The field of psychology is expanding and credit is due to the numerous research studies being conducted. These research studies utilize different methods and each method has its own advantages and disadvantages. In this paper, five popular research methods will be compared based on their characteristics, objectives, strengths and weaknesses, research techniques, validity, and reliability. These research methods are case study, naturalistic observation, survey research, correlational research, and the experimental method.
The case study is a focused study on a person or a specific group or a particular situation. Its research design involves five components, which are the study questions, the propositions, the units of analysis, the logic linking the data to the propositions, and the criteria for interpreting the findings (Tellis, 1997). Case studies have varying purposes. Some case studies are conducted to either confirm or challenge an existing theory, while others are carried out to describe either a special or an extreme case.
A case study obtains information from documents (letters and newspapers), archival records (service records, survey data), interviews, direct observation (done when field visits are needed), participant-observation, and physical artifacts (instruments and tools). One of the most established techniques in case studies is called pattern-matching, in which the data is linked to propositions. The reliability of case studies is relatively high, especially when protocols are established. However, validity, especially construct validity, sometimes becomes questionable because the researcher might be subjective in his decisions and interpretations.
This can be minimized by utilizing multiple sources, by setting up a chain of evidence, and by asking major informants to review a draft of the case study. The common criticism against case studies is that its results cannot be used to arrive at generalizations. But the greatest strength of case studies is that it can present an in-depth and holistic knowledge about a particular situation, group, or person. The naturalistic observation is unique from all other types of observation in that the researcher does not hinder, interrupt or influence the environment being studied.
One of the vital things to consider in conducting naturalistic observation is to record as much detail as possible, which includes smell, sound, taste, time, place, number of participants, and feelings. This is why journals and a variety of writing materials are utilized. But the use of any recording device, such as video cameras, is not allowed because it violates the privacy of the observed individual. The reliability of this research method relies on the accuracy of observation. One technique of increasing reliability is to have several observers (Hesse, 2003).
The greatest advantage of naturalistic observation is that it is considerably less expensive than other methods. But, the subjects being studied may act differently because of their awareness of the presence of the observer. This will significantly reduce the validity of the results (Piercy, 2007). The survey research is characterized by its major means of collecting information. The researcher usually goes out and asks questions. The questions can be oral or in written form. And the respondents can be chosen in many ways. Some respondents are chosen at random while others must possess certain characteristics.
For example, if a survey research is about elementary teachers, then a high school teacher will not be asked to answer the questionnaire. The techniques involved in survey research lie in the analysis of the collected data. The reliability and validity of survey research are affected by several factors, such as the quality of the sets of questions or the questionnaire, the amount of data collected, and the accuracy in using measures of central tendencies and variability. Ideally, the questionnaire must be standardized. Greater reliability and validity is achieved if the sample represents a greater part of the total population.
One advantage of the survey method is that it is relatively cheap and easy. Unfortunately, it is also subject to human error and biases (Government of Saskatchewan, 2002). The correlational research is essentially the discovery of a relationship between two variables. Unlike the previously described methods, correlational research is quantitative in nature. The different techniques used in a correlational research are regression and prediction, multiple regression, factor analysis, and systems analysis (Davis, 2004). The greatest advantage of using this method is that its results can be used to formulate predictions and generalizations.
This is due to the nature of the research techniques. But the greatest danger of this method is to over-generalize. It must be remembered that an established relationship between two variables does not mean a cause-effect relationship between them. If a researcher wanted to establish a cause-effect relationship, then the research method to use is the experimental method. Similar to the correlational research, it is concerned with variables, which can be either independent or dependent variables. The independent variables are usually manipulated so that there will be two groups being studied, the experimental group and the control group.
These two groups have the same characteristics except for that one variable which is being tested. The difference between these two groups can be found in the dependent variable. The reliability of this method is increased by conducting the same experiment for several times. Its validity lies in the accuracy of the procedures and the careful handling and analysis of results. The greatest advantage of the experimental method is that it can present an explanation to a certain phenomenon. But it takes great skill and experience on the part of the researcher in order to conduct a good research experiment.
One problem of experimental method is the issue of ethics in conducting experiments using human subjects. Any of these research methods can be utilized to examine an issue or phenomenon in psychology. The basis of choice usually depends on the goal of the research. The task of the researcher is to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages of the chosen method.
Davis, J. (2004). Correlational research methods. Retrieved October 12, 2007 at http://clem. mscd. edu/~davisj/prm2/correl1. html Government of Saskatchewan. (2002). Psychology 20: Social Psychology: A Curriculum Guide for the Secondary Level.
Retrieved October 12, 2007 at http://www. sasked. gov. sk. ca/docs/social/psych20/support_materials/faqnaturalistic_observation. htm Hesse, B. E. (2003). Issues in naturalistic observation. Retrieved October 12, 2007 at http://psyc. csustan. edu/bhesse/psy2020/Lectures/Fall03/p2020U2L5. pdf Piercy, J. (2007). Research methods. Retrieved October 12, 2007 at http://courses. cvcc. vccs. edu/Psychology_Piercy/research_methods1. htm Tellis, W. (1997). Introduction to case study. The Qualitative Report. 3(2). Retrieved October 12, 2007 at http://www. nova. edu/ssss/QR/QR3-2/tellis1. html