Field research is a method which refers to the collection of the primary data in a study from the natural environment. In field research there are no surveys or lab experiments. This method is not suitable for the scientific method but is preferred when doing interpretive work. The research in this case must be able to get into the new environments and participate, observe, or experience firsthand. In the case of the field research, it is the researcher who is out of their element in the lab rather than the subjects who get to remain in their natural environments. The researcher in this case is the one who observes or interacts with the people or person and gathers the relevant data as they continue with the process. The field research takes place in the natural environment of the subject. The natural environment may range from tribal villages, hospitals, coffee shops, or any other relevant setting (Frankfort-Nachmias, Nachmias, & De Waard, 2015). Field research often starts in a specific setting. The purpose of a study based on this method is usually to observe a predetermined behavior in the setting. It is the optimal method for looking at the behavior or a population. It is not very useful however in understanding the reason for the behaviors that one may observe. The method also makes it impossible to narrow down the cause and effect because there are several variables that are floating about the natural environment.
The data that one comes up with in the field research is not based on the cause and effect approach but it works majorly on correlation. Field research looks for correlation but the small size of the sample makes it impossible to establish a causal relationship between the variables that are in question. There are three types commonly used in field research. These are case study, ethnography, and participant observation. Participant observation is where the researchers will join the population being studies and participate in their routine activities with an aim of observing them in the context. The method is critical because it helps in experiencing a given aspect of the social life of people. This means going a great length so as to get a firsthand experience of the institution, trends, and behavior. The researcher will get into a role in the group and make a record of the relevant observations. A researcher for example might ride along with a police officer during their usually patrols to make the appropriate observation. In such a case, the researcher must work hard to blend seamlessly into the population that is being studied. A researcher might also choose to hide their purpose or identity if they feel that this can compromise the results that they get from the observation. Participant observation is essential when one wants to take a look at an environment from the perspective of an insider (Frankfort-Nachmias, Nachmias, & De Waard, 2015). The field researcher wants to learn about the population and will go in open minded and recording all the observations that are made in an accurate manner. It is from the observations that a hypothesis is formed and the data will be shaped into results. Information gathered is more qualitative than quantitative in this case.
Ethnography is another method which involves the extended observation of the cultural values of an entire community. This method focuses on getting an understanding of how a community view themselves and their role in the society. One can for example go and do an ethnographic study of a fishing town or the people in an amusement part. The researcher in this case commits to spending an extended period looking at every aspect of the population and taking it in., one can go to a small fishing village in the United States and look at the way people go about their lives and come up with an extended paper on the same. An ethnographer goes in and observes, makes records and collates all the material that one gathers in results.
A case study on the other hand focuses on an event, institution, or a specific person. A case study involves an in-depth analysis of the individual, situation, or event. A researcher must examine all the existing sources like documents. Engage in participant and direct observation, in addition to conducting interviews. Researchers usually use this method to look at a particular case. One might, for example, take a look at a rape victim, a cancer patient, or a criminal. The main criticism of the case study method is that one does not have enough evidence in place to come up with a generalized conclusion to the problem. It is difficult for one to come up with any universal claims because one individual does not provide enough evidence to claim that there is a pattern. Case studies are useful only when a given case is unique and looking at it will provide more than enough knowledge to a given discipline. Case studies give sociologists a way of collecting data that may not be necessarily available using any other method (Bryman, 2016).
Field research is important in sociology and other fields and its main strength is that researchers can get into the minds of their subjects and get their world views. One is also able to collect primary data which is unbiased through firsthand experience. There are however some notable weaknesses of this method. The first one is that it has a low degree of reliability because it is subject to the way one interprets observed behavior. It is also not useful in establishing cause and effect relationships. It can also be time consuming and costly because of the extended time periods one has to spend in the field.
Surveys are some of the most common ways of obtaining quantitative data in research especially in social sciences. The survey research method begins by selection of a sample of respondents from the population and getting them to fill in a standardized questionnaire. The survey or the questionnaire can be a document that is written and completed by the person who is being surveyed. The survey can also take the form of face-to-face interviews, online questionnaires or even telephone interviews. Surveys make it possible to get data from either the large or small populations. There are several types of surveys that are made up of several techniques. Survey research involves the collection of data from a sample of elements that are usually drawn from a population that is well defined. One might collect information from adult women who are part of the defined population which are all the adult women living in the United States. Surveys give an opportunity to do studies using several designs each of which is suitable when looking at a particular research question.
The first type of surveys that will be looked at are cross-sectional surveys. These surveys involve the collection of data at a single point in time by looking at a sample which is drawn from a given population. The cross-sectional design is used more often when documenting the prevalence of given characteristics in the population of interest. An example of such a survey, can be when one is looking at how frequently people engage in particular behaviors. The researcher is mostly interested in documenting the relationship that is there between the causal processes and the variables. The cross-sectional surveys care essential in providing the chance to assess relationships between the variables and the differences that exist between several subgroups in a given population. The second method that can be looked at are the repeated cross-sectional surveys. The evidence that is here is consistent with a hypothesized causal relation that can be there between a dependent and independent variable over a period of time. Evidence or data in the repeated cross-sectional surveys can be collected by selecting independent samples from the same population at different points in time.
Panel surveys are also a method that is used in survey research. Panel surveys involve collection of data from the same sample at more than one point in time. The most common use of panel surveys is to test the stability of a hypothesis over time. Panel surveys can also be done to assess whether the changes that are seen over time in a dependent variable can be associated to the prior levels in another given variable. An example of this is where one can study whether the exposure to other races reduces the racial prejudice between two or more different times. There are also experiments within surveys that are common in some areas of research. Additional knowledge of the causal processes can be easily documented in the surveys by having inbuilt experiments. Respondents in a survey can be assigned to a control or treatment group. when all of the groups are given similar questionnaires, their responses can be attributed to the elements that had been varied.
Conducting surveys can involve using various methods of distribution. There is a wide range of ways of getting the surveys to the sample that one has selected. Surveys can be written, oral, or electronic. Written surveys can be in the form of mail surveys, group administered questionnaires, or drop-off surveys. Mail surveys involve sending the questionnaires that one has developed over mail. The mail survey method is advantages because it saves on cost as one can reach a wide number of people at a considerably low cost. Group-administered questionnaires involve looking at a specific population and a mail-out survey might not be possible. When one has the group of respondents together, for example in a class, one can distribute it to the whole class and get them filled in at the same time. The method is convenient because it gives one a high response rate because people are in a group setting. Drop-off surveys are the ones where you have to physically distribute the questionnaires to the intended population. One can do this door to door or in the park. It is very time consuming and not preferred. Oral surveys are more personal and it involves getting the impressions and opinions directly from the respondents (Frankfort-Nachmias, Nachmias, & De Waard, 2015). They can be administered using group interviews, personal interviews, or phone surveys. Electronic surveys usually come in with the growth of the internet. The questionnaires can be sent through electronic mail to the respondents that are being targeted. The surveys can be filled in the computers instead of papers. The electronic surveys can be sent in emails or hosted by the various survey websites that are there.
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- Mutinda Jackson (Autor), 2018, Definition and Comparison of Common Research Methods, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/430928