Various Research Methods In Society Sociology Essay






Describe the Various Research Methods in Society and Politics and Explain the Merits and Limitations of any in Social Enquiry.


The rising pace of development in the world makes additional demand on younger generations. This demand shows the need for man to understand and interpret research findings and incorporate them in his day-to-day decision making functions. In order to understand and use research findings, man needs, primarily, to understand what research is and what it can do for him.


Research is a systematic process of examining and investigating a specific subject. Research refers to the endeavours made in order to realize and unravel new information or invent new methods in solving a problem. According to Abdulhamid A. Ujo, ‘research is a careful, systematic, patient study and investigation in some field of knowledge undertaken to discover, or establish facts or principles’ (2000:2). According to Jonathan Blundell, research is ‘the process of finding out information and analyzing and evaluating it’ (2001:26). To research is to explore again and take a more careful look, optimistically expecting to discover and obtain more information about a particular subject. Abdulhamid Ujo’s (2000) view concerning research points out that research is a systematic and organized inquiry for the sole purpose of finding out solutions to a research problem, unravelling new knowledge or to endorse previous research findings by confirming or condemning it. Research methods therefore refer to the methods and means through which researches are conducted by researchers. There are the ways which a researcher chooses to carry out his research.

Every researchable topic undoubtedly has a research problem. According to U. J. Meekyaa, ‘the research problem is the academic "perplexing question" posed for resolution’ (1992:3). In Anthony Giddens’ (2009) view, every research emanates from a research problem and it is sometimes due to either the factual ignorance or as a result of the desperate craves and yearns on the part of the researcher to improve and develop the knowledge of others about certain institutions, processes or cultures.

Data is an imperative tool that is indispensable to every researcher in conducting his research. Data is a piece of information that allows a researcher to deduce and draw out other information. It could be statistical or factual, either of which may will be analyzed. According to U. J. Meekyaa, ‘data are, in general terms, facts and pieces of information which constitute the raw materials of the subject to which they relate’ (1992:18). Data could sometimes, give off information that is either numerical or descriptive, thus, it could be analyzed using either of two ways.

Quantitative Method: According to Jonathan Blundell, quantitative data refers to ‘numbers and statistics, often presented in the form of graphs and tables’ (2001:27). This method of analyzing data primarily deals with numbers and these numbers are often drawn out in graphical forms, tabular forms or on charts or pictograms and so on. For example, when a researcher distributes his questionnaires, eventually gets them back, analyzes them and works out the number of individuals under study who gave a particular answer

Qualitative Method: Rather than depending on statistics and numbers, the qualitative method of data analysis is descriptive in nature and through the use of words, the researcher is able to describe and analyze his research findings. For example, during the course of an interview, the respondent uses the qualitative method by explaining in detail, his or her experiences and views of certain issues. However, researchers find this method rigorous and difficult. This is because as a result of one of the short comings of the interview method of collecting data, a researcher may have a vast amount of notes and transcripts to filter. The researcher is then left with the duty of filtering all the relevant information from the irrelevant ones. This filtering process is called CODING. After coding, a researcher picks out subject matters that are relevant in his research and links them together.

Basically, there are two main sources of data;

Primary Source of Data: The data collected in the primary source of data comes about as a result of the researcher engaging in a first-hand contact with his research population. Under this source of data collection, the researcher comes in a one-on-one contact with his research population through the use of surveys, interviews, observations, experiments and participatory observations. A researcher gets his answers directly from the horse’s mouth only if he or she possesses personal features such as having a good human relationship, being friendly, bold, polite and possessing the ability to speak audibly and confidently in order to get more detailed information. According to Nnamdi Asika, ‘primary source of data mainly comes from direct observation of the event, manipulation of variables, contrivances of research situations including performance of experiments and response to questionnaires’ (2009:27). Examples of primary sources of data are autobiographies, interviews, personal narratives and literary works and so on.

Secondary Source of Data: This source of data requires a researcher to consult with materials already researched on such as journals, magazines, books, slides and so on, which provides for the researcher, information relevant enough to solve his research problem. This source of data is not as rigorous and as stressful as the primary source because in this source of data, researches have already been conducted by other researchers. All the researcher needs to do, is to consult already printed articles by other researchers. A very good example includes a Society and Politics student going to the students’ library to consult magazines, article, journals, text books etc. Other examples of secondary sources of data are biographies, prior books and papers on a topic, reviews on law and legislations, essays on morals and ethics and so on.

