Many sociologists argue that theoretical issues are the most important factors to affect choice of method. Theoretical issues refer to what we think society is like and if we can obtain an accurate and truthful picture of it. There are four different concerns regarding theoretical issues which influence sociologist’s choice of research methods. Validity is a method that gives a true or genuine picture of what something is really like, which helps the researcher easily find out the truth. Sociologists argue that the use of qualitative methods such as Participant Observation gives a more valid, truthful account as it provides us with a deeper insight through firsthand experience. The next issue that influences sociologist’s choice is reliability which comes from Latin, replica meaning an exact copy of something. This results in the method being able to be repeated and creates a less bias and more accurate research again and again. Quantitative methods such as written questionnaires can be used as they are more reliable results than qualitative methods such as unstructured interviews. Another theoretical issue is representativeness which refers to how much of the characteristics you are looking for is represented by the people being studied.
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For example if a sociologist is researching single parent homes, you will not interview nuclear families, because they are not representing the variables they are looking for. Similarly if someone is investigating delinquency, they will not conduct their research in a place that is very well developed or a place that has a lot of wealthy people living there, because it would not be representative of the phenomena they wish to study. The last theoretical issue is methological perspective which is a choice of method that is influenced by their perspective – their view of what society is and how we should study it. There are two contrasting perspectives on choice of methods: positivism – which prefers quantitative data and seeks to discover patterns of behaviour and see’s sociology as a science. Whereas the interpretive perspective prefer qualitative data and seek to understand social actors (those who exercise free will) meanings, they reject the view that sociology is a science. However with practical issues may be seen as an important factor which influences sociologists choice of research methods. It is important to understand the topic or group being studied. For example, if the topic is sensitive, such as domestic violence, bullying, grades at school etc. For sensitive information, unstructured interviews would be the best research method as the researcher can build up a rapport with the participant, meaning that the participant would be more likely to open up to the researcher. For example, Dobash and Dobash carried out informal interviews on women who had experienced domestic violence.
Another practical factor that affects choice of method is the social characteristics of the researcher. For example a 30 year old man from the upper middle class would find it impossible to pass off as a 17 year old female sixth form student from a working class area. This would mean that they wouldn’t be able to use covert participant observation as a research method. Instead, they should use questionnaires for information if they need quantitative data (e.g. roughly how many hours they do homework for) or semi-structured interviews if they wanted qualitative data (e.g. to talk about if they were happy with their subject choice). Lastly some sociologists may agree that ethical issues has the biggest impact on the choice of research methods – ethical issues involve right and wrong or what is considered good, and what is considered evil in a society. The methods that sociologists use to study people may raise a range of ethical questions.
There has been a guideline put in place by The British Sociological Association for the conduct of research. Vulnerable groups which special care should be taken where research participants are particularly vulnerable because of their ethnic background, age, physical or mental health. For example when a researcher is studying children at school, they should regard an issue of child protection and need consent from both the child and the parent/career and provide information that children can understand. Confientiality and privary where researchers must keep the identity of research partipcants secret in order to help prevent possible negative effects of them. They should also respect the privary of research participants. Personal information conserning any participant should be kept confidential. In conclusion Theoretical issues is the biggest influence of their choice of research methods because of the major influence on the choice of research topic; for example a new right researcher will want to study the effect of welfare benefits on the growth of lone-parent families, since the idea of welfare dependency is central to their standpoint. Contrastingly, a feminist researcher will likely be more inclined to choose to study domestic violence, as opposition to gender oppressions lies at the core of feminist theory