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Designing a Study in Sociology or Human Behavior

Most experiments designed to study sociology or human behavior require data collection from human subjects. This data can be collected either through observation studies or questioning the subjects directly. An observation study is one where the researcher simply "observes" the subjects, and has little or no interaction with the subjects while gathering the data. The questioning method of data collection involves direct interaction between the researcher and the subjects, through the use of interviews or surveys. There are pros and cons to each approach:

  Observation Questioning
  • Generally most effective means for studying young children who are unable to respond to questions
  • More convenient and less intrusive for subject
  • Captures an individual's genuine reactions
  • Valuable for collecting information on unobservable variables such as feelings, motives, perceptions, attitudes, etc...
  • Usually less time consuming method for capturing sufficient data
  • Limited to collecting data about visible characteristics or behavior
  • More time consuming to capture sufficient data for conclusions
  • The questions, or the mere fact of being questioned, may influence a subject's responses.

Note: There are special considerations when designing an experiment involving human subjects. ISEF-affiliated fairs often require an Informed Consent Form for every participant who is questioned or observed. In all cases, the experimental design must be approved by a scientific review board prior to the commencement of experiments or surveys. Please refer to the Science Buddies resource page Projects Involving Human Subjects for additional important requirements for studies involving human subjects.

If you are uncertain which technique is best for your project here is a quick guide to help you decide:

Flow chart for choosing between an observational study or a survey

A flow chart shows the process to decide on whether to use an observational study or survey in an experiment. To conduct an observational study there are three requirements: being able to observe and measure variables in an experiment, having enough time to gather data on a large group of people, and having the resources to gather data effectively. If any one of these three conditions cannot be met, then conducting a survey is the better option.

Designing Your Study

Now that you have an idea of which type of study you will be conducting, you need to design your study. Each of these research techniques (questioning and observation) can be designed in a variety of ways depending on the objective of your study and the type of data you are trying to collect. Following are some features you should consider when designing your study:



Parasuraman, A. Marketing Research - 2nd Edition. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1991.
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