Sociology Parental Divorce Research Paper

Write a critical report on a recent social research study critically  evaluating the research process

Assessment Brief
Bachelor of Applied Social Science
Introduction to Social Research Methods
Subject code
Name of assessment
Assessment 3: Critical Report on the research process
2000- 2500 words
Learning outcomes addressed
bythis assessment:
C, D, E
Submission Date:
End of week 11, Sunday 11:55pm
Assessment brief summary:
Write a critical report on a recent social research study critically
evaluating the research process
Total marks
Students are advised that any submissions past the due date incur a 10% penalty per day, calculated from the total
mark e.g. a task marked out of 40 will incur a 4 mark penalty per day.
Please note: you must attempt ALL tasks in a subject to be eligible to pass the subject.
More information, please refer to the Academic Progression Policy on
Soc202a Assessment 3
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Assessment Task:
For this assessment, you will be provided with a journal article about a current social issue. You will need
to critique the methods used in the study. To do this, you should first briefly describe the paper,
1. the topic being investigated
2. the stated rationale and background for the study
3. the aims and objectives of the study
4. an overview of the research methods used, including the techniques for sampling, data
collection and data analysis.
Next, conduct a critical assessment of the methods used. This should include a critical discussion of
the following areas:
1. the overall research design
2. the way key concepts were defined and measured
3. the sampling process
4. the data collection methods
5. the way the data was analysed
6. the approach to interpretation of results
7. ethical issues
In your assessment, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the methodological approach
showing what could have been done differently and why. Issues of validity and reliability should
also be mentioned.
Soc202a Assessment 3
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Marking Criteria:
Max. in
Background discussion – clearly explains the research question, the
justification for the research, and objectives of the study.
Ethical discussion – clear discussion of ethics in the study
Review of Methodology used – clear discussion of the methods used in
the study
Assessment – clear and effective assessment of the research methods
including techniques of sampling, data collection and data analysis.
Soc202a Assessment 3
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Further information:
The APA recommends the use of Times New Roman, font size 12 or a clear, legible font. Papers should be
All papers that are late without an approved extension will be penalized at 10% per day of the total
possible marks for that assessment.
Marks will be deducted for failure to adhere to the word count – as a general rule you may go over or
under by 10% of the stated length.
Students must attempt all tasks in the unit to be eligible to pass the unit.
The assessment MUST be submitted electronically in Microsoft Word format. Other formats may
not be readable by markers. Please be aware that any assessments submitted in other formats
will be considered LATE and will lose marks until it is presented in Word.
Notes for Essays:
This essay will incorporate a formal introduction, main points and conclusion; the main points can be
distinguished by sub-headings. The work must be fully referenced with in-text citations and a
reference list at the end. We recommend you work with the APA 7th Edition to ensure that you
reference correctly.
References are assessed for their quality. You should draw on quality academic sources, such as
books, chapters from edited books, journals etc.
Before submitting your assignment, please review this video by clicking on the following link, on why
sources of information need to be acknowledged: Plagiarism Man (thanks to Swinburne for this
You must search for peer-reviewed journal articles, which you can find in the online journal databases
and which can be accessed from the library homepage. Wikipedia, online dictionaries and online
encyclopedias are acceptable as a starting point to gain knowledge about a topic, but should not be
overused – these should constitute no more than 10% of your total list of references/sources.
Additional information and literature can be used where these are produced by legitimate sources,
such as government departments and research institutes.
SOC202a Assessment 2 Brief T3 2021
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Introduction to social research methods
Section 1
Introduction to social research:
What is knowledge? and
How do we know what we know?
Section 1: Introduction to social research
Week 1: Introduction to social research
Introduction to social research methods
Introduction to social research: what is knowledge and how do we
know what we know?
This section introduces you to the fundamentals of social research and examines why we conduct
social research.
One concept underpinning this section is epistemology – the science of knowledge – and how
knowledge is acquired and used. In particular, we discuss the most frequent ways we acquire
knowledge: through authority, common sense, tradition, personal experience and the media.
The section also examines the concept of reality and the pre-modern, modern, and postmodern ways of
perceiving reality.
The section introduces some of the concepts that form the basis of social research techniques: causal
relationships, variables, idiographic and nomothetic explanation, and deductive and inductive reasoning.
The section concludes with some thoughts on starting points for your own research projects.
Learning outcomes
At the end of this section, you should be able to:
 discuss the general purpose of social research
 understand epistemology and how knowledge is acquired and used
 discuss the concept of reality and subjective perceptions
 understand and discuss the concepts of causal relationships, variables, idiographic and
nomothetic explanation, and deductive and inductive reasoning.
Textbook reading
Please read Chapter 1 Human inquiry and science, of your textbook, The Practice of Social Research.
Section 1: Introduction to social research
Week 1: Introduction to social research
Introduction to social research methods
About social research
Most of us conduct research every day, often without even realizing it! We constantly
conduct our own research projects and our objective is essentially the same as that of the
social researcher: we want information and we want to find out or learn more about
For example we may be ready to buy our first (or another) home. How do we go about it?
We start by spending some time – usually many months – looking in the real estate sections
in newspapers, inspecting houses for sale, assessing options for finance, getting advice from
relevant people: in short, we research before we buy. When we’re equipped with sufficient
knowledge, we can make decisions. We also follow a similar process when we are
purchasing an expensive item (e.g. jewelry, new television, car or computer) or deciding on
a holiday destination or choice of school(s).
Social researchers typically produce knowledge so that decisions can be made. Their
research may help governments make policy decisions; they may help organizations make
strategic decisions; or they may help communities make environmental decisions.
Smoking and passive smoking is another example of the impact that social research had
has in shifting social attitudes and implementing change in legislation. Seat belt laws are
another example – some of you may recall how children used to go in the back of a station
wagon in the 1970s with no restraints at all!
Social research is how scientists find out about human social life. As with all research, it
aims to generate new knowledge. ‘Social research is about discovery, expanding the
horizons of the unknown, confidence, new ideas and new conclusions about all aspects of
life (Sarantakos, 2005, p4).
Social scientists focus their research on groups rather than individuals. Their purpose is to
create theories about the nature of those groups, not the individuals who make up the
A social researcher, for example, could study a small community that would help in their
understanding of that type of community in general. It could be a community in a certain
part of the world or city such as Sydney (e.g. geographically defined or by religious
affiliation etc), or an organisation or institutions such as a prison, hospital, or
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Social research, therefore, doesn’t aim to explain people per se, but aims to explain the
social systems that people live and operate within, and uses those systems to explain why
people are or behave as they do. Social researchers focus on how things actually are, and
why they are that way. They don’t seek to find definitive answers to values questions such
as whether capitalism is better or worse than socialism, but they can investigate capitalism
and socialism from a social viewpoint and return data on the effects of each of these
systems on living standards, access to healthcare, education, and other such issues.
Research findings can also provide new insights or awareness into issues that have not been
previously identified (or answered) in earlier research – for example, trends with social
media consumption.
By thinking logically, following rules, and repeating steps, social researchers can combine
their theories or ideas about an issue with data they have collected and, using their
imagination and creativity, can advance knowledge and produce new knowledge about that
Social research is an ongoing process. New findings usually identify further issues that
require research and those findings then typically lead to subsequent research.
Sarantakos offers an example of why social research is so important, and the contribution it
can make to our society:
Charles Booth conducted studies of poverty and poor families in London in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The findings were published in the Life and Labour
of the People of London, which provided empirical evidence that rejected the commonly held
belief that poverty was caused by people’s bad behaviour and bad habits (drinking, idleness,
vice and so on). The study revealed that poverty was caused by unemployment, underpaid
work, low wages that were inadequate to sustain a family, large families, and chronic
illness. His findings encouraged the introduction of social reforms in England (Sarantakos,
2005, p8).
Social research is based on the acquisition of knowledge, what we call epistemology.
Understanding how we acquire knowledge is the first step in understanding the foundations
of social research.
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Knowledge: how do we know what we know?
How do you know the world is round, there are seven days in the week, too much saturated
fat is bad for you and so is too much sun exposure? It’s worth reflecting isn’t it! What about
global warming?
In 1938, Albert Einstein stated:
Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem,
uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavour to understand reality we are
somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the
face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If
he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism that could be responsible for all
the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which
could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real
mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility or the meaning of such a
comparison. Albert Einstein, 1938
If we take Einstein’s word, humans are capable of ingenuity, of forming all sorts of pictures
or explanations for what we observe. However, we will never know if our pictures and
explanations are correct, as we can never find out the truth behind these unknowables but
we can theorize, philosophize and investigate, which is what scientists do.
We all know some things: the earth is round, the sun provides light and warmth for our
planet and it is comprised of land and water. These things were not always ‘known’ but
are now accepted as objective fact: they are known by everyone and, importantly, we
agree that they are factual.
There are, however, many things that we don’t know with certainty. These things may
be known by some, but not enough to create consensus and therefore acceptance as fact.
However we do accept things as being true if they are shown to be accurate by enough
studies over time, and if enough people agree with those studies. For example, it was once
generally accepted that the earth was flat, but when Galileo sought to prove that it wasn’t he
was imprisoned for heresy. There was just not enough proof to convince the skeptics, so his
findings were disputed and ridiculed. It wasn’t until much later, in the face of irrefutable
evidence, that we accepted that the earth was indeed round (or spherical), not flat.
Interestingly, scientists are using advances in technology to conduct further research into
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the shape of our planet. The most recent conclusion is that it’s not a sphere, but an ‘oblate
spheroid’, a sphere squashed at the poles and swollen at the equator. Also, it’s a bumpy
oblate spheroid, not smoothly rounded as was once understood from images taken from
So what does this mean for our ‘knowledge’ that the earth is round? With time, ‘facts’ are
reviewed, and what was once a fact can be disproven – or modified, in this case.
If we could open Einstein’s metaphorical watch case, we’d have all these answers. In the
meantime, we have various sources of knowledge and scientific research.
How do we acquire knowledge?
We all have a vast amount of knowledge stored in our brain. Think about how much you
have learnt and how much you know. Now think about how you’ve come by this
‘knowledge’. What is it based on?
There are several ways of acquiring knowledge. The main ones we discuss here are
authority, tradition, common sense, personal experience, and the media.
Much of our knowledge, what we think we ‘know’, comes from others, from people
(including organizations, public health departments, publications, etc.) in whom we vest
some degree of authority – people like academics, industry ‘experts’ or expert
commentators, our parents, sports coaches, and even our politicians. Generally, we consider
these people experts because we recognize either the position they hold or the experience
they possess.
However authority isn’t, and shouldn’t be absolute and it doesn’t guarantee accuracy. How
can we be certain that they really do know what they’re talking about? We might, for
example, believe or trust the authority of the economics professor when he’s talking about
the economy, but should we believe or trust him as much if he were talking about
horticulture? Would he still be an authority?
We might believe the editor of the Financial Review if he were to tell us that he thought
interest rates were going to rise, but would we also believe the editor of New Idea if he
made the same comment? (Note the gender of both editors is male for this example so
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there is no gender bias!)
We are more likely to trust the judgment of an authority when we believe it is supported by
some degree of special training, expertise, or other relevant credentials when they relate to a
specific field in which the authority operates.
Don’t forget that eminent thinkers once believed the world was flat!
Perhaps the first ‘knowledge’ we can be said to acquire comes to us when we are young by
way of tradition – through the process of assimilating information through culture and our
social environment. Different cultures and societies, though, hold different traditional beliefs
that members of that culture believe to be true. For example, people who live in developed
Western nations may believe democracy is the best and most equitable form of government;
members of certain religious communities might believe in the rightness of polygamy; while
some developing cultures still believe in ritual sacrifice and magic rites.
Perception also plays an integral role in traditionally held beliefs. Many in the West, for
example, find the practice used in many Muslim countries of requiring women to cover their
heads and faces when in public to be repugnant. They see it as a restriction of natural
freedoms. Women in the countries concerned, however, often find the practice liberating,
they believe that without the trappings of western sexuality they can be seen for whom they
are, and not what they represent.
Moreover, because cultures and societies evolve and change, many traditionally held beliefs
also evolve and change. Often, we come to challenge and question our traditions, and often,
they fail to stand up to rigorous testing or evaluation. Many, for example, question the
‘benefits’ of a democracy that leaves people free to live on the streets or to have to beg for
food in countries where excess and waste is rampant.
Common sense
Common sense allows us to know a lot about the social and physical world. Sometimes we
just know when something makes sense or not. Common sense develops through
observation and experience and helps us establish causal relationships. Think of a toddler or
young child. If the child burns their hand by placing it under a hot tap once, they probably
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won’t do it again. The child learns and understands that water out of a tap can be hot which
can be potentially harmful or dangerous. Importantly, the child learns to extrapolate this
experience. Through experience and reason the child can create a ‘theory’ that suggests that
any kind of device that is heating water (kettle, pots and pans, bath etc) might also be hot.
Common sense also applies to the social world. If I see a homeless, unemployed person
living on the streets and begging for food there are ‘common sense’ conclusions I can
draw. I might, for example, be able to draw causal links or connections between
employment, housing, poverty, malnutrition, and health.
However just as caution is necessary when accepting knowledge from authority or
tradition, it is also important to be cautious when accepting what we perceive to be
common sense.
For example it may seem obvious that capital punishment is a deterrent to murder: surely
people would be less likely to kill others if they might face death themselves if they get
caught? Common sense might suggest that this is correct, but statistics will tell us otherwise.
(Neuman, 2006).
Most of us regularly use our reason to help us gather knowledge and information and
develop theories or hypotheses about the world.. But in doing so we bring to those theories
and hypotheses our own bias and prejudice, and our own assumptions, and this leaves us
open to error. Common sense, therefore, can be ‘…useful and sometimes correct, but it also
contains errors, misinformation, contradiction, and prejudice. (Neuman, 2006, p4).
Personal experience
Related to common sense, personal experience is another major source of knowledge. If
we see or experience something personally, we know it to be true, don’t we? You’ve
heard the expression: ‘seeing is believing’, what we see has to be true.
But you and I might see the same event, yet see it differently. We might both see the same
car accident, you from the left hand side of the road, me from the right hand side. You’re
adamant you saw a car swerve away from an animal, but I didn’t see that. I just saw the car
swing sharply into the right lane and clip a car coming in the opposite direction. You say the
driver looked scared before the collision, I say the driver looked angry. How can that be
when we both saw the same driver at the same time?
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Often, when people’s versions of the same event differ it’s because they don’t see the whole
picture. They might be drawing conclusions (using their common sense) based on
incomplete or inaccurate information.
Personal experience is a powerful source of knowledge, but it can sometimes lead you
astray. Something might appear to be true – like the driver looking angry as he swung
sharply into the oncoming lane of traffic – but it might be due to a distortion in judgment.
‘The power of immediacy and direct personal contact is very strong. Even knowing that,
people sometimes make mistakes or fall for illusions. (Neuman, 2006, p5).
The media
Perhaps the most ubiquitous source of ‘knowledge’ today is the media. We are all
bombarded almost every waking minute with information from newspapers, television,
radio, the Internet, and other related types of marketing and advertising.
The great benefit of the modern media is its immediacy. We can learn about an
earthquake on the other side of the world within minutes of it happening. We can get the
results from an election in Pakistan, hear about the latest British cancer research, or see
images of the missile incident over the Ukraine at the flick of a switch or the click of a
But the media today also demand intense scrutiny.
Where newspapers were once a source of knowledge, they are now often a source of
speculation. How often do we see stories that are developed (often erroneously) from a
snippet of information? How often do we see stories with inaccuracies which are retracted
in subsequent editions of the newspaper? Today, in their attempts to ‘break’ a story first,
these sources of information rely on half-stories, and the result is that we don’t really know
what is true and what isn’t, and what we should accept as adding to our knowledge and
Our knowledge and awareness of criminal activity, law enforcement and medical
procedures has risen dramatically in recent years – even though we have little or no contact
with criminals or the law, and have spent little if any time in the hospital emergency
department. Our knowledge base is developed from watching crime and medical dramas,
and medical and legal reality programs on television. We think we’re learning, but are we
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Television repeatedly shows low-income, inner-city, African American youth using
illegal drugs. Eventually, most people ‘know’ that urban Blacks use illegal drugs at a
much higher rate than other groups in the United States, even though this notion is
false. (Neuman, 2006, p 4).
The writers of television programs distort reality for the purpose of entertainment. Their
primary purpose is not to provide us with information, and thus they do not accurately
reflect social reality.
Media manipulation is nothing new, but it reinforces why we must approach learning from
the media with caution.
The media are also a forum in which competing interests try to win public support. Public
relations campaigns often use the media as a vehicle to alter what the public thinks about
scientific findings. For example, nearly all scientific research supports the global warming
theses … the scientific evidence is growing and getting stronger. In the media, the public
sees equal attention to a few dissenters who question global warming. This creates the
impression that ‘no one really knows’ or that scientists are undecided about global
warming. The media sources rarely say that there are only a few isolated dissenters, that
industries with products that are major contributors to global warming pay for most
dissenting studies, and that the same industries spend millions of dollars to publicise the
dissenting findings to deflect growing criticism and to delay environmental regulations that
might harm their business interests (Neuman, 2006, pp. 4-5).
We need to understand, therefore, the competing interests not only in research but in
the presentation of research findings. So if we can’t believe what the media tells us
about important issues like global warming, who do we believe?
The issue here is questioning who and what we can rely on to further our own knowledge
and understanding of the world. We need to be cautious of relying on the media, with its
sensationalism, and elevation to so-called ‘expert’ status of non-authorities? Do we rely
on wisdom handed down through the centuries and generations; our own common sense
and reasoning; or our personal experience with its prejudice and bias? Or do we rely on
