Examine the ways in which practical, ethical and theoretical factors may influence a sociologists choice of research method

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By Lois Butler

Examine the ways in which practical, ethical and theoretical factors may influence a sociologist’s choice of research method (20 marks)

Many sociologists argue that practical factors are the most important factors to affect choice of method. It is important to understand the topic or group being studied. For example, if the topic is sensitive, such as domestic violence, bullying, grades at school etc. For sensitive information, unstructured interviews would be the best research method as the researcher can build up a rapport with the participant, meaning that the participant would be more likely to open up to the researcher. For example, Dobash and Dobash carried out informal interviews on women who had experienced domestic violence.

Another practical factor that affects choice of method is the social characteristics of the researcher. For example a 30 year old man from the upper middle class would find it impossible to pass off as a 17 year old female sixth form student from a working class area. This would mean that they wouldn’t be able to use covert participant observation as a research method. In stead, they should use questionnaires for information if they need quantitative data (e.g. roughly how many hours they do homework for) or semi-structured interviews if they wanted qualitative data (e.g. to talk about if they were happy with their subject choice).

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Some researchers may have a lot of time and money to invest in a study; this is another practical factor which may lead them to choose qualitative methods such as unstructured interviews because they allow participants to talk at length about a certain subject e.g. Oakley carried out unstructured interviews with women about their experiences of childbirth.

In comparison, if there was limited time and money, a researcher might choose to use quantitative methods such as postal questionnaires as they are quicker and cheaper and can also reach more people geographically than unstructured interviews.

Finally, the source of ...

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