The main methods of data collection used by social scientists are: surveys; questionnaires; interviews; experiments both field and laboratory; observations: participant and none participant and case studies. Surveys are either interviews and/or questionnaires and are a method of investigation in which a researcher can collect information from a large group of people. They are used to find out details like peoples habits, opinions, attitudes or interests. The questions can be fixed or open depending on the subject matter or the information needed.
The advantages of surveys are that they can be a quick and cheap way of gaining information standardises questions can be analysed quickly especially when a computer is used to source the information as the questions can be pre-coded. These surveys can be used to identify patterns and make comparisons e. g.
between groups of people- young- elderly, Scottish, English, males and females. The disadvantages of surveys are that if closed questions are used the sample can mean nothing and they don’t give freedom of choice. The respondent may avoid certain questions or tell lies.
If postal questionnaires are used to those can be a low response or problems with the sampling for all sort of reasons including the joke factor so the sample may not be typical of the population. A survey done by Seal et al. ‘s (1957) is an example of the use of surveys. It was a study done on child-rearing practices using two groups of mothers from the Boston area of the USA.
The data was gathered by rating open-ended answers to structured questions given to the mothers in a taped interview, the raters never met the mothers personally.The researchers found that positive relationships between the use of physical punishment and a child’s higher aggression level. Mothers who were rated as warm and loving and had used ‘withdrawal of love’ as a major form of punishment had children with stronger consciences. Both these variables, withdrawal of love and strength of conscience, were assessed indirectly from the interview data and are examples of constructs, operationally defined by the coding system. Interviews can be informal and casual to the formal, clinical interview. The advantages of this are that a good report can develop between the interviewer and the interviewee.This can help to gain honest information which is important when sensitive or personal information is required if allows people to open up about their experiences and it allows the interviewer to gain more background rather than just answers to questions. The disadvantages of this are that it can be time consuming and more than one interviewer can introduce bias.
The success of the interview relies on the interviewer and therefore is open to verbal and none verbal clues, frowning and putting their opinions to the interviewee. Sample’s tend to be smaller and non-standardised making the production of statistics difficult.Also refusal to be interviewed can make the sample biased. These interviews can also be formal or informal. Questionnaires are almost all in the form of a written interview and the questions are usually pre-set. The advantages are that the questions can be open ended or multiple choice. A large sample is needed to make their conclusions useful and so could be more representative of the public making them more convincing. They are used for gathering factual information, behaviour and opinions and are usually in the form of closed questions.
Questionnaires can be a cheap way of gaining samples if many respondents answer them.The disadvantages to questionnaire are that the researcher can never be sure if he/she is being told the truth. The questions have to be worded carefully to avoid being offending or embarrassing the respondents or they may not be willing to answer them. The questions can also be time consuming and expensive because you can never be sure how many people will answer it. Surveys, questionnaires and interviews can be done in many different ways including – postal drops, on the Internet, face to face and on the street or in a controlled environment. Experimentation (field) Conducted in the subjects’ own environment instead of a laboratory e. g.Klow;Kennel (1976) In this experiment the independent variable was the random allocation of mothers to one of the two groups following the birth of their infants.
In one group, mothers were given extra contact with their new infants; in the second group the infant’s acre separation from their mothers until their first feed (the normal hospital procedure). The dependent variable was how the mothers reacted towards their babies. Amongst the findings from the research were that mothers in the first group reacted more positively towards their infants in a number of ways, such as holding their babies closer and establishing eye contact more.The advantages of field experimentation are that the participants are not aware they are being studied and if this is the case demand characteristics may be minimized. By avoiding the artificial setting of a laboratory environment, the field experiment helps eliminate the common criticism that the participants are not acting entirely natural.
The disadvantages are that field experiments can be expensive compared to laboratory studies and ethical issues arise if participants are unaware of being in the experiment. It is also harder to replicate a field experiment.