those in positions of authority? This is something to reflect on! For those of you that
have become new parents – think of the overload of information that invariably occurs
and again, the various ‘authorities’ or who we deem to be an authority!
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The key is to use the best of all these, but also to use science and research. Science and
research generate new knowledge through the rigorous process of theorising, and
collecting and analysing
Please participate in online discussion to share your thoughts, reflections and comments.
Views of reality
What is reality?
It’s not a simple question and there’s not a simple answer. People have used religion,
philosophy, mathematics, logic, mysticism and a myriad of other intellectual pursuits to
try to answer it, and we’re still searching.
It’s that search that drives scientists as much as anyone to try to discover what is real and
what is not. Social scientists are also part of that driving force.
Most of us generally get through each day without questioning reality too much. Reality
is what’s there in front of us. It’s tangible, it’s knowable, it’s real.
However, not all people think this way. Here are three views of reality which
provide some background for science research.
The pre-modern view of reality
Our early ancestors didn’t know that reality even needed to be questioned. What they saw
was real. What they experienced was real. They believed that they all saw things as they
really were – objectively – and that everyone saw the same.
Eventually they learnt that others didn’t always see things the same way they did, and
that there were different realities for different people. They became aware of diversity.
The modern view of reality
Some people might see the dandelion as a lovely flower, yet others might see it as an
annoying weed. The main thing is that a dandelion is a dandelion: a plant with yellow petals
and green leaves. People put their subjective points of view on the plant – ‘lovely flower’
and ‘annoying weed’ – but neither is
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a quality of the plant itself.
The modern view of reality accepts diversity and people’s differing realities and ways
of seeing things.
The postmodern view of reality
The postmodern view of reality is that there’s nothing out there: reality is all in our mind.
All that’s real are the images we get through our points of view. (Babbie, 2015, p. 8).
The premise is that there is no way anyone, including scientists, can step outside
themselves to see things completely objectively and see the world as it ‘really’ is. Our
humanness will always impact on any situation, even though we are attempting to be as
objective and non-biased as possible. The postmodernists believe there is no such thing as
objectivity, only variations of subjectivity.
Babbie poses the question: What does a book really look like? What you see is not
necessarily what I see. The postmodern view suggests that there is really no book, only
various images of it from different points of view, and all the different images are equally
You watch two people talking in a cafe. One appears to be flirting with the other, who you
think is looking somewhat worried. What do you think the ‘flirter’ sees in the face of his
friend? Does he see worry, like you do, or does he see indecision? What do you think the
‘worrier’ sees in the face of his friend? Does he see ‘flirting’, like you do, or does he see the
other as trying too hard to be friendly, open and confident? Who knows? There is no reality
here, simply what we see from our own point of
view, and our own viewpoints will colour our perceptions of what we are observing.
What do you see?
This is a well-known image but the image doesn’t change – the ink on the drawing
doesn’t move – but it’s a picture of two different things at the same time – an old
woman and a young woman. The change occurs in our minds.
So which is real – the old woman or the young woman? My viewpoint is not
the same as your viewpoint, so there’s every chance we’re seeing different things.
How can two people see the same thing so very differently? So what is real?
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Some fundamentals of social research
Social research deals with different types of social systems, such as social relations, social
groups and societies.
You probably have some idea of the aspects of social research that interests you, and now
you need to understand some of the fundamental concepts associated with social research.
Causal relationships
As you will learn throughout this unit, there are numerous different types of research. One is
observation research where phenomena are observed and conclusions are drawn from those
observations. For example: How many people visit the three GP surgeries in Hamilton? You
can count the people on a number of different days to work out an average. Such
information might be used to help decide whether to plan for more GP surgeries in the
Hamilton area.
Most social research projects, however, are interested in cause and effect, or how one
thing affects another. For example, we could ask: Do people who undertake university
education get more well- paying jobs? That is, does the level of education (cause)
influence the type of job (effect)?
… for most social sciences, it is important that we go beyond just looking at the world or
looking at relationships. We would like to be able to change the world, to improve it and
eliminate some of its major problems. If we want to change the world (especially if we want
to do this in an organized, scientific way), we are automatically interested in causal
relationships – ones that
tell us how our causes (e.g., programs, treatments) affect the outcomes of interest (Trochim,
A variable is any changeable characteristic that can be measured.
Gender is a variable: it has two attributes, male and female.
Marital status is a variable: its attributes are single, married, divorced, de-facto,
widowed. Occupation is a variable: it has numerous attributes – farmer, manager,
clerk, teacher, builder, chauffeur, and hairdresser.
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Variables, then, are logical groupings of attributes, and attributes are characteristics or
qualities that describe an object or person.
For example, you may want to investigate the rate of single-parent families (a
variable) in government-supported housing (another variable). You would probably
use simple empirical observation (counting, frequency) to describe those two
At the heart of social research is the relationship between variables. If you wanted to
investigate career choices (a variable with the attributes of lawyer, teacher, bricklayer,
dancer, surgeon etc) made by males who are educated in private schools (a variable with
the attributes of independent school, Steiner school, boarding school etc – or specific
schools), you would be investigating the relationship between those three variables. You
would be relating career choices of males to the education they received in either specific
private schools or types of private schools.
Theories describe the relationships we expect to see between variables. We might state our
theories in this way:
 There are more single-parent families than two-parent families living in
government-supported housing. Note that this is not asking why this is so, it is
simply observational and quantifiable.
 A private boarding school education leads males to make career choices in
professions such as law, medicine or finance. This is also not asking why this
happens, just theorizing that it does.
Our research, then, could confirm our theories by testing the relationships between the
Let’s take the above example one step further in order to learn about dependent and
independent variables.
Researchers who focus on causal relationships start by identifying an effect, then search
for what caused the effect.
A dependent variable depends on or is caused by another
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An independent variable causes or determines a dependent
Our theory is that males who attend private boarding schools are more likely to choose
careers in professions such as law, medicine or finance. The dependent variable is the
choice of career because it is caused by the independent variable, which is the private
school. We can also express this by saying the independent variable is the cause
(education), and the dependent variable is the effect (career).
Babbie has a good example of the relationships between variables on pages 16–19 (2015).
The relationship between variables forms the basis of all social research, and you will see
references to this concept throughout this unit of work.
Idiographic and nomothetic explanation
It’s common for us to explain why things happened. ‘Sorry I’m late for the meeting. My
daughter isn’t well and I had to find someone to look after her so I rang my mother and she
couldn’t come straight away so I had to wait …’
This is a type of causal reasoning known as idiographic explanation.
Idio means unique, separate, peculiar or distinct: with an idiographic explanation we explain
a unique situation and we fully understand what caused this particular incident (Babbie,
Researchers can choose to focus on a particular case and try to find as many causes as
possible for it, or they may try to find partial explanations of a class of events.
For example, a study of workers’ strikes could focus on a particular study and try to
discover all the factors behind that strike. This would provide an idiographic explanation
of the strike.
The study of strikes could focus on strikes in general and try to discover linking factors.
This would be finding a partial explanation of a class of events, rather than a single one, and
is called nomothetic explanation (De Vaus, 2002).
The research question needs to be formulated to take these two forms of reasoning into
account, but remember that social research focuses more on groups, societies and social
systems rather than individuals.
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Introduction to social research methods
Deductive and inductive reasoning
Deductive reasoning moves from a general understanding of something to the specific.
You begin with abstract concepts or a theoretical proposition that outlines the logical
connection among concepts and then move towards concrete, empirical evidence. Thus,
you start with ideas, or a mental picture of the social world, and then test your thinking
against observable empirical evidence (Neuman, 2006, p59).
Here is an example. You might propose the following theory that you would like to test:
The average age of people buying their first home is mid-30s. You then devise methods of
testing that theory using observation to collect empirical evidence.
Deductive reasoning is most commonly associated with quantitative analysis.
The process of deductive reasoning:
Conversely, inductive reasoning moves from a particular understanding of something to
the general.
Inductive reasoning, or induction, moves … from a set of specific observations to the
discovery of a pattern that represents some degree of order among all the given events
(Babbie, 2015, p 23).
Here is an example. You have observed over some time that people buy their first home
somewhere between the ages of 30 and 40, so you devise tests to discover not only the
average age of people buying their first home, but why that is the age when they choose to
make that purchase.
Inductive reasoning is most commonly associated with qualitative analysis.
The process of inductive reasoning:
1: Introduction
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Introduction to social research methods
Thinking about research
There are myriad reasons why you may choose to conduct a research project, and myriad
topics to research. It’s exciting to have all that to look forward to – the possibilities are
So how do you limit those possibilities to something achievable?
The first step is to analyze your personal interests and issues which concern you. They will
provide a natural starting point, as there’s little point devoting significant time and effort to
researching an issue you aren’t really interested in – unless your job calls for it, of course.
You also need to be mindful of your abilities and experience. Aim high, but don’t be too
