Insocio lecture 2 sociological research process lecture
Sociological Research Process
How do sociologists carry out their research? The table below summarizes
the research process.
Steps The Research Process
Step 1 Choose and Define the problem to be
Step 2 Review the research literature to
learn about the findings of other
researchers who have studied this
Step 3 Design the study
Step 4 Collect the Data
Step 5 Analyze the data
Step 6 Share the research with others by
reporting the findings and
1. Choosing a Research Problem
The first step in research is deciding what you want to study. How do
sociologists choose research topics? Often, when you ask a sociologist that
question, the reply will be “I’ve been interested in…” In other words,
research problems frequently reflect the personal interest and experiences of
the researcher. For example, when one of the researchers friend was raped
and witnessing the friend’s trauma and her treatment by police and others
caused the researcher to wonder not only why rape occurs, but also how
services for rape victims could be improved.
A researcher must define the problem as clearly as possible. It is not
sufficient, for example, to say you want to study juvenile delinquency. You
must state what is about juvenile delinquency that you want to study.
2. Reviewing the Literature
A thorough literature review is important for a good research project.
Reading others’ work help the researcher refine her or his research problem
and clarify ideas; suggest ways of carrying out the study; highlights issues
that have been overlooked in previous studies; and helps the researcher to
avoid pitfalls that others have encountered.
Now, reviewing the literature on a topic is much easier than it used to be,
thanks to the widespread availability of online computer searches in the
3. Designing the Project
The third step in research process is research design. Designing a research
project is in many ways no different from designing anything else. The
researcher develops a plan for finding answers to the research problem. A
sound research design is one that addresses several issues having to do with
measurement and time.
4. Collecting Data
When the research project is being designed, the researcher also has to select
a method for collecting data. There are variety of methods to choose from,
including survey, field research, experiments, and content analysis.
A researcher cannot study every person or thing to which a particular topic
applies. As a result, sociologist faces a dilemma: Although some
sociological studies are limited in their applicability to relatively small
groups of people with unique characteristics or interests, most sociological
research involves a topic of relevance to large numbers of people or to all
members of society. Limited time and other resources also usually constrain
the number of people that can be included in a study. How do sociologists
handle this problem?
The answer is sampling: the process of selecting a sub group for study from
the entire group of interest to the researcher. First, the researcher identifies
the population of interest. In the context of research, a population is all the
cases to which the researcher seeks to draw conclusion. ( cases because
although sociologists most often study population of people, they may study
things foe example, television programs, laws, speeches etc)
From the population, the researcher then selects a subgroup or sample, from
which data will be collected.
Research Method - is a technique or procedure used to collect data.
Sociologist use a variety of research methods. With each method, the
researcher collects different types of data; thus each method suits particular
types of research questions.
a. Survey If you are interested in people’s attitudes, opinions or
experiences , the best data collection method is survey. In a survey, the
researcher selects sample of respondents and ask them questions about
specific topics. This maybe done in two ways: questionnaires or interviews
Most questionnaires are self administered, that is respondents are expected
to complete them without the researches present to provide instructions or
clarify the meaning of particular questions. Most self administered
questionnaires are distributed and returned by mail. Consequently, the
questionnaires must be accompanied by a cover letter that introduces the
researcher and explains the purpose of the study and how the respondents
were selected. The questions must be worded in such a way that they neither
confuse respondents nor bias their answers.
The self administered questionnaire is one of the most popular data
collection technique used by sociologist. It permits the researcher to collect
extensive information from large numbers of people in a relatively quick and
inexpensive manner. However, a disadvantage is it allows respondents little
opportunity to explain their answers.
In an interview, the researcher personally asks respondents the question they
want answered. This maybe done over the telephone, which has the
advantage of allowing researchers to reach respondents geographically
dispersed, just as they would with a self administered questionnaires.
However, many potential respondents are wary of answering questions
posed by a stranger over the telephone, which means that researchers must
contact a much larger sample of respondents in order to complete a
sufficient number of interviews for analysis.
Alternatively, researcher may arrange to meet with respondents to ask them
survey questions in person. Researchers can ask follow up questions for
additional information. Respondents can provide greater detail in their
answers and put their answers in context. If questions are confusing , both
researcher and respondents can ask each other for clarification.
There are also disadvantages of I person interview. For one thing, few
researchers have the funding needed to conduct in person interviews with a
large sample that is widely dispersed geographically. As a result, most
studies involving in person interview are limited geographically. In person
interview is also time consuming than other type of survey research.
d. Field Observation
One of the best method for studying behavior and social interaction is field
observation. In field observation, the researcher watches a social
phenomenon unfold in its natural setting. For example, if you are interested
in learning about how police typically respond to domestic violence calls,
you would learn more by accompanying them on such calls and watching
what they do, rather than simply sending them a questionnaires or talking to
them about what they do.
There are two types of field observation:
1. Participant observation - the researcher becomes actively involved in
what he or she is studying.
2. Non participant Observation – the researcher simply watches the social
interact on taking place, making no attempt to become personally involved
In any event, both participant and non participant observers must decide
whether they will make their identities as researchers known to the people
they are studying. On the other hand, it maybe argued that by concealing
her or his identity as a researcher and trying to pass as a member of the
group being studied, the researcher is likely to get more valid data. If
individuals know they are being studied, they may behave less naturally, or
they may try to change their behavior to win the researcher’s or other’s
approval. This problem is known as HAWTHORNE EFFECT. The
Hawthorne effect occurs when the participants in a study change their
behavior to conform to what they perceive are the researcher’s expectations
A less frequently used method of research. It seeks to test a hypothesis: a
statement of the expected relationship between two variables
f. Content Analysis
• This is common to historical research.
• It involves analyzing the content of some forms of communication. In
historical research, written documents such as diaries. Letters,
speeches. Laws, newspaper and magazines are frequently used but
virtually any form of communication can be examined including
photographs, recordings, videotapes even greeting cards.
This is highly economical. It is also efficient in terms of time expenditures.
Often, no special equipment is needed and expenses are minimal.
5. Analyzing Data
• Once data have been collected, they must be analyzed
• There are two broad types of data analysis
1. Quantitative Analysis
2. Qualitative Analysis
The type of analysis used depends to a large extent on how the data were
Quantitative- data are reduced to numbers and analyzed using various
statistical techniques, usually with the help of a computer.
Studies that use questionnaires to ask people about their attitudes or
behavior are particularly well suited to quantitative analysis. Each
respondent’s answer to a particular question is translated into a numerical
code, and the coded data are entered into a computer. The answers are then
tallied to see how many people responded to specific questions in a
particular way. Responses to two or more questions can be compared to
determine how many members of one group (for example women) answered
another question a certain way. This comparison, in turn, maybe subjected
to statistical tests to determine if there is a relationship between two or more
Data analyzed quantitatively are often presented in tabular form.
Qualitative analysis- is more appropriate for analyzing data not easily
reduced to numbers. For example asking respondents to tell their stories,
generates data very different from that generated from questions allowing
only a limited number of choices
6. Reporting the findings and Conclusions
Reporting research is important for several reasons:
1. It gives the researcher the opportunity to tell others what has been
learned from the study.
2. It may inspire others to undertake additional studies of the topic
3. It encourages replication of the research. That is others repeat the
study to see if they get the same results.
4. Researchers have opportunity to discuss the policy implications of
their research, fulfilling the goal of producing usable knowledge