SOC CHAPTER 2: RESEARCH METHODS
Reality isn’t something we can perceive objectively—experience helps determine
how we perceive reality.
Levels of experience:
o The Concrete level: Concrete experience is obtained by seeing, touching,
tasting, smelling, or hearing. Percepts are the smallest bits of concrete
experience, and patterns are collections of related percepts. The
concrete level is the level of experience you share with all living
creatures. But if we experienced just the concrete level, life would be all
sensations but devoid of meaning (ex. like a newborn baby).
o The Abstract level: the abstract experience is the imaginary world of the
mind. It is composed of concepts, which are abstract terms used to
organize concrete experience (ex. we use the term “pen” to
organize/conceptualize all pens even though they are not all the same).
Propositions are ideas that result from finding the relationship between
concepts (ex. “the pen is on the table,” or “this provincial government is
the corrupt in Canada”).
Scientific versus Unscientific thinking: Our biases easily influence our
observations, which leads to incorrect conclusions. There are ten types of
1. Tradition—which can often be invalid (“Chicken soup gets rid of a cold—it
worked for my grandparents, it will work for me.”)
2. Authority—thinking something is true because an authority or expert said
3. Casual observation—to prevent uncertainty observations need to be
done in a conscious and deliberate manner.
4. Overgeneralization—this can be avoided by using a sample that is
representative of entire populations or by repeating research to ensure
the set of research finding were not an exception.
5. Selective Observation—sometime we consciously ignore evidence that
contradicts out firmly held beliefs.
6. Qualifications—or “exceptions to the rules” need to be carefully
examined in the light of evidence, and they aren’t as easily accepted as
they are in everyday life.
7. Illogical reasoning—“the Blue Jays win 65% of the game they play on
Tuesdays so they’ll win this Tuesday”. Some sequences of events just
occur by change and in the absence of the apparent reasoning, it should
be assumed it is just coincidental.
8. Ego-Defence—being too committed to conclusions that you have
invested time, money and energy in so assuming “you just can’t be
9. Premature Closure of Inquiry—deciding all the relevant information has
been gathered on a particular subject when it isn’t settled. 10. Mystification—attributing something to forces that can’t be fully
observed or understood when you can’t find a rational explanation for a
The Research Cycle:
o First, formulate a research question that can be answered by
systematically collecting and analyzing sociological data.
o Second, review the existing research literature and understand what
sociologists have already debated and discovered. This prevents
duplication of effort and allows you to refine your initial question.
o Third, select the research method keeping in mind the strengths and
weaknesses of different methods.
o Fourth, collect the data, bringing you close to the puzzling facts that
o Fifth, analyze the data, which helps you confirm some of your
expectations and confound others.
o Sixth, report the results and publish them, which allows other sociologists
to scrutinize and criticize.
o Researchers must respect their subject’s rights: research subjects need
the right to decide if they want to be studied or not, whether their
attitudes and behaviours may be revealed to the public, and their
confidentiality must be respected.
o Subjects must be told how the information will be used and they must be
allowed to judge the degree of personal risk involved in answering
questions (right to informed consent).
o Plagiarism is also an issue of ethics.
Sample is the part of the population of research interest that is selected for
Population is the entire group about which the researcher wants to generalize.
o Operationalization is the process of translating concepts into variables
and propositions into hypothesis (a variable is a measure of a concept
that has more than one value or score).
o Ex. If the abstract concept is education, operationalization asks us to
consider what variables would indicate whether someone is more
educated than someone else. So “years of schooling” is an
o After operationalization, the original idea (proposition) can be translated
into a relationship between variables, or a hypothesis (the testable form
of a proposition). A hypothesis is an educated guess that we can test.
Methods of Sociological Research (4 major ways): o An experiment is a carefully controlled artificial situation that allows
researchers to isolate hypothesized causes and measure their effects
precisely. Experiments often use randomization, randomization
(assigning each individual by chance processes to the group that will be
exposed to the presumed cause or to the group that will not be exposed
to the presumed cause) to create two similar groups. One group is the
experimental group and one is the control group. They analyze the
dependent variable (the presumed effect in a cause-and-effect
relationship) and the independent variable (the presumed cause in a
cause-and-effect relationship). Experiments are good in the short term
but results are mixed when it comes to assessing long-term effects.
Experiments allow for a high reliability (the degree to which a
measurement procedure yields consistent results). But the fact that it
puts people in artificial situations and removes people from their natural
social settings lead some people to believe that experiments have less
validity (the degree to which a measure actually measures what it is
intended to measure) than other methods.
Time 1 Time 2 Time 3 Time 4
Control Randomize Measure Do no Measure
Group assignment dependent introduce dependent
of subjects variable independent variable
to group variable again
Experimental Randomize Measure Introduce Measure
Groups assignment dependent independent dependent
of subjects variable variable variable
to group again
o Surveys are the most widely used method. In a survey, sociologists ask
respondents questions about their knowledge, attitudes, or behaviour,
either in a face-to-face or telephone interview or in a paper-and-pencil
format. They aim to get a sample of the population, so it is best to
choose respondents at random, and an individual’s chance of being
chosen must be known and greater than zero. Surveys can have open-
ended questions where the respondents answer in their own words or
closed-ended questions with a list of permitted answers (like multiple
choice). They can make sure their results are reliable by asking the same
questions in subsequent surveys and they can make sure their results are
valid by making sure they do not exclude part of the population in the
sample, refuse the participation of some people in the survey, ask
confusing/leading/inflammatory questions, or not allowing respondents
to answer frankly.