Tertiary Source of Data: The tertiary source of data consists of data which is an epitome and collection of the primary and secondary sources. The tertiary source is a compilation based upon primary source and secondary sources of data. Examples of the tertiary sources of data include; abstracts, bibliographies, chronologies, guide books and manuals, fact books, population registers, statistics and so on.


There are various ways in which a researcher conducts his research. That is, methods through which a researcher gets to solve his research problems. They include:

SURVEY RESEARCH METHOD: This is a systematic process whereby, through the administration of questionnaires by the researcher to his research population, data is collected. A questionnaire is a document containing a list of questions drawn out by a researcher to be answered. A select group of people under study called the research population are required to answer the questions listed on the questionnaire to the best of their knowledge or understanding.

EXPERIMENT AS A METHOD OF RESEARCH: According to Anthony Giddens, an experiment can be defined ‘as an attempt to test a hypothesis under highly controlled conditions established by an investigator’ (2005:38). Experiments are often used in natural sciences and the researcher directly manipulates the situation being studied. However, when experiment in the natural sciences is compared to that of sociological experiment, it is safe to say that that of sociology is restricted due to the circumstance that only a small group of people or a relatively small society or community can be studied. It is best for natural sciences where inanimate objects can be placed on controlled experiment. The focus of research in social enquiry is man, but man cannot be controlled as it is with chemical substances.

INTERVIEW AS A RESEARCH METHOD: This method is simply a primary source of data where a researcher evaluates by asking respondents questions directly through face-to-face contact, phones, and webcams and so on. A researcher carefully plans his interview and must possess interpersonal skills. During the course of an interview, the interviewer uses a recording device to record other points that he may have missed and also uses it for future reference purposes.

ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH METHOD: This is first-hand study of people, using participant observation as a method of acquiring information or interviewing. According to Anthony Giddens, ‘the investigator hangs out or works or lives with a group, organization, or community and perhaps takes a direct part in its activities’ (2005:36). An ethnographer does not just jump into any society to study them. He must gain their co-operation and maintain a friendly relationship in order for results to be realized and must explain and justify his purpose and intentions so that the community under study does not misinterpret the researcher’s intentions.

Despite the fact that the various methods of carrying out researches all end up giving the researcher his results, they have their advantages and shortcomings. Primarily, the merits and demerits of the ethnographic method will be outlined below.


After a successful research has been conducted, it provides genuine detailed information about the people under study.

According to Anthony Giddens et al, ‘ethnography can provide a broader understanding of social processes’ (2005:37).

Ethnographic research is practical and can be applied to virtually any kind of sociological or anthropological subject of inquiry.

The details obtained by the researcher on social life are difficult to obtain using other methods of research.


Participatory observation does not give an ethnographer his results in a day; it takes a period of time. During this period, the ethnographer may begin to feel lonely and home sick and may also have language barriers, thereby, causing language difficulties and so on.

During the course of the ethnographic method, if the purpose of the ethnographer is misunderstood or misinterpreted by the host community, the chances of the ethnographer conducting a successful research depreciates and safety or life is at risk.

Since ethnography is a time consuming process, only a small group or community can be studied.


The researcher cannot really do anything if he has not gained the confidence and trust of the individuals involved. However, much actually depends on the skill of the researcher to gain the confidence of the individuals involved. Thus, if the researcher does not have interpersonal skills, he will not get his findings.

Due to the participation of the researcher in the day-to-day activities of the host community, the researcher faces the risk of becoming an ‘insider’ and looses the perspective of an inside observer; he may get too attached and involved and becomes biased.

It may be difficult to gain entry and to leave. The researcher may find it difficult to gain the trust of the community under observation, and when he does, he may get too attached and therefore find it difficult to leave the group.

Groups may behave differently if they know they are being observed. They may not retaliate to certain circumstances as they would when they are not under study.

Actions of the group under study cannot be replicated.

Findings may only apply to the particular group studied therefore, not easy to generalize based on a solitary fieldwork study.

Personal safety of the researcher in peril. The researcher endangers his life by going into a community he doesn't know anything about. Some of his actions may be misinterpreted by the host community.

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