Essay-style Questions: Methods

  1. Item

    Sociologists use the social survey as a way of systematically collecting identical data from fairly large numbers of people. Usually the survey will be built around the investigation of a number of significant variables.

    The participants will usually all be asked exactly the same questions. Nearly all surveys are based on a sample of the population that are being investigated. The term 'population' simply means all the people in the group under investigation. A sample is the selection of a group within that population. Researchers usually try to select a sample that is representative of the population.

    With reference to the Item and other sources, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the social survey as a quantitative method.

    (Marks available: 20)

    Answer

    Answer outline and marking scheme for question: 1

    General

    You must refer to the item.

    You must use other sources.

    You must have both advantages and disadvantages.

    Note that it refers to the qualities of the survey as a quantitative method.

    What's in the Item?

    Systematically collecting identical data.

    Large numbers of people.

    Significant variables.

    Participants asked the same questions.

    Samples usually aim to be representative.

    There are a number of important points here. Generally, the information in the Item indicates the advantages of surveys. However, as with all methods, it's the skill with which people use them that is important. For example, using large numbers of people makes a sample more likely to be representative, but not if the sample is poorly selected. So size is not as important as selection.

    Elsewhere?

    There are a number of points/concepts you should try to use in virtually any question concerning the advantages and disadvantages of particular methods.

    Methods are tools.

    There is no such thing as a good or bad method only appropriate or inappropriate use.

    Use the major concepts: reliability, validity, generalisation, operationalisation.

    Remember, if appropriate, to include practical, ethical and theoretical concerns.

    Specifically:

    Explain what quantitative means.

    Link to 'scientific' approach and 'positivism'.

    Consider: patterns, correlations, probabilities, prediction, planning.

    The claim to be reliable - explain.

    The claim to representativeness - explain.

    Cost.

    The skill needed by researchers.

    The 'imposition' problem.

    Researcher 'pollution'.

    The problem of validity - explain.

    Limitations on questions - for example, short, simple, unambiguous.

    Make it clear in what sort of research this method can be useful and where it is problematic.

    Mark scheme:

    Give yourself 2 marks For explaining the term 'quantitative'.
    Give yourself 2 marks For briefly linking the survey to the 'scientific' approach, quantification and objectivity, or at least placing the technique within the positivist framework.
    Give yourself 2 marks For each advantage provided it is explained. For example: pre-coding enables rapid quantification. Question consistency in word use and order enables reliability. Large samples promote more accurate representation.
    Give yourself 2 marks For each disadvantage provided it is explained. For example: Imposition - question and answer selection by researcher can create lack of validity. Postal questionnaires, who fills them in? Problems of 'meaning', do al respondents understand questions in the same way?
    Give yourself 4 marks For a conclusion that emphasises that the survey is essentially a quantitative technique, that there are not really any other options in the social sciences, and that it is particularly suited to specific types of information collection. For example: statistics on unproblematic concepts such as marriage, divorce, death but not suited to investigating more contested concepts such as religiousness, integration, suicide where 'meaning' is problematic.

    (Marks available: 20)

  2. Item

    The laboratory method is almost never used in sociology for both ethical and practical reasons. Sociologists do, however, use experimental techniques in broader, if less controlled contexts than the laboratory. The sociologist's laboratory can be viewed as society itself. Sociologists want to observe how people behave in 'natural' contexts rather than record the behaviour produced in a laboratory.

    Using the Item and other sources assess the extent to which the comparative method (the comparing of societies or of groups with a society) can be considered as the sociological alternative to the laboratory method?

    (Marks available: 20)

    Answer

    Answer outline and marking scheme for question: 2

    General Points

    You must refer to the item.

    You must provide information from your own knowledge.

    The must compare the experiment and the comparative method.

    What's in the item?

    There are ethical and practical reasons that prevent sociologists using laboratories.

    Sociologists use other techniques but these have less control.

    Sociologists want to study 'natural' behaviour.

    Sociologists regard laboratory behaviour as problematic.

    These are all useful points because they indicate at least some of the reasons that sociologists avoid laboratory based research.

    Elsewhere?

    Consider the advantages of the laboratory method:

    1. Control of variables.
    2. Replication.
    3. Generalisation.
    4. Establish causal relationships.
    5. Empirical.

    Consider the problems of the laboratory experiment for sociology:

    1. Examples of ethical problems?
    2. Examples of practical problems?
    3. Examples of theoretical problems?

    How can the comparative method be compared?

    1. Can establish significant variables.
    2. Can move beyond description.
    3. Can propose causal relationships.
    4. Generalization is possible in some cases.
    5. Classic examples - Durkheim (suicide), Weber (Calvinism).

    Markscheme:

    Give yourself 4 marks For a outline of the advantages of the laboratory method.
    Give yourself 4 marks For an indication of why the laboratory is unsuitable for Sociology.
    Give yourself 2 marks For explaining that not all science can use a laboratory (horses for courses) - for example, Oceanography.
    Give yourself 4 marks For explaining how the comparative method adapts the laboratory method.
    Give yourself 2 marks For explaining about Durkheim (suicide).
    Give yourself 2 marks For explaining about Weber (Calvinism).
    Give yourself 4 marks For a conclusion that argues that the comparative method does possess some of the advantages of the laboratory method, but ultimately has to sacrifice control for authenticity.

    (Marks available: 20)