Social Research

Fourth edition

by Sotirios Sarantakos

Chapter 4 - Principles Of Social Research

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Educational objectives
After completing this chapter, you will:
  1. be well informed of the nature and significance of the principles of social research;
  2. be able to distinguish between the various levels of measurement and their purpose in social research;
  3. have a critical understanding of validity, reliability, objectivity and scaling in social research;
  4. have knowledge of replication, representativeness and generalisability in social research;
  5. have gained skills to apply the principles of social research in real situations.


  1. Measurement
  2. Replication
  3. Scales and indexes
  4. Validity
  5. Reliability
  6. Objectivity in social research
  7. Representativeness
  8. Generalisability

Points to remember

The following are the major points introduced in this chapter. Ensure that you are very confident with their meaning, content, context and significance.
  1. The principles of research are precision in measurement, validity, reliability, objectivity, representativenes, replication and ethics.
  2. Some form and degree of measurement is included in all types of research.
  3. A variable is a concept that can take two or more values.
  4. Variables can be discrete or continuous; they vary in terms of scale continuity.
  5. There are four levels of measurement: nominal, ordinal, interval and ratio levels.
  6. Nominal level measurement involves classification of events into categories.
  7. Ordinal-level measurement involves categorising, ordering and ranking according to magnitude.
  8. Interval level measurement displays the values of nominal and ordinal-level measurement but also contains equal intervals.
  9. Ratio level measurement is an interval ratio measurement but also contains an absolute true zero.
  10. Variables are measured at the highest level possible.
  11. Validity is the ability to produce accurate results and to measure what is supposed to be measured.
  12. Quantitative research employs many types of validation, for example, empirical, theoretical, face, content and construct validity.
  13. Validity is an attribute of quantitative and qualitative research.
  14. In qualitative research validation takes the form of cumulative, communicative, argumentative or ecological validation.
  15. Reliability is the ability to produce consistent results. Therefore, reliability means consistency.
  16. In quantitative research investigators consider many forms of reliability, for example, external or internal reliability and representative or equivalence reliability.
  17. In quantitative research, reliability is tested by means of methods such as test-retest method, split-half method, alternate form reliability, etc.
  18. Qualitative researchers consider reliability to be important but achieve this by using methods that are different from those employed by quantitative researchers.
  19. Objectivity excludes personal values from research; it expects research to be value free and to study 'what is' and not 'what ought to be'.
  20. Objectivity is a controversial issue and is still being debated in the social sciences. Many consider it unattainable, unnecessary and undesirable.
  21. Objectivity has been contested but many researchers still adhere to it.
  22. Adherence to ethical standards is expected in quantitative and qualitative research. Ethics relates to professional practice, the researcher respondent relationship, the researcher researcher relationship, and the researcher animal relationship.
  23. Representativeness is an important characteristic of social research especially among quantitative researchers.
  24. An index is a measure containing a combination of items, the values of which are summed up in a numerical score.
  25. Scales are used because they offer high coverage, high precision, high reliability, high comparability and simplicity.
  26. Examples of such scales are the Thurstone scale, the Likert scale, the Bogardus scale, the Guttman scale, and the semantic differential scale.

Short-answer questions

Answer each question carefully (there is no need to write down the answer). Consult your Social Research text when your memory fails you or when you are in doubt about the accuracy of your responses.
  1. Explain the meaning and purpose of measurement the way you understand it.
  2. What is the difference between 'common-sense' measurement and methodological measurement?
  3. What does qualitative measurement entail?
  4. What does quantitative measurement entail?
  5. What are the four levels of measurement?
  6. What are the main criteria of each of the types of measurement?
  7. What are the mathematical principles of each of the four types of measurement?
  8. What are the main principles of quantitative research?
  9. Define in simple terms the nature and principles of validity
  10. What is empirical validation?
  11. Explain the meaning of concurrent validity.
  12. Describe the nature and process of theoretical validation.
  13. Explain the nature of face validity.
  14. Explain the differences and similarities between content and construct validity.
  15. What is the general response of qualitative researchers to validity?
  16. Describe the types of validation employed in qualitative research.
  17. Which methodology provides a higher level of validity?
  18. What is reliability, and how relevant and important is it for social research?
  19. What are three types of reliability that are employed in the social sciences?
  20. Explain briefly the meaning of stability reliability, representative reliability and equivalence reliability.
  21. Discuss critically the methods employed by social researchers to test reliability.
  22. What is the position of qualitative researchers on the notion of reliability?
  23. What is the relationship between validity and reliability in social research?
  24. What is the essence of the debate about objectivity in social research?
  25. Should social scientists be subjective or objective in their research?
  26. What do you understand under normativism and how does it perceive social research?
  27. To what extent is objectivity possible?
  28. To what extent is subjectivity desirable?
  29. Are value neutrality and normativism compatible in any way and to any extent in social research?
  30. What is meant by representativeness and what is its significance for qualitative research?
  31. What types of generalisations are allowed in quantitative and qualitative research?
  32. What are indexes and how are they employed in social sciences?
  33. What are scales and where and how are they employed in social research?
  34. What are the basic principles of scale construction?
  35. What are the reasons for using scales in social research?
  36. Describe the nature and usefulness of scales.
  37. Do qualitative researchers employ scales? Explain.

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Multiple choice questions

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Practical exercises

  1. Choose a journal article that employs quantitative research methods and address the following questions:
    a) What type of measurement is employed in this article?
    b) Does the research design employ any scales?
    c) Could any other types of measurement or other scales have been employed in this study?
    d) Have any reliability tests been employed? If yes, which tests?
    e) Has the researcher discussed issues of objectivity, representativeness and generalisability?
  2. Choose a journal article that employs a qualitative research design and address the following points.
    a) Has the author addressed issues of objectivity? If so, in what way?
    b) Has any form of measurement been employed?
    c) Have any measures of validity and reliability been employed?
    d) What kind of measures would you have employed if the study were conducted within a quantitative context?