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Exploring the Use of Written Questionnaires in Sociological Research: Perspectives and Evaluation

The study of sociology is essentially based on the critical analysis of social issues with an aim to understand human behavior in different contexts. Social researchers use a range of research methods to investigate various social phenomena.

Methods in Context (MIC) questions form a crucial part of the syllabus in A Level Sociology and AS Sociology, which requires students to apply their knowledge of a specific research method to a given social context. In this article, we will discuss the definition and significance of Methods in Context questions, the importance of exemplars in answering these questions, and evaluate the use of written questionnaires as a research method.

Definition of Methods in Context questions

Methods in Context (MIC) questions refer to an examination criterion used in A Level Sociology and AS Sociology syllabi to assess students’ ability to apply their knowledge of research methods to different social contexts. Essentially, the MIC question requires the student to show understanding of a particular research method and its applications to the various social contexts described in the given task.

This criterion is evaluated in terms of its strengths and weaknesses. One advantage of the MIC question is that it allows students to evaluate research methods in a wider social context.

This helps students to see beyond the theory and appreciate the practical applications of the method. However, one of the limitations of MIC questions is that students may struggle to apply the theories to specific contexts.

Thus, to excel in MIC questions, students need to have a thorough understanding of research methods and their applications in varied social contexts.

Importance of exemplars in answering Methods in Context questions

Example essays or exemplars refer to answers provided by students or teachers for specific questions in a particular subject. In AQA, top band answers for the Methods in Context questions are provided as exemplars, along with the examiner commentary.

Exemplars are important in answering Methods in Context questions because they help students to understand the structure and content of a good answer. By studying well-crafted answers, students can identify the keywords, signposting language, and sentence structures that are required to present a top-quality answer.

In addition, examining exemplars can benefit students in the following ways:

1. To understand the concept of answering the MIC question, students need to see how others have answered the same question.

2. It helps in identifying the effective techniques employed in answering the question.

3. Exemplars act as a guide to show the correlation between the given context and the application of the chosen research method.

4. It enables students to identify the weaknesses and strengths of the answer, giving them guidance on how to create a balanced and effective answer.

Specific Methods in Context question and item

One of the Methods in Context (MIC) question for the A Level Sociology syllabus includes evaluating a given method, in this case, written questionnaires, and how it can be used to investigate working-class educational underachievement. The context of the item refers to the underachievement of working-class students in higher education, with focus on identifying possible reasons for the underachievement.

The task provides guidance on how to structure the answer required for this question, along with the necessary prompts to support exploration of the topic. Students need to evaluate the usefulness of written questionnaires for investigating this topic.

A good answer will consider the strengths and weaknesses of this research method and provide a balanced response to the question in the context given.

Evaluation of written questionnaires

Written questionnaires are a widely used research method, and they have several advantages that make them a popular choice. However, there are also limitations that need to be considered when choosing this method.

Advantages of using written questionnaires

One of the advantages of using written questionnaires is that it allows for standardisation of questions. This means that every participant is asked the same questions in the same order, and this reduces the potential for interviewer bias.

Additionally, since questionnaires can be sent out to a large sample, it becomes a convenient research tool that is also relatively cheap and quick to administer. Another advantage of written questionnaires is that they do not require any disruption in the natural setting of participants’ daily lives.

This is useful for researchers who are investigating sensitive topics, as they can collect data without causing any distress or disturbance to the participants. Additionally, participants can complete the questionnaire anonymously, which helps to ensure honesty and candidness in their responses.

Limitations of using written questionnaires

A significant limitation of using written questionnaires is that they cannot account for the complexities of language and interpretation that may be needed in understanding context specific responses. They can also be subjected to cultural biases and the researchers bias of adding meaning to responses through interpretation.

Issues can also arise due to the use of restricted language which can distort the natural expressive suite of the participant. They can also have limited space for open-ended responses, which means that participants’ views and experiences may not be fully captured.

Finally, written questionnaires may not be appropriate for some research topics, particularly where they involve sensitive or personal information. Researchers need to ensure that they uphold ethical guidelines and consider if the questionnaire is the best method to use to collect the specific data.

Conclusion

Methods in Context questions form a crucial part of the syllabus in A Level Sociology and AS Sociology that require students to apply their knowledge of research methods in given social contexts. To tackle these questions successfully, a well-structured answer is required, facilitated by examining exemplars.

Written questionnaires are widely used in sociological research to collect quantitative data, as they are convenient to use, have standardised questions, and are cheap and quick to administer. However, researchers must consider the limitations when using written questionnaires, such as language and cultural biases, ethical guidelines, and accuracy of interpretation or meaning.In the previous section, we evaluated written questionnaires as a research method, including its advantages, limitations, and suitability for specific research topics.

In this extension, we will explore the perspectives on written questionnaires used in sociological research. Specifically, we will delve into the positivist and interpretivist perspectives, consider how these perspectives shape the use of written questionnaires in research, and evaluate their overall usefulness.

