Examine the Ways That Practical, Ethical and Theoretical Factors May Influence a Sociologists’ Choice of Research Method
Examine the reasons why some sociologists choose to use experiments when conducting research Examine the reasons why some sociologists choose to use experiments when conducting research Secondary sources of information come in many forms. These can range from official statistics produced by the government on areas such as schools and crime and data published on the internet or in books by other sociologists who did their own research.
Many sociologists as well as doing their own research use secondary data to back up what they may have found or also sometimes they use it so they don’t have to have the hassle of doing a long winded study when they can just use other findings instead and publish their facts and figures more quickly. However using secondary data can have its limitations and by using it you may come across errors and anomalies which a sociologist may not come across if they had done collected their own primary data.
Firstly sociologists are often more likely to use secondary data instead of collecting their own data for a number of reasons. One of these is that it is much more quick and easier to collect secondary data. A lot of secondary data is stored on the internet in big chunks and an upcoming sociologist who may not know much on collecting their own data could easily find and collect this secondary data in just a matter of seconds. If a sociologist was studying children and how well they are doing in certain schools he/she could find league tables published by the government on the internet or elsewhere very easily.
Another reason why sociologists are much more likely to use secondary data could be due to the fact that it is much cheaper and less time consuming to do so. For example say a sociologist wanted to collect data on primary schools it would cost the sociologist a lot of money to do a longitudinal study into finding out what they really wanted. It would also be more time consuming especially if the study was dragged out over a long period of time. Secondary data can be much easier to access and no cost would be bared in the sociologist’s hands as someone else has done a lot of the work for them.
Furthermore secondary data can be high in representativeness especially official statistics on education. For example all state schools have to complete a school census three times a year. This collects information on pupil’s attendance, gender and so on. These statistics cover virtually nearly every pupil in the country, they are highly representative. It is less likely a sociologist could collect this amount of data in any research they may do unless they had some kind of help.
This means that primary data in which they collect in their own time won’t be as generalizable as the secondary data which is already there and waiting for them with no hassle on their part. Moreover a sociologist could choose secondary for the fact it can be high in some terms in reliability. Positivist sociologists would favour official statistics as they can test and re test hypotheses and thus discover cause and effect. For example statistics on exam results showing class differences in educational achievement may correlate with statistics on parental income.
Positivists may conclude that poverty causes underachievement. Reliability means that any of this secondary data could be easily replicated especially as the government imposes standard definitions which all schools must use. Sociologists are to be likely swayed by the fact that the research is quantitative as cause and effect can be easily found. Validity of secondary data can be seen as a positive especially in terms of historical documents. These documents can provide important insights into meanings held by teachers and pupils at a certain time and therefore this can be high in validity.
Also many official statistics are also true reflections. A school can’t lie about their pupils exam results so every result has to be truthful. A sociologist would like that you are getting truly valid results as this means you are getting the truthful insights into certain topics of interest. Although secondary sources can be good in many aspects for the sociologist it can have its limitations and not be truly as insightful as one may have hoped. In terms of official statistics although they may be of some interest the sociologist may not be able to find specific statistics they may want.
For example Durkheim studied crime and religion but he could not find any specific statistics for that particular subject. The government it can be said collects data sometimes for its own benefit and not at benefit of a sociologist. Another limitation could be that if the sociologist were to use some kind of secondary data they could face validity issues. Interpretivists for example question the validity of educational statistics. They argue that such statistics are socially constructed. Schools may manipulate their attendance figures by redefining the poor attenders as being on study leave for example.
This means that any of the data the government may have collected could be lies covered up to be the truth by some schools as they don’t want to look bad. Primary data would be much more valid, as the sociologist is collecting the data themselves and they will know if their data is more to the truth as they will know if it has been manipulated unlike official statistics were they don’t know the real aims. Also when using secondary data a sociologist must be aware of errors which may occur in the different types of data they may use.
For example when using official statistics the government could have lied in different documents or even just made unexpected errors without even knowing. If a sociologist was to use this data without thinking then their research could be seen as invalid as they have used data with errors meaning it is not truthful. Furthermore a sociologist must have to consider if a particular topic they may study is actually a true representation of what they really want. This means that a sociologist may define poverty for example differently to what the government may.
A concept may have not been operationalized and the sociologists won’t be sure if another sociologist means the same as what they do. Also definitions can change over time between different people and classes making comparisons between different data difficult. Primary data can help the sociologist know the real concept of their study instead of being mixed up in other peoples less reliable data. Representativeness can also be a problem when using secondary data. In terms of the British crime survey, only a selected sample of the relevant population is used meaning that this data can be less generalizable.
If a sociologist was to collect data themselves they could not just use British crime but find out about crime in Europe. This data can be then more generalised to the whole world instead of Britain. To conclude there are many positives and negatives when using secondary data. A sociologists needs to consider these when selecting whether to use their own data or use data which has already been collected. Official statistics can be useful when collecting large amount of data and other sociologist’s data can help if another sociologist doesn’t have the money to do their own research.
Even though there are limitations in using secondary data, sociologists can use it to help them establish cause and effect against own research and even use it to express their own opinions on a particular topic of interest. Primary data and secondary data can be used together for the best results. Sociologists can then check their data with others and see any correlation. One thing is secondary data can help us find out anything which we may want to know, so it can be a good source in helping anyone with a particular interest in finding out what they wanted.