The field of sociology employs both qualitative and quantitative research methods to create and confirm sociological theories. Qualitative research methods, as opposed to quantitative methods, emphasize non-numerical information. Such methods often are slightly subjective, requiring the interpretation of a researcher rather than statistical software. Because of its non-mathematical nature, the methods associated with qualitative research are plentiful.
The interview is one of the most basic tools of the sociological researcher. Interviews have the advantage of freedom of question design. If a question is not answered to the specificity that the interviewer expects, she may ask it in another way. An additional benefit of the interview is the freedom it gives subjects in answering. This freedom allows the researcher to receive the exact statements of the subject, without restricting the subject to a set of predetermined answers or categories; in other words, many researchers feel that interview data are accurate reflections of the subjects. Interpretation is an important part of analyzing interview data.
Visual sociology gets its name from the object of research: visually observable objects of a culture. For this type of research method, sociologists use photos, artifacts and film to understand aspects of interest of a certain culture. This type of research is especially important in cultures that do not exist in the modern world. Sociologists attempt to gain an understanding of cultures of the past by visually observing the items members of the culture have left behind.
"Ethnography" literally means to write about people from different cultures. This research method is one in which the researcher joins the studied group and records her observations as she participates as a group member. Many sociologists find this type of research to be the most stimulating, because at times it can be risky, as is the case in researching groups such as drug dealers, prisoners or gang members through ethnographic methods.
Sociologists make heavy use of the literature of cultures to understand the thought processes and cultural traits behind the literature. Sociologists believe that language is a reflection of the culture to which it belongs. Using books and journals as research materials, sociologists dissect the written information looking for socially important material that can be used to construct or verify a theory. For example, social constructs such as "face" and "Yuan" are important in Chinese culture. However, these constructs are not directly observable. To understand such constructs, sociologists researching Chinese culture analyze them through the evaluation of Chinese writings.
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