Positivist perspective

The positivist perspective views the social world in terms of reality constructs that can be measured, observed, and analysed objectively using scientific methods. In this perspective, written questionnaires are an appropriate tool for collecting quantitative data, as it helps researchers to maintain objectivity and reliability.

The goal is to establish cause and effect relationships between the independent and dependent variables by collecting data in a standardised way.

When evaluating working-class educational underachievement, written questionnaires can be used to gather data on family background and achievement.

The data can then be analysed to identify possible causal relationships between these factors and underachievement, which can indicate policy changes needed to mitigate this trend.

However, critics of the positivist perspective suggest that written questionnaires cannot fully capture the complexity of the social world.

For example, it may not account for the meaning attached to underachievement by different participants from different contexts. It may also limit the communication of ideas around the topic as it focuses more on the quantitative aspects of the phenomenon rather than the social aspects.

Interpretivist perspective

The interpretivist perspective views the social world as constructed through the meanings attached to it by individuals. Therefore, understanding social phenomena requires attention to the subjective experiences of participants.

The interpretivist perspective suggests that written questionnaires are not appropriate for collecting data on subjective experiences and meanings. When it comes to underachievement, it is essential to explore the meanings attached to the phenomenon for a wide range of participants.

Therefore, written questionnaires may not be the best tool for gathering data on this topic as the meanings associated with it are open to interpretation, and the written format may constrain responses. Other methods such as in-depth interviews and focus groups may be more appropriate for collecting rich and nuanced data.

Critics of the interpretivist perspective argue that this perspective may lack generalisability, making it difficult to identify broader patterns of social phenomena. Instead, it may only provide specific accounts of individuals.

However, supporters of interpretivism suggest that it is crucial to account for the meanings attached to different phenomena, including working-class educational underachievement, to develop appropriate policies and interventions.

Overall usefulness of written questionnaires

Overall, the usefulness of written questionnaires depends on the research questions being explored and the perspective of the researchers. Written questionnaires are useful for policy evaluation and can be used to generalise findings across large and diverse populations.

It is also relatively easy and efficient to analyse, and data collection can be done from a representative sample. However, written questionnaires may not be appropriate for exploring subjective experiences and meanings attached to a particular phenomenon.

It may also require the participants to have a certain level of literacy and can be subject to language and cultural biases. Therefore, it is essential to consider the limitations of written questionnaires when deciding on the appropriate research method.

Conclusion

When it comes to sociological research, the choice of methods depends on the research questions being explored and the perspective of the researcher. Written questionnaires can provide essential quantitative data that can be analysed objectively and used to establish cause and effect relationships between different variables in the complex social world.

On the other hand, written questionnaires may not be appropriate for exploring subjective experiences and meanings attached to a particular phenomenon. Therefore, sociologists must consider the advantages, limitations, and perspectives on written questionnaires when using it to collect data.

Conclusion

This article has discussed the significance of Methods in Context questions in A Level Sociology and AS Sociology, and how students can excel in answering them through the use of exemplars. Additionally, we have evaluated the use of written questionnaires as a research method, considering the advantages and limitations of this method from both the positivist and interpretivist perspectives.

It is essential to consider the strengths and weaknesses of research methods when choosing them for a particular study. FAQs:

Q: What are Methods in Context (MIC) questions?

A: MIC questions refer to an exam criterion used in A Level and AS Sociology syllabi to assess students’ ability to apply their knowledge of research methods to different social contexts. Q: Why are exemplars important?

A: Exemplars help students to understand the structure and content of a good answer, identify keywords and sentence structures, and provide a guide on how to create a balanced and effective answer. Q: What are the advantages of written questionnaires?

A: Written questionnaires are a cost-effective research tool, allowing for a large sample size, standardised questions, and anonymity in responses. Q: What are the limitations of written questionnaires?

A: Written questionnaires may have language and cultural biases, limit the communication of ideas around the topic, and be less appropriate for exploring subjective experience than other methods. Q: What is the positivist perspective?

A: The positivist perspective views the social world in terms of reality constructs that can be measured, observed, and analysed objectively using scientific methods. Q: What is the interpretivist perspective?

A: The interpretivist perspective views the social world as constructed through the meanings attached to it by individuals, with an emphasis on subjective experiences and meanings. Q: When is it appropriate to use written questionnaires as a research method?

A: Written questionnaires are appropriate when collecting quantitative data where the focus is on objective and standardised questions. It is also useful for policy evaluation and can be used to generalise findings across large and diverse populations.

This article provides the reader with crucial information about evaluation of written questionnaires, perspectives, strengths and limitations of research methods, and the importance of using exemplars to answer Methods in Context questions. By employing these strategies, students can develop a deep and rounded understanding of research methods applied to specific social contexts.

The knowledge gained will enable students to use research methods effectively when conducting their own research in the future.

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