Research Methodology: Approaches, Techniques & Quiz

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Kimberly Moffitt

Kimberly has taught college Sociology and Criminal Justice classes and has a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice.

A research method is a systematic plan for doing research. Let's take a look at the four most common research methods and test your knowledge with a quiz.

We also recommend watching The Importance of Understanding Research Methodology and Research Methodologies: Quantitative, Qualitative & Mixed Method


A research method is a systematic plan for conducting research. Sociologists draw on a variety of both qualitative and quantitative research methods, including the experiments, survey research, participant observation, and secondary data. Quantitative methods aim to classify features, count them, and create statistical models to test hypotheses and explain observations. Qualitative methods aim for a complete, detailed description of observations, including the context of events and circumstances.

Approaches and Techniques

Four commonly-used methods of sociological investigation include the experiment, surveys, participant observation, and the use of existing (secondary) data.

The Experiment

An experiment is a research method for investigating cause and effect under highly controlled conditions. When conducting an experiment, researchers will test a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a statement of how two or more variables are related. For example, let's say we wanted to examine whether studying affects a person's GPA. Our hypothesis might be: The more a person studies, the higher a person's GPA will be. In this example, studying would be the independent variable (the cause), while a person's GPA would be the dependent variable (the effect).

If we wanted to test this hypothesis, we would randomly assign subjects into two groups. The experimental group is a group of individuals that are exposed to the independent variable. The control group, on the other hand, is not exposed to the independent variable. We would require that the control group doesn't study at all, but that experimental group has to study at least 10 hours a week. After one semester, we would then determine which group has the higher GPA. If the experimental group has a statistically higher GPA, we can assume our hypothesis is correct.

Classical Experiment

It is important to note that sometimes a change in the dependent variable could be the result of something entirely different than that being studied (maybe, for example, those chosen for the experimental group were simply more intelligent than those in the control group). When two variables change together but neither one causes the other, we call this a spurious correlation.

Survey Research

A survey is a research method in which subjects respond to a series of statements or questions in a questionnaire or an interview. Surveys target some population, which are the people who are the focus of research. Because populations are usually quite large, the researcher will target a sample, which is a part of a population that represents the whole.

Once our sample is selected, we need a plan for asking questions and recording answers. The most common types of surveys are questionnaires and interviews. A questionnaire is series of written statements or questions. With an interview , the researcher personally asks subjects a series of questions, and gives participants the freedom to respond as they wish. Both questionnaires and interviews can include open-ended questions (allowing the subjects to respond freely), or close-ended questions (including a selection of fixed responses).

Participant Observation

The most widely used strategy for collecting qualitative data is participant observation. Participant observation is a research method in which investigators systematically observe people while joining them in their routine activities. Fieldwork makes most participant observation exploratory and descriptive, and has very few hard and fast rules. Unlike other research methods, participant observation can be a lengthy process. In fact, it may require that the researcher stay in the field for weeks or even months.

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