Participant Observation, Qualitative Data & Sampling Techniques

Participant Observation, Qualitative Data & Sampling Techniques

Participant Observation

This is when research is undertaken by a sociologist who takes part in the activities of those they are observing. This can be done overtly (openly) or covertly (secretly). Some people feel that covert observation is unethical simply because those being observed are not aware that their activities are being recorded for sociological purposes.

Non-participant observation takes place when the researcher observes from a distance and does not partake in the activities. However, this approach may alter the way the observed behaves as well as prevent the sociologist from understanding their behaviour from the inside.


Qualitative Data

Qualitative data is data that cannot be measured in numerical terms and consists largely of words and descriptions. Qualitative data can be collected from unstructured interviews and are like guided conversations. They usually take place in small group discussions.


Sampling techniques

Obviously a sociologist can’t do research which involves the whole population, so she must choose a sample of the population, or a sampling frame, which reflects the population being studied. This is usually done through simple random sampling in which any member of the population has the same chance of being selected.

Systematic sampling is when the researcher selects every ‘nth’ item from the sampling frame, for example every 50th student enrolled at a university.

Stratified random sampling is when the population is divided into subgroups by, for example, age, ethnicity and gender, and then a proportional sample of the population is taken from each subgroup.

Snowball sampling describes the snowball effect in which one interviewee, for example a prisoner, introduces the researcher to other prisoners he can talk to.