A researcher’s method of research is influenced by a number of variables such as the age of those being researched, their gender, ethnicity and social class. All these have to be taken into account when deciding on a method of research.




If you are using a structured/unstructured interview as a method, you would be careful to choose the interviewer wisely. For instance, if a group of girls was being interviewed about a sensitive subject such as sexual health, it would be much more likely that they were interviewed by a female. Similarly, if boys were being interviewed on the sexual behaviour of male youths, it might be likely that a male interviewer was chosen for the job.




The age differences between interviewee and interviewer can sometimes negatively impact upon the results.  For example, it might be better for a sexual health class to be interviewed by a younger person in comparison with someone older as that class might relate to that younger person better while an older interviewer might be viewed as being too parent-like to allow for that class to fully open-up.


Theoretical Background – Macrosociology:


Positivists believe that behaviour is determined by social forces beyond people’s control and through sociology aim to discover what causes what. Positivists furthermore measure human behaviour usingquantitative data.  They can then use statistics to measure the relationships between different factors which allows them to work with cause and effect relationships.Their type of research methods are questionnairesand structured interviews as they both give quantitative data this is reliable and objective.

Interpretivists (or interactionists) use empathy to understand human behaviour.  Moreover, they use methods that let them discover the meanings and reasons behind human behaviour. They believe that you can’t turn meanings and opinions into statistical charts (like positivists do) because sociology isn’t scientific. Instead they use methods to produce qualitative data such as participant observation and unstructured interviews. Max Weber- Verstehen (the importance of empathy).




Ethnical considerations are grouped into 4 areas:


1.    Consent; participants must have agreed to take part


2.    Confidentiality; the details of the participant’s actions must remain confidential




3.    Avoidance of harm; participants should not be harmed physically or psychologically in the research process



4.    Avoidance of deception; researchers should be honest about the study’s implications



The British Sociological Association gives ethical guidelines for research. Researchers should use informed consent and covert participant observation (when people don’t know that they are being assessed but only as a last resort). For instance the Milgrim experiment was conducted to see if people would follow instructions against their conscience which they did.  If Milgrim had let it be known that the electrical shots were fake and they were only actors in the process, then the participants would have reacted differently.




Covert participant observation takes a long time for example because the researcher must win trust within the group before beginning research.  A social survey on the other hand, does not require total researcher participation and the workload can furthermore be shared between the team.



It is needed to pay the researcher for transportation to interviews, pay for resources and if you wanted to conduct a large scale social survey then this would prove very expensive.


Skills and characteristics of the researcher- Some may be suited to dangerous situations and others may prefer to do detailed analysis of statistics at their desk. 


Access and opportunity- If researchers don’t have access to particular groups in order to carry out interviews then they will have to turn to secondary resources.

Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex