Towards a synthesis of primary and secondary research methods

The 1980s and 1990s have seen sociologists taking a pragmatic view when it comes to choice of methods. Many now use a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods. For these sociologists ‘what works best is best’.

Consequently, what Morgan calls ‘the theory war’ may now be coming to an end.

In the 1990s sociologists tend to use either triangulation or methodological pluralism. This is the use of more than one method of research in order to assess the validity of the data produced.

It has a number of advantages: Example to use in the exam? Barker’s study of the Moonies.

  • It can be used to check on the accuracy of the data gathered by each method.
  • Qualitative research, e.g. unstructured interviews, can produce hypotheses which can be checked using quantitative methods such as the social survey.
  • The two approaches can give a more complete and in-depth picture of the group being studied in the form of a case study.
  • Qualitative research can explain and illustrate the reasons and motives for the patterns and trends uncovered by statistics.

Questions which focus on strengths and weaknesses of particular methods should be concluded with reference to the need for this type of approach to research.

However, triangulation can be expensive. It can produce vast amounts of data which can be difficult to analyse.

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