The usefulness of interviews in Sociological Research
In assessing the usefulness of interviews within sociological research it is noted that sociology is an academic discipline and such it requires a methodology to reach conclusions thus it must have ways of producing and analysing data in order to test theories(Haralambos and Halborn 1995:808) Two main methods of data collection exist within sociological research these are quantitative and qualitative methods. Quantitative methods are favoured by the positivist scientific researcher who is concerned with high reliability therefore they generate information through numbers and statistic. With large numbers the quantitative person feels justified in making generalizations in society at large they use tools such as questionnaires and surveys the best example being the Census. A structured interview will also be accepted by the positivist because larger numbers may be generated. Qualitative researchers or social action interpretivists are interested in Validity or meaningful understand they therefore collect information through the spoken word of language and observation Interviews follow a number of forms which can either be structured or unstructured. Interviews take a number of forms depending on how structured they are. They tend to be flexible tools that can be used in various ways in the study of different social groups. The most common form of interview that tends to be used are formal and informal or structured and unstructured. However some interviewers do tend to combine the two methods. Other interviews may take the form of a group interview or it can arise as a result of participant observation. The usefulness of a type of interview is usually determined in relation to which is best suited in providing the necessary data that a sociologist wants to gather. A structured interview involves a questionnaire being delivered by an interviewer, these are fixed list of questions that will be asked to all interviewees they tend to have fixed answers. This form of interview will produce quantitative data. On the other hand unstructured interviews tend to take the form of a conversation the interviewer will not have a dedicated set of questions, they will however have topic areas that they will want and need to cover and they will relate back to these in order to get the required information, the conversation tends to flow more naturally, this form of interview produces qualitative data. Both types of interview do come with their own strengths and weaknesses and sociologists will take these into consideration before deciding on which method to use. Positivists feel that structured interviews have an advantage over unstructured interviews in the fact that they create data that is high in reliability. A fixed list of questions are being used the interview can therefore be easily replicated at other times with other interviewees. they believe that with the interviewers role being more limited in this instance this avoids their views from becoming known to the participants, hence the research is more objective they feel that this is vital in creating more reliable and valid data as there is greater detachment and impartiality, therefore the researcher should not interact directly with the people they are studying. Since the respondent may be asked about aspects of their private life which they normally would not discuss with a stranger it is often argued that non-directive interviewing is the most effective form of interviewing to utilise. Another advantage is that with the pre-coded questions/responses it is possible to produce statistical data and the data can be analysed on the computer, identifying patterns and trends. Also this form of interview is quicker to conduct and cheaper to complete. Qualitative Interpretivists will argue that with structured interviews the data that is produced does not provide an accurate statement of the views of the participant. They...
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