There are a vast number of research topics that a sociologist could select to work on. With such a vast array of topics, how are topics selected for research?
Some topics may lend themselves more easily towards one type of method than another. Quantitative methods tend to be used when the researcher wants reliable data to establish statistical relationships.
Alternatively, methods that require in-depth research of human behaviour, qualitative methods would be undertaken.
Sociologists are influenced in their choice of research topic by their own beliefs, values and interests. This may be based on their own experience, social class, ethnicity or religion. Sociologists may be attracted to areas of research where there are gaps in existing provision. They also may be put off particular research topic areas due to either a lack of data or a lack of access to existing data.
Factors to consider when choosing a topic to research:
• Pick a topic you are interested in- if it is something interesting you are more likely to do it thoroughly and to the best of your ability.
• Make sure that you can access the resources/data available to add to your research
• Ensure that you can look at all points or arguments of the topic so that it does not have a biased view. For example if researching ‘crime’ be sure to cover all ages, ethnicities, genders, postcodes etc.
• When looking for data you must ensure that it is from a reputable source
• Make sure that the topic you have chosen has enough depth to research into over similar areas of interest.
• Make sure that you are aware of all the factors that affect your data/research, e.g. GDP is affected by many areas of the economy.
Sociologists will be influenced in their choice of research topic by their own theoretical position. For example, Marxists may be more likely to conduct research into working class issues whereas feminists may be more inclined to research into gender issues etc.
• In the UK, the collection and storage of researched data are governed by things such as the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act.
• If research involves any criminal or deviant behaviour or activities, then the researcher may have to consider the ethics involved and their participation in such behaviour which could then influence greatly the topic they choose to focus on.
• Also, if the research involves methods that create high involvement where close relationships are being formed then care needs to be taken to ensure that once the research is finished that no harm or distress is caused to any potentially vulnerable people.
The amount of money a researcher has to spend will directly influence their choice of method and topic. Researchers must be able to afford the research they propose. All research methods cost money although some are a lot cheaper than others, for example questionnaires.
Sociologists are able to seek external funding from institutions like the Economic and Social Research Council.
Some methods are also more time consuming than others, for example P and O may take years of research therefore overall requiring more money to fund that research.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex