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2. Research Methods.docx

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University of Waterloo
SOC 101
Barry Mc Clinchey

Chapter 2: Research Methods Introduction  Focus on methods used to collect the data that have informed these theories and produced the many findings you will reach about throughout this text  Sociology as a science --- research is often designed to measure and quantify social life (quantitative sociology)  Sociology as arts/humanities --- research is often designed to get at the rich meanings that people attribute to their lives (qualitative sociology) Sociology as a Science  Science has distinguishing characteristics: o Knowledge is based only on facts o Facts are part of the real world and can be observed o Objectivity ---when making scientific observations, we do not let our personal emotions or biases interfere with our observations o We usually use scientific method o Science gives us the best understanding of the way the world works --- follow proper procedures to discover the truth about the world  Personal opinions, biases, and cultural understandings are at the very heart of most sciences  Total objectivity is not possible --- cannot separate oneself completely from prior knowledge of the world when making observations  Possibility of science: o Impossible --- objectivity is impossible, so is impossible (without the claim to objective knowledge, science ceases to be useful)  Viewpoint is associated with relativism --- belief that there is no ultimate truth o Possible --- possible for disciplines to be scientific  Criticism of objectivity do not undermine science because objectivity is not necessary for something to be called scientific Theory and Research  Important that most sociologists’ research be closely connected with a theory or set of theories  Theories --- abstract ideas about the world o Use them as models or conceptual maps of how the world works  Research is designed to evaluate a theory --- testing it or exploring the applicability of the theory to different situations o Use to gather data that are relevant to these theories  Theories cannot be directly tested --- they are only abstract ideas o Must be translated into observable ideas before being tested --- operationalization  Operationalization: o Process of translating theories and concepts into hypotheses and variables o Theories are composed of concepts --- single ideas  Usually explains how two or more concepts are related to each other o Hypotheses --- express relationships between variables  Must be observable or testable  Must be composed of or express relationships between variables o Variables --- empirical or observable equivalent of concepts  They must be observable  Must have a range of different values that they can take on (values)  Minimum of two variables --- independent and dependent variables  Validity and Reliability: o Most important step is the construction of operational definitions of our concepts --- definitions that specify what we are going to observe, how we are going to make our observations, and how we are going to differentiate observations from non-observations o Validity:  Valid measure --- measure that adequately represents the concept  Invalid measure --- measure that does not represent the concept  Face validity --- an indicator has high face validity when it seems to fit nicely with our mental image of the concept it is supposed to measure  External validity --- piece of research refers to the extent to which the results from that research can be generalized to a larger popular  Proper selection of the sample of people or elements to be studied and the specific techniques used in the research  Internal validity --- concerns the degree to which the conclusions from the study are actually supported by the data and methods that were used  Threatened when the effects that are attributed to a specific variables or processes in the study are actually produced by other factors o Reliability  Measurement process refers to its level of consistency  Reliable measurement process --- produces same measurements of the same phenomenon again and again o Researchers usually refer to the validity and reliability of their findings rather than to that of their measurement processes o To achieve level of validity and reliability in qualitative research, we do not usually engage in an extensive process of testing the different dimensions of validity and reliability as we do in quantitative research  Instead, establish it by making a convincing argument that we have properly understood our topic or group  Demonstrate to our readers that we have gained enough understanding of our topic to ensure that our results are valid  Bias and Error: o Error --- unintentional, accidental mistakes that inevitably creep into a piece of research  Referred as ‘random errors’ ---mistakes are unintentional and unpredictable o Bias --- systematic inaccuracies in our data or analysis  Usually unintentional, but more serious than errors (distort our findings in systematic ways)  Respondent biases:  Acquiescence bias --- respondents simply check off answers to questions without thinking about them  Social desirability bias --- try to answer questions the way they think the researcher wants them to instead of answering the way they themselves want to Research Techniques  Main advantages of experiments: o They provide a controlled environment in which it is possible to manipulate specific factors in an attempt to determine their effect on an outcome  Sociologists do not use experiments often: o Cannot manipulate many of the variables we are interested in for practical or ethical reasons o Cannot simply move a person from an upper-class home into a lower- class home just to find out what effect this might have on their eventual choice of career o Not always clear that what happens under the controlled conditions will occur in daily life  Surveys: o Quasi-experimental designs --- only able to construct a controlled environment after the data has been collected o Goals are to produce detailed data that’ll allow researchers to describe the characteristics of the group under study, to test theories about that group, and to generalize results beyond the people who responded to the survey o Pseudo-surveys:  To find out what customers and potential customers want and do not want to see in their products and services  Questionnaire --- any set of questions administered to a group of people  Survey --- properly designed set of questions systematically administered to randomly chosen sample from a population o Constructing survey questions:  Focus --- each question should have one specific topic. Questions with more than one topic are difficult to answer, and the answers are often ambiguous  Brevity --- generally, shorter questions are preferable to longer questions (easier for respondents to understand), except when asking about threatening topics, longer questions are preferred  Clarity --- use
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