Orientation Observation In-depth interviews Document analysis and semiology Conversation and discourse analysis Secondary Data Surveys Experiments Ethics Research outcomes



Social Research Glossary

About Researching the Real World



© Lee Harvey 2012–2020

Page updated 29 April, 2020

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2020, Researching the Real World, available at
All rights belong to author.


A Guide to Methodology


The following is a list of all the activities in the Guide with links to the location in the text.

Activity 1.4.1 Examine copies of the week's press (both broadsheet and tabloid) noting any headlines, articles or stories based on journalistic preconceptions. Explain what these might be.

Activity 1.4.2 List five methods you would consider using if you wanted to find out under what circumstances the police would make an arrest? Consider some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Activity 1.5.1 Write down three other questions relating to the social world about which you could theorise. Compare your answers with those with other members of your tutor group.

Activity 1.5.2 Why do you think someone labelled as deviant would be likely to embrace further deviant behaviour? Look up Becker's labelling theory and see if your view agrees with his.

Activity 1.5.3 From the following list of items, identify three each of the following: research traditions, sociological perspectives; sociological theories; social research methods:
functionalism, labelling theory, positivism, structuralism, in-depth interviewing, critical social research, participant observation, phenomenology, race relations cycle, sociobiology, experiments, the Protestant ethic.

Activity 1.6.1 Which of the following are epistemological statements and which are ontological?
Human being need something to believe in.
Human beings are capable of knowing reality.
People like to have order in their lives.
Knowledge is simply the correct recognition of facts.
Humans are creative beings.
We cannot know the world we can only see it from our point of view.

Activity 1.7.1 Which of the following could be said to be 'objective' statements?
The Eifel Tower is 324 metres tall.
Pavarotti is an excellent singer.
All swans are white.
I have a pain in my tooth.
Barcelona are the best football team in Europe.
I like ice cream.
I need to cut the grass.

Activity 1.9.1 Working in pairs, undertake a short piece of participant observation (similar to Student Activities 6.3 or 6.8) with both of you participating or observing the same group or organisation. Compare your observations and account for any differences in conclusions that you come to. Do the results of this activity lead you to regard participant observation as unreliable? If so, in what ways? What do you feel is the consequence or importance of any unreliability you might have noted?

Activity 1.10.1 Outline how you would undertake a generalisable study of the alcohol consumption of weekend club goers?
This activity needs to be done in pairs. Spend 15 minutes writing down an outline and then make a brief presentation to try and convince a colleague (who in return tries to convince you of the generalisability of his/her proposed study)

Activity 2.3.1 Think about your own experiences of life. Do you think that people always act instrumentally in modern society? Provide reasons for your answer.

Activity 2.3.2 Think of a topic on which you have been persuaded to challenge your way of understanding an aspect of the social world, for example sexuality. How do new understandings of a topic affect subsequent interactions?

Activity 2.3.3 In the light of the above information and information in Section 2.2 can you identify any points of similarity between interactionism and positivism?

Activity 2.3.4 Group activity.
Group 1: list the assumptions made by phenomenologists about the nature of science. Discuss how these assumptions affect their choice of methods.
Group 2: List the assumptions made by phenomenologists about the nature of society. Discuss the extent to which you agree with these assumptions.
Each group to share the key outcomes with the other in a plenary session. Total time about 40 minutes.

Activity 3.2.1 Initial non-participant observation study
1. Undertake a non-participant observation study of a group of people meeting in a public place such as a shopping centre, public house, youth club or any other similar place where people meet on a casual basis. Watch them for about an hour, if possible. Should you feel uncomfortable doing the observation bring it to an immediate conclusion.
2. Note the events that take place and the ways the members of the group interact. Is the group a tight-knit group or is it a casual coming together of a number of subgroups? Are there any group leaders and in what respects do they lead? Is there any group organisation, if so, what is it? Does the group interact with any other group or person and, if so, in what way? How important is interaction with other groups or persons in the activities of the group and in the formation and organisation of the group?
3. Report your findings back to a small group of people who have also undertaken this exercise and discuss difficulties you had in recording data, deciding what events were significant, and what they meant.

Activity 3.2.2 Would you say that Anne Campbell (see Campbell Case Study) conducted her study of New York gang girls in an obtrusive manner? If so, in what ways?

Activity 3.2.3 Review the observation activities you have undertaken so far and assess the extent to which you have been obtrusive or unobtrusive in the way you recorded the data. Do you think that your data recording practices had any effect on the people you were observing? If so, how did it affect them?

Activity 3.2.4 Identify an observation study with which you are familiar and then, using the schema in Figure 3.2:1, identify which of the different elements it adopts.

Activity 3.2.5 Undertake a participant or non-participant observation study of an organisation to which you have access, such as a work-place, voluntary organisation, sports or social club. To what extent does the organisation operate in practice in a way that differs from the organisation's more formal rules, aims and customs?