Some methods used by sociologists
to investigate and explain social problems
Sociologists develop theories based on observations of society.
Sociologists use scientific methods, such as description, statistics, survey, experimentation, and observation, to test their theories
• Case Study: The report filed by a sociologist from field observations.
• Data Information: Description The use of words to tell how something actually happened.
• Hypothesis: A possible answer or approach to a problem.
• Probability: The likelihood that an event will occur.
• Sample: A representative group
One of the major methods used by modern sociologists to gather information, or data, is the sociological survey. In this method, people are asked questions about themselves and about their attitudes toward many things, such as social problems, new ideas, or new political or economic changes.
• Surveys always concern a sampling of people; a survey cannot include everyone.
• The sociologist must select a sample from a representative group of men.
• In a random sampling, the sociologist could simply walk down Main Street and interview the first twenty men he meets
• Description of Results. Description of Results is another method used by sociologists. This can be an actual description of a situation in society or the results of a research project.
• Description is the use of words to tell how something actually happened.
• Description uses a historical method. Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman who wrote Democracy in America, recorded his observations of the United States and American democracy. A modern sociologist might use the same approach to describe a race riot or the condition in the neighborhood where the riot occurred
• Sociological description is necessary to record the results of other methods of research
• Statistical analysis has become a very popular approach to many subjects, especially since the invention of the computer.
• data is collected and used to test hypotheses, the possible answers or approaches to problems
• The test is normally based on some kind of probability, the possibility that something is true or valid. In statistics, probability is stated in mathematical terms. One of the most common uses of the theory of probability is T.V. weathermen forecasting the weather.
• Sociologists will sometimes use the laboratory to conduct controlled experiments. These controlled experiments usually involve small groups of people who are carefully selected by age, background, common interest, or any other quality that the sociologist thinks necessary to perform the experiment.
• If the sociologist wants to test the reaction of people to a particular problem, he may perform several controlled experiments
• Controlled experiments are used to give indications of how a certain group of people may react to a certain problem. Once the sociologist has this indication, he must verify his findings with several other groups before he can draw the conclusion that one group reacts differently from another in similar situations.
• Besides descriptions, statistics, surveys, and experimentation, another method used by sociologists is field observation.
• Field observation means that the sociologist goes out to live in the area he wants to study.
• If a sociologist, for example, wanted to study the living conditions and the people in a small farming town, he would move to that town, live and work with the people there, and observe how these people react toward each other, toward outsiders, and toward their everyday surroundings. When he had finished his study, he would write his findings in a case study.