ambitious: remember that you’re still learning. Don’t aim for complexity when simplicity
will do the job. A simple research project with valid and accurate results is better than a
complex project with questionable results. Challenge yourself, but not so much that you are
overwhelmed. Aim to learn new things and broaden your understanding and skills as your
research progresses.
Always keep in mind the resources that are available to you and design the process
within those boundaries. Importantly, make sure you design a study that can actually be
carried out. Make sure that you have a good understanding of the purpose of your
research, the fundamentals of the research process, and the methodologies you can
Reading 1.1
Blimling, G.S. (2004) White Blankets May Make You Smarter, About Campus, July-August
2004, pp 2 –9.
This reading introduces you to some of the pitfalls you might encounter when using
research findings, and highlights some of the dangers associated with unquestioningly
accepting our sources
of knowledge.
1: Introduction
to social
1: Introduction
to social research
Introduction to social research methods
This section provided you with an introduction to social research.
We began with an overview of social research and identified its purpose. This was
followed by a discussion about knowledge and how we know what we know, and the ways
we acquire knowledge. Some of the sources of knowledge we discussed were authority,
tradition, common sense, and personal experience. We then presented a discussion of
reality and the different ways people perceive things.
Next, we introduced some fundamental concepts and techniques of social research:
causal relationships, variables, idiographic and nomothetic explanation, and
deductive and inductive reasoning. We concluded with a discussion on starting out
in social research and thinking about the possibilities for research projects.
Babbie, E.R. (2015) The Practice of Social Research, (14th ed.), Cengage Learning
De Vaus, D.A. (2002) Surveys in Social Research. (5th ed.) Crows Nest, NSW: Allen &
Neuman, W.L. (2006) Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative
Approaches. (6th ed.) Boston: Allyn & Bacon
Sarantakos, S. (2005) Social Research. (3rd ed.) UK: Palgrave Macmillan
Trochim, W.M. The Research Methods Knowledge Base. (2nd ed.) (accessed online 25 August 2008)
Wadsworth, Y. (1997) Do It Yourself Social Research. (2nd ed.) Crows Nest, NSW: Allen &
Internet resources
Web Centre for Social Research Methods.
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to social
1: Introduction
to social research
Introduction to social research methods
National Centre for Social Research.
Social Issues Research Centre.
1: Introduction
to social
1: Introduction
to social research
Introduction to social research methods
Week 5:
Collecting Qualitative Data
Week 5: Collecting Qualitative Data
Week 5: Collecting qualitative data
Introduction to social research methods
Collecting qualitative data
This section introduces you to field research and to collecting qualitative data, together with the
research methods underpinning qualitative research.
The section starts by discussing the features of qualitative research, with a focus on field research.
It goes on to examine ethnography, ethnomethodology, grounded theory, case studies, and
participatory action research, which are all methods or approaches used in qualitative research.
It goes on to discuss how to collect qualitative data through techniques such as of observations,
interviews, and focus groups, before discussing validity and reliability in qualitative research data.
Learning outcomes
At the end of this section, you should be able to:
 identify key types of or approaches to qualitative research
 discuss the nature of qualitative research and how it contrasts with quantitative research
 describe how data is collected through observations
 describe how data is collected through semi-structured and unstructured interviews
 describe how data is collected through focus groups
 identify how qualitative data is assessed for validity and reliability
Textbook reading
Babbie, E.R. (2015) The Practice of Social Research, (14th ed.), Cengage Learning
Please read Chapter 10 Qualitative Field Research.
Week 5: Collecting Qualitative Data
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Introduction to social research methods
Qualitative research
Where quantitative researchers focus on measuring objective data and statistical analysis,
qualitative researchers aim to understand social reality and create cultural meaning, often
using field research. As we have seen in previous sections, quantitative researchers
condense data so that they can see the big picture, but qualitative researchers aim to
enhance data so that they can see details more clearly (Neuman, 2006).
The following are key elements in understanding qualitative research:
 Perception of reality: people construct their own reality and as such, reality is
 Perception of human beings: people are active creators of their own world and their
own reality. They do, however, interact with others and, therefore, need to conform
to social conventions which create patterns of behaviour.
 The nature of science: common sense forms the basis for explaining and
understanding people’s lives. We obtain knowledge not only through sensory
experiences: understanding meanings and interpretations is important.
 The purpose of social research: researchers aim to interpret and understand
people’s reasons for social action, the way they construct their lives, and the social
context of social action. The subjective meaning of social actions is more important
than the action that can be observed (Sarantakos, 2005).
While some research topics are obviously more suited to collecting and analysing
quantitative data, some are definitely more suited to qualitative techniques, and still others
are suited to combining elements of both methods.
Field research
We often find ourselves looking around at people: some do it more than others, and they
often refer to themselves as ‘people watchers’. But what are they watching? They’re
watching social interactions, the roles people play in those interactions, the language they
use, the non-verbal communications, the way they are dressed and groomed; all the things
that field researchers watch. In field research, we call this observation, and it is a technique
underpinning most qualitative research.
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Field research is especially associated with the science of anthropology – the study of
mankind, its societies, and customs. We choose to undertake field research when we want
to learn about, understand, or describe a group of people who interact, and study those
people in a certain location or setting.
Field research is based on naturalism, where ordinary events in natural settings are
observed. The important difference here is that the settings are not created by the
researcher, who invites participants into those created environments. Rather, the researcher
often becomes part of the natural setting of the study and becomes part of the participants’
Observations are not easily reduced to numbers in a qualitative study, and that’s because
field research is not simply a data collecting activity. It is also an activity that generates
theories. Theories arise from the research process in an inductive manner.
Qualitative techniques allow researchers to develop a deeper, richer, and fuller
understanding of the topic than quantitative research. As such, this type of research is well
suited to studying social processes over time, and studying events as they occur rather than
analysing a reconstruction of events.
Preparing for field work
As with other forms of research, it’s useful to start with a literature search to discover what
research of this type has previously been conducted. It’s important for researchers to
familiarise themselves with the group they will be studying, its philosophies, and its
members where possible.
One important ethical dilemma that the researcher might have to confront is whether or not
to identify him or herself as a researcher and divulge the purpose of their research. Letting
the group, or some members of the group, know their true identity and purpose might mean
they alter their behaviour or refuse to cooperate. Again, if they find out the truth later on
they might feel like they have been betrayed or deceived.
Ending field work
Field work can last for just a few days, for weeks, months or even years. The end will often
come naturally when theories stop building or emerging, when the researcher is learning
very little, or it reaches a natural point of closure, which often can’t be anticipated in
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Researchers often build up emotional involvements and friendships with their research
subjects. It can be difficult for these relationships to come to an end and for the researcher
to leave, so they need to have an exit strategy. Maybe they simply won’t come back one
day. Maybe they could reduce their involvement over a period of time. Maybe they could
give members some warning that the end of the field work is approaching, or maybe they
shouldn’t give any warning at all. It’s common for subjects to feel sad, hurt, angry or
resentful when the researcher finally breaks away.
Neuman (2006) notes that field work is not finished until the process of disengaging and
exiting is complete.
Before we discuss qualitative research techniques, we need to develop an understanding of
some of the main types of qualitative research.
Types of qualitative research
In qualitative research, the focus in not so much on how data is collected as what the data
means. The methods for collecting data can be similar in each methodology, but it’s the
epistemological focus and the meaning researchers attach to data that are important.
Let’s look at some of the types of qualitative research that lend themselves to field research.
Ethnography is a combination of two Greek words: ‘ethnos’ and ‘graphein’. Ethnos means
nation, people or culture, and graphein means to describe something. Ethnography then is
describing people and culture, and developing an understanding of another way of life
through both experiential learning and from the point of view of the subjects of the study.
Ethnographers immerse themselves in their study as an insider, rather than simply studying
it from an outside perspective. Their aim is to understand their research subjects as
completely as possible and they believe that they need to become part of their subjects’
lives and culture in order to achieve this.
Ethnography moves beyond what is simply seen and heard – observed – to what is meant or
implied. Culture (what people think, ponder, and believe) is displayed through behaviour
(speech and actions) in specific social contexts. Behaviour itself does not indicate meaning;
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someone has to work out – or
infer – meaning from the behaviour. Understanding behaviour helps understand the
workings of the group or subculture and their place in society.
Researchers ‘take apart’ their observations, describe them in detail, analyse them carefully,
and then put them back together. This creates a full, rich description that captures what
occurs and the drama of events and situations, which in turn allows for multiple
interpretations of the event, situation, or behaviour.
Traditional field work research methods such as observation, interviews, document
analysis, filming, and recording are used in ethnographic research (Sarantakos, 2005).
These methods contrast markedly with quantitative methods based on the positivist
paradigm which rely on objectivity and quantification. However, quantitative methods are
not completely eliminated, as structured forms of data collection and analysis can be used
to some degree in ethnography, but they are definitely not the dominant methods.
Ethnography is popular in feminist research. It aims to document the lives and activities of
women, and understand the experience of women from their own point of view.
Sarantakos (2005, p210) summarises the strengths and weaknesses of ethnographic research
as follows:

