Quantitative Research Methods

Practical Issues:

  • Time and Money
  • Requirements of funding bodies
  • Personal Skills and Characteristics of Researchers
  • The subject matter of the study
  • Research Opportunity
Text Box: P.E.T

Ethical Issues:

  • Informed Consent
  • Confidentiality and Privacy
  • Harmful Effects
  • Vulnerable Groups
  • Covert Methods

Theoretical Issues:

  • Reliability
  • Validity
  • Representativeness

Positivism and Interpretivism

  • Methodological perspectives can affect the choice of research method e.g. interpretivists prefer qualitative methods (unstructured interviews, observations and so on); positivists prefer quantitative methods = info in numerical or statistical form
  • Positivists see an objective reality made up of external social facts
  • Social reality not random; follows patterns
  • These patterns exist because society exerts influence over members, systematically shaping behaviour
  • To understand said patterns positivists use quantitative data e.g. experiments + questionnaires

SUMMARY: (use book for detailed information)

  • Natural scientists use laboratory experiments to discover causal laws. However, despite their reliability, they are rarely used in sociology. Instead, sociologists use field experiments and the comparative method as alternatives. However, although more naturalistic, these methods give the sociologist less control over the variables
  • Written questionnaires can gather easily analysable data cheaply, quickly and on a large scale, but they face practical problems such as non-response and inflexibility. However, they pose few ethical problems. Positivists see them as detached and objective, producing reliable, representative data for testing hypotheses and developing casual laws. However, interpretivists regard them as lacking validity. They produce superficial data that fails to give us an understanding of actors’ meanings, imposing those of the researcher instead
  • Structured interviews share many of the strengths and limitations of questionnaires. For example, they gather basic information quickly and cheaply, but they are inflexible. Positivists favour them because they are standardised measuring instruments, offering reliability. Their large sample sizes mean findings can be generalised. However, interpretivists criticise their lack of validity and for imposing the researchers meanings. Feminists criticise them for reflecting patriarchal attitudes to research
  • Official statistics are secondary sources that save the sociologist time and money, providing data that sociologists may not be able to gather themselves. Positivists regard them as reliable and representative data from which cause-and-effect statements can be derived. However, ‘soft’ statistics may lack validity. Interpretivists see official statistics as social constructs, and Marxists and Feminists regard them as ideological   

Quick-Check Questions

  1. Two ethical problems of conducting lab experiments is the participants’ experience should not be harmful and informed consent must be given first, which could affect the results.
  2. Two reasons why experiments are seen as high in reliability is that they have high reliability so it can be easily replicated, reproducing quantitative data.
  3. Both lab and field experiments manipulate a variable of their choosing to test a hypothesis. But field experiments don’t have an artificial setting, like the laboratory experiment.
  4. One advantage of using the comparative method is it can study the past. A disadvantage is we can’t control the experiment as well as others.
  5. Two advantages of using per-coded questions are the researcher can plan limited answers in advance and can be easily analysed as a result.
  6. Two reasons questionnaires have few ethical problems could be due to face-to-face interactions occurring where respondents can choose to be anonymous. 
  7. Questionnaires are high in reliability because they can be easily replicated so findings can be double-checked.
  8. For positivists, detachment means there is no researcher bias involved and for interpretivists it means the researcher doesn’t see things through the eyes of the respondent and won’t have a true understanding as a result.
  9. Structured interviews are described as standardised measuring instruments as they can be used in exactly the same way by several researchers.
  10. Two advantages of structured interviews over postal questionnaires is they involve face‐to‐face situations, increasing chances of response and call-backs may be used.
  11. Structured interviews could lack validity as the closed questions provided might not be appropriate for the answers and people could lie on answers they provide.
  12. Three advantages of official stats are they’re representative, reliable and comparisons can be made between them.
  13. The three main sources of information from which official stats are collected are: registrations, official surveys and administrative records.
  14. ‘Hard’ statistics are government statistics, often produced via registration and backed by a legal requirement, so they are likely to be complete. ‘Soft’ statistics are often produced by government or agencies, but they are likely to be the result of individual decisions and could therefore be missing many cases that are unrecorded.