Example Answer for Question 6 Paper 1: A Level Sociology, June 2017 (AQA)
Last updated 9 Jun 2017
Section C – Theory and Methods: Q6 [10 marks]
By documents, sociologists are referring to a secondary form of research which already exists. There are a range of different forms of documents available to a sociologist which range from personal life documents such as diaries to historical documents such as parish records or the census. One practical disadvantage of using documents in sociological research is cost. Some documents may be produced by private organisations and therefore there may be a cost involved in order to gain access to them. For example private research companies may have produced in-depth documentation on a social issue and they may charge the researcher to gain access to the information contained within the document. Similarly in the study by Thomas and Znaniecki (1919) of Polish Peasants in Europe and America, they purchased 764 letters and several autobiographies following an advert they placed requesting them in a Polish newspaper in Chicago. Although this provided rich and potentially valid data, it was a practical disadvantage in the sense that they could have conducted interviews or questionnaires more cheaply to gain similar findings from their own sample. Although this does of course have advantages for the researcher as the secondary documents are more likely to be conducted on a larger scale than the sociologist themselves could afford to do (thus making the findings more representative) it is still a practical issue that must be overcome and which limits the number of documents a sociologist may be able to gain access to if they are restricted by cost (again influencing representativeness).
A second practical disadvantage of using documents in sociological research is time. As documents are a qualitative research method they require the researcher to spend time dissecting the information within them to ensure it is meaningful for the social research in question. Often documents are lengthy or possibly difficult to obtain in the first place which adds time to the study (particularly in the case of personal documents which the researcher may have to track down prior to the study) and it is also a time consuming process to code the information contained within documents if the researcher wishes to conduct any form of quantitative analysis of a qualitative source. As such it may prove difficult for the sociological researcher to use the method in a timely fashion and so they may end up producing a more historical account of the issue being studied, rather than one which is representative of the time being studied.
Please Note: These answers have been produced without the knowledge of the mark scheme and merely reflect my attempt at producing a model answer on the day of the exam.