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Sociologists use many different methods of social research. Quantitative methods often rely on surveys and statistical analysis of already gathered data, while qualitative methods use focus groups, paticipant observation and other techniques. Although they use different approaches, "quantitative" and "qualitative" are actually complementary methods. Quantitative methods can be used for generalization, establishing correlations and sometimes causation, while qualitative can fill in details of how relationships work, or how individuals perceive or explain situations.
For example, one question may be about why people smoke. Quantitative methods can help to describe who smokes, how many people smoke, smoking statistics of different demographic groups, whether people are more likely to smoke if their parents or peers smoke, and many other associational questions. On the other hand, these methods can't tell in detail why someone started to smoke, what their ideas were about smoking, why one person and not another had influence on their smoking, and other personal level ideas and thoughts. For this level of detail, qualitative methods are more helpful.
However, qualitative methods can only tell about those people being studied. For example, a focus group can tell why the people in the focus group started to smoke or what their thoughts are about smoking, but these results can't be used to generalise about other people, not in that particular focus group. In order to generalize, the more quantitative methods are useful. A properly done survey can find a representative sample and can help determine whether results from the focus group apply to anyone else.
Both methods used together, that is, can answer questins in more depth than can either method alone.
Social Research Organisations
- Centre for Rural Social Research, Australia
- Economic and Social Research Council, United Kingdom
- Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, USA
- Institute for Social Research, Germany
- Mass-Observation, United Kingdom
- Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, Australia
- National Centre for Social Research, United Kingdom
- New School for Social Research, New York City
Social Research Projects