?

Less than 1 hour a week

1 – 5 hours a week

6 – 10 hours a week’, etc.

He/she will then get a % figure as a result, e.g. 20% play less than an hour a week, 5% play 1 – 5 hours a week, and so on.

So the sociologist will obtain numerical figures, or quantitative data. This can tell us a lot about trends and patterns in data.

Examples of quantitative methods include: –

  • Structured interviews
  • Social Surveys

Qualitative Methods

Qualitative methods of data collection record information in the form of quotations, words and detailed descriptions. This method obviously gives more in-depth, detailed information than quantitative methods.

Deciding which method to use depends what the sociologist wants to find out. If they wanted to know how long 18-year olds play on computer games, then a numerical answer of how many hours a week they play will provide that information. But if they want to know, for example, how 18-year olds feel about playing computer games, whether they affect their sleep patterns or studies, or whether they find playing computer games a positive experience and why – then they would need to use qualitative methods, such as a questionnaire to get more in-depth information.

Examples of qualitative methods include –

  • Participant observation
  • Unstructured interviews

Primary Sources of Data

Qualitative and quantitative methods are both examples of primary sources of data in that the researcher has collected the information themselves, at first-hand, from surveys, observations, etc.

Secondary Sources of Data

Sometimes a sociologist may use other data to find out things. These may be secondary sources of data, where the information has been collected by someone else. Examples of these include:

  • Statistics from government agencies
  • Reports from the mass media
  • Official statistics such as –

o   Figures on births, marriages, divorces and deaths

o   Crime reports

o   Income reports

In the next blogs, we will look at quantitative, qualitative and secondary sources of data in more detail.

Tracey Jones

Sociology Tutor


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