Sociologists have a number of different types of research they can use to acquire data. The various forms of research include longitudinal studies, interviews based on open questions, structured interviews, unstructured interviews, structured questionnaires, unstructured questionnaires and participant observation.
Longitudinal studies were first used in the USA in the 1940’s to measure changes in public attitudes.
The advantages of longitudinal studies are that they are unstructured, you can identify changes over time and they shows trends over a period of time.
The disadvantages of longitudinal studies are they can be very time consuming; they can be expensive; people may drop out of the study; they could have an affect over the participant’s life and a person’s recollection can be swayed.
Open questions allow a participant to answer them in any way they see possible without being ‘persuaded’ to move in any particular direction.
Participant observation is a method of research in which the observer joins the group being studied and participates in their activities. Examples of this method include James Patrick’s study ‘A Glasgow Gang Observed’ and Laud Humphreys’ ‘Tearoom Trade’.
The advantages of participant observation are that a researcher doesn’t pre-judge the issue by deciding in advance what is / is not important when studying social behaviour; they can react to events / ideas, follow leads, pursue avenues of research that had not occurred to them before their involvement with a group. In this respect, a researcher can test hypotheses and may be able to redefine possible personal pre-conceptions about someone’s behaviour in the light of their experience in the group. Participant observation generates a rich source of highly-detailed, high-quality, information about people’s behaviour. In short, this type of research produces a depth of detailed information about all aspects of a group’s behaviour.
The researcher can understand the social pressures / influences on group norms that may create particular forms of behaviour. This gives a researcher an insight into individual and group behaviour and it may allow researcher to formulate hypotheses that explain such behaviour.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex.