Sociology is an evidence-based discipline that relies on meticulously collected evidence and thorough documentation. Research conducted provides information and observed patterns relevant to the issue in question that, in addition to previously collected data, helps to form a conclusion. Opinion may support the conclusion, but opinion is not strong enough to support the argument alone. Research methods fall into two categories: qualitative and quantitative. Many sociological researchers are strongly biased to one method or the other; however, each method has strengths and weaknesses, so a combination of the two is particularly effective.
Qualitative Research Methods
Qualitative research focuses on the practice and process of how people create and find meaning in their worlds. Qualitative research methods produce relatively small data sets and describe the subject of research (for example a person or event) without the use of numerical data. Qualitative research includes participant observation, in-depth interviews and the researcher's own impressions. An example of qualitative research would be conducting a study on how religious views are represented within an organization.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Qualitative Research
Qualitative research has some obvious strengths, such as the ability to gain an "insider's point of view" through close researcher involvement and the ability to discover possible relationships or causes and effects or dynamic processes. Qualitative research also brings a human element to social analysis by highlighting people not percentages. Weaknesses of this method include possible bias because of the researcher's close involvement in the study, difficulty in replicating the study and lengthy time for collection of data.
Quantitative Research Methods
Quantitative research creates large sets of numerical data and is more objective or scientific. It measures the characteristics and behaviours of the subjects and focuses on meaning and attitudes. The use of surveys, censuses and statistics produces large numbers of data points that are useful in studying social processes that are more widely observed across large numbers of people, such as income inequality, population changes and shifts in social opinions. Quantitative research is useful in studying the importance of religion within an organization. Data including the percentage of different religions within the organization and people's attitudes towards religion measures the distribution and impact of religion within the organization.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Quantitative Research
Strengths of quantitative research include the ability to control the research through sampling and design to create a replicable study. This type of research is precise through reliable measurement and proven statistical outcomes and allows for a more sophisticated statistical analysis. Weaknesses include the difficulty in controlling human behavior and interpretation as well as the assumption that the outcome of the study is true for all people at all times.
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