Multiple Methods: Triangulation
What is the best method for studying a particular topic? How can we get accurate answers to questions about suicide and other important social concerns? The Concept Quick Review compares the various social research methods. There is no one best research method because of the "complexity of social reality and the limitations of all research methodologies' (Snow and Anderson, 1991: 158) . Many sociologists believe that it is best to combine multiple methods in a given study. Triangulation is the term used to describe this approach (Denzin, 1989).
Triangulation refers not only to research methods but also to multiple data sources, investigators, and theoretical perspectives in a study. Multiple data sources include persons, situations, contexts, and time (Snow and Anderson, 1991). For example, in a study of "unattached homeless men and women living in and passing through Austin, Texas, in the mid-1980s," sociologists David Snow and Leon Anderson (1991: 158) used as their primary data sources "the homeless themselves and the array of settings, agency personnel, business proprietors. city officials, and neighborhood activities relevant to the routines of the homeless." Snow and Anderson gained a detailed portrait of the homeless and their experiences and institutional contacts by tracking more than seven hundred homeless individuals through a network of seven institutions with which they had varying degrees of contact.
The study also tracked a number of the individuals over a period of time and used a variety of methods, including "participant observation and informal, conversational interviewing with the homeless; participant and non participation observation, coupled with formal and informal interviewing in street agencies and settings; and a systematic survey of agency records" (Snow and Anderson, 1991: 158-169). This
study is discussed in depthin Chapter 5 (·Society, Social Structure, and Interaction").
Multiple methods and approaches provide a wider scope of information and enhance our understanding of critical issues. Many researchers also use multiple methods to validate or refine one type of data by use of another type.