ABSTRACT

The strengths and weaknesses of the three principle social scientific research methods of experiment, survey and ethnography are highlighted. For each, the relative emphasis placed on the setting, reliability, generalizability, description of explanatory variables and control of extraneous is summarized.

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The following table summarizes the strengths and weaknesses of the three principle social scientific research styles.

experiments

surveys

ethnographies

advantages

cause and effect relationships are readily determined

lots of information may be gathered quickly and cheaply

strong emphasis on naturalism

disadvantages

there are practical and ethical limitations in social scientific research

prone to superficial answers

laborious and time-consuming;
low representativeness and low reliability

strengths

internal validity;

reliability

population validity;

reliability

ecological validity;
inclusiveness

weaknesses

ecological validity;

inclusiveness

ecological validity;

inclusiveness

internal validity;
reliability

data type

quantitative

quantitative and/or qualitative

qualitative

reliability

high

high

low

generalisability

high

high

low

description of explanatory variables

low

low

high

control of extraneous variables

high

none if a descriptive survey otherwise high

depends on stage of research and progressive focusing

emphasis on setting

low

low

high

Glossary

ecological validity

The extent to which research results may be generalized to other conditions, such as different settings, different treatments, different researchers, and so on.

explanatory variable

The variable that causes or produces changes in another variable (sometimes known as the independent variable).

extraneous variable

A variable that might also explain the phenomenon in question and which must be ruled out as a possible explanation by the use of controls.

generalizability

The extent to which the research findings hold true for subjects or settings other than the ones that the researcher used.

inclusiveness

The extent to which a particular research method investigates a sufficient range of possible explanatory variables; the extent to which the data contain the information required to address particular research questions.

internal validity

The extent to which the causal variables actually produced the observed effect(s).

naturalism The practice of observing people (individuals or groups) in their natural setting with minimal interference and manipulation by the observer.

population validity

The extent to which the results from the particular research sample may be generalized to the wider population from which it was drawn.

progressive focusing The development and refinement of one’s research ideas and questions in accordance with what is discovered as ethnographic fieldwork progresses.

qualitative data

Information expressed in terms of descriptive qualities, attributes, characteristics, and so on.

quantitative data

Information that can be counted or expressed numerically and which is amenable to statistical manipulation.

reliability

The extent to which a test would give consistent results if it were applied more than once to the same people under standard conditions.

representativeness

The extent to which a sample drawn from a population accurately reflects all the important characteristics of that population.