Holistic perspective

Use of the socio-cultural context as the explaining source

High degree of flexibility

Capacity to identify contradictions and inconsistencies

High quality of the researcher-participant relationship

Closeness to the participants

High external validity

High sensitivity to subtle nuances of meaning and significance

Capacity for longitudinal study: studying issues over time
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Inability to provide evidence supporting causality

Inability to ensure validity and reliability

Lack of replication

Inability to ensure objectivity

No free access to the field, or to personal and subjective information that constitute
the basis of the study

The challenge of an unfamiliar cultural context can affect studies and lead to

Interviewer effect that causes obvious distortions

Distortion of the natural setting by the very presence of the researcher.

The following reading is an example of ethnographic research in practice.
Reading 5.1
Tiainen, T. & Koivunen, E-R. (2006) Exploring Forms of Triangulation to Facilitate
Collaborative Research Practice: Reflections From a Multidisciplinary Research Group,
Journal of Research Practice, Vol. 2, Issue 2, Article M2.
Essentially, this is the study of common sense knowledge which uses natural settings for
the observation of social interactions. Ethnomethodologists focus on the underlying
patterns of interactions, such as conversations, that form part of our daily lives. They study
and identify how their subjects understand themselves and their interactions with others and
how they make sense of their social world.
Harold Garfinkel, an American Sociologist, developed the ethnomethodological approach
in the
1960s. The following example illustrates the creation of meaning that underpins this
Garfinkel suggests that the way individuals bring order to, or make sense of their social
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world is through a psychological process, which he calls “the documentary method”. This
method firstly
consists of selecting certain facts from a social situation, which seem to conform to a
pattern and then making sense of these facts in terms of the pattern. Once the pattern has
been established, it is
used as a framework for interpreting new facts, which arise within the situation.
To demonstrate the documentary method in action, Garfinkel set up an experiment in the
Psychiatry department of a university. He asked a number of students to take part in the
experiment, telling them that it involved a new form of Psychotherapy. The students were
invited to talk about their personal problems with an ‘advisor’ who was separated from
them by a screen. They could not see the advisor and could only communicate with him via
an intercom. They were to ask him a series of
questions about their problems to which he would respond by answering either ‘yes’ or
‘no’. What the
students didn’t know was that these responses were not authentic answers to the questions
posed but a predetermined sequence of yes and no answers drawn from a table of random
Garfinkel found that although there was no real consistency in the answers given to the
questions asked the students nevertheless managed to make sense of them, discerning some
underlying pattern in the advice they were being given. Most found the advice reasonable
and helpful. This was so even when, as must inevitably happen when answers are given
randomly, some of the advice was contradictory. Thus, in one case a student asked: “So you
think I should drop out of school then?” and received a ‘yes’ response. Surprised by this he
asked, “You really think I should drop out of school?” only to be given a ‘no’ answer.
Rather than dismissing the advice as nonsense, the student struggled to find its meaning,
looking back for a pattern in the advisor’s responses, referring back to previous answers,
trying to make sense of the contradictory terms of the advisor’s knowledge of this problem.
Never did it occur to the student to doubt the sincerity of the advisor.
What the students were doing throughout these counselling sessions, Garfinkel argues, was
constructing a social reality to make sense of an often-senseless interaction. By using the
documentary method they were able to bring order to what was in fact a chaotic situation.
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Source: Poore, 2000
Grounded theory
Grounded theory was developed by Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss in 1967. They have
since disagreed about their work and different versions of the model have been developed.
Like other types of qualitative research, grounded theory is an inductive methodology,
meaning theories are developed as a result of the data that is collected. It is rooted in the
interpretivist paradigm where the focus is the interpretation of reality. It is known as
‘emergent research’ because theories emerge when patterns, themes and common
categories are discovered in the data. As such it is a method for discovering new theory.
Grounded theory researchers try not to have preconceptions when starting their study. They
use interviews, observation, focus groups, informal conversations, and other qualitative
methods to elicit data from their subjects. The researcher compares data from one interview
to data from another interview, for example, and from this, comparisons can be made.
Theory starts to emerge from those comparisons. ‘Glaser suggests two main criteria for
judging the adequacy of the emerging theory: that it fits the situation; and that it works that it helps the people in the situation to make sense of their experience and to manage the
situation better’ (Dick, 2005).
While it shares a lot in common with other qualitative methodologies, grounded theory
emphasises the following:

the whole research process is guided by the knowledge gathered during the study
(the emerging theory) and not by conventional practices

the nature of sampling and the respondents, as well as sample size, are decided
according to the information gathered in the study

