Chapter 9. Observational Studies and Experiments

1. This chapter has touched on the types of research that social scientists can engage with when attempting to answer research questions. What are the main types of research tools available when taking qualitative and quantitative approaches?

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Ans: Qualitative approaches could include the following: focus groups, semi-structured interviews, interviews, ethnography. Quantitative approaches could include the following: surveys or questionnaires, biological marker analysis, experimental, quasi-experimental.

2. Define the terms validity and reliability.

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Ans: Validity: Internal validity refers to whether there is a causal relationship between the variable being changed (called the independent or explanatory variable) and the variable being measured (called the dependent or response viable). External validity refers to how well one can generalise research results to other settings, programmes, persons, places, and so on. Reliability: Reliability explains the degree to which a research instrument (a stopwatch measuring time for example) measures a given variable consistently every time it is used under the same condition with the same subjects. Reliability usually refers to data and not necessarily to measurement instruments. From different perspectives or approaches, researchers can evaluate the extent to which their instruments provide reliable data.

3. What are the issues with being able to establish a causal relationship between two variables?

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Ans: Confounding variables, choosing a representative sample, ability to generalise, have to think about validity and reliability.

4. What is the difference between a cross-sectional and longitudinal study?

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Ans: Cross-sectional studies provide a snapshot of data at a point in time, from a research subject of interest, whereas longitudinal studies follow the research subjects over a period of time, which can include data collection at multiple time points.

5. Conduct an observational study of your own. Think about a particular setting, perhaps a public location such as a library, park or coffee shop. Make notes on any behaviours you witness in an hour, which can be from humans or animals. After you have collected the data, try arranging it into sensible columns. For example, if you are in a coffee shop, a column title could be; interactions with staff at the coffee shop, or number of times people say thank you to the coffee shop staff, number of times a customer leaves a tip. What types of research questions could your data answer? Could you use your data to establish possible causal relationships between any variables you have identified?