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Research Methods

Learn more about the different types of research methods commonly used by sociologists.

Surveys: Questionnaires, Interviews, and Telephone Polls
Surveys are the most commonly used tool in sociological research, whether in the form of a questionnaire, interview, or telephone poll. Learn more about surveys here.

Participant Observation
Participant observation is one common way for sociologists to collect data and study society in which he or she actually becomes a part of the group they are studying.

Controlled Experiments
A controlled experiment is a highly focused way of collecting data and is especially useful for determining patterns of cause and effect.

Content Analysis
Researchers use content analysis to learn about a society by analyzing cultural artifacts such as newspapers, magazines, television programs, or music.

Secondary Data Analysis
Secondary data analysis involves the use of data that was collected by someone else for some other purpose. In this case, the researcher poses questions that are addressed through the analysis of a data set that they were not involved in collecting.

Ethnomethodology is a theoretical approach in sociology based on the belief that you can discover the normal social order of a society by disrupting it. Ethnomethodologists deliberately disrupt social norms to see how people respond and how they try to restore social order.

Focus Groups
Focus groups are a form of qualitative research that is used most often in product marketing and marketing research. During a focus group, a group of individuals usually 6-12 people is brought together in a room to engage in a guided discussion of some topic.

In-Depth Interviews
Interviewing is a method of qualitative research in which the researcher asks open-ended questions orally and records the respondents answers. Interviewing is typically done face-to-face, but can also be done via telephone.

The best way for a researcher to understand a group, a subculture, a setting, or a way of life is to immerse themselves into that world. Qualitative researchers often use immersion to gain the best understanding of their topic they can by essentially becoming a part of the group or topic of study.

Direct Observation
There are many different kinds of field research in which researchers can take any number of roles. Being a complete observer means studying a social process without becoming a part of it in any way. It is possible that, because of the researcher’s low profile, the subjects of the study might not even realize that they are being studied.

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