sampling refers not only to people but also to events and to settings

analysis is not conducted after but during data collection. There is a constant
interplay between collection and analysis, continued until saturation has been
achieved (Sarantakos, 2005, p118).
There is significant support for the grounded theory model. It is most suited as the research
methodology when there are no previous theories for a particular research situation or topic,
or where the area is dominated by contradictory theories.
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Case studies
Case studies investigate social life in a natural setting where the respondents themselves are
treated as experts, rather than sources of data. Case studies are in-depth examinations of
social phenomena, and might focus on a person, village, family, gang, a period of time, or a
process occurring in a community.
There are three different types of case study:
1) intrinsic: where the researcher’s purpose is to learn about one particular case only.
It is not used for generalisation purposes or to explain similar cases.
2) instrumental: where the researcher’s purpose is to study a social issue or refine a
theory. The results can be applied beyond the scope of the study itself.
3) collective: where the researcher’s purpose is to enquire into an issue, phenomenon,
group, or condition. Several single studies can be investigated together (Sarantakos,
Case studies can be used either as pre-research, the main study, or post-research. They can
be used for descriptive or explanatory purposes. Researchers may require case study data
for idiographic purposes or it can form the basis of nomothetic theories.
As case studies are grounded in the interpretive paradigm, researchers identify and record
data from the site they are examining before extracting meaning from – interpreting – the
data they collect.
Case studies allow in-depth research in natural settings where researchers have close
contact with their subjects. The results, like other qualitative methodologies, can be
subjective and contain researcher bias, so their validity and reliability are questionable.
Participatory action research (PAR)
In our society, disadvantaged groups need a voice: ‘they are typically less able than other
groups to influence the policies and actions that affect their own lives’ (Babbie, 2015,
p 306). Participatory action researchers take on the role of facilitators who enable a research
study to take place and, importantly, for the research results to have a tangible impact on
the participants at the centre of the study.
For PAR to be successful, participants need to take an active role in initiating, designing,
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carrying out, and controlling the research process. It is viewed as a collaborative process
between participants and researchers in opposition to the classical social research model
where the researcher structures and controls the process. The PAR model considers the
traditional social research model to be ‘elitist’, where the subjects of the study are reduced
to the status of objects while the researcher/director assumes an omniscient status.
Advocates of participatory action research equate access with power and argue that this
power has been kept in the hands of the dominant class, sex, ethnicity, or nation. Once
people see themselves as researchers, they automatically regain power over knowledge
(Babbie, 2015, p 306).
The aim, then, is to empower people to take some control not only of the research process
but to create an outcome where social structures are altered.
Reading 5.2
Tinker, C. & Armstrong, N. (2008) From the outside looking in: How an awareness of
difference can benefit the qualitative research process, The Qualitative Report, Vol. 13, No.
1, pp. 53-60.
Collecting qualitative data
The following methods of collecting qualitative data can also be used to collect quantitative
data. The methods differ in their aims, structure, and processes, however, and the results
have a very different focus. The methods we present here are rooted in the interpretivist and
critical social science paradigms. Quantitative methods are rooted mostly in the positivist
Collecting data through observations
In quantitative research, information is often collected via a questionnaire, a checklist or a
tally sheet. In most qualitative research, the researcher is the primary research tool. The
researcher uses their senses to pick up subtle information that can be used just as
purposefully as explicit information by watching and listening carefully. The researcher
‘becomes an instrument that absorbs all sources of information’ (Neuman, 2006, p397).
Field researchers focus on fine details: they see what others may consider to be the
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mundane and the trivial as fodder for their research. Whereas some might simply see a
female walk into a room, a
field researcher might note the entrance of a well-groomed female in her mid-thirties, of
medium height, slim, with short, dark brown hair, light skin tone, wearing overt make-up,
and wearing a black and white knee-length sundress and strappy black sandals.
Why are these details important? They might not be at that time, but if the researcher
records everything then something significant might be revealed at some other time. A
pattern might build up; the same person may appear regularly, or that person might behave
in a particular way that the researcher finds interesting and noteworthy. It is better to
include everything than miss details that might prove to be significant. All these personal
characteristics can express messages about a person and their social interactions.
Field researchers also note things like where people sit or stand (especially in relation to
others), their pace of walking, their non-verbal communication, and their eye contact. They
listen carefully to phrases, accents, and sentence structure. They note details about events –
who was there, who arrived or left, was the room hot or cold?
Field researchers don’t just note these things in their mind: they record them. They may use
written notes, maps, diagrams, photos, interviews, tape recordings, videos, memos, objects
taken from the field, or any other medium that allows them to record their observations.
They shouldn’t trust all that they observe to memory, but should collate their notes
immediately after leaving the setting they have observed each day.
The following types of notes can be taken in observations:
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Type of notes Explanation
Jotted notes
David – 11.35 – loud voice – lots of
 written in the field
hand gestures – messy hair –bit
 often point form
dirty – 40 minutes ranting –some
 not much detail
 aim is to prompt memory when writing
up full notes but not be so detailed that
 written immediately after leaving the David arrived at 11.35 looking
messy and a bit dirty. He spoke to
 detailed, factual, objective description some of the others (Josh, Trudy,
of observations
Pete, Matt, Lou, Tash) in a loud
voice and was gesticulating a lot
 exact wording of conversations if
more than normal. Like this for 40
 note who was present, what happened, minutes. They reacted by backing
where it occurred, when, under what away from him, particularly Tash.
Lou, Tash and Matt eventually
 the meaning the observer infers from David’s behaviour showed he was
what they have seen and heard
 specific actions are seen, then we infer
their meaning. For example, we don’t
see love: we see a range of behaviour
from which we can infer love
angry and upset when he walked in
today. I think the others are a bit
scared of him when he
behaves like this. It seems like
some of them think the only way
out is to leave.
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 attempt to give meaning to what is When excess alcohol is consumed
in the evening/night, I repeatedly
 theoretical notes
evidence threatening behaviour the
 this section is used to:
next morning
 suggest links between ideas (often
collected over many sessions)
 create hypotheses
 develop new concepts
 like a diary
So hot in this hall. Am feeling hot
 personal life events and feelings
and bothered myself and am sick
 mood of observer may affect their
perceptions (headache, conflict with
of David’s behaviour towards the
others. Wish he’d stop drinking so
much and calm down.
spouse, miserable weather) so good to
record this
As Babbie suggests:
‘In your notes, include both your empirical observations and your interpretations of them.
In other words, record what you ‘know’ has happened and what you ‘think’ has happened’
(Babbie, 2015, p 315).
Activity 5.1
Please refer to the Learning Portal for this activity.
Collecting data through interviews
Quantitative interviews are very structured and very much controlled by the interviewer,
who asks a series of set questions with the aim of eliciting specific information. It is
important to eliminate any interviewer bias in quantitative interviews so that results are
valid and reliable.
Qualitative interviews, however, are usually much less structured and non-directive. Rather
than being based on a series of set questions, they may appear more like a friendly
conversation, although they always have certain topics that need to be covered, and an
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explicit purpose. However, it is the methods an interviewer uses to meet that purpose that
creates the major difference between quantitative and qualitative interviews.
Flexibility is one of the key strengths of ‘unstructured interviews’ during the interview
process. The interviewer exerts only a certain amount of control over the interview and is
guided primarily by the respondent. The respondent, who does most of the talking, may
answer a question in such a way that the interview goes off on a tangent, which leads to
other interesting information, which in turn leads in a different direction than the one the
interviewer anticipated. As long as it’s relevant information, this is acceptable and desirable
in a qualitative interview where the aim is to get in- depth information from the respondent.
If the interviewer stayed on a set path, they might not get to the heart of some issues
because they didn’t allow the respondent to lead them there.
Qualitative interviews can be a process of mutual discovery. The interviewer can express
their interest in the respondent and their revelations, show emotion and empathy, and can
even share some of their own background and experiences to gain the trust of the
Sharing of self is not just a superficial, manipulative, means-to-end device to set someone
at ease. As with any conversation, a relationship of trust is initially established, this then
encourages or facilitates a person to speak. Fundamentally, the person being questioned is
more or less actively processing you – not just by appearance, but by a myriad of other
important clues – to try to find out where you stand in relation to her or his own life world.
This is a step to assessing whether this research is in her or his own interests or not, or will
be harmful, pointless, or worthwhile. If you are judged to be too much at odds, too distant
or not able to understand or respect, you may not be told things that someone who is
judged as ‘more like us’ or ‘not a threat’ or ‘will be fair’ may be told (Wadsworth, 1997,
p 39).
‘Semi-structured interviews’ includes elements of both structured and unstructured
interviews. The level of structure depends on the type of information the interviewer wants
to elicit to meet the needs of their research topic and objective.
It might seem that unstructured interviews are the easy option: the interview is just allowed
to ‘flow’ with little direction from the interviewer. ‘On the contrary, they require more
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competence on the part of the interviewer and higher ability on the part of the respondent to
verbalise views, opinions and ideas’ (Sarantakos, 2005, p271).
The process of interviewing is not simply sitting in a room with someone and asking and
answering questions. Babbie (2015) refers to seven stages that make up the complete
interviewing process:
Clarify purpose of the interviews and the concepts to be explored
Design the interview process
Conduct the interviews
Play back the interviews and transcribe what was said
Determine the meaning of what was said in relation to the research
Check the validity and reliability of materials
Make the results available to others
Good interviews need good questioning, good listening, and good notes.
The interviewer needs to ensure questions are clear and that they can be answered. They
need to be questions that further the aims of the research objective.
The interviewer needs to be a good listener. Only a good listener can pick up a respondent’s
throw- away reference to something and probe for further relevant information. Good
listeners need to be able to link pieces of information together to create depth and infer
meaning. Good listeners use signals such as nodding and saying ‘uh ha’ to show that they
are listening: these signals encourage the respondent to continue speaking. And good
listeners don’t interrupt a speaker when they are explaining something unless it is to lead
them back on track.
If an interview cannot be recorded, good, accurate notes are essential to refer to for analysis
purposes. However, if an interviewer spends the majority of their time in the interview
looking down and writing, they will not develop a rapport with the respondent.
Respondents generally don’t open up if they feel the interaction is not two-way. Two-way
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interaction can be achieved through eye contact, affirmative body language and gestures,
and verbal signals, few of which happen if an interviewer spends most of their time writing.
Recording an interview using some form of technology – for example, tape or video – has
its own limitations. The respondent might not feel comfortable opening up if their thoughts
and feelings are
recorded. It might also be a huge undertaking to transcribe many hours of interviews. It’s
sometimes best to make notes of the respondent’s key points, and write down direct quotes
if you think they will be important to your research.
It’s important to end the interview on a positive note. Respondents like to know they have
contributed to something worthwhile, and that what they have revealed will be useful to the
research objective.
Collecting data through focus groups
Focus groups involve informally interviewing a group of between 6 – 15 people who are
selected because they share a particular interest, expertise or position in the community
(Sarantakos, 2005). It takes the form of a discussion with the aim of exploring an issue
rather than producing descriptive or explanatory results.
A focus group is led by a facilitator who guides the discussion up to a point, but also allows
the discussion to be flexible and open. The facilitator has to ensure that no one person
dominates the discussion and that ‘groupthink’ – where some members of the group start to
conform with the opinions of the more dominant members – doesn’t occur. The facilitator
needs to encourage all members to participate and express themselves, and to encourage
discussion between the members of the group rather than between them and the researcher.
Focus groups are used for the following purposes:
 a pre-research study leading to quantitative research
 a self-contained and principal method of research
 a post-research method
 part of a multi-method study.
It’s common to use electronic recording techniques in focus group discussions. The issues
with this are the same as with interviewing one person – group members may be
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uncomfortable being recorded, and transcribing many hours of discussion can be laborious.
However, writing notes while listening to many people and leading a discussion is difficult,
so having a non-participatory note taker is an excellent alternative.
While there are advantages to focus groups, such as their low cost, their flexibility, their
quick results, and their ability to capture real-life data in a social environment, the success
of a focus group relies heavily on both the group and its leader. Group members need to be
carefully selected and the leader needs strong facilitation skills that help members yield
information that advances the research objective.
Reading 5.3
Gibbs, A. (1997) Focus Groups, Social Research Update, Winter 1997, Issue 19.
Validity and reliability in field research
Validity refers to whether measurements actually measure what they are supposed to rather
than something else (Babbie, 2015). Neuman refers to validity in qualitative research as
truth and authenticity:
Authenticity means giving a fair, honest, and balanced account of social life from the
viewpoint of someone who lives it every day. Qualitative researchers are…concerned with
giving a candid portrayal of social life that is true to the experiences of people being
studied … they adhere to the core principle of validity, to be truthful (i.e., avoid false or
distorted accounts). They try to create a tight fit between their understanding, ideas, and
statements about the social world and what is actually occurring in it (2006, p196).
Some researchers believe that qualitative research achieves greater validity than
quantitative research because of the techniques that bring a researcher closer to their
subjects, and the insights that are achieved through that closeness.
Reliability refers to dependability. If the study can be reproduced and yield the same
results, the research is deemed reliable. Reliability is more difficult to achieve in qualitative
