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Exam technique advice

Example Answer for Q6 Paper 1 (2019) AQA A Level Sociology

  • Levels: A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA

This is an example answer for AQ6 Paper 1 (2019) AQA A Level Sociology. Refer to the AQA website for details of the question.

One disadvantage of using personal documents in sociological research is the lack of representativeness. Personal documents, such as diaries and personal correspondence, whilst high in validity and potentially a source of insightful data, are often subjective and based upon the views of one person. For example, whilst the Diary of Anne Frank would be viewed as an insightful document into her life hiding from the Nazis, it would not necessarily be representative of the wider experience of Jews in the occupied Netherlands during the war. The lack of representativeness in personal documents could be countered if enough evidence was produced that backed up the experiences of those that had produced them. An example of this would be Tomas and Zanecki’s letters from Polish migrants to the US, whereby after analysis trends and patterns emerged in the experiences of those that had migrated to the US. However, to conduct research on this scale could be costly and time-consuming in order to obtain the necessary amount of documents to be considered representative.

A second disadvantage of using personal documents in sociological research would be gaining access to these documents. Personal documents are by their very nature very often not in the public domain. Whilst some documents of prominent politicians and historical figures do make it into the public domain, it is often long after they have passed away. Secondly, these documents may not be representative of the population as a whole, as discussed earlier. One issue with gaining access to personal documents would be ensuring that those that give access are protected by being given anonymity and key details about their experiences being kept confidential. Some people may be reluctant to share personal documentation as it reveals personal details about them. Family members may also object, as in the case of suicide notes and whilst these documents contain valid and insightful data, it could also bring shame to the family or attract stigma or unwanted attention should the person be able to be identified from them. However, with regulations such as GDPR it has become a legal requirement for researchers handling personal data to take great care with it.

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