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This Research Guide provides information about sociology resources found in the CCCC libraries and online.

What This Section is All About

Icon of quill and penIn this section, you will find an overview of different research methods in sociology.  You will find links to tools and resources in the library related to the different types of research and writing.

If you have any questions about how to use the tools ands resources included here, please contact your librarian!

Qualitative vs. Quantitative

Research in Sociology is categorized into two general methods:

Speech Bubble Icon with quotation marksQualitative Research

Non-numerical evidence, usually examined in its raw form

Used when a researcher wants to understand people's opinions, idiosyncratic responses to an event, motivations, or underlying reasons for actions or decisions.
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Example: Interviewing the victims of a natural disaster to gather a range of emotional responses.

Icon of gearsQuantitative Research

Numbers!  Collected as numerical data or converted into numerical data and examined using statistical methods of analysis.

Used to examine trends and compare populations.
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Example: Asking victims of a natural disaster to rank their feelings of anxiety using a pre-determined scale.

When to use them

Psychological research is best when it uses complementary quantitative and qualitative approaches together in the same study, a method called triangulation.

Example: Observing parent-child interactions while watching tv then comparing those observations to measured rates of social and cognitive development in the children who participated in the study.

The Research Continuum

Image of the Research Continuum showing the spectrum of research from qualitative to quantitative.









Learn more about Qualitative and Quantitative methods and how to incorporate them into your writing with ebooks from the Library...

Common Research Methods

Magnifying GlassObservational Studies

The researchers record data by studying participants at a distance.  Researchers try not to influence the participants or their actions.

Types of observational studies include: Non-Participant Observation windowor Participant Observation.


scales for balanceCase Studies

The researcher will collect and write detailed accounts of individual lives. A case study can combine a few research approaches, including interviews, observational data, and archival data.

A classic example of Case Studies in sociology is Erving Goffman's classic Asylums. link will open in a new window

profile iconInterviews

Information is gathered one-on-one by asking questions orally.  Structured Interviews can sometimes be used to gather quantitative data, because the structure allows the interview to function like a questionnaire.  

More qualitative types of interviewing range from the Unstructured Interview which functions like a conversation based around a set list of topics, to the In-Depth Interview which may range widely with only a loose guide to direct it.  

group of people iconEthnographies

In-depth studies of groups in their natural setting.  These studies utilize multiple type of research to create a multi-layered report.  In addition to Participant Observation, a researcher may use interviews, questionnaires, or analysis of secondary research related to the group.

Some good examples of ethnographies available through the Library's online resources include:  Recovery's Edge : An Ethnography of Mental Health Care and Moral Agency Link will open in a new window by Neely Laurenzo Meyers, Sex Work and the City Link will open in a new window by Ysmina Katsulis, and The breakup 2.0 : disconnecting over new media Link will open in a new window by Ilana Gershon.

Open Book IconArchival Research

A researcher applies their own analytical model to data that has already been collected.  They attempt to answer a new question or discover a new trend by looking at old data.

Typical sources of archival data include: census datalink will open in a new window , court records will open in a new window , medical records, and even case files from other researchers.

Question Mark IconSocial Surveys

Participants are asked a standard set of questions.  These questions may be delivered in writing or through an interview format.

There are three main types of questionnaire methods: Random Sampling link will open in a new window , Stratified Sampling link will open in a new window , and Convenience Sampling link will open in a new window .

Experimental Research Methods

What is Experimental Research?

Experimental Research is a sub-type of research in sociology.  It may utilize the same methods as other research, but it differs in that it attempts measure variables as precisely as possible.

Experimental Research starts with a hypothesis and uses a variety of research methods to test that hypothesis.  Ususally involves testing causal relationships.

Icon of Crossed ToolsField Experiments

Researchers study the cause and effect of variables in a natural setting, such as a classroom or workplace.

This allows the researcher to study participants or phenomena in their natural setting, so results might be more accurate. But they have less control over the variables, so results might not be as precise.

Erlenmeyer flask or beaker iconLaboratory Experiments

Research conducted in a controlled environment.  

Participants' reactions may be influenced by the unnatural setting, but researchers have more control over variables.

Identifying the Methods in Library Resources

1. Read the Abstract

In a Summon results page, click Preview to read the Abstract.  Look for information about the study's methodology.

Image explaining how to preview an abstract.

2. Find the Methods section.

In the Article's Full Text, the Methods are usually outlined in the second or third section under a heading that reads "Method" or "Methodology."  

Is the method describe Qualitative or Quantitative? 

How many people participated?  How were participants selected?

What method did the researchers use?

Image hightlighting text that reads '254 community women from a midsize Midwestern town' and 'the physical assault scale contains 12 items ranging from minor (e.g., "I push or shoved my partner") to severe (e.g., "I choked my partner") acts of physical aggression. Participants reported how often in the past year they used each behavior on an 8-point scale.