research as it is based around the researcher’s subjective view and interpretation of their
observations and of the research data. What one researcher observes as being a subject’s
moderate viewpoint, another might
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Introduction to social research methods
perceive as being radical. This subjectivity means standardisation, and, therefore,
reliability, is more difficult to achieve.
This section provided you with an overview of how data is collected using qualitative
methods. We began with an introduction to research in the field, which led to a discussion
of different type of qualitative research – ethnography, ethnomethodology, grounded
theory, case studies and participatory action research.
We then introduced techniques for collecting qualitative data including observations,
interviews, and focus groups. We described some of the reasons each of these research
methods are used.
We concluded by presenting some ideas on assessing the validity and reliability of
qualitative research.
Babbie, E.R. (2015) The Practice of Social Research, (14th ed.), Cengage Learning
Dick, B (2005) Grounded Theory: a thumbnail sketch. Accessed online September 2008.
Neuman, W.L. (2006) Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches,
(6th ed.) , Allyn & Bacon, Boston
Sarantakos, S. (2005) Social Research. (3rd ed.) UK: Palgrave Macmillan
Wadsworth, Y. (1997) Do It Yourself Social Research. (2nd ed.) Crows Nest, NSW: Allen
& Unwin
Internet resources
Association for Qualitative Research. How to do ethnographic
research: a simplified guide.
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The Qualitative Report (On-line Journal).
Web Centre for Social Research Methods.
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Introduction to social research methods
Section 2:
Process and Methodology
Section 2: Process and methodology
Introduction to social research methods
Process and Methodology
This section introduces you to the research process. It aims to give you a good understanding of the steps
involved in the design process and a broad understanding of the research process as a whole.
The focus is on planning and preparation; decision making, selecting a research methodology and
constructing a hypothesis or a focus for the study. Conducting your research project – collecting and
analyzing data – is discussed in subsequent sections.
The section introduces you to quantitative and qualitative approaches to research and looks at the
advantages and disadvantages of various methods of research.
The section concludes with a discussion about how to put together a research proposal offering a stepby-step guide to the process.
Learning outcomes
At the end of this section, you should be able to:
 describe the audience for, uses of, and types of social research
 describe the steps in the research process
 discuss how to select an appropriate research methodology
 understand the essential differences between qualitative and quantitative research
 understand and discuss the ideas behind formulating a hypothesis
 describe how to construct a research proposal.
Textbook reading
Please read Chapter 4, Research design, of your textbook, The Practice of Social Research.
Section 2: Process and methodology
Introduction to social research methods
The types and purpose of social research
In Section 1 we discussed what knowledge is and why we pursue it. We now need to ask what we want to
do with that acquired knowledge. What purpose can it serve?
To answer these questions we first need to understand what types of research there are and how they each
work towards a specific purpose.
There are, in general, two types of social research, and each has a specific audience and use:
Basic research: this is also called academic and pure research, which gives you a clue to its purpose.
‘Basic research is concerned with the production of new knowledge and with the increase of scientific
understanding of the world, and not with the application of its outcomes’ (Sarantakos, 2005, p10). Its
primary audience is the scientific community, and the studies are often very long-term.
Applied research: as the name suggests, this research can be applied to address a specific issue, such as
answering a policy question or solving a social problem. Applied social research projects are generally
short-term studies and are often undertaken by large organisations such as businesses, health care
institutions, and political organisations. The research findings are usually not widely disseminated, but are
available to those who can put the results to use, such as practitioners, managers, counsellors, case
workers etc.
There are three types of applied research that you need to understand when designing your own research
project: evaluation research, action research, and social impact assessment research. Each also has a
specific audience and use.
 Evaluation research is used in organisations such as businesses, hospitals and government to find
out if something worked or achieved its aim – to evaluate it. It could ask if a new policy or
program which was implemented worked, or if a marketing campaign achieved its aim.
 Action research is associated with critical social science (which you will read about in Section 3
of the unit). ‘Action research … treats knowledge as a form of power and abolishes the line
between research and social action’ (Neuman, 2006, p28). This type of research hopes to raise
awareness of issues and its ultimate goal is political action: as the name suggests, its aim is
empowering people to take action to facilitate change.
Section 2: Process and methodology
Introduction to social research methods
 Social impact assessment research aims to estimate the likely consequences of a planned change.
It is used to help explore the differing outcomes and impacts of policy changes which in turn
allows for informed decision making.
The key functions of these different types of applied research are:
 exploration: exploratory research explores a topic or issue so that the researcher can learn broadly
about it. The researcher‟s purpose is to develop some initial ideas that can be the catalyst for further
study. Many sources of information are explored, but the aim is not to get definitive answers from
the study.
 description: unlike exploration, descriptive research starts with a well-defined question and
conducts research with the aim of identifying measurable, valid, and accurate findings. The focus
is on „how‟ and „who‟ questions with specific details. Most data collection techniques can be used
when description is the aim of your research.
 explanation: as the name suggests, explanatory research tries to determine why things are the way
they are. Where descriptive research might result in findings such as “15% of people believe that
…”, explanatory research is more interested in why 15% of people have that belief. In other words,
its purpose is to identify the reason why something occurs.
Remember that research topics can be approached from different directions and that all aspects of research
design are interrelated in some way. It is not necessary to choose one path and one path only: you may
find that a number of different paths are relevant if they all lead to the conclusion you want.
Designing a research project
The research topic: what can be studied?
Anything really, as long as you assess the relevance, viability, feasibility, and ethics first.
A good starting point is your own area of interest or concern. Look for topics that you would like to know
more about or issues that touch or affect you in some way. It‟s also good to choose a topic that you think
may interest others or be useful to them: your research may be more widely read if others can see a use for
Some of the key aspects of effective research are:
Section 2: Process and methodology
Introduction to social research methods
relevance – which refers to whether the study of the research topic is relevant to the purpose of the study
 researchability – which refers to whether the research topic is approachable methodologically.
 Such topics as “Is there a God?” or “Is there life after death?” cannot be studied empirically
 feasibility – which refers to whether the research is possible: does the researcher have access to
the research subject, the means and the resources required to complete the study?
 ethics – which refers to whether the study follows ethical standards and principles, and ensures
that respondents cannot be adversely affected by either the research process or the publication of
the findings (Sarantakos, 2005).
While these aspects influence the nature of the research topic, there are other practical factors that affect
the conduct of the research topic. The following table lists the most important factors that affect the choice
of the research topic. It may be helpful to use these as a guide when designing your research project.
Factors affecting the choice of research topic
Topics funded by sponsors are more likely to be studied than those that
receive no support
Studies that take up too much time are less likely to be chosen by researchers
than others that are equally important but require less research time
Lack of research assistants may force researchers to opt for topics that can
be studied without help from others
and experts
Research paradigm Topics studied within popular paradigms (e.g. feminist research) may be
preferred to topics investigated within other paradigms
Researchers normally study topics that are within their professional interest
and expertise
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Introduction to social research methods
Researchers study issues that are consistent with their ideological affiliation.
Feminists study women; Marxists study the status of workers in capitalist
Access to
Issues that are difficult to access are less popular research topics than those
research subject
that are easily accessible
The need for data
The need for information on certain subjects attracts the interest of researchers
not only through their own volition but also because these issues attract funds,
and hence assistants and other resources.
Sarantakos, 2005, p.131
A step-by-step process for designing the research project
There are two major stages to the research process:
 planning – which involves designing the research process
 execution – which involves collecting and analysing data.
Many textbooks that offer a step-by-step design process for research have a great deal in common. The
research process, therefore, is a well understood one.
The following process reproduced from Babbie (2015) demonstrates the key stages:
How to design a research project
Define the purpose of the study
Is it to be an exploratory, descriptive or explanatory study?
Is it to be presented as a thesis, article, report?
Clearly define outcome statements.
Specify the exact meanings for all concepts you plan to study.
Do this in advance for quantitative (controlled) research. It can be amended or added to in qualitative research.
Section 2: Process and methodology
Introduction to social research methods
Choose a research methodology
Quantitative or qualitative?
Usually, the best research designs use more than one research method to
take advantage of their different strengths.
You’ll read more about the different research methods in later sections.
This is the process of converting the research topic to a form that can be measured.
Decide on the measurement techniques you would like to use.
How will you collect the data?
Operationalisation includes determining the wording of questionnaires.
Population and sampling
You need to decide who or what to study: this is called the population. You also
need to decide how you will select the sample to be studied.
Limit your population and sample according to the purpose of your research.
Make your observations:
Collect your data by sending questionnaires, conducting experiments,
interviewing or whichever other method you have chosen.
Data processing
Involves coding of answers and transferring all info into computer system.
Section 2: Process and methodology
Introduction to social research methods
This stage involves interpreting the data so that you can draw conclusions. The conclusions must
reflect the interests, ideas and theories that underpin the study.
The analysis can be simple description, more complex description that includes sub-groups, and
can lead to an explanatory analysis.
How can the conclusions you have reached be used?
You need to communicate your findings in written form (e.g. report, journal article,
thesis) or oral presentation.
You need to discuss the implications of your findings, and what your research suggests
in regard to further research on the subject.
For a slightly different approach to the research design process, refer to Neuman, 2006,
p14 – 15 in the reading below, which makes distinctions between the processes for
quantitative and qualitative research.
Activity 2.1
Please refer to the Learning Portal for this activity.
Selecting a research methodology
This is perhaps the most important aspect of research design after determining your
research question. Your research project needs to be guided by the methodology you
choose, so you must be clear on the purpose of each method. Different methods yield
different types of data, so you need to have definite ideas on the type of data you
would like to collect and analyze.
It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong methodological approach:
Section 2: Process and methodology
Introduction to social research methods
each study is different, and the methods you choose will reflect that.
At the beginning of your research project, though, it is often useful to articulate
what type of approach you have taken –quantitative, qualitative, or other – and
You may also want to explain that your study has an exploratory, descriptive, or explanatory
‘Explaining the theoretical and ideological basis of the project offers a better
understanding of the research, provides a clear and sound basis for developing the
research design, and allows a fair and valid interpretation and assessment of the
findings’ (Sarantakos, 2005, p133).
Quantitative research
Quantitative research is defined and explained in more detail in later sections, but as
the name implies, it involves collecting and analysing data that can be counted or
measured in some way.
A quantitative study is interested in the following:
 Observable phenomena
 Quantification and measurement
 Objectivity
 Large samples
 Validity and reliability
 Description, relationships and causality
 Statistics as a tool of data analysis
 Representativeness and generalisability
 Replication, precision, and accuracy (Sarantakos, 2005, pp133-134).
A quantitative study is a controlled study: the researcher defines his or her topic accurately
and specifically, is very clear about the type of data to be collected, and has a good idea
about the findings that will result from the research. Results are measurable and are
Section 2: Process and methodology
Introduction to social research methods
generally considered to be reliable and accurate. The researcher is usually somewhat
removed from those being studied and looks objectively at each stage of the process.
Qualitative research
Qualitative research is defined and explained in more detail in later sections, but, again, as
the name implies, it involves collecting data that essentially involves some form of
qualitative judgment, such as an interview or opinion-based survey.
Qualitative researchers define their topic loosely and in general terms. Unlike a
quantitative study, researchers do not have a preconceived idea of the findings in a
qualitative study. It is a more exploratory kind of study where the researcher is involved in
the process in a subjective way, not in a detached, objective way. The research findings are
not presented as figures and statistics, but from the point of view of the subjects.
The time dimension
An important element in determining your research approach is recognizing how long
you want your study to run. Do you want to conduct a one-off study, or do you want to
conduct a study over a period of time, perhaps replicating the same study several times?
Cross-sectional research
This type of research studies a particular area of interest at one point in time: it is
sometimes called taking a ‘snapshot’ of the social world. An example of a crosssectional study is the national census which takes place in Australia every five years. It
provides a picture of our population at that time only.
Longitudinal studies
To continue the census example from above, if researchers wanted to build up a larger,
comparative picture of our national population, they would look at census data, or one
particular aspect of census data, over a period of time.
‘A longitudinal study is designed to permit observations of the same phenomenon over
an extended period’ (Babbie, 2015, p 106).
Longitudinal studies cost more and require more time than cross- sectional studies,
Section 2: Process and methodology
Introduction to social research methods
especially for large-scale surveys such as a national census, but the results can be very
powerful, particularly where social change is concerned.
There are three types of longitudinal studies:
 Trend study: examines changes in a certain characteristic of a population over time
 Cohort studies a specific cohort (or subset of a population) over time. Differing
members of the cohort may be the respondents on different occasions
 Panel study: data is collected from the same set of people over time.
Reading 2.1
Ruspini, E. (2000) Longitudinal Research in the Social Sciences, Social Research Update, Issue
20, Spring
2000. Accessed via
If you choose to use several different research methods in the same study, you would be
using what is known as triangulation.
There are many advantages to using triangulation:

