There are two categories of research methods: qualitative and quantitative. Quantitative data collection usually involves numbers, graphs and charts, whereas, qualitativedata collection methods deals with feelings and other non-quantifiable elements.
The most popular qualitative methods of data collection and analysis are interviews, focus groups, observation, case studies, games and role playing etc.
Popular quantitative methods of data collection and analysis, on the other hand, include correlation analysis, regression analysis, mean, mode and median and others.
Questionnaires can be used as qualitative, as well as, quantitative method. Specifically, if open-ended questions are used qualitative methods will be used for data analysis. Alternatively, if questionnaire consists of closed-ended questions, then quantitative approach is adopted for data analysis.
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Ethical considerations are of particular importance to sociologists because of the subject of investigation - people. Because ethical considerations are of so much importance, sociologists adhere to a rigorous set of ethical guidelines. The most important ethical consideration of sociological research is that participants in sociological investigation are not harmed. While exactly what this entails can vary from study to study, there are several universally recognized considerations. For instance, research on children and youth always requires parental consent. Research on adults also requires informed consent and participants are never forced to participate. Confidentiality and anonymity are two additional practices that ensure the safety of participants when sensitive information is provided (e.g., sexuality, income, etc.). To ensure the safety of participants, most universities maintain an institutional review board (IRB) that reviews studies that include human participants and ensures ethical rigor.
It has not always been the case that scientists interested in studying humans have followed ethical principles in their research. Several studies that, when brought to light, led to the introduction of ethical principles guiding human subjects research and Institutional Review Boards to ensure compliance with those principles, are worth noting, including the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, in which 399 impoverished black men with syphilis were left untreated to track the progress of the disease and Nazi experimentation on humans. A recent paper by Susan M. Reverby found that such unethical experiments were more widespread than just the widely known Tuskegee study and that the US Government funded a study in which thousands of Guatemalan prisoners were infected with syphilis to determine whether they could be cured with penicillin. Ethical oversight in science is designed to prevent such egregious violations of human rights today.
Sociologists also have professional ethical principles they follow. Obviously honesty in research, analysis, and publication is important. Sociologists who manipulate their data are ostracized and can have their memberships in professional organizations revoked. Conflicts of interest are also frowned upon. A conflict of interest can occur when a sociologist is given funding to conduct research on an issue that relates to the source of the funds. For example, if Microsoft were to fund a sociologist to investigate whether users of Microsoft's product users are happier than users of open source software (e.g., Linux, LibreOffice), the sociologist would need to disclose the source of the funding as it presents a significant conflict of interest. Unfortunately, this does not always happen, as several high profile cases illustrate (e.g., the Regnerus Affair). But the disclosure of conflicts of interest is recommended by most professional organizations and many academic journals. A comprehensive explanation of sociological guidelines is provided on the website of the American Sociological Association.
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