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Social Sci LibreTexts

2.1D: Determining the Research Design

The research design is the methodology and procedure a researcher follows to answer their sociological question.

 

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

 

Compare and contrast quantitive methods and qualitative methods

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Key Points

 

  • Research design defines the study type, research question, hypotheses, variables, and data collection methods. Some examples of research designs include descriptive, correlational, and experimental. Another distinction can be made between quantitative and qualitative methods.
  • Sociological research can be conducted via quantitative or qualitative methods. Quantitative methods are useful when a researcher seeks to study large-scale patterns of behavior, while qualitative methods are more effective when dealing with interactions and relationships in detail.
  • Quantitative methods include experiments, surveys, and statistical analysis, among others. Qualitative methods include participant observation, interviews, and content analysis.
  • An interpretive framework is one that seeks to understand the social world from the perspective of participants.
  • Although sociologists often specialize in one approach, many sociologists use a complementary combination of design types and research methods in their research. Even in the same study a researcher may employ multiple methods.

 

Key Terms

 

  • quantitative methods: Quantitative research refers to the systematic empirical investigation of social phenomena via statistical, mathematical, or computational techniques.
  • qualitative methods: Qualitative research is a method of inquiry employed in many different academic disciplines, traditionally in the social sciences, but also in market research and further contexts. Qualitative researchers aim to gather an in-depth understanding of human behavior and the reasons that govern such behavior. The qualitative method investigates the why and how of decision making, not just what, where, and when. Hence, smaller but focused samples are more often needed than large samples.
  • scientific method: A method of discovering knowledge about the natural world based in making falsifiable predictions (hypotheses), testing them empirically, and developing peer-reviewed theories that best explain the known data.

 

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The Scientific Method is an Essential Tool in Research: This image lists the various stages of the scientific method.

A research design encompasses the methodology and procedure employed to conduct scientific research. Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, identifiable features distinguish scientific inquiry from other methods of obtaining knowledge. In general, scientific researchers propose hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design research to test these hypotheses via predictions which can be derived from them.

The design of a study defines the study type, research question and hypotheses, independent and dependent variables, and data collection methods. There are many ways to classify research designs, but some examples include descriptive (case studies, surveys), correlational (observational study), semi-experimental (field experiment), experimental (with random assignment), review, and meta-analytic, among others. Another distinction can be made between quantitative methods and qualitative methods.

Quantitative Methods

Quantitative methods are generally useful when a researcher seeks to study large-scale patterns of behavior, while qualitative methods are often more effective when dealing with interactions and relationships in detail. Quantitative methods of sociological research approach social phenomena from the perspective that they can be measured and quantified. For instance, socio-economic status (often referred to by sociologists as SES) can be divided into different groups such as working-class, middle-class, and wealthy, and can be measured using any of a number of variables, such as income and educational attainment.

Qualitative versus Quantitative Methods: These two researchers are debating the relative merits of using qualitative or quantitative methods to study social phenomena such as the learning processes of children.

Qualitative Methods

Qualitative methods are often used to develop a deeper understanding of a particular phenomenon. They also often deliberately give up on quantity, which is necessary for statistical analysis, in order to reach a greater depth in analysis of the phenomenon being studied. While quantitative methods involve experiments, surveys, secondary data analysis, and statistical analysis, qualitatively oriented sociologists tend to employ different methods of data collection and hypothesis testing, including participant observation, interviews, focus groups, content analysis, and historical comparison.

Qualitative sociological research is often associated with an interpretive framework, which is more descriptive or narrative in its findings. In contrast to the scientific method, which follows the hypothesis-testing model in order to find generalizable results, the interpretive framework seeks to understand social worlds from the point of view of participants.

Although sociologists often specialize in one approach, many sociologists use a complementary combination of design types and research methods in their research. Even in the same study a researcher may employ multiple methods.