The researcher can view their study from more than one perspective

All aspects of a topic can be addressed

The research data would increase, hence increased knowledge

It allows for comparisons

It may facilitate more valid and accurate results if results were consistent
across the range of methods which were used

Using only a single method may have deficiencies, so triangulation would
overcome those. (Sarantakos, 2005)
However, as you will see with many aspects of research, triangulation has its critics, who
believe that using multiple research methods does not mean results and findings would be
‘better’ than what would be obtained using one method. Each method may produce
different results: how does the researcher know which results are valid? Can results from
different methodologies be compared?
Section 2: Process and methodology
Introduction to social research methods
Before choosing triangulation, think carefully about the types of results you would like
to achieve. These will determine your research methods.
Reading 2.2
Probert, A. (2006) Searching for an appropriate research design: a personal journey, Journal
Research Practice, Vol. 2, Issue 1, Article D3.
This reading focuses on the process of designing a research project. It offers an insight into
choosing a research methodology to underpin a study. The author attempts to select a
methodology to fit her hypothesis and her research purpose, and ultimately resorts to
triangulation to meet her aims.
NB. The text refers to some methodologies you may not have heard of before: they will
be discussed in later sections. It might help your understanding of the methodologies if
you re-read this article after completing Section 3.
Constructing a hypothesis
‘A hypothesis is … a tentative explanation of the research problem, a possible outcome of
the research, or an educated guess about that outcome’ (Sarantakos, 2005, p 147). Babbie
(2015, p 45) defines it as a ‘specified testable expectation about empirical reality that
follows from a more general proposition’.
A hypothesis acts as a guide to help direct and structure your research.
There is a significant difference in the way quantitative and qualitative researchers view
formulating a hypothesis.

quantitative researchers view a hypothesis as a starting point in their
research. Their research is designed to test a hypothesis. This is known as
deductive research

qualitative researchers see a hypothesis as emerging from their research.
They conduct their research and are able to create a hypothesis from their
results. This is known as inductive research.
Section 2: Process and methodology
Introduction to social research methods
While you may think it seems a logical step in the planning and design process to create
a research hypothesis, there are critics who disagree:
Although hypotheses are used widely … they bias a research design, restrict its scope, limit
its approach, and hence predetermine the outcome of the research … it is argued that when
hypotheses precede the research, they reflect previous ‘knowledge’ of what they are
supposed to study, and this affects the researcher’s perception of, and action within, the
research project. The hypothesis in fact pr…

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